Sitting off the west coast of Canada, with Alaska in sight, is the beautiful Haida Gwaii. Consisting of approximately 150 islands, across a total landmass similar to one Corsica or two Kangaroo Islands, it is home to just 4,761 people, half of which are indigenous Haida people. It’s really quite hard to get to – we took two flights, one hire car and one ferry – which is a quite a blessing; it’s one of the most unspoilt places I have ever visited.
It was also quite an unusual place. We spent three days hiking in shorts and t-shirts along beaches and up hills with a hot sun on our backs. The turquoise waters felt very tropical and yet the air smelt of Christmas: everywhere you looked there were spruces and pines, cedars and hemlocks. It really was a curious combination.
But how beautiful it was, after our city sightseeing in Vancouver and Victoria. Even the funny, short, red curtains in our room, the wrinkled prints on the wall and the fawn coloured bedsheets seemed to hold charm after the showiness of Vancouver.
And there was no ‘would you like fries with that?’, anywhere we went. The locals just wanted to help give you directions, wave to you as you drove past and offer excellent quality, and even better value, gastronomic delights. If only there was more of this left in this world.
The most delightful experience was visiting a bakery in the forest. About twenty kilometres down a dirt road, we came across the ‘Moon Over Naikoon’ bakery. We parked at the sign and walked through dense trees to a little shed, where we were greeted with smiles and pizza and cinnamon buns. There was no electricity, no running water, just amazing smells and tastes, produced via solar power and hard work at half the price I would pay at home.
Co-incidentally, whilst visiting Haida Gwaii, I was reading ‘The Garden of Evening Mists’ by Tan Twan Eng, which a friend very kindly ‘Amazoned’ me from the UK after enjoying it herself. It’s about a highly skilled Japanese garden designer and talks of his dislike of excess. Reading this, whilst exploring Haida Gwaii make me feel that there are only three things you really need to feel content in life: good light, a large water mass and green stuff. If you have those three things, it is easy to sit for hour after hour feeling really quite satisfied.
The green stuff was all about natural beauty, although the mossy, forest carpets did remind me of the Japanese gardens we’d seen on the mainland. It was fantastic to see so much ‘wild’ space, although I did want to get planting in the residents’ front gardens. The horrid word, ‘yard’, was the only appropriate one for them.
We did see one garden, ‘The Copper Beech’ house, which, along with its namesake had a number of planted shrubs. We also saw the beginnings of a garden at the amazing Haida Gwaii Heritage Centre, but this really did have a way to go.
Only on our penultimate day did we come across a garden garden; at the Queen Charlotte Visitor Centre. It really did bring a huge smile to my face to see the effort they had made and the wonderful result. It certainly wasn’t an easy spot, right on the coastline, but it was a high quality (if small) garden. It reminded me of Cornwall somehow.
As well as hunting out gardens, we walked along beaches and rivers, up mountains and through forests.
We went to the Delkatla Wildlife Sanctuary and chatted to a lady there who moved to Haida Gwaii from Ireland some forty years ago (and has never looked back).
We saw traditional totem poles and watched the carving of new ones…
…and we saw interesting geological features: Balance Rock, for one.
I can’t recommend Haida Gwaii highly enough, despite only finding the one garden (which sets the benchmark for everything else at a pretty high level!). The wildlife and natural vegetation and the culture of its people makes for a wonderfully relaxing stay that really re-connects you with the important things in life.
Interestingly, on the day we left Haida Gwaii, the light changed and it became overcast with some spots of rain; actually far more typical weather for the region. Paul looked out to sea as we sat on the ferry and said ‘Scotland’; it was true, suddenly it was Scotland in front of us. The conifers looked far more in place in a clearly cold temperate environment and our curious tropical island had vanished in the dim light.
It’s remarkable, the effect that light has on our perception and mood. Low light can be dramatic and at least, as a contrast, make us appreciate stronger light. But I still came away feeling that with just some good light, water and greenery (oh, and perhaps a large glass of red wine), I could happily exist for many, many years.