5 Favourites from Sailing Cruises in Gwaii Haanas

Instead of describing our Maple Leaf Adventures small ship cruises in Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands) here, I’ve decided to take a “top 5 list” approach.

The Canadian Tourism Commission selected this as one of Canada’s “Signature Experiences”.

Top 5 Things About Small Ship Cruising in Haida Gwaii

5. The people.

SGang Gwaay watchman on sailing cruise

Sharing a laugh with Haida watchmen at SGang Gwaay on a Maple Leaf cruise

Although Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands) is on many Canadians’ “must visit” lists, it’s no tourist trap. The people you’ll speak with here meet you from wherever they’re at. Friendly, real, and definitely not fake. Whether it’s our friend Goetz the incredible guitarist in remote Rose Harbour (also known as Tassilo), one of the Haida watchmen in Gwaii Haanas, or the taxi driver that picks you up from the dock after you step off the SV Maple Leaf, you’ll always feel you’re speaking to a real local.

Flick feeding humpback whale, Gwaii Haanas

Humpback whale flick feeding with tail, Gwaii Haanas

4. Whales.

There is something about the massive quantities of krill and small fish in the waters of Gwaii Haanas, especially in May, that makes for the most stupendous whale viewing. Humpback whales by the dozens converge on certain areas. You can stand on the schooner Maple Leaf surrounded by whales, all of them creating mammoth splashes. There will be whales that throw the water around with tails, slap it with 15-foot pectoral fins or breach onto it. It’s as if someone asked Nature to illustrate the word “epic”.

Exploring remote islands, on a Haida Gwaii tour with Maple Leaf

Cruising the islands of Haida Gwaii on a sailing cruise with Maple Leaf

3. Remote islands.

The Haida Gwaii archipelago consists of over 140 islands, almost all of which are currently uninhabited by humans. If you dream of sailing in a world of wildlife from remote island to remote island, this is your dream come true. White sand beach, black sand beach, shell-strewn beach, shell midden. You’ll step onto all of these places.

2. (tied) Intertidal life.

sea cucumber, Burnaby Narrows, Haida Gwaii

Looking at a sea cucumber in Burnaby Narrows on a Maple Leaf sail cruise

You haven’t seen weird and wonderful until you’ve spent the day in Burnaby Narrows (aka Dolomite Narrows) with Maple Leaf’s crew and guests. Constellations of sea stars (thanks, Sherry) in blue, purple, red and pink. Forests of plumose anemones. Reproducing moon snails. Mating hairy crabs. Giant purple and orange sun stars. Leather stars that smell like garlic. Huge sea cucumbers and burrowingg sea cucumbers… and that’s just getting started. We dare your inner child to stay hidden.

2. (tied) Ancient murrelets.

We’ve heard that half the world loves birds and half the world doesn’t care about them. But we also know that latter half hasn’t been to Gwaii Haanas with Maple Leaf naturalist Trudy Chatwin. We have — and we have seen the light. Something like a quarter of the North Pacific’s ancient murrelets nest on Haida Gwaii in May. These pretty, black and white diving seabirds dig burrows under old growth rainforest. When their chicks, about the weight of fluffy ping pong balls, hatch, they have 48 hours to get used to life outside the shell before the first ordeal: when it gets dark, the chicks walk and tumble, alone, down through the dark rainforest, around huge logs, to the sea, where their parents, waiting about 50 feet out, are calling to them. They jump in and swim out. If they don’t get tossed back on land by waves, or eaten by an owl or a ling cod, they reach their parents an continue to swim up to 10 km before they get their first breakfast. Some animals are just born tough.

Memorial pole at the village of SGang Gwaay

First glimpse of the Haida monumental poles as Maple Leaf's guests arrive at the village of SGang Gwaay on a remote island.

1. Haida monumental art.

Sailing to remote islands and then going ashore into the unoccupied Haida village sites in Gwaii Haanas is a little like entering another world. People left the villages over a century ago when smallpox spread. But the carved poles and massive houses remained. Although they are slowly rotting and falling back to the Earth, there are still spectacular examples of this renowned, functional human art. UN World Heritage Site SGang Gwaay is perhaps the most impressive of all. When we visit, Haida watchmen (part of a program under Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve an Haida Heritage Site), welcome us and our guests and share the history and their knowledge about the villages with us. Modern artists, through a cultural renaissance, are also carving in the modern villages of Skidegate and Masset.

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You can read details about our (Maple Leaf Adventures) Haida Gwaii tours here. And you can see the video of these expedition cruises by sailing ship into Gwaii Haanas in Haida Gwaii here.