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Learning about the Memorial poles from Natasha, our delightful Watchman guide

Kayaking to Ninstints on Anthony Island, Gwaii Haanas

Kayaking to the village of Ninstints on Anthony Island was definitely one of the highlights of a week-long kayaking trip in Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve. It’s a place that had been on my radar for a very long time.

Ninstints is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. “It bears unique testimony to the culture of the Haida. The art represented by the carved poles at SGang Gwaay llnagaay (Nan Sdins) is recognized to be among the finest examples of its type in the world.”

Getting to Ninstints isn’t easy

Located off the southern tip of Haida Gwaii (formerly the Queen Charlotte Island), it’s a long boat ride (about four rough, cold hours) away from the launch site at Moresby Camp. 

Boat tours are provided by Moresby Explorers but it’s also possible to visit via a kayak if the weather God’s cooperate. There’s an open water crossing where wind and swell can make it unsafe to cross but our group of nine got lucky.

In fact Jo, our guide and owner of Green Coast Kayaking tells us that the crossing we did was one of the calmest she had ever done.

Our day started at a campsite at Rose Harbour. The weather was perfect and the winds were calm from the get-go. The plan was to be on the water early, so we were up at 6:15 AM.

Our campsite near Rose Harbour
Our campsite near Rose Harbour
Rose Harbour, Haida Gwaii at sunrise
Morning mist and calm waters

The paddle to Anthony Island

By the time we left camp at around 8:30 AM the mist had disappeared and the sun was shining. It took us a few hours to paddle to Anthony Island with one stop along the way.

Paddling over to Ninstints
Paddling over to Ninstints
Time for a stretch and a pee break before heading across open water to Ninstints
Time for a stretch and a pee break before heading across open water
We kayak by pillow basalt
We kayak by pillow basalt
Large jellyfish beside the kayak on the way to Ninstints
Large jellyfish beside the kayak
"By the Wind Sailors" stink - but they're beautiful
“By the Wind Sailors” stink – but they’re beautiful
Great colours & textures of marine life
“By the Wind Sailors” stink – but they’re beautiful

A visit to Ninstints on Anthony Island

Upon landing on Anthony Island, we were met by Haida Gwaii Watchmen. The program began in 1981 after worries about destruction and vandalism of Haida village sites – particularly on Tanu Island, Hotspring Island, Windy Bay, Skedans, Burnaby Narrows and Ninstints.

Now Haida volunteers are trained and stories are shared. The Watchmen we met spend the summer on the island conducting tours and helping travelers in case of emergencies. 

Over several hours we learned about Haida life, their strong oral traditions, and the smallpox that decimated the population. We also heard about how the Longhouses were built and why certain poles – both memorial and mortuary – were erected. I wish I’d had a recorder with me so I could remember everything.

Landing on SGang Gwaay - a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Landing on SGang Gwaay – a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Admiring the view from Ninstints
Admiring the view
Masses of mussels
Masses of mussels that look more like a painting than something live
Ruins of a Haida Longhouse on Ninstints
Ruins of a Haida Longhouse
Our first glimpse of the totems
Our first glimpse of the totems
Totem close-up
Totem close-up
On a tour of the village with a Haida Gwaii Watchmen
On a tour of the village with a Haida Gwaii Watchmen
Beautiful beach in front of the memorial poles - but YOU CAN'T LAND HERE
Beautiful beach in front of the memorial poles – but YOU CAN’T LAND HERE
Beautiful carving
Beautiful carving
Learning about the Memorial poles from Natasha, our delightful Watchman guide
Learning about the Memorial poles from Natasha, our delightful Watchman guide
Memorial poles on Ninstints
Memorial poles
Memorial pole showing the wear of time
Memorial pole showing the wear of time
On Ninstints you see the remains of another Haida Longhouse - and what a view it had
The remains of another Haida Longhouse – and what a view it had
A noticeable drop in temperature as we enter the rainforest
A noticeable drop in temperature as we enter the rainforest
Walking on Ninstints on moss covered steps through the rainforest on route to the Watchmen's Cabin
Walking on moss covered steps through the rainforest on route to the Watchmen’s Cabin
The Watchmen's Cabin on Ninstints
The Watchmen’s Cabin
The view from the Haida Watchmen's Cabin
The view from the Haida Watchmen’s Cabin

After a full tour and the walk back and forth to the cabin, it was back to our kayaks for lunch and a siesta before continuing our journey.

I think all of us came away with a new appreciation for Haida culture and especially all that the Haida people have endured. Kudos to the Haida Watchmen for bringing their history alive.

Further reading on kayaking in Gwaii Haanas National Park

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest board.

Kayaking to Ninstints on Anthony Island

 

 

 

Leigh McAdam

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 61,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

This Post Has 31 Comments

  1. You did make the mussels look like a painting, Leigh. Great tour you gave us armchair outdoor travelers. Loved the morning mist shot as well – it so looks like the Pacific Northwest’s iconic mornings that we’ve been experiencing for the last week. Nothing like a bit of mist and a body of water to make a bit of magic!

  2. This sounds like an incredible day trip, Leigh! Do you know if there are other Haida village sites with a program like this for visitors that don’t involve several hours of kayaking to access? That jellyfish looks huge – and I had no idea that there were jellyfish in BC waters!

  3. What a fabulous place to go kayaking, and how interesting to learn about the Haida culture. Love those tall trees and fantastic vistas. Must must must get to your part of the world 😉

  4. Wow, your pictures are amazing. I don’t think I’d be comfortable enough on the water to take the boat ride to Ninstints, so I’m glad to learn a little bit about it from your post.

    1. @Betsy I have plenty to learn about the Haida culture and so wish I’d been smart enough to tape all the information our Watchmen shared with us. One of the stories I like best is keeping the oral traditions alive and to do that, the men would have to recite perfectly the entire story. If they didn’t get it right, they’d do it again the next night until they eventually got it down pat.

  5. I always love all of your posts but your B.C. ones are my favorites because I’ve visited there many years ago. Oh, Banff stuff too 🙂 I would imagine it’s ok to glamorous it through a picture on my mind but I was going to say it would be incredible to work in that Watchman’s Cabin. Of course a lot of other duties probably go with that job huh, Leigh? 🙂

    1. @Mike There is a lot of history you have to learn a to be a Watchmen – and there are a number of courses to take including first aid. But most importantly you must be Haida so I’m afraid Mike you’ll never get the job.

  6. You had incredible weather for a trip that could’ve been so cold and gray (also beautiful.) Your post reminded me so of my days kayaking in Southeast Alaska around the Juneau area. Very special part of the world and thanks for opening my eyes to this one.

  7. Wow! I have not had the privilege to visit the Haida village site. What a nature lovers paradise. I bet it was relaxing and you got your share of fresh air. I enjoyed ALL of your photos!

  8. I’ve read about the longhouses but loved learning more about the Haida and their villages which are set among some of the most jaw dropping scenery I’ve seen. What an adventure to be a Haida watchman and live in the cabin for the summer among all the historical sites, recounting your people’s traditions to interested travelers like yourself. A memorable experience for all involved!

    1. @Anita I think the Watchmen program is excellent especially as it gets the younger Haida people intimately involved in their culture – and it’s something they are then intensely proud of – plus it’s a glorious spot to spend the summer.

  9. I really enjoyed going along on your kayaking trip at Anthony Island. Your photos are excellent, and it was especially interesting to see the old totems.

  10. Beautiful photos from your visit, Leigh! I love kayaking but I’m a wuss when it comes to rough, open waters. Glad your waters were relatively calm. Thanks for sharing with us about the Haida culture.

    1. @Nancy I’m a wuss to when the water gets gnarly and my language has been known to deteriorate quite dramatically. WE were so lucky on our kayaking trip in Haida Gwaii. Thanks for stopping by.

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