Haida Gwaii Adventures, British Columbia
Although I have travelled BC, especially between Vancouver and Prince George, more times than I can count, when my husband and I bought an RV we slowed down; really began to see this amazing province we call home. In this blog I am sharing one of our many BC explorations.
We had heard much about Haida Gwaii, the mystical secluded archipelago made up of a cluster of islands off the northern coast of BC. We were eager to discover it for ourselves. It’s sparsely populated and not easy to get to. Most of the inhabitants are indigenous and live in villages located almost exclusively on Graham Island.
There is an expression about remote communities that there are only three ways to access them, by water, by air or by birth. We chose water taking the ferry that is part of BC’s provincial ferry system from Prince Rupert to Skidegate on Haida Gwaii. Reserve early as it fills up fast particularly during the busy season. We encountered others who had not been so attentive in their planning. They were stuck on the island until they could secure another sailing. Not always easy with an RV.
A curious fact about the ferry to Haida Gwaii, not only does it take eight hours, but oversized vehicles need to be backed onboard. “Excuse me, as in backing up all the way down the ramp and onto the ferry?” Of course, if you need assistance the ferry workers have you covered. They have professional drivers that will do it for you if you prefer. As I do all the driving, I looked at my husband, “you got this,” he said. And I did, but it’s a long ramp and a technical drive not for the faint of heart.
Once on the island our first campsite was on the ocean surrounded by serene ancient forest just outside Daajing Giids (a more appropriate culturally representative name than the former Queen Charlotte City). It was quintessential west coast. A light rain fell, the kind that doesn’t really get you wet, but causes mist to form drifting across the beach and through the trees draped with moss.
We walked the rugged beach, and to our delight came across wild sea asparagus which we harvested for our dinner. In fact, wild harvest is a common practice. You won’t find any fancy high-priced touristy seafood restaurants here. The locals acquire and trade amongst themselves the abundance from the land and sea rather than marketing to visitors.
Next, we drove to Masset on the northern end of Graham Island. Along the way were many deer grazing beside the roadway, a local phenomenon. We rode our bicycles around Old Masset enjoying the authentic aboriginal village, oceanfront, and a quick bite at one of several food trucks that serve as “eating out” Masset style. You may also wish to trek just a bit further to Tow Hill to take in the vast Pacific Ocean vistas.
Heading back south to catch our ferry off island we explored Port Clements mingling with the locals as they fished off the pier in the heart of town. We also stopped for photos at area attractions Halibut Bite and Balance Rock.
The ferry between Haida Gwaii and Prince Rupert runs during the day, or you can take it overnight. Staterooms are available so you can get some rest as Transport Canada doesn’t allow you to stay in your vehicle below deck for safety reasons. Hecate Strait is renowned for its turbulent seas. We chose a daytime crossing on our way over to Haida Gwaii to take in the sights and an overnight on the way back to Prince Rupert (with a stateroom). The overnight ferry from Haida Gwaii aligned perfectly with our intent to board yet another ferry, this time from Prince Rupert to Port Hardy on the northern tip of Vancouver Island. This route might be known to those who have traversed the inside passage on an Alaskan cruise. The scenery and the wildlife are spectacular!
We recommend Haida Gwaii to the more adventurous. Its natural beauty is stunning but it’s short on amenities so prepare accordingly. The towns on Haida Gwaii are small. Ideally take your own accommodation (we had our RV), your own food (groceries are limited) and fuel can be very expensive as it must be barged in so fill up before you come. The number of eateries, coffee shops, stores and accommodations are sparse compared to mainland standards and the residents aren’t particularly fussed about catering to off-island interests so don’t expect much other than to supplement what you brought.
In short, this is no tourist mecca. You don’t come to Haida Gwaii for the modern-day amenities or atmosphere. You come to appreciate the simplicity, the unspoiled First Nations culture and wild natural wonder of the west coast.
For RVing and camping accommodations in British Columbia go the camping map.
Share your BC travel and camping pictures using hashtag #campinbc #exploreBC
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Snowbirds! Spending Your Winter in the Vancouver Area? Check Out This Side Trip – North Vancouver to Whistler
Recently, we wrote a blog about things to see and do if you are a Snowbird staying in the Vancouver area. We suggested a drive from Vancouver to Harrison Hot Springs along Highway 7. Here is another drive that follows the Sea to Sky Highway (Hwy 99) from North Vancouver to Whistler.
The Sea to Sky Highway hugs the coastline as it winds its way north offering up stunning views across Howe Sound and to the mountains beyond. It then heads inland north of Squamish to the year-round destination of world-famous Whistler and Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort. Mt Seymour, Grouse Mountain, and Cypress Mountain are all popular winter activity destinations, two of which are included in this trip.
- Rent a pair of ice skates and enjoy the exhilarating fresh air atop Grouse Mountain on their 8,000 sq. ft. ice skating pond. The Skyride allows for stunning views across Vancouver, Stanley Park and beyond.
- Take a self-guided snowshoe tour or go cross-country skiing at the top of Cypress Mountain through a forested winter wonderland. Warm up with a hot drink or bowl of soup.
- Back on Highway 99 and a further 18 km (11 mi) is the tiny, picturesque village of Lions Bay which hugs the shoreline. A must stop-off is the Lions Bay General Store and Café, located on the east side of the highway (take Lions Bay Avenue exit) and a favourite of those who have travelled this road for decades. You’ll find local products, great coffee, beer, lunch, souvenirs and great views too.
- Adjacent to the highway is the Britannia Mine Museum, an award-winning national historic site. It was a working copper mine from 1904-1974 and opened in 1975 as the BC Museum of Mining. You’ll be dazzled by the light and sound show as you are transported underground by train.
- Just south of Squamish is the entrance to the Sea to Sky Gondola. Be amazed at the stunning views of snow-capped mountains, old-growth forests and turquoise waters of the Howe Sound stretched out before you. At the top take in the brisk winter air, try snow-shoeing or tubing and then warm up with a hot drink or visit the Sky Pilot Restaurant where you can enjoy delicious West Coast fare.
- Like to try local craft beer? Howe Sound Brewing in Squamish produces an abundance of craft beer, from seasonal to year-round brews. Pair their excellent beer with small bites or big bites, all made in-house. It’s located on Cleveland Avenue left off Highway 99, almost at the end of town; you will see the pub on your right.
- For some eagle spotting, head back to the highway and continue north towards Brackendale and Brackendale Eagles Provincial Park, one of North America’s largest congregations of wintering bald eagles. These majestic birds gather in this area from November to January to feast on salmon. There are plenty of lookouts and shelters to view the eagles (the Eagle Run viewing shelter is at 41015 Government Road) and you can take an organized tour or even an eagle viewing float trip. Visit Squamish Tourism’s web page on eagle viewing for more information.
- Get back on the highway, it’s time to head to Whistler! There is so much to do in this world-renowned resort. In winter the snow is the big attraction with skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing and more, but if you want to do something different or your ski legs need a rest there are fabulous restaurants, art galleries, spas, winter events, festivals and more. A must-see is the Whistler Village stroll where you will find fun and sporty shops, bistros and cafes, and the Whistler Olympic Plaza, which is transformed into an outdoor skating rink in winter.
- To experience First Nations art, history and culture visit the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre in Whistler. Hear the stories and songs and admire the traditional regalia, carvings and art. This is a beautiful museum with stunning works and exhibits; guided tours are available.
- If you are in Whistler on a Sunday evening from December to March check out the free Fire & Ice Show in Whistler Village. Grab a cup of hot chocolate or warm cider and be prepared to be amazed at the spectacle created as expert skiers jump through hoops of fire!
- Once you have explored Whistler then it’s time to head back, and the views are just as stunning on the return journey! You will pass Furry Creek, known for its golf and country club, and the villages of Lions Bay and Horseshoe Bay, home of the BC Ferries terminal for taking travellers over to Vancouver Island, the Sunshine Coast and Bowen Island. Horseshoe Bay has some shops and eateries and it’s always fun to watch the ferries coming and going.
There is so much more to see in this area, particularly in and around North and West Vancouver. Check out Vancouver’s North Shore Tourism. You could spend a day or two exploring the parks and waterfront walks, Lonsdale Quay Market, with its specialty shops and services, or the historic and growing urban neighbourhood of The Shipyards District.
For other drives from Vancouver check out:
For RV parks and other camping accommodations check out the Winter Camping Map.
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Saysutshun (Newcastle Island) Marine Provincial Park
A short passenger-only ferry ride from Nanaimo brings you to Saysutshun (Newcastle Island) Marine Provincial Park, a place perfect for rest and relaxation. The island, part of the traditional territory of the Snuneymuxw (Nanaimo) First Nation people, has a rich history and spectacular setting that is well worth spending a day or two exploring.
The island has long been used by the Snuneymuxw peoples as a place of physical and spiritual healing. The island is home to many plants used as traditional medicines and was also used as a grieving location when someone from the community passed away. By the mid 1800s, coal had been discovered in the area and over the next century the physical and social landscape of the island was irreversibly changed as mining, a sandstone quarry, a shipyard, and a fish saltery sprung up on the island. In 1931, the Canadian Pacific Steamship Company purchased the island, turning it into a resort that included a pool, picnic areas, a floating hotel, and a dance pavilion featuring a spring floor which remains today and is the only one of its type left in British Columbia. When World War Two arrived, pleasure trips to Newcastle Island became mostly a thing of the past, and the island experienced a significant decline in popularity. In the early 1960s, the island was established as a 363-hectare Marine Provincial Park and today operation of the park is in the process of being transferred back to the Snuneymuxw First Nation.
A trip to Saysutshun (Newcastle Island) begins with a ten-minute water taxi trip from Maffeo Sutton Park in Nanaimo. When you first arrive on the island, make a point to stop at the welcome booth operated by the Snuneymuxw First Nation for a map and an introduction to the island. For those interested in the cultural and industrial history of the island, local Snuneymuxw guide Dave offers excellent walking tours that take approximately an hour and a half and are full of fascinating history, cultural teachings, and personal anecdotes.
If you are a more DIY traveller, arm yourself with a map of the island and set out on one of the many walking trails that criss-cross the island. From the spectacular Shoreline Trail that passes picture-perfect swimming locations, including Brownie Bay and Kanaka Bay (complete with its very own ghost story!), to the Channel Trail that allows you to step back in time as you walk through the old Sandstone Quarry, Newcastle Island is a walker’s paradise. Looping the entire island is about eight kilometres but give yourself plenty of time as picture opportunities are plentiful and it is well worth poking around some of the former industrial sites including a mine shaft and an air shaft.
Saysutshun has no large wildlife to concern yourself with, but it is home to a truly unique wildlife viewing opportunity, nonetheless. A stop at the information kiosk near the pavilion tells the tale of how the island became home to a rare breed of white raccoon. Raccoons are abundant on Newcastle Island, but for best white racoon viewing opportunities, walk around the island (particularly on the west side) and keep your eyes open. Always keep in mind, however, that raccoons are wild animals and under no circumstances should they be approached or fed. While they may look cute, the Newcastle Island raccoon population is becoming a real problem and it is extremely important to store your food and dispose of your garbage appropriately.
Saysutshun makes an excellent daytrip or walk-in camping location. For those wishing to stretch their trip to multiple days, 18 well-maintained walk-in sites are available (reservations can be made through Discover Camping) and group camping is also available. The Snuneymuxw First Nation also operates a concession in the pavilion serving up breakfast, lunch, and snacks.
No matter how long you intend to stay, Saysutshun Island offers plenty of opportunities for exploring and relaxing and is well worth adding to your BC bucket list.
For campgrounds in the area and elsewhere in British Columbia go to the Camping Map.
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Off the Beaten Track: Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Park
For those who don’t mind a drive, Anhluut’ukwsim Laxmihl Angwinga’asanskwhl Nisga’a – a.k.a. Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Park – 100 kilometres north of Terrace, in Northern British Columbia, offers a truly wonderful adventure.
Not many places can lay claim to being the home of the most recent and most easily accessible volcanic landscape in British Columbia, being the first provincial park to share management between BC Parks and a First Nation, and being home to the first “modern day” treaty in British Columbia – the “Nisga’a Final Agreement” of 2000. Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Park is a fantastic destination for those looking to combine history, culture, geology, and outdoor recreation.
Our adventure began at the Terrace Visitor Centre where we picked up a copy of the Nisga’a Auto Tour, a map detailing points of cultural and geological importance. One hour later, we arrived at Lava Lake – the southernmost end of the park. The lake offers a nice day-use area with a boat launch, possibilities for swimming, and a fascinating geological history.
Lava Lake was formed approximately 250 years ago when the Tseax River was dammed by a basalt lava flow. Today the river remains, the milky green water flowing underneath the blanket of lava covering the landscape and creating a now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t effect in places where the lava rock has collapsed and the river is again visible.
There are several places along the Auto Tour where you can take short walks to scenic spots on the water. The Beaupre Falls trail is only one kilometre return, and offers beautiful views of a cascading waterfall. A little further up the road, the Vetter Creek trail provides a short walk and a fascinating story about “Phantom Fish” – spawning steelhead that have been swept over a waterfall on the Tseax River only to be trapped when the river disappears underneath the lava rock. These “Phantom Fish,” sometimes visible below the falls, reportedly have large heads and elongated, snake-like bodies. Unfortunately, the “Phantom Fish” were all in hiding the day we were there!
Moving away from the water, the Auto Tour highlights some really interesting volcanic landscapes. The Crater Creek trail travels across “A-A” lava, a type of chunky and sharp lava that covers smoother lava called “Pahoehoe” found below. From the pictures, you might be wondering how the Crater Creek trail got its name since there is no water in sight. As it turns out, the original creek is up to 30 meters below your feet, an underground river flowing through passageways in the lava except during extreme floods, when the water comes bubbling to the surface and pushes the jagged “A-A” lava aside creating the gullies through which the trail now meanders.
As you walk the trails in Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Park one of the most striking things is the almost moon-like landscape. Nowhere is this more evident than Auto Tour stop number eleven – the Tree Mould trail. If you are anything like me, the concept of a “Tree Mould” is completely foreign. Thanks to the interpretive signage provided by BC Parks, I learned how during a volcanic eruption molten lava often surrounds trees and lights them on fire. In cases where the lava hardens quickly, the tree burns away leaving a hollow tube where the tree used to be. In some cases, an imprint of the tree bark is even left behind as a reminder of what used to be there!
Following our Auto Tour, we set up camp for the night at the 16-site Vetter Creek campsite. The site is really nice and surrounded by forest, a different landscape than much of the park visited during the Auto Tour. Right next to the campground is the park’s Visitor Centre, a beautiful building where you can learn more about Nisga’a culture and history, get maps of the area, and purchase souvenirs.
Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Park offers a huge range of cultural, geological, and outdoor recreation opportunities and unfortunately we only had a limited time to explore the area. I definitely feel like I “missed out” on some of the park’s unique features and am hoping to get back there sooner rather than later. Next time, I will make a point of signing up for the three kilometre guided hike to the rim of the Tseax crater. I will also spend more time exploring the four Nisga’a communities located near the park boundaries: Gitlakdamix (New Aiyansh), Gitwinksihlkw (Canyon City), Laxalts’ap (Greenville) and the Nisga’a Museum, and Gingolx (Kincolith).
Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Park may be off the beaten path, but in my opinion it can’t be beat when it comes to combining culture, history, and geology. You will not be disappointed!
For places to camp in British Columbia go to the Camping Map
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Powell River, British Columbia, Insulated by Nature
Two ferries from the lower Mainland or one from Vancouver Island to get to Powell River could leave you feeling isolated, but locals prefer to think of it as being insulated from the busy world and high crime. Powell River, situated on the side of a mountain is wrapped in forest, insulated by nature. With hundreds of lakes behind it and the ocean at its feet, locals have the best of both worlds.
Powell River and area population (Lund, Texada, Savary Island) is about 20,000. There are box stores, independent stores and eateries covering a wide range of tastes. At the south end of Powell River sit by the sea at “Seasider Bistro & Wine Bar” or at the north end closer to Lund enjoy a spectacular view of Okeover Inlet at “Laughing Oyster Restaurant.” It’s open April to October. If you want to enjoy a meal “on” the water “The Boardwalk in Lund” has gluten free cooking while a golden sun sets into the ocean.
Lund is either the beginning or the end of Highway 101 depending on who you ask. It once was a fishing village now a tourist destination for those taking off for Savary Island or other islands. “Historic Lund Hotel” was originally built in 1895, now owned by Tla’amin Nation. It has 31 rooms, a store, restaurant, pub, laundromat, and Tug Uhm Art Gallery. Camp at “Sunlund By-The-Sea Campground & Cabin,” a 5 minute walk to the hotel and “downtown” Lund. Sunlund offers full facilities; pets are welcome, laundromat and showers surrounded by forest. What a setting to wake up in before going to Nancy’s Bakery for one of their famous blackberry cinnamon buns. Fuel up before you leave Powell River. There isn’t a service station in Lund.
If you’re ready for a hike try the Sunshine Coast Trail. At 180 km. with 13 huts it’s the longest free hut-to-hut trail in Canada. Pick up part of it at “Inland Lake Provincial Park” with spacious campsites among the trees. It has a 13 km wheelchair accessible trail around the lake. The road to the park is a good gravel road about 20 mins from Powell River. It’s open year-round with free camping from mid-September to mid-May.
Is canoeing your desire? The Canoe Route is 57 km long taking you through 8 lakes with portages.
We live in Powell River but our favorite campground is downtown by the ocean. “Willingdon Beach Campground” has 81 sites, some full-service, some beside the beach, others snugged under the trees. An easy walking trail joins it through towering cedar and Douglas fir where pesky squirrels beg for peanuts. At one time it was the rail bed for bringing logs down from the lake to the log dump on the beach. Old logging equipment rests along the trail. It’s only 5 minutes from Westview Ferry terminal to Texada Island or Vancouver Island.
Historic Powell River Townsite was where it all started. Dr. Israel Wood Powell discovered the area in 1881 and established logging camps but thousands of years before him it was home to Tla’amin First Nations. A pulp and paper mill was built 1910- 1912 and went on to become the largest newsprint mill in the world. The company built a lovely town based on the English Garden plan. Take a walk around the old homes; tour Dr. Henderson’s home and when you’re tuckered out stop at “Townsite Brewery.” From a 1931 building the “Townsite Market” has grown with individual stores selling produce, unique products from hand-made chocolates to children’s clothes and more. “The Old Courthouse Inn” owners decorated each room in an antique theme and serve delicious meals in the cozy café. Go to the movies at the Patricia Theatre, the longest running theatre in Canada. In 1995 the federal government proclaimed this area a National Historic District.
If it’s culture you want, Powell River has it every month of the year. In August they shut down Highway 101/Marine Drive to celebrate the blackberry at the Blackberry Festival. Lund is famous for their Shellfish Festival in May. Every 2 years International Choral Fest Kathaumixw fills the air with music for five days. For a complete list of all that is happening in the area stop by the Powell River Visitor’s Information Centre, 4760 Joyce Ave. They have a gift store and WIFI.
There is just too much to tell in a short period of time. You’ll just have to discover how Powell River is insulated by nature for yourself. Warning: People have been known to come for a visit and 30 years later they are still here.
If this area interests you, check out our drive:
Salish Sea Route
For Camping and RV parks in the area and elsewhere in BC go to the camping map.
Share your BC camping and travel photos using hashtag #campinbc, #explorebc
It’s always a great day to #campinbc
Published: May 23rd, 2019
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