It’s been called Canada’s Galápagos, but Haida Gwaii is a unique world unto itself—one that’s really without comparison. On paper, it’s an archipelago of roughly 350 islands. But paper doesn’t do it justice. Haida Gwaii’s history dates back to the first human migration from the Bering Strait, and its land was once home to mammoths and mastodons.
These days it’s an isolated Canadian jewel, with a range of flora and fauna you won’t find anywhere else, along with relics of a culture that’s been living on the islands for upwards of 7,000 years.
Look out for watchmen while you’re there. Easily spotted by their high hats, Haida watchmen were traditionally stationed on watch for the enemy, but these days they’re encyclopedic historians happy to talk about the history of their islands (and happier-still to enforce its customs and ensure that tourists are being respectful). If you see one, don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Fishing is a major part of Haida Gwaii’s economy, and with good reason—it’s not a surprise when anglers both amateur and expert reel in massive Chinook salmon or gigantic flat-faced halibut. Still, no matter how good with a rod you might consider yourself, we’d recommend chartering a boat; you’re still going to reel your catch in yourself, but they’ll make sure you’re in the right spots with the best and biggest fish.
See it from the skies
The Queen Charlotte Islands are vast and diverse, and one way to see a bit of everything is to catch a glance from a bird’s eye view. Companies like Inland Air Charters offer a range of flight tours, and might be the best way to see just how diverse Haida Gwaii truly is. It’s the easiest way to see grizzly bears, hot springs, rustic shipwrecks, and the edges of Alaska in one fell swoop. We’d recommend a flight tour with a stopover, so you can stretch your feet and take in the fresh mountainous air.
Ride the waves
Surfing season really kicks off once the leaves have turned, and if you don’t mind the water a little chilly, Haida Gwaii’s surf has a lot to offer. With that being said, and in spite of surfing’s increasing popularity in the area over the last few decades, it’s also a great way to ride a wave and hang ten without banging into somebody else’s board. And speaking of boards, surfers can take advantage of the Volkswagen Tiguan’s Folding Rear Seats to bring their own board. True to the general vibe across the islands, surfing in Haida Gwaii is at once adventurous and meditative.
See the blowhole
Take a short, scenic hike through the Tow Hill Provincial Park and you’ll find a natural marvel on the other side. The Blow Hole Boardwalk is an accessible and maintained path brushed by trees, replete with benches for breaks and soundtracked by cries of overhead falcons. And when the geyser pops, it’s a sight to see. Just remember to bring your binoculars and, please, stand back.
Dip your toes in the hot spring
A few years after a massive earthquake left them disappearing and dry, Haida Gwaii’s hot springs are finally flowing once more. While they’re not quite what they used to be, at least not yet, these pools—revered by the Haida people for their healing power—will hopefully be back better than ever soon.
Hike the Shipwreck Trail
The Pesuta Shipwreck Trail takes about two hours both ways, but at the centre of it is a relic from nearly a century ago. Once a 264-foot barge, the Pesuta now sits wrecked and largely decomposed on the southeastern-most edge of Naikoon Provincial Park, where it’s been since December, 1928. If you’re hiking, be sure to bring water, and maybe a snack or two—it’s not the most rigorous hike, but you might want to stay a bit on the beach.
Rock out under the stars
Every summer, the Edge of the World Music Festival draws artists from across the world for a festival experience you can’t experience anywhere else. Taking place at the Tlell Fall Fairgrounds, this three-day camping festival is more than a concert—it’s an experience. On site you’ll find local cuisine, art, crafts, and souvenirs. You won’t find an ATM, though, so bring cash. Also, make use of the Tiguan’s ample storage space and pack enough camping gear to be comfortable under the stars. This festival is about being back with nature, but that doesn’t mean you don’t deserve a (tented) roof over your head.
Water wildlife worth watching
Haida Gwaii is home to an incredibly diverse range of animal life, both on land and in the water, and one experience you have to take on is dolphin and whale watching. More than one whale species migrates through Haida Gwaii in the summer, and it’s not unheard of to see orcas, dolphins, and seals all in the same area.