The first Europeans who sailed in front of the native villages lining the shores of Hiada Gwaii must have been awe-struck and astonished at the rows of large colorful long-houses, the huge entrance door poles, the many tall clan and ceremonial totem poles – along with the intricately carved canoes. Our goal was to visit these ancient villages – plus see the wild life and experience these mystic and remote islands.
Our Morseby Explorer four-day adventure started as we disembarked the walk-on ferry across Alliard Bay from Skidegate to Sandspit. With our tour leader and eight other companions assembled we drove along a long dirt road into Morseby Camp where the company’s zodiacs, kayaks and gear were stored. There we were outfitted with rubber boots, rubbers overalls, rubbers coats and a life jacket; – ours for the next four days; they were heavy.
Day 1. – The zodiac had two rows of padded seats facing front-wards that you straddled between your legs with sturdy handles in front to hold on to. Off we cruised down the Cumshewa Inlet into the Selwyn Inlets heading towards the first native village of Skedans – now called Kuuna. As a protection from plunder and heft the Hiada have formed a group called “The Watchman” who live at the old ancient sites to greet boating visitors. Mary, our Watchman at Skedans, led us on a guided tour of this ancient first nations village with its many falling totem poles. Most of the poles were leaning over, falling and rotting away. The site was once a huge village and home to quite a large population pre 1840. Although there were not any standing structures now, you could still see the fallen logs and remnants of where large homes used to be.
Then, on to the floating lodge for the night which was half-way down Gwaii Haanus near Tanu Island. The floating lodge was very comfortable and staffed by two young ladies who fed us some amazingly good food. While there, we watched a group of large Risso’s Dolphin’s feeding in the front waters. Picture old Tanu
Day 2 – Early next morning, with our bed sheets, and lunches we geared up for our journey around the exposed headland towards Rose Harbor. We went through the beautiful Burnaby Narrows where we had lunch on a remote lonely beautiful beach. Then it was off through Skincuttle Inlet towards Benjamin Point to navigate around the headland to our remote and rustic accommodations in Rose Harbour. On the way we watched several Humpback whales breeching. We also saw White-Sided Dolphins, lots of sea birds such as Surf Scoters, Murrelets, Harliquin Ducks and Oyster Catchers.
Rose Harbour, was an old whaling station from the early 1900’s near the tip of Gwaii Haanas. Around the harbor’s beaches, scattered everywhere, were all kinds of old ruins; red brick buildings, rusty drums, large containers, and odd whaling station items. Our old lodge had very basic plank beds, good heavy blankets, and outside toilets – with ice cream buckets for night time use. Susan, our Rose Harbour cook, served a tasty supper outside on a round table in the warm sunshine. Susan and Gutz have lived at Rose Harbor for 30 and 34 years respectively.
Day 3. Next morning, after a great breakfast by Susan we set off for home by rounding the exposed headland of Benjamin Point again. However, the wind and waves were building higher and higher as we proceeded – with white caps spraying heavily backwards their tops stinging and lashing our eyes and faces. The zodiac fought to crest each large roller and then ski down – before climbing the next. After an intense two and a half hours in these heavy rough seas, we finally reached the shelter of the inner islands and a beach. Everyone was shivering from the wet, the cold wind and the frightening sea. Everything was soaking so we tried to dry ourselves and put on whatever dry clothes we could find. We then spread out our wet clothes over the rocks to dry in the sunshine. After a rest we set off for the floating lodge to get warm and recover.
Day 4. Our final stop for lunch was at the lovely ancient native village of Tanu now called Taanuu. It was my favorite place. It was situated in two half-moon bays with beautiful beaches in warm sunshine. We also walked to a lovely waterfall. At one time, there were between 25 to 40 longhouses in Tanu and it had been a larger village than Skedans – but did not have any carved totem poles left. Little is left standing at T’aanuu Llnagaay, but today the spirit of the place is still strong. The house depressions and moss-covered house posts leave a good sense of the layout of this fairly large village. We were back at our Morseby Camp by 3:30 pm for the long drive to the Alliford Ferry. A great and memorable trip.