Escape to Queens Charlotte Islands, the land of mist and myths

You could not possibly conjure up a more refreshing travel destination in North America than the Queen Charlotte Islands. It will take a bit of planning so start now for the upcoming summer's trip.

Imagine a green group of about 150 islands surrounded by mist and myths lying off the coast of British Columbia. It is a place where the powerful Haidas have been landing canoes for over 10,000 years. Europeans arrived in the late 1700s and began trading for fur pelts and then came the smallpox epidemic and the island's population was devastated. Today, only fractions of their original number inhabit the islands. And the population remains at under 5,000.

The islands are covered by ancient forests and dotted with small communities. The villages are unique and contain no chain stores, restaurants or lodgings. Yea! Summer is cool and it is a rare day when the sun shines. Considering how sunny Southern California is year-round, imagine a cool, crisp place where there are fewer than 20 days of sunshine a year. If you have ever traveled to the islands off the Scottish coast, this place will remind you of those visits.

You can reach the islands via a plane flight from Vancouver (YVR), so leave PSP for Vancouver and transfer to the daily Air Canada Jazz flight to Sandspit. (YZP). Pacific Coast Airlines flies to Masset (YMT). There is a car ferry from Prince Rupert but the drive from the desert will take almost a week in either direction. Flying cuts your travel time to one day in each direction. Although you will need a car to navigate the island and can rent one at the airport.

Do not miss the new Haida Heritage Center at the Kaay Llnagaay. It is near the Prince Rupert ferry landing near Skidegate. It is a good beginning for of all the history you will be soon absorbing. It is a fabulous portrayal of all of the work, play and spirituality of the islands.

Much of the islands contain Gwaii Haanas National Park, which has recently been named the best National Park in North America.

There are many eco-adventure companies that will take you off to the historic and scenic sites. Dozens of ancient villages lined with totems that sit under cliffs and in deep rain forests await you. You will long remember the experience of approaching these ancient villages, which are surrounded by old growth timber, by canoe. Probably in the mist. You will no doubt be looking at distant images of bear, wolves, eagles and ravens.

Watchers who will guide you through these amazing collections of houses staff all the sites. Work sites, and totem poles. The Haida Gwaii, the pre-European name for the Queen Charlottes, nourished hundreds of generations of Haidas. The islands provided an abundance of food and water, and allowed the Haidas to develop a complex structure, which includes art, and architecture forms which today are heralded around the world.

The undisturbed areas of these islands continue to inspire new generations of artists, writers, poets and musicians. Spang Gwaay was names a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981. After visiting many of these sites with the informed watchers, you will never forget the spirituality of this land.

These islands do not stop with just history and spirituality. You and your friends and family will see abundant wildlife -- birds, whales, seals, dolphins, porpoises and sea lions. The waters are full of salmon, halibut, lingcod and rockfish. The rivers and creeks are full of Dolly Varden and steelhead. Your group paddling back from the villages may very well catch some rockfish and end up have a feast cooked on the beach!

On the northern end of the island near the tiny village of Masset, lies Naikoon Provincial Park. There are hundreds of miles of hiking trails, and well over 100 campsites scattered along the mostly unpopulated beach. Check out BC Parks.

Other than camping throughout the islands, there are some small unique accommodations available. None of them make the AAA Tour Books for a recommendation, but they are clean, safe and fit the laid back atmosphere of the islands. Book them way in advance for the summer season. The Hecate Inn is a clean, comfortable place in Queen Charlotte City. Find their information here.

Gracies Place is a great find. The property also has a two-bedroom house with a kitchen, which is wonderful. Another good choice for hotel rooms is Premier Creek Lodging. Additionally, at Masset at the northern end of the islands near Naikoon Provincial Park is Engelhard's Oceanview Lodge. It is a classic fishing lodge at the marina. If sport fishing is part of your visit, this is a perfect spot. The small owner staffed cafes and pubs scattered around the islands in all the small towns offer solid healthy food. Salmon burgers, salmon hash, halibut soups and salads, fresh baked bread, organic tea, coffee and granola, and fresh garden herbs and vegetables are common.

The Queen Charlottes are a grand adventure. It does take some planning in advance. If you are a traveler seeking some adventure, out of the way travel, powered by strong cultural and historic images, the opposite of our sunny climate and a place that will remain in your heart and soul forever, count of the Queen Charlottes.

For this and other vacation ideas, contact George at zander44@aol.com

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