Weekend Window: Gwaii Haanas

The name's translation says it all: "beatufil land, gracious land."

ByABC News via GMA logo
December 6, 2008, 4:03 PM

Dec. 7, 2008 — -- In the chilly waters just south of the Gulf of Alaska and a few miles off British Columbia's western coast lies a smattering of pristine, nearly undisturbed land masses known as the Queen Charlotte Islands.

Together, the islands resemble a finger pointing down Canada's coast towards the United States. Covering the tip of that finger is the Gwaii Haanas National Park and Reserve.

According to Barbara Wilson, cultural liaison specialist for the park, Gwaii Haanas means "beautiful land, gracious land" -- a moniker to which the landscape remains loyal.

"Gwaii Haanas is a place that is very peaceful," Wilson told "Good Morning America." "It has its moments when the storms come through. But for the most part it feels like you are the only person there. It's got beautiful scenery the oceans is absolutely magnificent in its temperaments and colors. The forest and the mountains are just spectacular in their blues and greens."

To get to Gwaii Haanas is no easy task, visitors either have to fly or come in to the park by boat. Heron Weir, tour guide and owner of Morseby Explorers, said that "a boat is the best way to go."

Gwaii Haanas natural beauty is imposing, from its natural hot springs to its active wildlife, but some of its most fascinating scenes are man made. The island sports totem poles from a time long past, relics of the original Haida nation.

Sometimes the poles are all that is left of entire villages.

"This was a village probably abandoned somewhere in the 1860s to the 1880s," Weir explained while looking over the sturdy symbols of the past. "What you can see mostly are the remaining mortuary poles and mortuary poles are raised for important people like chiefs who have died. It was kind of the highest honor you could give to the dead. It would usually be done by a chief's heir in order to show great respect to their predecessor."

Wildlife also abounds on the islands, from bears, eagles, deer and sea lions to humpback whales.

"We get a lot of humpback whales through here," Weir said. "When there's a pile of feed in all one spot, they come up out of the water with their mouths open and grab all the food at the surface."