The drive to Masset from Port Clements is about 45 minutes. As pretty much all the villages on Haida Gwaii are connected by highways (with the exception of crossing from one island to the next where a boat is needed, reaching Sandspit for example), it's not so much about how far the next village is on Haida Gwaii as it is the time to get there. From just about any village, you are a couple of minutes from the highway and then zoom, off you go. Everything is closer when travelling at 80-90km/h.
Arriving in Masset
Masset is one of the larger villages of Haida Gwaii. The population is about a thousand people, which doubles if you include the sister village of Old Massett. It's probably the only village on Haida Gwaii with what can be considered a main downtown strip. You can shop for most things, dine out at one of the local restaurants and/or have a drink at one of the local bars, all in one area.
First order of business for me once I arrived in Masset was to get my morning coffee, so I popped in for a double Americano at The Ground cafe. I like this place, it has a warm inviting atmosphere with plenty of lounging room. The coffee, I'm happy to report, is quite good and the service is friendly, so thumbs up all around. Oh and yummy pumpkin chocolate chip muffins too!
Coffee in hand I set about checking out an apartment and then a room in town for rent. I've been on the lookout for long-term rental accommodation, a rarity in Haida Gwaii as it is in much of BC. Luck and knowing the right people is key. Afterwards, I decided to do a little grocery shopping at the Co-Op grocery store. Prices at the Co-Op in Masset are about the same as what they were when I was in Ucluelet and Tofino. Expensive. The upside is variety and the occasional sale which makes grocery shopping much more affordable.
Speaking of Tofino, as I surfed there, I decided to make a trip to North Beach Surf Shop and find out what the surf was like here in Haida Gwaii. Apparently, you can surf year round in one of three spots (Keyhole Beach, Agate Beach and Tow Hill Beach) all just east of Masset. The North Beach Surf Shop is up to date on the local surfing conditions throughout the year and offers all the equipment you need whether you want to buy or rent.
Excursion to Tow Hill Beach and Hiellen Longhouse Village
Talking to the owner at the surf shop inspired me to take a quick excursion to Tow Hill Beach to see the surf for myself. About 2/3rds the way there from Masset the pavement ends and the road becomes a little bumpy and muddy. I resisted doing my Colin McRae impression but you wouldn't know it from all the mud caked to my car once I finally reached Tow Hill. The final 1/3rd of the trip is however quite scenic as you are driving between rows of trees.
There are plenty of turn off points and I'm not even sure I made it to the actual surf spot but I did find the beach. From where the Hiellen River empties into the sea, the beach stretched out before me as far as the eye can see, ending somewhere at the far north-eastern tip of Haida Gwaii called Rose Spit. Looking out at the waves I could see some sizable swells off in the distance. I'll definitely be doing a surfing trip here when I have the opportunity.
Heading back to my car I took a moment to look at some nearby structures that appeared to be cabins for tourists. I later found out it was the Hiellen Longhouse Village (HI'yaalan 'Lngee). Formerly an old Haida village it is now an eco-retreat for tourists, owned and operated by the Old Massett Band. It has an interesting backstory worth reading about here: Transforming an old Haida village site and http://www.haidalonghouses.ca/. Out front of the Hiellen Longhouse Village is a beautiful totem which was raised in 2017.