Packing for your Arctic Expedition Cruise

Packing for your Arctic Expedition Cruise

By Travel Nunavut


Our members, and expedition experts at Adventure Canada and One Ocean, have come together to create the ultimate packing guide for your next Arctic expedition cruise. Download a copy for yourself so you don’t forget a thing!

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The Beauty of Immersion

The Beauty of Immersion

Bathurst Inlet Lodge provides a Nunavut community experience like no other.

The beautiful hamlet of Bathurst Inlet warmly welcomes intrepid and curious visitors.

In searching for the next big adventure, it’s common to scan the surface of the earth in search of unforgettable experiences. Too often, we overlook the most fascinating horizon of all: the vibrant landscape of human culture.

Cultural tourism is a growing sector in the travel industry, catering to adventurers who crave a deeper connection to the locations they visit. In Nunavut, this means not only getting to explore the distinctive terrain, view the wildlife, and take off on exciting excursions – visitors are able to see these wondrous sights with guidance from locals who carry a deep understanding of the region.

One of Nunavut’s remote communities which offers experiences that go beyond traditional tourism is Bathurst Inlet Lodge. The 51% Inuit-owned and -operated lodge has received distinction from Travel & Leisure, and has been operating in this 25-person hamlet since the 1960s. In addition to excursions on the land, cultural teachings and an introduction to the Inuit way of life are an essential part of the lodge’s offerings.

“We’ve got a long history with the people here,” says Boyd Warner, president of Bathurst Inlet Lodge. Warner’s parents founded the lodge, and he has been visiting the community since childhood. “The Inuit partners and I have known each other since we were all 7 or 8 years old.”

Co-owner Allen Kapolak, flanked by his son and friends, dons traditional caribou skins.

All staff at the lodge, from the cooks and housekeepers to the boat operators and tour guides, are either Warner’s family members, or members of the Kapolaks – the Inuit family who own a majority share of the operation (the one exception to this rule is Page Burt, the staff naturalist who has been with the lodge since 1973 and is roundly considered an honorary family member). Says Warner, “Everyone in the community, of employable age and who wants to work, gets a job with us.”

Guests can choose from excursions such as boat tours, fishing, and hiking. Local staff are able to effortlessly navigate the land and share their innate knowledge, bringing visitors along for experiences that are undeniably authentic.

Some of Bathurst Inlet Lodge’s most notable excursions involve a reverent, respectful exploration of indigenous flora and fauna. “The flowers here are incredible,” says Warner, noting that staff naturalist Burt once co-authored a book on the local blooms, entitled Barrenland Beauties.

“As for wildlife, typically you’ll see caribou and muskox, moose, grizzlies, wolves, and lots of birds.”

After action-packed days exploring waterways and archaeological sites, and visiting with local residents, even the meals at the lodge embrace the resources of the land. “In the evening we try to feature northern food,” says Warner. “Typically, our guests will get to eat foods like arctic char, muskox, and caribou.

A patch of local wildflowers overlooks the water’s edge.

A true highlight of the Bathurst Inlet experience is the chance to connect with the local Inuit. Traditional practices are demonstrated during the lodge cultural night, including explanations of clothing and tools. “We try to give our guests a really good understanding of the Inuit past, present, and possible future,” says Warner.

He also notes that the tight-knit nature of their community enables visitors to engage the locals in meaningful, often enlightening connections. “Guests get the opportunity to form friendships, and it allows them to ask deeper questions,” he says.

“With everything that’s happening in politics with regards to residential schools, a lot of tourists want to meet the locals and ask them directly and personally about their experiences. And the people are happy to share those stories and have a conversation.”

The deep level of engagement that can be found in a hamlet like Bathurst Inlet Lodge has the tendency to leave a lasting impression, says Warner. “We always say, ‘Come as a guest, leave as a friend’,” he says. “But when you’re at the airport and there are tears from both the guests and our staff, that’s something special.”

Those tearful goodbyes go to show that cultural tourism in Nunavut offers something above and beyond traditional travel. Visitors walk away from these communities and experiences with much more than just the memories of time spent. You may just leave a changed person – one with a broader understanding of the beauty of the human condition.

Artwork created by Jamesie Itulu of Pond Inlet.


Camping at the Top of the World

Camping at the Top of the World

By Sara Smith


An expert guide shares how to safely enjoy the breathtaking sights and rejuvenating solitude found on a Nunavut camping trip.

There’s something magical about escaping from the hustle and bustle of modern life to go camping. Fresh air, rugged accommodations, and the majesty of the outdoors allow for moments of clarity and reflection – something we can all use more of. For travelers who crave the next level of solitude and authenticity, camping in Nunavut offers an unforgettable adventure.

Even for seasoned campers, Nunavut is likely to be an outdoors experience like no other – the landscape here offers sights and sounds that simply don’t exist anywhere else on earth.

The wind moving across the sparse, tree-less tundra creates an unforgettable whisper, and the sheer vastness and beauty of the land may cause you to ponder your own place in the universe. The national parks are still relatively wild and unstructured spaces, where it’s possible to sleep next to archaeological sites that have been untouched for millennia.

In order to fully appreciate a Nunavut camping adventure, it’s essential to come prepared for a safe and comfortable trip.

The first order of business will be to find the perfect site, and in remote Nunavut the process is more open-ended than at typical campgrounds in the south. “You simply find a flat spot for your tent, and camp there,” says Sarah McNair-Landry of Northwinds Expeditions. “If it’s windy, look for a place that’s a bit tucked in out of the wind or sheltered. It’s also important to find a spot with fresh water nearby.”

Once an optimal site has been located, the right gear can make or break a camping trip. After obvious choices like weather-appropriate clothing and sleeping bags, McNair-Landry shares her top five must-haves for a successful arctic sleepout:

  1. A high-quality tent. The difference between a good tent and a mediocre one will become obvious very quickly. “It’s going to be your home. Even in the rain or a blizzard, with a good tent you’ll be able to count on a good, comfortable sleep. Get a tent from a specialized outdoors outfitter, and if you’re camping in the winter, you’ll need a 4-season tent.” In the summer, bug netting will be a welcome addition, and in the winter, tent flaps that can be covered with snow help to provide insulation and resistance to the wind.
  2. A GPS device.
  3. A two-way satellite communication device. Cell service runs the gamut from spotty to nonexistent in many communities, so a way to stay in touch is vital. “You need one in case of emergencies, of course. And if your trip is delayed by a few days but you’re doing okay, you can use it communicate that there’s no need for concern.”
  4. A first aid kit.
  5. A white gas stove and fuel. Due to a lack of trees and sparse landscape, building a fire is almost impossible, making a stove essential for cooking in the summer. In the winter, its usefulness increases threefold. “You’ll use a stove to heat your tent, and if you have equipment that you need to dry. You also don’t have to carry water – just use the stove to melt snow.”

For amateur campers who don’t already own the necessary equipment, Nunavut’s outfitting companies (see a list of outfitters and guides here) can provide everything needed to have a safe and enjoyable camping trip. However, McNair-Landry warns that supplies are limited, and unless you have booked a guided expedition, it’s not safe to assume there will be gear available upon arrival. “Many of the smaller communities only have one outfitter, if even that,” she says. “I always recommend to call ahead.”

Some travelers may choose to camp without a guide, but as with many of the adventures that Nunavut offers, hiring a guide can enrich the quality of your trip. An experienced local will not only provide knowledge of the land and bring you to the best spots, but help to ensure the safety of your party. They can also provide an understanding of how the weather forecast may affect your expedition. In Nunavut, even the most carefully-made plans are never a guarantee, as inclement weather may arrive with little warning.

In the remote Arctic, wildlife encounters are always a possibility.

“There are wolves, but most are pretty shy of people,” says McNair-Landry. “Foxes are harmless, but they can get into your food at night. And anywhere you are in the arctic, you should be aware of bears and keep an eye out for them.”

She recommends bringing along bear deterrents: in the summer, a canister of bear spray, and in the winter (when canisters freeze and don’t function) a flare, or a gunshot sound-alike known as bear bangers. If planning to camp in areas with dense polar bear populations, it is strongly recommended to always hire a guide.

Camping in Nunavut may require slightly more specialized gear than the average cottage country clearing, but the experience of sleeping beneath the endless Arctic sky is more than worth the effort. For travelers who are properly outfitted and prepared, the breathtaking unspoiled beauty of this land can, ever so briefly, become a temporary home.


Walking on the Wild Side

Walking on the Wild Side

By Sara Smith


Community tours provide visitors with a new perspective on Nunavut.

When visiting a destination as special as Nunavut, there are certain items you may hope to cross off your bucket list: standing on an ice floe as pods of narwhal glide beneath your feet, camping like a true adventurer in one of the coldest and most remote regions possible, or catching a glimpse of the noble nanuq (the Inuit word for polar bear).

The experience that many travelers don’t count on is the opportunity to learn about, and from, the local Inuit who call this land home. And yet when their adventure is over, these community tours and cultural demonstrations are often looked back upon as a highlight of the journey.

Community tours provide a new perspective for visitors to the Arctic.

For many non-Canadians, the unique way of Inuit life is a surprise in itself. “We get a lot of global visitors, and there isn’t a lot of knowledge about the culture of the north,” says Liz Carino, marketing manager for Arctic Kingdom, a touring and expedition company.

“When it comes to the Arctic, people tend to think about polar bears, but they don’t know a lot about the people living here.”

Community tours with Arctic Kingdom take place as part of an Arctic safari expedition package or weekend getaway, landing travelers within one of the 25 small hamlets of Nunavut. Inuit cultural experiences take place, which can include throat singing or sharing stories with a revered elder. Visitors also get the opportunity to explore the community at their leisure.

Cultural demonstrations, such as throat-singing, are shared with guests during the tours.

The aim of these experiences is to emphasize to visitors the importance of the Inuit, and to foster a deeper appreciation for this incredibly unique culture. To only focus on the weather and wildlife would be overlooking an essential aspect of Northern life.

“For travelers, you’re going to some of the most remote places in the world to have these incredible experiences, but these are the people who have been living there for thousands of years,” says Carino. “This is their home.”

For a list of companies who offer community tours in Nunavut, click here.

Carino explains that Arctic Kingdom relies on the traditional knowledge of the Inuit to also guide expeditions outside of the communities. “They know the land well, they know the wildlife, and they’re the best people to help us to showcase the beauty of the region,” she says. “Our Inuit guides also offer a unique perspective for travellers, like applying traditional hunting methods when searching for wildlife to photograph.”

Inuit guides expertly lead expeditions using traditional knowledge of the land.

More than just providing an appreciation of the culture, community tours help to financially bolster the towns they take place in. New jobs are created, and food is purchased from local vendors. Visitors can contribute as well, by purchasing handcrafted art at nearby shops. “Our company is very committed to sustainability and preserving the arctic, and a lot of that is about supporting the local communities,” says Carino.

Storytelling is an important aspect of Inuit culture, and community tours are a form of sharing these stories – about the land, about the people, and their history. Carino has seen many visitors go from unaware of the ways of Inuit life, to advocates of the culture and the experience of visiting the North. “It opens people’s eyes and is a transformative experience,” she says. “They end up coming back as ambassadors for the North.” In this way, travelers who experience a community tour are contributing to the cycle of storytelling as well, by going on to share the tale of their own arctic adventure.


Preparing for the Adventure of a Lifetime

Preparing for the Adventure of a Lifetime

By Sara Smith


We take the guesswork out of packing for the untamed, sometimes unpredictable, landscape of Nunavut.

Nunavut is a land of beautiful contradictions. The same environment that bestows sparkling sunny days and otherworldly scenery can also bring deep cold, rain, 24-hour darkness, and at the most extreme, -80 degrees windchill.

It may seem daunting to pack for this unique destination, and visitors are warned that unpredictable weather is always a possibility in the North. If you’re uncomfortable or unprepared on your trip, it can be hard to focus on anything else, so the gear you bring with you is of the utmost importance. We asked Wendy Grater, owner of wilderness adventure company Black Feather, to share the most essential, seasonally-appropriate items to pack for an adventure in Nunavut.

Summer

Lots of light, practical layers are the key to dressing in the summer.

Because the summer weather can fluctuate from sun-soaked days to below-zero evenings, layers are key for dressing in Nunavut’s climate. Ancient Inuit inhabitants of this land would wear layers made of skins and furs, with oil-treated waterproof outer layers. Today, high-tech fabrics allow for clothing strata that are comfortable and easy to pack.

“In the summer you want layers, and you want multiple lighter layers instead of two big thick layers,” says Grater.

She recommends long underwear, both long- and short-sleeve tops, and quick-drying wind pants that can be easily cleaned and hung to dry. “Quick drying is great because if an item gets dirty you can quickly rinse and hang it to dry in no time,” she says. “You won’t need to bring more than one.” Moisture-wicking fabric, such as smartwool or synthetic fabric, is also key for inner layers and socks.

In addition to an insulating secondary layer, such as a fleece jacket, Grater swears by her Gore-Tex gear. “You want something that’s waterproof and breathable that will keep the rain off, and yet won’t cause you to overheat,” she says. A down puff jacket or vest is also useful to keep the core warm on the colder days and can be easily compressed and squished down inside baggage.

At any time of year, a warm toque is important, as is a sunhat, sunglasses, sunblock, and lip balm with SPF.

Footwear should be substantial, supportive hiking boots with a good sole, which have already been fully broken in. But just in case, she suggests bringing moleskin or other blister protection.

Something that many travellers don’t anticipate is the number of insects that can occupy some regions of Nunavut in the warmer months. “Some areas, like the Barrens, are really buggy, so you will want a full bug jacket and bug hat with netting that comes down over your face, as well as a good repellent,” says Grater.

Winter

The parka is everywhere in the Arctic, and with good reason.

The most iconic and ubiquitous garment associated with Nunavut is the parka, and with good reason: they offer additional body coverage and face-framing fur trim to keep out the most bone-chilling winter winds. For extended outdoor trips in the winter, Grater highly recommends one of these ultrawarm coats. “I love my parka,” she says. “I wouldn’t go anywhere without it, and it’s definitely worth the extra bulk. That said, I would still take a down jacket, for added mobility and to wear on warmer days.”

Her other top picks for winter gear are insulated snow pants, high-quality winter boots with removable liners, and mittens that extend up the arm to protect your wrist from the wind. Thin liner gloves can be worn inside mittens to allow for short bursts of fine work, but Grater prefers to use a secret weapon.

“I’m a firm believer in those little hand warmer packets,” she says. “They’re a lifesaver, honestly.”

A buff, or pull-on neckwarmer, can come in exceptionally handy during the colder months. “Those can also be pulled up over your ears and the bottom of your face,” says Grater. Glasses-wearers whose lenses fog up when sporting scarves and other face gear may want to consider bringing contacts on the trip. “However if you’re camping, you’ll have to make sure your contact solution won’t freeze,” she cautions.

Small items, like hand warmers, and basics like medication and toiletries are best purchased before you leave for your adventure, as prices in Nunavut can be notably higher than in the south. Travellers may also have trouble finding specialty foods in Northern stores, so those with restrictive diets may want to pack their own snacks.

Ambitious travellers may have the impulse to over-pack to make sure nothing was missed, but Grater warns that some Nunavut airlines impose strict limitations on baggage size and weight.

“When you go into the smaller communities, the luggage allowances are less than the airports that have jet access,” she says.

It’s recommended to check the regulations on all scheduled flights so you don’t end up over the limit.

For planned exhibitions, most outfitters will provide a packing list for guests. One Ocean and Adventure Canada teamed up to put together a What To Pack basics list — check it out here. If in doubt, a call to your tour company will help to ascertain which items you’ll need for your planned experiences. With the proper preparation and arsenal of gear, you’ll be free to focus on simply enjoying every moment of your adventure.


Stepping Towards the Floe Edge

Stepping Towards the Floe Edge

By Sara Smith


Expert local guides enable you to experience this stunning natural phenomenon.

The earth has a heartbeat; it pulses with the changing seasons. The animals and plants who inhabit our planet are closely attuned to this rhythm, moving and changing in accordance with our orbit around the sun. Summer is for flourishing, fall is a time of harvest and preparation, winter is a period of austerity and rest. And in the spring, the snow melts, the ice cracks and life
bursts forth, ready to begin the journey all over again. To see a true representation of the beautiful synchronicity of nature, and the cacophony of life that spring ushers in, one needs only to visit the floe edge.

For thousands of years, the Inuit have followed these natural patterns of the land and animals, as fishing and hunting are essential to the Northern way of life.

“It’s the hunting cycle, the animal cycle, and the way we move,” says Alex Flaherty, owner of the 100% Inuit-owned and -operated Polar Outfitting.

“When spring comes we’ll start looking for birds, seal pups, and whales. In the spring they will all congregate together at the floe edge, and that’s where we spend a lot of time.”

Lucky travelers will spot polar bears stalking the gathering wildlife at the floe edge.

Spring (generally between April and June in Nunavut), when the land-fast ice begins to break apart, is a time when sea mammals, ground animals, and birds will gather at the ice’s edge. The result is not only a terrifically successful hunting ground, but some of the best Northern wildlife viewing a visitor could dream of.

“All the birds are mating, all the whales are coming more inland
to feed,” says Flaherty. “It’s just a really good time of the year to be a hunter, to be a harvester, and to be a tourist.”

Many companies in Nunavut offer guided floe edge experiences (see a list of guides and outfitters here), which usually consist of a base camp set up near the water’s edge, reached by snowmobile from the community. From there, guided excursions will give visitors the opportunity to view sea birds, seals, walruses, polar bears, narwhal, beluga, and bowhead whales. Since springtime varies from region to community in Nunavut, the best locations and times to take a guided tour onto the ice have been mapped out so you won’t miss this lively congregation.

Download Infographic

Flaherty recalls a 2017 excursion where visitors were treated to an extraordinary encounter with marine mammals. “Last year, for four days straight, we saw hundreds of narwhals and belugas pass by on a daily basis,” he says.

“If you’re at sea level, you can only see their backs come up out of the water, so we take our clients up to a higher elevation so that you can actually see them swimming in the water. You can even see the way they travel with their young.”

Although this particular ecosystem is famously teeming with life, Flaherty notes that when it
comes to wild animals, nothing is for certain. “If there aren’t animals around, we will go out and look for them,” he says. “We take clients out skidooing to look for nesting grounds and seals. But we always keep our distance, and we never guarantee anything.” The same can be said for the land itself, which is known for weather that can change with little notice. Inclement conditions in Nunavut often mean that excursions will be cancelled for safety reasons, so having
an alternate plan for your visit is always recommended.

Some experiences in Nunavut can be undertaken independently by particularly skilled travelers, but trips to the floe edge should always be accompanied by a guide. “You have to know how to navigate the ice in order to safely visit the floe edge,” says Flaherty. “Ice safety is a big concern, and so are polar bears. Having the proper guide is what makes the experience safe, and also worthwhile.” Expert local guides lead excursions using their knowledge of the land and migration patterns, as well as modern technology like a hydrophone to pinpoint the location of large sea mammals.

Where the ice meets open ocean, the scenery is stunning and otherworldly.

To say that visiting the floe edge is an unforgettable adventure would be an understatement. Even for those who are able to witness it yearly, words often fail to capture the experience. “It’s hard to describe,” says Flaherty. “It’s just spectacular.” With the right guide, and just a little bit of luck, the magnificence of the floe edge phenomenon might become a memory that stays with you forever.

Best Floe Edge Months of the Year

Community Time range
Arctic Bay Late May to June
Arviat April to June
Cape Dorset April to June
Chesterfield Inlet May to June
Coral Harbour March to May
Grise Fiord April to May
Hall Beach March to April
Igloolik April to May
Iqaluit April to June
Kimmirut April to May
Pangnirtung April to June
Pond Inlet May to June
Qikiqtarjuaq May to June
Rankin Inlet April to May
Repulse Bay Mid to End of June
Resolute May to June
Sanikiluaq March to April
Whale Cove May to June


Navigating the Beautiful North

Navigating the Beautiful North

By Sara Smith


Make the most of your time in Nunavut by getting around like a seasoned traveler.

From the rocky formations of Kimmirut to the fruitful waters of Cambridge Bay and everywhere in between, Nunavut is a vast and varied land. Choosing where to focus your visit can be an overwhelming – however exciting – challenge, but it’s only the first step. To get the most out of an arctic adventure, travelers must understand the unique complexities of getting to, and around, this beautiful and untamed territory.

The first thing to rule out is a road trip. While it’s technically possible to access the southernmost edge by car, there are simply no roads to Nunavut. Generally, the fastest and most economical way to get there is by air. Iqaluit, Cambridge Bay, and Rankin Inlet are the gateway communities by which the rest of Nunavut can be accessed, with flights arriving from airports in these Canadian cities:

  • Ottawa, Ontario
  • Montréal, Québec
  • Winnipeg, Manitoba
  • Churchill, Manitoba
  • Edmonton, Alberta
  • Yellowknife, Northwest Territories

Katannik with Black Feather. Photo Credit: N. Gillis

Local airlines are the main transportation system for traveling between Nunavut’s 25 communities, as there are no roads that connect the different hamlets. In rare instances, boat or skidoo trips between some communities can be arranged, although these options aren’t likely to be efficient or readily available.

Flying from one spot to another may increase the budget of a trip significantly, but shrewd travelers can take advantage of cost-saving programs when booking flights to and within Nunavut. Outfitting and expedition companies that are partnered with Travel Nunavut (click here for a full list of partner organizations) offer flight discounts, so it’s prudent to speak to a guide or information counselor before purchasing plane tickets. For those who have been saving up, cashing in collected air travel points is one way to save on flights. Another option is Canadian North’s Arctic Air Pass program, which allows travelers to purchase coupons for flights in either the western or eastern region of Nunavut. Each coupon is good for one leg of the trip, allowing travelers to create a customized adventure between several communities, with relatively few scheduling restrictions and for a fraction of the cost of regular airfare.

First Air, Canadian North, and Calm Air are the three main airlines which serve travelers looking to explore the Arctic. Both First Air and Canadian North provide the utmost in sky-bound comfort: ample legroom, hot meals, complimentary wine and coffees, and warm hand towels will ensure your flight is a most enjoyable first step on your journey. Calm Air, which mainly serves the Kivalliq region (the territory west of the Hudson Bay), provides efficient and comfortable flights, with seating designated on a first-come, first-served basis upon boarding the plane.

Photo Credit: Christian Kimber

After the process of getting into Nunavut is complete, traveling within the communities themselves is relatively simple.

Many are small hamlets, only a few streets wide, making “two feet and a heartbeat” the most practical mode of transportation. Since all travelers should have arrived in town with weather-appropriate clothing, even cold winter temperatures will pose no problems for a brisk walk across the community.

Exploring by foot allows intrepid travelers to drink in the scenery, chance upon interesting businesses and landmarks, and to meet and engage with locals. Indeed, new faces in any community are always warmly greeted by friendly and inquisitive youths. Escorted by newfound acquaintances, you’ll likely never lack company as you wander Nunavut’s streets. If unsure about local happenings or looking for a community-related event to attend, local visitor centres and cultural centres are great resources for information on nearby activities.

While taxi service is available in some centres, in smaller communities it is mainly used for transportation to and from the airport. Taxi fares are generally charged as a flat rate, per person and per ride, and with young children riding free; riders also shouldn’t be surprised if the driver stops partway through the journey to pick up another passenger. Other popular modes of travel
are quads (universally referred to as ‘Hondas’ in the North) and snowmobiles (also known as skidoos), and tours can often be arranged through local outfitters. Those looking for the classic dogsled experience should set their sights beyond the city limits – dogsleds aren’t typically used
for travel within communities.

Photo Credit: Follow Me Away

Travelers with a slightly higher budget may want to consider a cruise as their main mode of traversing the arctic.

Many companies not only provide cozy accommodations and spectacular sights, but offer programming to enrich and enhance your Northern adventure. The Canadian-owned Adventure Canada is known for incorporating authentic Inuit cultural experiences, and featuring top-tier featured guests such as Margaret Atwood, David Suzuki, and Inuit celebrity Johnny Issaluk. Those with an affinity for all things scientific and environmental will appreciate the enlightenment offered by One Ocean Expeditions, with a focus on nature and conservation led by in-house scientists and animal experts. For a full list of cruise companies, click here.

While some destinations are made for aimlessly wandering, Nunavut is not one of these.

When planning a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the Arctic, it’s best to have plan for a multitude of possibilities, while paying close attention to changes in the forecast. The weather can turn quickly from favourable to dangerous, and even the most experienced guides won’t attempt a trek when the elements are not on their side.

There are many helpful resources available to travelers considering a trip to Nunavut. Information counsellors, travel agents, and proprietors of outfitting and excursion companies are happy to speak to travelers, answer questions, and help to create an exciting itinerary. Learning about the intricacies of Northern travel may seem complex, but it’s worth taking the time to get it right. After all, nothing worthwhile – like a potentially life-changing trip to the breathtaking Canadian Arctic – comes without a bit of adventure.


A Plan for all Seasons

A Plan for all Seasons

By Sara Smith


When it comes to creating a once-in-a-lifetime Nunavut adventure, timing is everything.

In Nunavut, the term “force of nature” must be taken a bit more seriously. Nature is literally a force to be reckoned with in the North, alternately freezing solid the mighty ocean, splitting chunks off of massive glaciers, or blanketing the earth in snow. To the Inuit, each passing season holds its own significance for their culture and survival. Different ways of traveling the landscape, hunting, and creating shelter evolved as a result of their respect for, and close attention to, annual weather patterns.

Today’s modern conveniences and specialized equipment mean that Nunavut is accessible to travellers year-round. However, each season offers its own unique characteristics and challenges, almost recreating the land itself from one period to the next. The time to visit is entirely dependent on the type of adventure one wishes to have.

The Inuit Year seasonal infographic
Traditional knowledge of the seasons gathered for Auyuittuq National Park.


Download the Inuit Year infographic for an in-depth look at what each season brings with it across Nunavut, here.

Spring

Spring in Nunavut (from April to June) is a time of great renewal. The hard-packed snow begins to soften, and the sun, reflected off the snow’s surface, seems to be shining from both above and below. As the weather warms, the sea ice begins to break apart, revealing an ecosystem teeming with life at the floe edge. This annual attraction means excellent wildlife viewing, and many travellers will plan their Nunavut visit around a floe edge experience (to plan a Floe Edge tour, click here.)  Although the mercury is on the rise, this time of year still sees a lot of snow on the ground, so dogsledding is another popular springtime activity. Keep in mind that “warm” is relative, with average daytime temperatures of -15° to -0° Celsius.

Photo Credit: Michelle Valberg

Summer

As with many other destinations, summer (from July to August) offers a wealth of options for outdoor experiences. Popular activities include boat tours and cruises, sea kayaking, canoeing, camping, fishing, wildlife viewing, and hiking in National and Territorial Parks. Depending on the location (Nunavut is vast, and the terrain and average temperatures vary greatly) summer weather can be surprisingly warm. In the community of Kugluktuk, temperatures can reach 30 degrees Celsius, cheerful arctic flowers adorn the landscape, and a lifeguard stand can be found on the well-attended beach. However even on the most temperate summer day, temperatures can drop to below 0° in the evenings, or due to rain.

Photo Credit: Christian Kimber

Fall

In September and October, the earth cools and time slows down. Fall is when the arctic cold starts to take hold again, but this season can also be ripe with opportunities for berry-picking and boat tours. Despite its lack of trees, Nunavut undergoes its own autumnal colour change: the tundra glows in gradients of red, brown, and orange. The northern lights are also very visible at this time, with prime viewing in October and November.

Photo Credit: Mark Aspland & Bill Neish

Winter

It’s no secret that winter (from November to March) in Nunavut offers some of the most frigid conditions travellers will experience in their lifetime. This is the iconic arctic winter that is portrayed in movies and on TV: harsh, otherworldly, and utterly beautiful in its own way. Lows of -35° are not uncommon, and windchill can drop this to -80°. Visiting during this time of year isn’t for those seeking a comfort trip, but with the proper clothing, equipment, and guidance, activities such as camping and igloo-building can be enjoyed in the extreme cold and snow. Deepest cold also provides crystal-clear visibility in the night sky, making winter an ideal time to view the spectacular aurora borealis.

Photo Credit: Claire Kines

In the Arctic, the temperature isn’t the only thing that changes drastically from season to season. The midnight sun of summertime can be one of the more difficult things for travellers to adjust to, and the farther north one travels, the more pronounced the effect becomes. However, the permanent light can bring a unique benefit to expeditions: hiking, canoe trips, and camping are not limited to “daytime” hours for travel and exploration. Iqaluit only sees a few weeks of 20-hour daylight around the June 21st solstice, whereas Grise Fjord (the northernmost civilian settlement in North America) gets about three months of pure sunlight. Wintertime, of course, brings darkness in equal measure.

There are dangers specific to certain seasons that all travellers must be wary of. Polar bears follow a migratory route along the Hudson Bay coastline during spring and fall, making these areas unsafe to traverse without proper guidance. Cracking ice in the spring and summer can also pose a significant risk. Large, seemingly solid chunks of ice can give way in an instant.

Regardless of the season, inclement weather can crop up at any given moment. When visiting Nunavut it’s best to have a Plan A, B, C, and even D in case of unpredictable conditions, and to keep expectations flexible. Outfitters and adventure companies are always prepared to work with the conditions, make necessary adjustments, or find alternative activities. Although your time in the North may not end up exactly as planned, it’s certain to be an adventure you’ll fondly remember for many seasons to come.


A Paddle and an Ancient Vessel

A Paddle and an Ancient Vessel

By Sara Smith


Navigating arctic waters by kayak provides a seal’s-eye view of Nunavut’s most beautiful attractions.

Thousands of years ago, skilled inhabitants of the North navigated treacherous waters in vessels made of wood or bone, and wrapped in sealskin called a qajaq. They could move with speed and agility, allowing them to hunt and travel with relative ease, and immeasurably improving their quality of life. The kayak is a true testament to the ingenuity and adaptability of our Inuit ancestors.

Today, these sleek vessels are made of polyethylene and mainly serve another purpose: providing an exhilarating perspective to take in the wondrous sights of Nunavut.

“It’s a totally different view than what you get on the land,” says Louis-Philip Pothier, president and head guide with Inukpak Outfitting.

“In Iqaluit, you can paddle out a distance, turn around, and take in the whole city at once, and all the variation of the terrain – from rolling hills, to jagged rocks, to beaches, and vegetation.”

Nunavut’s capital also boasts excellent seal and bird watching for intrepid kayakers, and a lucky few may even catch a glimpse of narwhal through the crystal-clear water. In other communities such as Pond Inlet, larger land and marine mammals – including polar bears, whales, and walrus – are commonly spotted. Aside from the stunning scenery and wildlife, Pothier shares that some of the most memorable kayaking moments are the ones that could never be anticipated. “Last year, we lost the ice floe early, but one morning a strong wind brought it all back. The bay was covered in giant chunks of ice,” he says. “When we went out on the water, instead of stopping on an island or the shore line to have a snack, we ended up on a large chunk that was half the size of a football field. It was an amazing feeling to sit on this island made of ice, swaying and floating on the surface of the water.”

The types of kayak-faring adventures available to travelers vary widely, depending on skill level, physical ability, and the length of the trip.

Many outfitters can tailor an excursion to your wildest dreams, and can even accommodate guests with little or no previous experience. “Groups have come with kids aged eight or nine, and we matched them with stronger adults in our double kayaks,” says Pothier.

While not everyone will require support in the form of a double kayak, getting the right gear is essential to ensure a safe and enjoyable trip on the water. In addition to a kayak and paddle, a wetsuit, life jacket, neoprene socks, and drybag are key items for a summer excursion. In the winter, a drysuit is also required to keep paddlers protected. “Making sure that people are well-dressed and well-equipped is our number-one concern,” says Pothier. “The risk of getting hypothermia is very high in such cold water.”

In Nunavut, beautiful weather can, on occasion, turn quickly inclement. Experienced guides will closely monitor forecasts and weather patterns, in order to re-route or reschedule trips when necessary. “Sometimes we do have to cancel because of the weather forecast, or if the waves are just too big,” says Pothier. “But most of the time we are able to find a good spot.” It’s recommended to book a kayak trip early on in your visit, so that alternate dates can be arranged if necessary.

Even the most experienced paddlers will find their experience enriched by hiring a local guide who is familiar with the land.

“We’ve had clients who have gone sea kayaking all over the world and would have been fine to go on their own, but didn’t want to worry about bringing all their own gear and food,” he says. “They also want to have someone along who can answer their questions about Nunavut, the plant life, and the wildlife, as they are seeing it.” For a list of trusted companies who can fully prepare and guide you for a day – or a week – on the water, click here.

In a place as extraordinary as Nunavut, there’s no shortage of adventures to be had, and no two visits will ever be the same. “Every trip is so unique,” says Pothier. “You can show up and it’s windy, so your excursion that day becomes a more physical challenge. Or you can arrive and the waters are calm, giving you a peaceful moment to watch the tiny sunset on the horizon.” He notes that some first-time paddlers are initially anxious about getting out on the water, but find the experience to be surprisingly stress-free. “Our clients are often amazed at how stable and safe it is to travel in a kayak,” he says.

From an essential tool for survival, to a vessel that provides unforgettable experiences, the iconic kayak has seen many changes in the course of a few thousand years. Only by coming to Nunavut and embarking on your own paddling expedition, can you discover where it will take you.