I’ve been lucky to have traveled to 40-some countries around the world, and I’ve seen some extraordinary places, however my recent trip to Inuvik, Northwest Territories in Canada’s far north, may be one of my favourite trips of all time.
Given that I was born on the summer solstice, I’ve always wanted to spend my birthday in the Arctic and experience 24 hours of daylight. Since the new Tuktoyuktuk Highway just opened and I was celebrating my 40th birthday, this year seemed like an ideal opportunity to finally make this dream a reality. More on Tuk later.
To get to Inuvuk, which is 200 kilometres (125 miles) north of the Arctic Circle, you have to fly via Whitehorse, Yukon (which is only about two hours from Vancouver) and overnight here then carry on the following day. The flight from Whitehorse to Inuvik is about three hours, including a stopover in Dawson City. I highly recommend flying Air North, which is a local Yukon airline connecting the north with Alberta and British Columbia. Not only do they serve proper food and warm, homemade cookies free of charge, they don’t charge of checked bags or sporting equipment AND the staff are super friendly. What’s not to love?
Flying into Inuvik was extraordinary as I really had no idea what to expect. I can tell you what I did NOT expect and that was the hundreds of individual lakes that dotted the landscape for miles. It was amazing to see! The Inuvik Airport is 9 kilometres out of town but taxis are surprisingly plentiful although costly (between $35-40 to get into town).
WHERE TO STAY
Not surprisingly, accommodation is limited. There are three hotels and two bed and breakfasts in Inuvik. I chose an interesting option called Arctic Chalet. The chalet is comprised of a handful of small, rustic cabins scattered around their property. Ours had a private bathroom and kitchenette, and suited us just fine. It’s operated by a German couple who moved to the area about 25 years ago. In addition to the chalet, they also have about 35 white Malamute sled dogs which they run tours with.
We stayed at the Arctic Chalet for 3 nights. The first was sleepless, mostly due to gargantuan mosquitoes that were getting in through some mysterious entrance (we spent countless time plugging everything we thought could possibly be a hole). Even slathered in bug spray, they ate us alive. The next day, we doused the cabin with Raid before departing for town where we bought mosquito coils and more bug spray. This trifecta tactic seemed to do the trick.
Arctic Chalet is just over 1 kilometre outside of town, and we walked this every day. The Inuvik Information Centre is on the outskirts of the town and is surprisingly large and well-maintained. It also doubles as a museum and offers complimentary activities such as painting and other arts and crafts, which I thought was awesome.
WHERE TO EAT
Options for restaurants in Inuvik is quite limited (I think there’s three or four). The only one I’d recommend is Alestine’s which has a small but delicious menu of fresh local fish and chips, bison burgers or chilli, and fish tacos. They also serve wine and Yukon craft beer. The restaurant is eclectic; the kitchen is an old school bus while the two-story seating area is tiny with just 3 communal tables upstairs. We didn’t mind sharing tables as we chatted with incredibly interesting people both nights we went there (yes, we went two out of the three nights).
We ended up buying most of our food the local North Mart grocery store and cooking at our cabin. Certain food is extremely expensive (grapes and dried fruit to name a couple) however lighter and nutrient dense items like spinach are subsidized apparently, and cheese was also surprisingly affordable.
WHAT TO SEE AND DO
If you’re looking to do some shopping, there are a handful of gift and souvenir shops that offer local goods like art and sculptures, as well as local tea and jams.
We spent a lot of our time walking around Inuvik and just absorbing what a unique community it is. For example, because of the permafrost all of the infrastructure is built on pilings above ground and the hydro and electricity is also run above ground. Unfortunately due to global warming, 70% of the infrastructure above the Arctic Circle will since once the ground thaws - scary!
One definite attraction to see is the “Igloo Church”, also known as Our Lady of Victory Church. As the name eludes, it was built to resemble an igloo however what’s really interesting is that it was built in the mid-50’s by a Catholic missionary who’d previously been a carpenter but had no architecture experience. It might be the most photographed site in the north!
There are some pretty parks in Inuvik which are great if you’re looking to have a chill afternoon picnic in the sun (it was 27 degrees Celsius when we were there so lovely just to be outside). Given that Inuvik was our base for our Tuktoyuktuk trip, we didn’t plan a lot of activities (which was fine by me). If you’re looking for things to do, the Arctic Chalet will arrange any tours or activities for you (seaplane sightseeting, river tours, and fishing seemed to be the most popular). They also have a pretty lake on property with canoes that are free for guests to use. And lastly, Arctic Chalet has rental vehicles (although advance booking is highly recommended) which is ideal if you’re planning a trip to Tuk like we were.
We went for a run while there and came across the Ice Highway which, until last year, was the only way to access the north. Typically once the rivers and other waterways freeze, they become a highway on which people can drive. It’s super dangerous and is also only accessible during the coldest winter months. Interestingly, we discovered an abandoned ship nearby and also a massive grizzly paw print (we were carrying bear spray, not to worry!). This truly is a land of discovery!
There really aren’t enough words to describe what a fascinating place Inuvik, Northwest Territories is. It’s a place that everyone needs to discover their self one day. Have you travelled to Canada’s far north or is it on your bucket list of places to see? Let me know in the comments!