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’s been on my radar for a very long time.

Ninstints is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because: 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, Haida Gwaii"

Our campsite near Rose Harbour

"Morning mist and calm waters - Haida Gwaii"

Morning mist and calm waters

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.

"En route to Ninstints on Anthony Island"

En route to Ninstints on Anthony Island

"Time for a stretch and a pee break before heading across open water"

Time for a stretch and a pee break before heading across open water

"pillow basalt on Haida Gwaii"

We kayak by pillow basalt

"Large jellyfish beside the kayak - Haida Gwaii"

Large jellyfish beside the kayak

"Loads of "By the Wind Sailors - Haida Gwaii"

Loads of “By the Wind Sailors”

"By the Wind Sailors stink - but they're beautiful"

“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.

"Almost at Anthony Island"

Almost at Anthony Island

"landing spot on Anthony Island"

You must land here

"Anthony Island, Haida Gwaii"

Admiring the view

"Mussels galore - look more like a painting than something live"

Mussels galore – look more like a painting than something live

Ruins of a Haida Longhouse

Ruins of a Haida Longhouse

"Our first glimpse of the totems"

Our first glimpse of the totems

"Mortuary poles in the village of Ninstints"

Totem close-up

"On a tour of the village with a Watchman"

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 of the totems"

Beautiful carving

"Detailed explanations by the Watchman bring history alive"

Detailed explanations by the Haida Watchmen bring history alive

"Memorial poles in the village of Ninstints"

Memorial poles

"Memorial pole - Ninstints Village"

Showing the wear of time

"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 quick drop in temperature as we enter the rainforest"

A noticeable drop in temperature as we enter the rainforest

Looking up, way up in the rainforest

Looking up, way up in the rainforest

"Walking on moss covered steps through the rainforest enroute to the Watchman's Cabin"

Walking on moss covered steps through the rainforest enroute to the Watchmen’s Cabin

"The Watchman's Cabin"

The Watchmen’s Cabin

"The view from the Watchman'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.

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest board.

Kayaking to Ninstints on Anthony Island

Other posts related to this kayaking trip you might enjoy:

Leigh McAdam

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta
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Join the discussion 30 Comments

  • Jackie Smith says:

    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!

  • 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!

  • Johanna says:

    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 ;)

  • This place looks like it was well worth the effort it took to get there. What a beautiful campsite and beautiful kayaking scenery! And the carvings look quite well preserved.

  • Donna Janke says:

    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.

  • These photos are magnificent! The color is amazing – particularly the jellyfish and mussels. I would like to know more about the Haida culture and love the idea of watchmen to guard their historic treasure.

    • @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.

  • Mike says:

    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? :)

    • @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.

  • Your pictures typify the term “great outdoors.” They are dazzling~

  • Elaine J. Masters says:

    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.

  • Michelle says:

    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!

  • Hi Leigh. What a great adventure. What stories those totems would tell if they could talk :) Love those huge trees. Agree, your mussel shot looks like a gorgeous painting.

  • Your photos are glorious! What an interesting and educational location!!

  • 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!

    • @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.

  • Carole Terwilliger Meyers says:

    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.

  • Nancy says:

    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.

    • @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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