Iqaluit during the spring equinox is unforgettable. When I visited in March 2013, ice remained piled high and creaking on Frobisher Bay, and fresh polar bear skins could be seen in some front yards, stretched drum-tight across wood frames to dry. For a few days I roamed town, visited sled dogs down on the sea ice where they sleep, eat and clamour for their next run, stood and stared up at the aurora borealis and hiked through the treeless, rolling wilderness that surrounds the city.
The flight I took there was also memorable — for its price tag. The Ottawa-to-Iqaluit journey ran about $2,300 (return), which seemed steep for a three-hour, non-chartered economy class connection to a capital city, but it’s a reality when huge operating expenses meet low passenger and cargo volumes. Today it’s even pricier, likely keeping many would-be northern adventurers south of 60.
Yet Iqaluit-based tour operator Arctic Kingdom, best known for their multi-day wilderness expeditions over land and ice throughout the Arctic, have devised a way for more Canadians to get their first taste of the North.
One of their newer trips is the three-day, two-night Arctic Weekend Getaway, which for $1,199 ($1,299 in 2016)* somehow includes both the Friday-Sunday return flight from Ottawa, on First Air, and accommodations at Iqaluit’s hilltop Frobisher Inn or Hotel Arctic. For travellers who want to take advantage of Arctic Kingdom’s day trips from the city, they are à la carte, taken at your discretion and dependent on the season and sometimes on erratic Arctic weather. Even in the summer, for instance, wind can quickly choke up the bay with sea ice, which would hinder guides from launching a boat for the trip to Qaummaarviit Territorial Park to walk next to ancient Thule (Inuit ancestor) artifacts on the small island in Frobisher Bay.
Were something like that to happen, Arctic Kingdom has many other excursions. In the fall, they also offer kayaking on Frobisher Bay (before freeze up), hiking in stunning Sylvia Grinnell Territorial Park or to see inukshuks on the tundra well past the end of Iqaluit’s famous Road to Nowhere. In spring, you could ride a snowmobile to the frozen Arctic Ocean’s floe edge or to polynyas (permanent open water) to see congregations of mammals feeding, learn how to build an igloo with local guides or go dog sledding.
Come autumn, it’s easy to give in to the temptation to run from looming cold weather. But if you plan to travel, try taking a weekend to embrace it in Iqaluit, a more and more accessible cross-section of Canada’s Arctic climate, wilderness and people. And don’t be surprised if after a weekend there, you start planning your next trip to the North — perhaps this time to push farther into Canada’s Arctic.
The Arctic Weekend Getaway is available until the end of October in 2015 and from February until October in 2016. For more information, visit arctickingdom.com/getaways/arctic-weekend-getaway or call 1-888-737-6818.
*Prices do not include taxes. A four-day, three-night trip is also available for $1,399 (2015) and $1,499 (2016).