Haida Gwaii – Once you’ve reached the edge of your world, ours begins. So says the tourism guide and it is a perfect description of Haida Gwaii as a destination. It’s an effort to get there, but the island is welcoming and peaceful and beautiful. It may sound ridiculous to go all the way to Haida Gwaii just to start at Mile Zero of Hwy 16, but it was so worth it! Read on for the very special experience we had in Gaw Tlagée (Old Masset). Settle in for a long story because we compressed a lot into the day!
Florian had never been there, so he joined me on the trip in and out of Haida Gwaii, boarding the 10:30 a.m. ferry from Prince Rupert for the 7-hour crossing. I was very surprised to see the big trucks and trailers and RVs backing onto the ferry! Some seriously impressive skill there. It explained a lot about why they wanted us all there 90 minutes before sailing and the motorcycles were the last to load. I was also surprised to see that Florian and I were the only motorcycles on board. It was a smooth crossing and we disembarked on time at Hlgaagilda (Skidegate).
Our accommodation was at the Gwaii Naay guest house in Masset but we were advised to grab a bite on the way from the ferry to Masset, as restaurants closed early. The road to Masset is beautiful, with good pavement and sweeping curves. We were warned of, and saw, many deer along the roadside and kept our pace leisurely. We struck out at the first two places for food and ended up in Masset after all, where the Red Rooster was still open and served us a great dinner of fresh, hot Chinese food before finding the guest house.
Elsie runs the Gwaii Naay guest house and it is a nice little building with various configurations of bedrooms and a shared bathroom, lounge and kitchen. We unloaded our bikes and had a bit of a rest, trying not to fall asleep before going in search of the sunset. Strolling to the end of a decommissioned pier at the end of the main street, our perseverance was rewarded with a stunning ball of fire sinking slowly into the ocean as the evening settled. There were eagles and other birds calling and a boat returning from a late-evening ride. The sunset attracted many to the pier and we met a number of locals who had come down to watch. The evening cooled swiftly and we returned to the guesthouse to turn in for the night.
We woke to fairly consistent rain the next morning, but knowing it would ease in a couple of hours, we took our time making a breakfast sandwich and having a leisurely coffee. Elsie is a wealth of local knowledge and joined us for coffee and shared stories of the Haida people and the Haida poles we would see throughout the island. She said there really isn’t any such thing as a “totem” pole. A totem is an animal associated with a specific individual from their personal spiritual quest. What have been dubbed “totem poles” are actually very different types of poles. Lineage poles represent the members of a family. Thus, by entering a village, you can find your own people by the lineage poles they have erected. There are also story poles for documenting oral history and events. Memorial poles for loved ones that are gone from this physical realm. Mortuary poles mark the burial spot of one who has passed. Ceremonial poles maybe erected to commemorate special events and potlaches. Elsie explained the importance of Respect in Haida law and how poles can be used to acknowledge a debt that must be corrected by an individual or their family. Once resolved, the pole is destroyed and the debt is no longer spoken of – the memory of it thrown to the past. It reminded me of how important it is to let go of things in order to move on with a healthy life.
The Gwaii Naay house has many pictures of the Haida Gwaii landscape, animals, and birds. Elsie said her favourite bird was the Pacific Wren. I knew what she was talking about as I have seen them in Shishalh. They are a tiny little bird with a complex song. Elsie said that each generation of these birds adds a note to the song. A long song from this bird means their line has done well, while a shorter one indicates their line has been broken.
The rain finally eased and though the morning was still cool, we were more than ready to explore. We started by riding up to Gaw Tlagée (Old Masset). I remembered the art and gift store there and wanted to stop in. While there, I had a heartfelt conversation with Mary and Judy. Mary had lost her husband recently. I shared with her that Florian and I had experienced great loss as well and even in the 5 years that has gone by since I lost my sister Tracey, it still felt very fresh. We spoke of how there is so much illness everywhere and how sometimes it seems we have lost touch with what is important. I found what I was looking for in the shop – a Raven pendant to add to my treasure bag of talismans. Judy accompanied us outside and explained the lineage pole outside the building. She then directed us to a memorial pole for Ben Davidson – a family’s son who had been taken much too young by a heart attack. Judy went over to this pole with us and sang a traditional prayer for us for healing and to send us on our way with peace and safe travels. Though my tears flowed freely as she sang, we took our leave with a big hug and I felt lighter in spirit as we continued on our way. I am so grateful to have met these lovely people. Hawa’a, Judy, Mary, and Elsie.
Feeling rejuvenated, we took photos of the gorgeous murals around Masset and then set out for Taaw Tldáaw (Tow Hill) at the northern tip of Haida Gwaii. A low, heavy fog banished any notion of making the hike to the top where we would see no view. We did stop at Agate Beach to stretch our legs and take a picture of what we could see of the Taaw Tldáaw cliff. We rode the dirt road to its end and parked the bikes close to where you can drive onto the beach and see Née Kún (Rose Spit). You truly do feel like you are at the edge of the world.
On the way back from Née Kún, we stopped again in Masset to have a coffee and a snack before carrying on south. At the coffee house we met Debbie and her husband from Kelowna and had a great chat about travelling and adventures. From there, we determined to simply make our way south until it was time to catch the ferry back to Prince Rupert, remembering the all-important photo at Mile Zero!
We stopped at the Crystal Cabin in Tll.aal (Tlell) where there is a stone circle which celebrates the geological history of Haida Gwaii. From there, we visited Balance Rock, while marvelling that it is still there, doing what it does!
Carrying on down the road, we were too late in the day to take in the Haida Heritage Centre, but we had some of the best fish and chips at the food truck that was still open at the Centre! Supper being taken care of, we continued on to Daajing giids (Queen Charlotte) to kill the last couple of hours remaining. We rode to the end of the pavement we could find, then came back to find a spot to park the bikes and soak in the waterfront. Here we found a massive sculpture of a humpback whale. On the little boardwalk on the way back to our bikes, we met Leslie and Dean. Leslie said it was them who had waved from their porch and they had thought about inviting us over for ice cream and tea! We wished they had, but all the same had a great visit with them on the boardwalk and bade farewell in great spirits.
Despite his claim of being a “destination-oriented” rider, Florian admirably put up with me rabbiting all over the island. At last we boarded the 10:00 p.m. ferry. I had booked a cabin, knowing that if I wanted to ride upon my return to Prince Rupert, I was going to need something resembling a bed so I would be rested. I had booked a “premier” cabin, as all that was left available. I’ve been on ferries with cabins before and took this to mean there might be a bit more space between the fold-down bunks and maybe a private toilet and sink. Well, blow me down! I opened the door to a room overlooking the bow of the ship that was bigger than most hotel rooms I stay in. With a private bathroom and shower! The sailing was smooth and I got more than a few winks, waking shortly before the 5:30 a.m. announcement to prepare for docking. What a treat!
Arriving a bit early in Prince Rupert, Florian set me up to wash Night Fury and I did a load of laundry and re-packed what I had left at his place before we left. Florian made a great ommelette with toast and I was back on the road by 8:45 a.m. The ride from Prince Rupert was cool, but lovely and I thoroughly enjoyed the scenery. The last couple of hours of the day were hazy with smoke from surrounding fires, but I’m hoping to ride through that early in the day tomorrow.
Thanks for joining me on this adventure. 😊