Arctic Bay Hunter standing on ice

Bucket List Trip to Nunavut

Face of an elderly Inuit woman in fur parka
photo credit – Michelle Valberg for Travel Nunavut

My recent bucket list trip to Nunavut was a dream come true. Nunavut is one of three territories which, along with 10 provinces, make up the country of Canada. I’m Canadian and I’ve always wanted to visit the whole of my country but, making it to all 10 provinces and three territories is a great challenge for a few reasons.

Canada is the second largest country in the world. Nunavut’s very northerly land mass is 25 percent of the country. And, we are not talking about the southern 25 per cent. All of Nunavut lies above the 60th parallel.

Nunavut is so far North, so distant, it’s like visiting an exotic country. There are polar bears, narwhals, belugas, and muskox. The people here have a culture that helped them survive in the Arctic for thousands of years but for the rest of us, there’s only a few months each year that are hospitable weather-wise. I jumped at the chance for a September visit when a friend who was working in the territory’s capital, Iqaluit, invited me.

So, let me share a bit about my bucket list trip to Nunavut with you. You may go. You may never go. But I hope by reading this blog you will at least learn a bit about the people and the beautiful culture.

Quick Facts on Nunavut

  • Population: 33,330 (smallest of any territory or province in Canada)
  • Area: 2,038,722 square kilometres (nearly 25 per cent of Canada)
  • Sales Tax: Only 5 per cent GST is collected
  • Official Languages: 4 (Inuktitut, Innuinnaqtun, English, and French)
  • Nunavut has 5 National Parks and 4 Heritage Rivers

There’s one person for every 65 square kilometres (25 square miles) of arctic land in Nunavut. Alaska, by comparison has 665,384 square miles and a population density of one person for 1.2 square miles. Nunavut is an unreal and vast natural space.

wheel diagram of seasons in Nunavut

How to Get to Nunavut

Canadian North offers flights via Ottawa or Montreal. Be sure to read their Travel Tips when planning your trip and for things you might not realize you need to pack (cash, for example, as ATMs are not frequently available and visa machines don’t always work). You cannot get to Nunavut by car and the 25 communities are not linked together by highway. Travelling between Nunavut communities is usually done by aircraft or cruise ship, but in some cases it is possible to reach another community by snowmobile, dogsled expedition, or powerboat. If travelling beyond Iqaluit, book that travel and a place to stay in advance. Anderson Vacations (not related to me) offers several ideas June through September each year. The Great Canadian Travel Group offers a 4 day, 3 night stay package in Iqaluit. Once you are in Iqaluit, a taxi app called Caribou Cabs charges $5 to $10 to go just about anywhere in town.

Things to do in Nunavut

This link will take you to the many things to do in the high arctic lands of Nunavut. From ice fishing to dogsledding, from bird watching to whale watching, from hiking, rafting, and camping to mountain climbing expeditions, from arts and culture performances to photography excursions: there’s something for every adventurer. I loved the hiking. More on that in another post.

In Iqaluit, I enjoyed many activities. There is a small, carefully curated museum that shared not only the history of the place but also a poignant exhibition on climate change called Dark Ice. There’s a lovely visitor centre stuffed with taxidermy animals (pun intended). And, there are several handicrafts galleries to explore on the shopping front.

My favourite gallery shop was Carvings Nunavut. The sheer number and range of carving pieces (thousands) on the shelves was staggering. They are 100 per cent Inuit owned and represent hundreds of artists. And, the team were very friendly and helpful. I bought a few of the iconic hand-crocheted Pangnirtung hats and some locally made soap. Northern Collectibles was packed to the rafters with art and crafts. Malikaat had thoroughly stylish, hand-made Amauti (women’s parkas). The small shop in the museum had some wonderful prints and paintings.

Arctic Ventures Marketplace was a clean and well-stocked grocery, office and art supply, and clothing store cooperative. I was thrilled to find a pair of boots handmade in Northern Manitoba by the Manitobah Mukluks. At the Arctic Survival store, I bought a beautiful Opinel pocket knife. I’m sure I’ll have it the rest of my days.

Otherwise, I enjoyed walking everywhere and touring the free public art and sculptures located throughout the town. Check a few of the pieces out below.

Public sculptures in iqauluit

What to eat in Nunavut

When I travel, I like to eat what the locals eat. The Inuit people’s preferred food is known as country food. They’ve eaten and enjoyed seal, whale meat and blubber (called muktuk or muqtuk depending if is bowhead or narwhal), caribou (tuktu), muskox, halibut, Arctic char, scallops, shrimp and various berries and medicinal plants for the 4000 year history of human inhabitation in this place.

According to a Globe and Mail article, country food harvests make up to 52 per cent of the protein Nunavummiut consume. Facebook groups are a key source for locals to acquire their favourite country foods. The Qajuqturvik (place for soup) Community Food Centre has a country food box program on a pay as you can scale for Nunavummiut people plus a daily lunch program that feeds about 500 locals per day (sadly, this is almost triple the pre pandemic number). When I visited, it was berry picking season and we met many locals on our hikes as they combed the scarlet, gold, grey, green and rust lichen covered hills picking crow and blueberries.

Having a friend in Iqaluit meant I got to meet several locals who were keen to share their country food. I tried a small piece of Muktuk (it was narwhal blubber and skin) which was rich, cool, salty and chewy. I loved the mild flavour and tender, lean texture when I tasted a slice of caribou. Given caribou eat lichen and other plants on the tundra, they must be a true taste of this place. I chewed on beluga meat and thought it was like a briny jerky. Fresh local halibut, Arctic char, scallops and shrimp were less exotic and quite delectable. For visitors there are several eateries to explore.

Examples of Country Food

Eateries to try in IQaluit

  1. The Granite Room at The Discovery Hotel – This is the top place to eat in town. We enjoyed fresh local Arctic char gravlax, sea scallops in a creamy pesto sauce and grilled Pangnirtung halibut with a delicate white butter sauce. Service was topnotch. The room is refined and there’s a decent wine list (as supplies last).
  2. The Black Heart Cafe – I ate here twice. Do try the Caribou and Sambal Shrimp Salad Rolls. They have a bit of zip and are sensational. I also really enjoyed a fresh salad topped with Blackened Char. They make great coffee and goodies too.
  3. The Frob Kitchen and Eatery in the Frobisher Hotel – The Arctic Char was my pick here.
  4. Aqsarniit Restaurant in the Aqsarniit Hotel – Go for the Caribou meatball appetizer and/or the daily Country burger or Arctic char here.
  5. We also enjoyed pizza from Hunter’s Market and an evening sipping a hoppy IPA at NuBrew, Canada’s most northerly microbrewery.

Aurora borealis

I will close out this post with a peak at what many people long to go to the Arctic to experience, the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis. I was so fortunate. Two nights during my visit, they were on full display and I happened to catch one. Watch for a few more posts from my bucket list trip to Nunavut coming soon and enjoy the spectacle below. It was positively laser light show meets cosmic dance.

Note: This post is completely editorial, and not sponsored by anyone. I wish to express gratitude to Travel Nunavut for access and permission to use some of their photos. Photos not captioned with a photo credit are by this author.

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