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Saturday, May 17, 2014

Cruising to a remote archipelago of islands off the B.C. coast and a trip along the Saguenay Fjord in Quebec



   Out to Sea column for May 17/14

   (c) By Jim and Barb Fox

   See Canada from the sea just as the explorers did and discover some of the country’s vast but relatively untouched wilderness.
   Maple Leaf Adventures, a “boutique” expedition cruise company, explores Haida Gwaii (Islands of the People), formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands.
  A humpback whale makes an appearance in Juan Perez Sound, Gwaii Haanas, near the schooner Maple Leaf. (Kevin J. Smith/Maple Leaf Adventures)
   Adventurers can visit the new Gwaii Haanas Legacy Pole in this remote archipelago of islands along the continental shelf about 115 kilometres off the northern British Columbia coast.
   For the first time in 130 years, a new 12.8-metre (42-foot) carved monumental pole was raised last August at Windy Bay.
   It commemorates 20 years of co-operative management of Gwaii Haanas, the 138 islands that were protected by an agreement in 1993 between the government of Canada and the Haida people.
Maple Leaf guests discover Haida traditions at the UNESCO World Heritage Site SGang Gwaay, formerly known as the village of Ninstints. (Kevin J. Smith/Maple Leaf Adventures)
   For sightseers and adventurers, the area is “renowned for its Haida village sites, cathedral-like ancient rainforests, abundance of whales and seabirds, and its spectacular geography of mountains, islands and sea,” said Maureen Gordon of Maple Leaf Adventures.

   The Haida people, who have lived there so long that ancient, flooded settlements are being discovered under the sea, developed a monumental art and building style.
   Cruisers step aboard a classic coastal schooner for these nine-day expeditions, making calls to remote beaches, the rainforest and Haida village sites, including SGang Gwaay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
   “Maple Leaf’s expert local crew and naturalist make the world come alive and Haida interpreters teach guests about the culture, poles and villages,” Gordon said.
   “Gourmet food, sailing a classic tall ship and camaraderie between guests and crew are other highlights,” she added.
The new Gwaii Haanas Legacy Pole being carved in 2013. (Parks Canada, J. Shafto)
   Gwaii Haanas has become a “beacon for culturally respectful ecotourism,” with Maple Leaf trips rated one of Canada’s “Signature Experiences” by the Canadian Tourism Commission.
   The cruise company based in Victoria has been offering small-ship voyages on “restored, classic sailing ships” featuring the natural and cultural history of Alaska and Canada's west coast since 1986.
   Haida Gwaii sailings were available from May 30-June 7; June 1-9; and June 18-26. With “sufficient demand,” other dates – June 8-16 and possibly May 24-June 1 – could be added.
   The nine-day, eight-night cruise costs $4,850 and includes ship accommodations and one night in a lodge, all meals and snacks, beverages including wine and beer, cruising, guiding, shore excursions and the use of gear including kayaks.

   Plying the eastern waters
   Cruise passengers in eastern Canada can explore a Quebec fjord that’s unlike any other place in North America.
   On a Canada-New England cruise last fall on Holland America’s Eurodam, we were taken on an “expedition-style” diversion off the St. Lawrence River and into the Saguenay Fjord.
Sunset on the Saguenay Fjord as seen from the aft of the Eurodam cruise ship. (Barbara Fox photo)
   With its rugged and remote scenery, the Saguenay River feeds into the St. Lawrence with its tides, salt water and some 54 species of fish and marine mammals, including Atlantic salmon, Greenland sharks and beluga whales. On land, critters include black bears and moose.
   Cruise ships are able to travel along the fjord and dock at Saguenay, a municipality formed in 2002 by amalgamating Chicoutimi, Jonquire, La Baie, Laterrire and surrounding municipalities and townships.
   From there, passengers can book “shore excursions” to discover the Saguenay National Park that comprises most of the fjord’s shoreline and the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park that encompasses and protects the waters.
   Activities include sea kayaking, fishing and hiking available at both parks.
   The Eurodam cruise ship making a port call at Saguenay, Quebec. (Jim Fox photo)
   Land tours are also offered to such places as L’Anse-Saint-Jean and Sainte-Rose-du-Nord, part of the “Most Beautful Villages of Quebec”; Baie Sainte-Marguerite to look for belugas; Site de la Nouvelle France, a recreated Huron village; and La Nouvelle Fabuleuse to relive the history of the region.
   Also recommended is a stop at the Musee du fjord to “demystify the ecosystem formed by the fjord” and the Baie des Ha! Ha!

   Need to know
   For more information: MapleLeafAdventures.com; 1-888-599-5323; and Holland America Line: hollandamerica.com; 1-877-932-4259
   A great resource to learn about cruise destinations is the Cruise Lines International Association website: cruising.org

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Jim and Barb Fox can be reached at outtosea50@hotmail.com
For more Out to Sea trip tips: http://outtoseatravel.blogspot.ca

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