My adventure trip from Inuvik to the Arctic Ocean and Herschel Island
I will never forget my journey from Inuvik to the Arctic Ocean. From there we continued by bush plane to Herschel Island in the Beaufort Sea. Inuvik was the northernmost point in the Northwest Territories accessible by road during the summer when I was there. Here ended the Dempster Highway, which is – depending on the weather conditions – a dusty or muddy track that goes to Northern Canada. It leads from the Klondike region to the oil town of Inuvik in the Northwest Territories. Since 2017, those who want to travel even further can continue on the All Season Road to Tuktoyaktuk, venture into the wilderness on foot or continue by boat on the Mackenzie River. Alternatively, you can also fly further north and to the Arctic Ocean with bush planes.
From Inuvik to the Sea of Ice to Tuktoyaktuk
We decide to fly, and we intend to do two flights: once we want to go to the Inuit Olympics in Tuk. That's what the locals affectionately call the Inuit village of Tuktoyaktuk. Our second destination is Herschel Island, where whalers once spent their arctic winters. I have been to Tuktoyaktuk on previous trips. So I already knew that agreed flight times in the far north are not necessarily binding. It was the same this time. We are scheduled to depart in the morning to visit a family in Tuk, who are to explain their city and what happened during the Inuit Olympics.
From Inuvik to the Sea of Ice others have the right of way
But the flight is delayed: we wait - and wait - and wait. When we asked why the departure was delayed, the only answer was succinctly: "The plane is needed for other purposes." And so we continue to wait. After a few hours - after all, we don't want to miss the departure - the plane suddenly was available. Finally they say: "We're flying." I didn't find out what the reason for the delay was. But our stay in Tuk nevertheless turned out to be an exciting and highly interesting stay on our journey from Inuvik to the Arctic Ocean.
Encounter with Maureen and James in Tuktoyaktuk
We are greeted by Maureen Pokiak, a friendly woman from Saskatchewan who actually came to Tuktoyaktuk as a teacher. Here she met her husband James, a true Inuit. He still spends part of the summer hunting seals to stock up for the winter. The two also run a small business – Oopik Tours– and show visitors their place and its surroundings.
The Inuit Olympics in Tuktoyaktuk
Together with him she accompanies us today to the Circumpolar Games, a kind of Inuit Olympiad that is held in a different place in the Arctic every year. We watch the skill exercises that replace the athletic competitions of other Olympic Games in the Inuit world.
For example, the competitions involve pushing yourself off the ground with one hand and reaching for a high-hanging furry animal with the other – the one-hand reach. Or there's the one-foot-high kick, where the athlete has to touch a furry animal suspended above their head with one foot. The winner is the one who gets the highest position. These are men's competitions during the Inuit Olympics. The women tend to compete on everyday things: for them it's about who can cut up a salmon the quickest and things like that.
Regional specialties at the Arctic Ocean
Afterwards, Maureen takes us to their home, where we can taste regional specialties. This includes Muktuk or Maktaaq. This is the thick skin of whales, which is cut into pieces and smoked. It is one of the Arctic people's vitamin suppliers, with no other vitamin-containing products growing there. And Muktuk has more vitamin C than citrus, so it's good for preventing scurvy. It is still considered a special treat in the Arctic, and we can try it. It tastes a bit like nut.
Tuktoyaktuk's cooling systems and pingos
James shows us the cooling systems from Tuktoyaktuk. These are nothing more than passages dug into the permafrost floor, to which you climb down a deep shaft. Every family in the village has its own cold room, where meat is stored all year round. Not a problem in summer, but in winter, when the polar bears are nearby, I imagine visiting the fridge in the village becomes a little scary. James also draws our attention to the strange looking hills around Tuk: "These are pingos," he says, and laughs. "The frostbite of the north." He is not wrong, because they really originate in the polar regions, where the permafrost ensures that these strange hills form.
From Inuvik to the Arctic Ocean to Herschel Island
After an interesting day on our journey from Inuvik to the Arctic Sea, we fly back to Inuvik and are already looking forward to our second excursion, which we have planned for the next day. This time it goes to Herschel Island, an island in the Beaufort Sea, the Arctic Ocean. The island has a bay that provides shelter from arctic storms in winter. The whalers once took advantage of this, who did not want to start the long journey home around the American continent after the short summer season, but settled here for the winter.
It's easier for us: we fly - this time on time, as agreed - from Inuvik over the vastness of the tundra. For two hours we see nothing below us but lakes, in which two white dots can be seen from time to time. "These are trumpeter swans," explains our pilot. "They are territorial and each have a lake of their own." A highlight on our flight along the edge of the Arctic Ocean is a grizzly, which, apparently disturbed by the noise of our plane, simply flops down on the grass and is mesmerized by our plane during our flyover.
Arrival and exploration of Herschel Island
Having arrived on Herschel Island we land in the small bay in front of rather weathered looking buildings. Our pilot pulls the seaplane ashore and we climb a bit shakily over tree trunks lying in the water. There is no jetty here. Everything, apart from a few buildings, is untouched nature. We see that immediately when – without any shyness – a caribou approaches us over the hills and watches us curiously as we go ashore.
Meeting a ranger and discovering nature
We are received by a ranger who is on duty here in the summer. When I asked if he would come back to civilization from time to time, he replied: "Not until autumn, when the season is over." A lonely life away from any hectic pace. He explains to us that some of the houses are remains of the whaling settlement. In a warehouse we see barrels where the whale oil was collected. And he shows us the lush variety of flowers that turn the tundra into a true sea of color every early summer. All flowers I've never heard of before, each with their own strategies for surviving in the harsh environment of the Arctic. A true marvel of nature that we encounter here.
Return flight to Inuvik and the phenomenon of the Midnight Sun
With completely new and adventurous impressions we fly back from the Arctic Ocean to Inuvik after a few hours. We observe the midnight sun as it wanders along the horizon. But it doesn't disappear behind it. Instead, it immerses the region in a very special light that puts its very own stamp on what we experience. This and the unbelievable stillness of the north are what remain in my memory forever from our trip to the Canadian Arctic from Inuvik to the Arctic Ocean.
Travel organization from Inuvik to the Arctic Ocean:
Parking at the airport
Arrival to Inuvik
Hotels in Inuvik and onward travel from Inuvik to the Arctic Ocean:
Hotels in Inuvik are few and far between. So I definitely recommend reserving the hotel. Here you can book both hotels and flights to Inuvik*. In Inuvik there are various providers who organize the onward journey from Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk and from Inuvik to the Arctic Ocean. Since 2017 you can also drive via the All Season Road from Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk. You can reach this via the Dempster Highway.
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Source Flight of Inuvik to the Arctic Ocean and Herschel Island : research on site (this trip of Inuvik to the Arctic Ocean was not supported by anyone)
Text Flight from Inuvik to the Arctic Ocean and Herschel Island: Copyright Monika Fuchs and TravelWorldOnline
Photos: Copyright Monika Fuchs and TravelWorldOnline