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A voyage through Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve


The sun glinting off a glassy sea, so smooth you think you could walk on it; shorelines composed of mountains, rocks and forests; on sunny days, showing a perfect reflection of their beauty in the water; on foggy days, mysterious, moody and misty, but still beautiful; Orcas, humpbacks and fin whales cavorting in the ocean, breaching and flipping their tails as they dive; sea lion males sitting proudly among their harems, in an unending cacophony of braying and honking; seals, much more quiet, showing just the tops of their heads as they keep their nostrils above the water; sea birds too numerous to list, some colourful, some not, some graceful, some not; but the bald eagles are always noble and proud; a shoreline covered in a carpet of wet colourful seaweed; stranded starfish clinging to the rocks, waiting for the high tide to return them to their underwater world; visible in the shallow waters, a foreign world of jellyfish, crustaceans, molluscs, crabs, and other strange creatures you’d hesitate to touch; ashore, deep quiet temperate rainforest, overgrown with a heavy layer of moss; tall majestic trees, one tree would have taken ten of us, arms outstretched, to embrace; abandoned Haida sites, carved totem poles showing their culture and their heritage, slowly decaying as nature reclaims them. This was my sailboat cruise through the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve in the Haida Gwaii islands with Bluewater Adventures, courtesy of CPAWS.

In 2010, CPAWS celebrated the creation of the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve with a series of lectures across Canada.  Bluewater Adventures generously donated a berth on their seven-day sailboat cruise through the park as a lottery prize at the lectures. I was fortunate enough to win, and took the cruise in July of 2011.  My two concerns for the trip were both unfounded. Although I took a dermal patch against sea sickness, the sea was so calm that I probably didn’t need it.  The one time we tried to sail, we reached a speed of only eight knots.  My other concern was that as I am almost two metres tall, would I fit into the bunk?  The Bluewater staff took everyone’s characteristics, and for me, they preselected the cabin with the longest bunk.  I fit in with room to spare, and slept very comfortably. The crew on the sailboat was professional and hospitable, and couldn’t have been better. Two crewmembers were extremely knowledgeable in flora and fauna, and identified every living entity that we encountered.  On one stopover, one crewmember went underwater in a wetsuit and brought up a sizeable representation of the underwater population, which the other then introduced to us, and I wish I could remember even some of the information that she gave us about the creatures.

The cook and cuisine were excellent. Most of the food was ‘made from scratch,’ the granola from the cook’s own recipe. Once I spied three loaves of bread baking in the oven.  Another day, the cook complained that if the boat continued at its ‘high’ speed, the pies were going to come out of the oven slanted. At least twice, we had fresh fish, red snapper and halibut that had been caught by the crew jigging over the ship’s railing.  I think there was only one day that we did not see whales, sea lions, or other sea life in the ocean. We saw a humpback whale breaching, and three orcas went under the bow of the ship when we were anchored in a bay. We went ashore every day, to find tall trees and waterfalls, to soak in hot spring pools on the ocean shore, to visit an abandoned logging site, and to visit Haida sites hosted by Haida guides. The Haida culture was a major aspect of the trip, including an on-shore Haida lunch, a visit to a modern Haida museum, and visits to many Haida sites in the wilderness of the park. This trip was a very informative and entertaining exposure to their culture.  The visit to and sight of the still-standing Haida totem poles at the ancient Haida village of SGaang Gwaii (Ninstints) was one of the highlights of the trip for me. In accordance with Haida tradition, these totem poles will be left in the wild, to collapse and decay as they return to nature. One day, there will be nothing left of these sites in the wild.  This is a beautiful part of Canada, unique in the world, which will give every visitor a richness of memory and experience.

Written by Raymond Vilbikaitis, 2010 Dare to be Deep Ocean Tour trip winner  

Photo credit: Raymond Vilbikaitis

To learn more about the great trips offered by Bluewater Adventures visit bluewateradventures.ca.