MCCA Canadian Arctic Safari 2015

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TOUR HIGHLIGHTS:

Observe tusked narwhal, Polar Bears, harp seals, bearded seal, ring seals, and possibly bowhead whales; Journey by snowmobile to traditional Inuit hunting grounds; Enjoy tea made of melt-water from hundreds of year old icebergs along the route; Settle into an Arctic Safari Yurt-style camp on the 2m sea ice at the floe edge; Visit the Bylot Island bird cliffs with 200,000+ birds; Snorkel and kayak amongst ice and possibly with whales; Tour Iqaluit - Canada's coolest arctic city

Full Itinerary


Day 1 Arrival in Ottawa
Arrival in Ottawa, the capital city of Canada.

Overnight in Ottawa.
Meal plan: dinner

Day 2 Ottawa - Iqaluit: Iqaluit Touring
This morning we depart by air for Iqaluit, Canada's coolest arctic city! Iqaluit is the largest city and territorial capital of the Canadian territory of Nunavut. Until 1987 this city was called Frobisher Bay, a name that is still occasionally used. The vibrant community is home to the Iqalummiut, a diverse mix of people from across Nunavut, Canada and around the world. Iqaluit serves as a gateway to all of the Baffin region communities. It is also the gateway to Greenland and points east, Yellowknife and points west, Kuujjuaq and Northern Quebec, Montreal and Ottawa. Nunavut is the largest, northernmost and newest territory of Canada.

The city of Iqaluit is rich with Inuit culture and has the distinction of being the smallest Canadian capital in terms of population and the only capital that is not connected to other settlements by a highway. Located on an island remote from the Canadian highway system, Iqaluit is generally only accessible by aircraft and, subject to ice conditions, by boat.

After getting settled into our hotel we will head out for our afternoon tour of Iqaluit. Our sightseeing will include a visit to the Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum. Once a Hudson Bay Company building, this local museum is a must-see on any trip to Iqaluit. Exhibits include ancient Inuit clothing and tools, as well as modern works of art. A visit here provides a great way to learn more about traditional Inuit daily life.

We will pop into the Unikkaarvik Visitor Centre, located just nearby the museum. Our sightseeing will also bring us to the Anglican Church and the original Hudson's Bay Company Trading Post. We will also visit the small satellite community of Apex, located about five kilometers down the road from Iqaluit. Known as "Niaqunnguut" in Inuktitut, this is where the majority of Inuit lived when Iqaluit, then known as Frobisher Bay, was a military base. In the 1940s, the United States air force established a base at Frobisher Bay. In subsequent years, Inuit began moving in off the land and lived in nearby Apex. Apex is still quite traditional and sealskin and sometimes even polar bear hides can be seen drying outside homes.

Overnight in Iqaluit.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 3 Iqaluit Touring & Sylvia Grinnell Territorial Park
Iqaluit might be off the beaten path, but it makes up for it by offering travellers some of the most spectacular landscapes. This morning after breakfast we will head out to the nearby Sylvia Grinnell Territorial Park Reserve and enjoy an easy hike on the tundra. The park's greatest feature is the Sylvia Grinnell River, which was named for Henry Grinnell's daughter. Henry Grinnell sponsored the expeditions of his friend, Charles Hall, an American Explorer who discovered that Frobisher's Strait was actually a bay. The river flows through the park before spilling into Frobisher Bay. The bay's extreme high and low tides are second only to Nova Scotia's Bay of Fundy, causing the river to change drastically throughout the day. At low tide, the river's waterfalls shrink to rapids. Information panels tell visitors about the park's features and history, as well as listing its plants and animals.

Inuit used plants for food and medicine for thousands of years, including mountain sorrel, arctic willow and blueberries. In spring and summer, tiny flowers saturate the tundra. Purple Saxifrage, Nunavut's territorial flower, is the first to show its purple clusters in springtime. Brilliant clusters of bright purple Dwarf Fireweed, yellow Arctic poppies, bluebells and buttercups quickly follow. Arctic cotton, traditionally used by Inuit for soapstone lamp wicks and clothing insulation, blows in the breeze beside tundra lakes and ponds. Dwarf willow, a variety of lichens, mushrooms and mountain sorrel also take advantage of warmer temperatures.

After lunch on the tundra we will return back to the city and finish our day with some more exploration to learn more about Iqaluit. Constant daylight and milder weather draws people outside at all hours of the night or day.

Today our day will come to an end with a grand finale of a local country food feast where a local Inuit family will prepare country food such as caribou, musk ox, arctic char and/or turbot.

Overnight in Iqaluit.
Meal plan: breakfast,lunch,dinner

Day 4 Iqaluit - Pond Inlet, Baffin Island
This morning you may have a bit of free time before we depart from Iqaluit and fly to Pond Inlet. Upon landing at Pond Inlet we will be welcomed by our local guides and staff and transferred to our hotel. Pond Inlet is a treasure trove of gorgeous scenery. The combination of towering mountains, glaciers, icebergs, and floe edges creates a stunning landscape.

As a tourist destination, Pond Inlet is considered one of Canada's "jewels of the North" as it is one of the most picturesque communities with mountain ranges viewable from all directions. This is a small, predominantly Inuit community located in northern Baffin Island. As of the 2011 census the population was 1,549, an increase of 17.8% from the 2006 census making it the largest of the four hamlets above the 72nd parallel. To the Inuit, it is known as Mittimatalik, meaning "the landing place". Alongside modernization, Inuit traditions are still very present and valued here. Evidence of this mix of modern and tradition can been seen in the dog teams on the ice in the spring time, the women's amautiq (hooded garment for carrying a baby on the back), the ulu knife (with a semi-circular blade), and the qamutiq (a wooden sled pulled behind a dog team or snow machine). As Nunavut develops its territory and interest in mining and minerals become the latest possibility for economic development, the community of Pond Inlet stands on the edge of an exciting future.

During dinner, our expedition leader and lead Inuit guide will give a briefing and gear check. After dinner we will enjoy a truly authentic cultural presentation of Inuit throat singing, drum dancing, and storytelling by local elders. You can relax and explore Pond Inlet and the not too distant mountains of Bylot Island under the midnight sun.

Overnight in Pond Inlet.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 5 Pond Inlet - Floe-Edge Safari Camp
After breakfast we will meet our guides on the beach (yes, there are sand beaches in the Arctic as well!) in preparation for our departure to southeast Bylot Island and the floe-edge safari camp. We will be traveling traditional Inuit-style by komatiq (a wooden sled with suspension seats pulled behind the snowmobile) and snowmobile across the sea ice. Our route of approximately 80km/46miles may vary depending on ice conditions and can include tea-stops at historic gravesites, hanging glaciers, and abandoned whaling stations and hunting cabins. The final destination will be close to the ice floe edge where our safari camp will be set up a few kilometers back from the ice edge.

Bylot Island lies off the northern end of Baffin Island and measures 180 km (110 mi) east to west and 110 km (68 mi) north to south. This is one of the largest uninhabited islands in the world. While there are no permanent settlements on this Canadian Arctic island, Inuit from Pond Inlet and elsewhere regularly travel to Bylot Island. The island is named for the Arctic explorer Robert Bylot, who was the first European to sight it in 1616.

What to expect about the Qamutik ride:
The mode of transportation to move over the ice is the traditional Inuit sledge pulled by a snowmobile called a 'qamutik'. There are two to four persons in each qamutik that are provided a suspension seat to sit on. We move over the flat sea ice and even though suspension seats have been added to the qamutiqs for a smoother ride, the ride can potentially be bumpy. Anyone with a history of back problems should contact Adventures Abroad to see if this trip is for you.

Overnight at Floe-Edge Safari Camp.
Meal plan: breakfast,lunch,dinner

Day 6 Floe-Edge Safari Camp
From the safari camp, there will be day trips made with the komatiks and snowmobiles out to the floe edge and other highlights of the area. We will be able to enjoy the warm spring weather and engage in a variety of activities both on land and at the floe-edge. From both the safari camp and the floe-edge you can expect to see icebergs, and 'bergy-bits', and drifting pack ice with playful seals poking their heads up out of the water and looking directly at you. Plenty of time will be provided for unhurried observation and photography.

On the floe-edge, the likelihood is high that we will see narwhals, bowhead whales, and polar bears on the prowl for seals sunning themselves, and possibly walrus and beluga whales. The majority of migratory birds are in abundance. Pure white ivory gulls, gaudy king eider ducks, low flying northern fulmars, thick-billed murres, Kittiwakes, and greater snow geese (kanguq) are just a few of the bird species to be seen. Ice conditions permitting, there will be a visit to the bird colony with 200,000 plus birds nesting not far away.

On the land we may have the opportunity to track land mammals with your camera, see ancient Thule culture sites, see traditional tent rings and learn about the history of the area. Bylot Island's uplands are home to Arctic foxes and hares, weasels, collared lemmings, snowy owls, rough-legged hawks, and gyrfalcons.

Overnight at Floe-Edge Safari Camp.
Meal plan: breakfast,lunch,dinner

Day 7 Floe-Edge Safari Camp
Our activities from the safari camp continue.

'Sinaaq' is the Inuktitut word for the floe edge, which is a very special place to be in the spring. A floe is a flat chunk of floating sea ice up to 10 km (6 miles) wide. As drift ice, it will rise and fall with the tides and travel with the ocean currents and arctic winds unless it is blocked by fast ice, coastal sea ice fastened to the land or shallow sea floor. In the springtime, the floe edge, where the open sea meets the frozen sea, becomes one of the most dramatic and dynamic ecosystems on Earth.

Overnight at Floe-Edge Safari Camp.
Meal plan: breakfast,lunch,dinner

Day 8 Floe-Edge Safari Camp
Over these days at the camp, our senior Inuit guide will explain to us the traditional ways of Inuit life over five days as we embark on a journey of discovery of the arctic, the abundant wildlife and its beauty. There is an Inuit belief that everything in nature is infused with the spirit of life. Walking on the land, breaking icicles off of glaciers, gazing up at thousands of birds at the nearby bird cliffs, and drinking glacier melt-water on day excursion are just a few of the activities that we may enjoy!

Overnight at Floe-Edge Safari Camp.
Meal plan: breakfast,lunch,dinner

Day 9 Floe-Edge Safari Camp
Overnight at Floe-Edge Safari Camp.
Meal plan: breakfast,lunch,dinner

Day 10 Floe-Edge Safari Camp - Pond Inlet
After breakfast we will depart camp and reload the komatics for our return journey to Pond Inlet. Stops along the way may include (depending on the route) a visit to a 100-meter waterfall where one can make tea with the glacier run off. Once again we will cross about 70km/43miles of sea ice by snowmobile, lead by our Inuit guides.

In the evening you will have some free time to explore the village of Pond Inlet. The Nattinnak Visitors Centre, located on the bluff, houses an excellent exhibit of the region's natural history including a full size narwhal with a tusk hanging from the ceiling. The Co-op store (which typically has a selection of carvings and other crafts) and the Northern store (historically known as "The Bay," derived from the famous Hudson's Bay Company stores) are worth visiting. You may also have the opportunity to buy carvings directly from local artists. Accommodations and dinner will be at the Bed and Breakfast lodge.

Overnight in Pond Inlet.
Meal plan: breakfast,lunch,dinner

Day 11 Pond Inlet - Iqaluit - Ottawa - Depart
After an early breakfast we will transfer to the Pond Inlet Airport for our morning flight to Iqaluit. On arrival in Iqaluit at approximately noon you will transfer planes and continue on to Ottawa, arriving at approximately 16:50. From here you can connect with your flight home or overnight in Ottawa.
Meal plan: breakfast