Some of the most rugged and beautiful coastal scenery in the world lies between the top of Vancouver Island and the north-west coast of BC. A 15 hour ferry trip takes you through the uncomfortably named Inside Passge between islands and along narrow inlets to Prince Rupert, just 25 miles south of Alaska. This was how we spent Canada Day.
The Northern Expedition looks more like a cruise ship than a cross channel ferry but the clutter of canoes, bikes, camping equipment and cars to be loaded reminded us that this is still a working ferry linking remote communities.
Five hours into the voyage we made the first stop at Bella Bella, a prosperous fishing and logging community and one of the largest First Nations communities on the coast. Some people got off to catch a smaller vessel up the inlet to Bella Coola or to do a kayaking trip.
On the harbour side there was a lot of singing and dancing – not a rowdy group of students but First Nations people making a traditional and protracted farewell to a group of fellow Indians bound for Prince Rupert. Once on board the departing group stood at the stern with their drums, and the two groups sang to each other in the traditional way in their own language across the water as the ship drew away.
Much is being done to revive the traditional languages and cultures which the Canadian Government made illegal in the 20th century when they took native children away from their settlements to educate them in mainstream schools. But there are still huge problems in reconciling two very different ways of living.
There were several humpback sightings but you had to be quick to catch them. More interesting were the huge open transporters carrying logs and containers, some with cars and vans tied on top.
As the sun dropped we entered the 70km Grenville Channel, a mere 1400 ft wide but depths of up to 1620ft allow vessels to travel close to shore. The play of light on the surrounding mountains and the perspective ahead where the mountains appeared to merge together leaving no exit made for a spectacular journey.
So far north the days are long but it was dark when we arrived in Prince Rupert, 15 hours after leaving Port Hardy. We had been told that taxis would be around to take us to the hotel but the First Nations group from Bella Bella was 90 strong. Normally, only half a dozen foot passengers arrive. Understandably, chaos ensued. The taxi we phoned was commandeered by someone else almost as soon as it appeared on the horizon. 3 or 4 taxis were running back and forth from town but people with the sharpest elbows and the biggest bulk seemed better adapted for successful cab-grabbing so we had to wait a while.
At the hotel we collapsed in a heap and went straight to sleep. We could have been anywhere.