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NUNAVUT—WHAT TO SEE AND DO ON ARCTIC VACATIONS

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Why should you go on a Nunavut vacation? If you like Inuit art and culture, unspoiled natural beauty and adventure trips, you will love Nunavut.

Planning a Nunavut vacation at the library
Planning a Nunavut vacation at the library
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

How big is Nunavut? The Canadian Arctic territory is 5.5 times the size of Germany and twice as large as Texas. The distance between the eastern and western boundaries of Nunavut is nearly 1,500 miles, about the same as the distance between London and Istanbul.

The distance between the most southern community in Nunavut, Sanikiluaq on the Belcher Islands, in Hudson Bay, and the most northern community, Grise Fiord, is 1,550 miles. Grise Fiord or Aujuittuq, which means 'the place that never thaws out' is on the south coast of Ellesmere Island.

Nunavut travel

In the Inuit language, Nunavut means "our land." Nunavut is divided into three regions: Qikiqtaaluk (formerly Baffin Region), Kitikmeot (the Arctic Coast) and Kivalliq, which follows the western shore of Hudson Bay.

Travelling in Nunavut is mainly by air and sea, because Nunavut has no train or ferry services. The main airlines that fly to Nunavut are Canadian North, First Air and Calm Air. Kivalliq Air and Air Inuit also offer flights to Nunavut and between Nunavut communities.

You can travel through Nunavut by air, year-round (weather permitting), trekking, all-terrain vehicles, canoeing and sea kayaking tours in summer, and cross-country skiing, dog sled or snowmobile tours in winter and spring.

Baby rides in an amautik.
Baby rides in an amautik.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Inuit culture

A highlight of any trip to Nunavut is meeting the Inuit people. Warmly welcoming visitors, they proudly introduce them to their culture. It's fascinating to see how the Inuit combine their traditional lifestyles with modern amenities.

An Inuit carver creates a polar bear sculpture from stone, while listening to an iPod. A mother carries her infant in an amautik, a hooded parka with a back pouch, while buying groceries with a debit card.

Two-thirds of Nunavut families speak the Inuit language, Inuktitut, at home. Most people speak English as well. Visitors will see signs in both languages.

Cultural trips, with Inuit guides, focus on traditional Inuit music, drum dancing, throat-singing, elders' stories and country foods, like arctic char and caribou stew. Participants tour communities, visit archaeological sites, build igloos, sleep on caribou skins inside.

Baffin Island

Nunavut has 25 year-round communities. Lake Harbour (Kimmirut in Inuktitut) nestles into the southern shore of Baffin Island. Because tourists are rare, villagers and their laughing, boisterous children, come out to greet them.

Kimmirut sights are limited—the Anglican Church, built in 1909, an old cemetery, blossoming with wildflowers and the Community Centre.

Inuit youth compete in traditional Arctic games inside the modern gymnasium in Kimmirut. Tests of strength and endurance, such as high-kicking a piece of foam, strung from a pole, which is raised progressively higher, teach young people hunting and survival skills.

Soapstone sculpture

Kimmirut, like many Nunavut communities, is an artist colony. When the weather is mild, carvers and artists often work outside their homes. Visitors can watch Inuit carvers coax spirits of polar bears, muskox and birds from stone, antler and whalebone.

You can buy exquisite Inuit prints, stone sculptures, bone jewelry and other handicrafts directly from the artists, or from large selections in the two Kimmirut stores.

Inuit sculptor with stone carvings in Lake Harbou
Inuit sculptor with stone carvings in Lake Harbour
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Inuit art

Each Nunuvut community specializes in different Inuit arts and crafts. You can find stone carvings in Arviat, handmade parkas in Repulse Bay and ceramics in Rankin Inlet.

Artists in Baker Lake (central Kivalliq) are famous for appliquéd and embroidered wall hangings, made from heavy wool. The Vera Akumalik Visitor Centre features exhibits and arranges art tours.

Pangnirtung, on eastern Baffin Island, has a famous tapestry studio. At the Uqqurmiut Centre for Arts & Crafts, you can view skilled weavers at their looms and buy their work.

Cape Dorset

The West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative, in Cape Dorset (Kinngait), offers tours. Visitors see stone-cut and lithographic prints, etchings and soapstone, bone and marble sculptures. Many pieces of Nunavut art depict Inuit mythology. Others portray Arctic animals, birds and people.

Nunavut Arts & Crafts Association represents the territory's artists and hosts annual art festivals and exhibitions. The NACA website features artist profiles, a list of galleries, retailers and wholesalers and tips on buying and caring for Inuit art.

Inuit stone sculpture of seal hunter in kayak
Inuit stone sculpture of seal hunter in kayak
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Iqaluit

The capital of Nunavut is Iqaluit. For visitors, the most popular entertainment is shopping for arts and crafts in galleries and shops. Formerly named Frobisher Bay, Iqaluit can easily be covered on foot.

Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum displays Inuit artefacts and historical photos of Iqaluit and Qikiqtaaluk Region. The Government of Nunavut Building has an excellent exhibit of Inuit art, including a mace carved from a narwhal tusk.

St. Jude's Anglican Cathedral, an igloo-shaped church, is an Iqaluit landmark. It was rebuilt in 2011, five years after the fire-damaged building was demolished.

Unikkaarvik Visitor Centre features cultural and wildlife exhibits as well as regular Inuit Art Experiences. At each event, locals and visitors can spend an afternoon or evening learning about an artist and his or her work.

Although you will find more nightlife in Iqaluit than in other Nunavut communities, it's mainly limited to movies at the Astro Hill Theatre, drinks in a hotel lounge, dinner in a few restaurants, dancing at the Royal Canadian Legion and Friday-night bingo games.

Photography tours

Nunavut scenery includes icy glaciers, waterfalls, sheer rock faces, mountains and dramatic fjords. Icebergs range from ship-size floating monoliths to tiny bergy bits, in colours varying from snow-white to sky-blue.

Special photography tours visit the most scenic locations in Nunavut. Summer visitors enjoy 24-hour daylight, while winter travellers may encounter the multicoloured, constantly changing show of northern lights.

Dog sledding tours

Nunavut exudes an overwhelming sense of history. In the 1830s, the first onshore whaling stations were established on the coast of Baffin Island. Markets in Europe and America used oil, rendered from whale blubber, for lighting and lubrication, and the plastic-like baleen strips from whales' mouths for ladies' corsets and furniture.

Visitors view graves of three sailors who died on Beechey Island during Franklin's first winter in the Arctic (1845-46).
Visitors view graves of three sailors who died on Beechey Island during Franklin's first winter in the Arctic (1845-46).
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Tour operators lead dog-team trips to the abandoned Kivitoo whaling station, a historical site, 40 miles from Broughton Island (Qikiqtarjuaq).

Arctic cruises

Cruises through the Northwest Passage (which links the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans) follow the routes of Sir John Franklin and Sir Robert McClure. The ill-fated 1845 to 1847 Franklin expedition spent the first of three winters trapped in ice on Beechey Island. Here, visitors can view the Franklin Memorial and the graves of three crew members.

The historic Amundsen voyage (1903 to 1906), was the first successful transit of the Northwest Passage from east to west. In the harbour, near Cambridge Bay on Victoria Island, visitors can see the weathered wreck of Maud, the three-masted schooner used by Amundsen.

Arctic vacations

Nunavut visitors can sea kayak amid icebergs near Baffin Island, paddling up close to ducks and seals. On adventure tours, they can tackle white water and quiet rivers by canoe, while watching grizzlies and wolverines on the riverbanks and golden eagles and hawks soaring above.

Fishing for lake trout, arctic grayling and arctic char is available year-round in Nunavut. Boats and floatplanes transport fishermen to virtually untouched rivers near outpost camps in summer. Dog teams and snowmobiles enable anglers to ice fish from April to June.

Nunavut outfitters arrange Arctic tours, from mountain climbing (especially in Auyuittuq National Park) to hiking and cross-country skiing, to see herds of caribou and flocks of migrating birds. Dog sled or snowmobile-pulled sled tours bring visitors to the ice floe edge to see abundant wildlife.

Nunavut cruise passengers view iceberg from Zodiac.
Nunavut cruise passengers view iceberg from Zodiac.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Arctic lodges

Because Nunavut is so remote and its climate is so changeable, it is essential to bring warm clothing, even in summer. Most Arctic tour operators offer all-inclusive trips, including meals, transportation, shelter, guide services and suitably warm gear, either modern expeditionary clothing or caribou-skin parkas.

As an alternative to Arctic cruises, wilderness lodges, such as Arctic Watch Lodge and Bathurst Inlet Lodge, offer comfortable accommodations, great meals and guided excursions.


TRAVEL INFORMATION

Nunavut Tourism: www.NunavutTourism.com

More things to see and do in Nunavut:

Nunavut - Birding, Wildlife and Whale Watching

Inuit Culture, Games and Tools

Lonely Planet Greenland and Arctic