The kayak is a boon to the free spirit. It offers flexibility and mobility to the person who doesn’t wish to be hampered by destination-driven travel schedules or a timetable other than the rhythm of the tides. Such is the lure of kayaking around Haida Gwaii. What need is there of a specific destination where every place is as magical as the next, save those coastlines ravaged by logging?
The entire east coast of Haida Gwaii, the former Queen Charlotte Islands, offers prime paddling, but the southeastern side of Haida Gwaii, rife with tiny islands, secluded coves, and lots of sheltered coastline, is the most popular kayaking destination. Because the Haida Gwaii islands are perched on the edge of the Americas, plan on prohibitive conditions on at least a few – if not most – of the days you are out. The exposed west side of the islands receives the brunt of the open ocean, but any place can suffer a good buffeting by severe weather. Flexibility and spare time are two of the most important safety features you can bring with you.
Anyone planning on doing any serious kayaking needs the appropriate charts, a compass, and the knowledge of how to use them. Kayaking is one of the best ways to explore Haida Gwaii, but without a firm grounding in open-water kayaking or an experienced guide, it can also be one of the most dangerous. Wicked currents, unpredictable weather patterns, thick kelp beds, and submerged rocks or reefs all can, and have, claimed kayaks and kayakers. (The Coast Guard does not issue small-craft warnings for this area because small-craft-warning conditions are considered to be present at all times.)
While experience is a prerequisite for unguided multi-day kayak trips around Haida Gwaii, novices can still enjoy day paddling in the protected waters of the islands. Such conditions are available at Masset and Juskatla Inlet at Juskatla on Graham Island, and Skidegate Inlet between Graham and Moresby Islands. Kayaks and paddling equipment are available to rent from several commercial operators on the islands. Juskatla Inlet is easily accessible by logging road from the Graham Island communities of Port Clements and Queen Charlotte City, and provides an ideal escape to a wilderness virtually free of the signs and impact of civilization. Paddling conditions are good, and the availability of camping facilities provides for an excellent winter and summer outdoor recreation destination.
The more adventurous should consider one of the many kayaking expeditions which are offered on the islands. These multi-day trips can be organized on a drop-off and pick-up basis, or can be booked using a mothership as a base from which to launch your kayak for day paddles. Returning to the relative comfort of the base vessel after an exciting day of kayaking is an attraction to those not yet ready to survive on their own in the natural and unspoilt wilderness of the former Queen Charlotte Islands. This is the best of both worlds: you’re out in the the wild without really roughing it.
The entire cluster of islands has been circumnavigated by kayak, and is open to the experienced and self-sufficient seafaring explorer. That said, Gwaii Haanas National Park is by far the most popular kayaking playground in the Haida Gwaii islands, with such destinations as Hotspring Island, Burnaby Narrows, Windy Bay, Anthony Island (Ninstints), Tanu, All Alone Stone, Rose Harbour, St. James Island, Flatrock Island, Echo Harbour … the list goes on and on, and so does the adventure in Haida Gwaii, islands of the people.
Many kayak trips start at Sandspit, although a less exposed route starts from Moresby Camp, travelling the relatively protected inside waters of Carmichael Pass south to Gwaii Haanas, thereby avoiding the exposed outside shoreline between Cumshewa Head and Porter Head at Tangil Peninsula. From Moresby Camp to the northern boundary of the park reserve is a two-day, 22-mile (35-km) paddle, weather permitting. You could spend months, even years, exploring the coasts in Gwaii Haanas, stopping to investigate the many onshore and inland attractions, and still not feel that you knew the place. But that’s part of the magic and appeal of Haida Gwaii.
With the exception of a few mooring buoys and navigational aids, there are no visitor services or facilities in Gwaii Haanas. Sea kayaking in Gwaii Haanas is not for novices. This is a challenging area with a host of associated dangers. Kayakers, in particular, need experience, well-developed paddling and rescue skills, navigational skills, leadership skills, good judgement, and experience in wilderness travel. Gwaii Haanas is remote so you cannot rely on other people if you get into trouble. It’s recommended that independent travellers carry radios, but even so, it is still likely to take several hours, even in good weather, for help to arrive.
If you are not travelling with a guide or guided tour, file a trip plan with the Canadian Coast Guard in Prince Rupert. Be sure to contact them as soon as you return. If you don’t, you may be held responsible for any unnecessary search and rescue initiated on your behalf.