Most travelers, not satisfied with driving to the end of the road, hop aboard a small plane in Inuvik for the flight along the Mackenzie Delta to Tuktoyaktuk, a small community perched precariously on an exposed gravel strip on the Beaufort Sea. Although it would be a harsh and unforgiving place to live, a visit to “Tuk,” as it is sensibly known, is a delightful eye-opener.
The community is spread out around Tuktoyaktuk Harbour and has spilled over to the gravel beach, where meter-high (three-foot) waves whipped up by cold Arctic winds roll in off the Beaufort Sea and thunder up against the shore.
The most dominant natural features of the landscape are pingos, massive mounds of ice forced upward by the action of permafrost. The mounds look like mini-volcanoes protruding from the otherwise flat environs. The ice is camouflaged by a natural covering of tundra growth, making the pingos all the more mysterious.
Approximately 1,400 pingos dot the coastal plain around Tuk, one of the world’s densest concentrations of these geological wonders peculiar to the north.
Most visitors see Tuk from the inside of a transporter van driven by accommodating locals who never tire of the same hackneyed questions about living at the end of the earth. The bus stops at Our Lady of Lourdes, once part of a fleet of vessels that plied the Arctic delivering supplies to isolated communities. Here also are two mission churches built in the late 1930s.
A stop is also made at the Arctic Ocean, where you are encouraged to dip your toes in the water or go for a swim if you really want to impress the folks back home. (Tuk is actually on the Beaufort Sea, an arm of the Arctic Ocean, but who’s telling?)
For a few extra bucks, you are given some time to explore on your own, including walking along the beach, climbing a nearby pingo, and checking out the well-equipped ocean port.
Tuk is the most popular flightseeing destination from Inuvik, and a variety of trips are offered from Inuvik. Trips start at $305, which includes the return flight (worth the price alone) and a tour of the town. The flight into Tuk is breathtaking—the pilots fly at low altitudes for the best possible views. For those who wish to spend longer in Tuk (there are enough things to do to hold your interest for at least one day), extended tours visit the community’s unique cool room and include lunch with an Inuvialuit family, for $385 per person.
For tour details, contact Arctic Nature Tours (867/777-3300). Scheduled flights are operated by Aklak Air (867/777-3777); accommodations are at the 18-room Hotel Tuk Inn (867/977-2381, $165–225 s or d).
© Andrew Hempstead, from Moon Western Canada, 3rd Edition