Last summer, my wife and I travelled to Pond Inlet, Nunavut, an Inuit community 3,236 kilometres north of Toronto or 3,421 kilometres northeast of Vancouver. We were lucky – we scored a pair of tickets anywhere Arctic airline Canadian North flies at an fundraising auction in Yellowknife for $2,400. (The year before we also explored Kugluktuk, another Nunavut community, after finding a half-price seat sale with the same airline.) We decided right then and there to pick the farthest destination north possible. That would be Pond Inlet, where two return tickets from Yellowknife normally cost double what we paid at the auction. Cara and I are living proof it is possible to save a few bucks and travel comfortably to the High Arctic without hiring a pricey guide or booking a lengthy cruise. Here's how we did it.
Plane rides may be expensive up north, but luggage limits for the two jet airlines servicing Nunavut from down south – Canadian North and First Air – are very generous, so take advantage. Canadian North only recently announced a reduced limit of two 22-kilogram (50-pound) bags per passenger, effective Feb. 1, but First Air still allows customers to carry two 31-kg (70-pound bags. You will need it if you intend to stay in the Arctic for more than a few days, especially if the plan is to be outdoors.
Good thing you're allowed to bring extra baggage. If you don't want to spend a lot buying meals in hotels or worse, arrive to find every kitchen in town closed, you better bring a pile of food with you. Most northern communities have a co-op or Northern store, but like the hotels, food there can be terrifyingly expensive. Last year, we brought a cooler loaded with prepackaged meals that we cooked in the microwave in our room.
One would naturally assume the weather will be cold north of the Arctic Circle, but it's difficult to appreciate how insidious the cold really is until you've been there, especially near the ocean. In the Arctic summer, gumboots are a must. Don't wait to buy anything until you get there. You either won't find what you need or you will spend too much money.
Bring a friend
Most of the communities in the Far North have either a small hotel or a bed and breakfast. Unaccustomed travellers may be surprised to learn, however, that they are booking not a room but a bed. If you don't want to share a room with the fellow coming to town to fix the radio tower, it's best to bring a friend. If you tell the hotel you're travelling together, you will probably get a deal.
Few northern communities have banks, and ATM machines can be hard to find, especially after business hours. Have some money in your pocket before you fly north. You will need it.
Northern people are generous and friendly. Go to the town office or tourism centre and ask if they know anyone with a boat or an all-terrain vehicle who can take you out for a day trip. Someone will know somebody, and when they find out it was your specific mission to visit their community they will be impressed and show you a good time. A couple hundred bucks might get you the trip of a lifetime. People will want to sell you stuff, though. After eating all the food in your luggage, some of that weight will be returned in stone carvings, sealskin mittens and maybe an oosik (walrus penis). Check with the wildlife office for the right permits.
Inuit people are proud of their traditional diet and lifestyle. You will see things southerners are not accustomed to, like seals being butchered on the beach in town or polar bear skins tanning in the yard. Drink it in, or avert your eyes and enjoy it. You'll be dining out on this trip for years.
Mike W. Bryant is senior editor with Northern News Services.