A trip to Nunavut is often spent learning about the region’s unique wilderness and wildlife, about the Inuit people and their Thule ancestors, and about the powerful relationship between the two.
Nunavut’s Capital, Iqaluit, is at the centre of the action. Located on Baffin Island, this is where most trips to the territory begin and end. Traditional Inuit culture can be seen everywhere, from the city’s fantastic arts and crafts, to the many festivals it hosts, to the artists, musicians, and filmmakers that live there. Iqaluit is also located close to three territorial parks, each home to unbelievable scenery, beautiful natural features, and many archeological artifacts dating back to the ancient Thule people. Outdoor activities like skiing, snowmobiling, and dogsledding are popular parts of daily life, as are hunting, fishing, and berry picking. Stay in town to dine and explore, or head out into nature. Everything starts here.
Naujaat (Repulse Bay)
While we’re on the topic of birds, we need to talk about Naujaat, which actually means “nesting place for seagulls” in the local Inuktitut language. Formerly known as Repulse Bay, this hamlet sits near a cliff area where seagulls are born each year in June. It’s also located directly on the Arctic Circle, a fact marked by an impressive stone cairn found in the little town. Only about 1,050 people live in Naujaat, meaning they’re greatly outnumbered by the birds and other local wildlife. Rolling hills, beautiful inlets, and Arctic tundra form a landscape that tends to experience some pretty cold weather. But that shouldn’t stop you from visiting in the warmer months for great fishing, ATV riding, hiking, kayaking, and, of course, birdwatching. From the seagulls, that gave Naujaat its name, to tundra swans, peregrine falcons, and snow geese, there are birds aplenty.
Auyuittuq National Park
Glaciers, rugged mountains, and rivers dominate the countryside of Auyuittuq National Park. The prospect of some challenging terrain attracts leagues of hikers and skiers, most of whom follow the 95-kilometre Akshayuk Pass (known locally as Pang Pass), a traditional Inuit travel corridor that crosses the park. We can’t all take on 95-kilometre trips, so visitors can also do day hikes to the Arctic Circle, or tackle the terrain via dogsled or snowmobile. If you’re going to visit one thing in the park, make it Mount Thor. The aptly-named mountain has the world’s highest vertical drop, at 1250 metres. It’s really something to behold.
Sirmilik National Park
Sirmilik National Park, on the northwest side of Baffin Island, has one of the most diverse sets of wildlife in the Arctic. Narwhals, caribou, polar bears, ringed seals, and killer whales all travel the shore or the water beyond it. The park also houses an important bird sanctuary, Bylot Island, with over 70 species and hundreds of thousands of birds either nesting there, or passing through. At over 22,000 square kilometres, it stands to reason that wildlife would inhabit the park. But all that space also means lots of rooms for activities (beyond the obvious wildlife viewing). This includes mountain climbing, ski touring, sea kayaking, touring the floe edge, where the sea ice meets the open water, and visiting archeological sites.
West Baffin Eskimo Co-Operative Limited
Carvings, etchings, and stone-cut prints are the bread and butter of the West Baffin Eskimo Co-Operative Limited, a collection of Inuit artists based in Cape Dorset. The co-operative has existed for more than 50 years, and has since become arguably the Inuit art capital of the world. On the shores of the Hudson Strait, these artists ply their trade to the delight of the many art lovers that make the trip to the island year-after-year.
Cunningham Inlet (Somerset Island)
Plain and simple, Cunningham Inlet on Somerset Island is the best place in the world to watch beluga whales. Thousands of these beautiful animals visit the inlet every year to play, nurse their young, and moult their skin. The consistency with which they visit and the remoteness of the site—800 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle—make this a truly wild experience. Guests can shack up at the beautiful Arctic Watch Lodge, and walk less than a mile for unrivaled views of these beluga pods, and enjoy all the other wildlife, natural beauty and archeological sites that fill Somerset Island.
Nunavut is home to more than one big island. Ellesmere Island is second in size only to Baffin Island, and sits about as far north as Canada gets. It was from Ellesmere Island in 1909 that an explorer set out to walk to the North Pole, which is only 720 kilometres away. In other words, Ellesmere Island is not a place to go sunbathing! It is, however, the perfect place to observe muskox, caribou, wolves, and lemmings. It’s also a great place to take canoe and snowmobile tours, and to test your gumption with mountain climbing, backpacking or, if you really want the memory of a lifetime, a North Pole excursion of your own. Did I mention the 24-hour daylight, muskox, caribou, wolves and lemmings? It’s also a great place to take canoe and snowmobile tours through great hunting land. And it’s also an awesome place to test your gumption with mountain climbing, backpacking or, if you really want the memory of a lifetime, a North Pole excursion of your own. Did I mention the 24-hour daylight?
If you’re going to visit the scenic hamlet of Pond Inlet for one reason, and one reason only, make it the narwhals. These unicorns of the sea famously pass through the inlet in large pods, creating an incomparable wildlife viewing experience. Located near the floe edge, Pond Inlet is also a great place to see other wildlife in the spring. Immerse yourself in the local culture and history, from a local theatre group to a variety of archeological digs. And if you love to get outside, the icebergs, glaciers, mountains, and fjords that characterise the entire territory of Nunavut are all close by. Make sure to explore some ice caves, or check out the hoodoos—tall, thin rock formations.
Iqalugaarjuup Nunanga Territorial Park
It might not be easy to say Iqalugaarjuup Nunanga Territorial Park, but it is easy to love it. Five miles from Rankin Inlet, this beautiful park features a chain of lakes, tundra, wetlands, and all the varieties of animals that inhabit these ecosystems. Thanks to the varied terrain, many trails, and ancient Thule archeological sites it contains, the park is a popular destination for hiking. While you can visit the park in the winter, by ski or snowmobile, most choose to come in the summer when the birds are chirping and the purple mountain flowers are in bloom. Bring your binoculars and see if you can spot a peregrine falcon, or wade into the waters, cast a line and catch yourself an Arctic char.
The Northwest Passage
The Northwest Passage is actually a sea route that connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans through the Arctic Ocean above Canada. The famous route passes around and above Baffin Island, with lots to see along the way. Cruise the passage, skirting icebergs as you trace the steps of arctic explorers. Hop a zodiac ashore to abandoned whaling stations, Hudson’s Bay Company outposts and ancient Thule campsites littered with artifacts. Grab your binoculars to hone in on walrus, narwhal, polar bears, and sea birds. If you’d rather stick to land, there’s also a Northwest Passage Trail where you can walk among the relics of the first Europeans who explored this remote landscape.