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Author Topic: Nunavut "road trip" report (very long, with photos)  (Read 5590 times)

oscar

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Nunavut "road trip" report (very long, with photos)
« on: September 04, 2014, 07:52:37 PM »

In mid-August, I flew up to Nunavut, via Quebec, and worked my way across Canada's northernmost, mostly roadless territory. This report covers the three stops I made in Nunavut (the capital city Iqaluit on Baffin Island, Rankin Inlet on the mainland, and Cambridge Bay on the real Victoria Island along the Northwest Passage), plus an overnight stop in Kuujjuaq QC on my way up to Nunavut, and two nights in Yellowknife NT. The emphasis will be on Iqaluit, especially since I've already covered the Yellowknife part of my trip elsewhere, but there will be briefer coverage of Kuujjuaq, Rankin Inlet, and Cambridge Bay.

I've already posted some related material in more bite-sized posts, to keep this post semi-manageable:

Iqaluit's official "Road to Nowhere"

Nunavut and NWT license plates

Stop signs in Nunavut and far northern Quebec

Yellowknife trip report (including the NT 4 reroute there earlier this year)

also posts in other threads about Canadian Arctic gas prices and my aggravating experience with U.S. Customs at the Toronto airport

Part 1: Trip overview



^   Here's a map outlining where I went (click map to see larger version).

My overnight stay in Cambridge Bay was my only one north of the Arctic Circle, though most of my other destinations were pretty close.  Neither "midnight sun" nor aurora viewing on this trip -- too late for 24-hour daylight, and not late enough for the dark night skies needed to see the northern lights. Anyway, I have a hard time staying up late enough to experience either.

My itinerary was basically geared to county-counting, to visit the most difficult county equivalents I'll need to finish off Canada. But I still have dozens left over, in more accessible locations. Those of you who aren't (that much) into county-counting, but would like to knock Nunavut Territory off your to-do lists, can save a lot of time and money by visiting only Iqaluit, though even that will probably put a big dent in your checkbook unless you can get someone else to pay for your trip.

Nunavut has no road connections to the rest of Canada (except, some winters, mines in western Nunavut are served by a private ice road starting near Yellowknife NT), nor are there any roads between Nunavut's communities except some adjacent ones like Iqaluit and Apex about 5 km apart. And there is no road connecting Kuujjuaq to the rest of Quebec, or even other communities in its Kativik region, though a road connection to southern Quebec is being talked about (any new road will have to cross the major river on which Kuujjuaq is located). Indeed, there are no roads in Nunavut signed with numbered route markers, nor does Kuujjuaq have any numbered Quebec provincial route of its own (maybe some day the Quebec route network will reach into its Kativik region).

So getting to, and around, Nunavut and far northern Quebec means flying. And the flights, like most everything else up there, are really expensive, offered by only two airlines who know your options are limited and charge accordingly. Just the airfares for my entire itinerary were several thousand dollars (but hey, this was a "bucket list" item for my retirement). If you want to go to just one place in Nunavut, you might be able to save money on flights working through a local tour operator, though the cost of the tour will offset the airfare savings. I couldn't find an operator interested in helping me with my multi-stop itinerary, so I wound up paying full freight. If you regularly work with a travel agent (I don't), you could give that a try too, though my impression is that the available discounts are mainly for group tours on which the airline can offer a volume discount. Also, if you're going to just one destination in Nunavut (I suggest Nunavut's capital and largest city Iqaluit), and have some flexibility on timing, follow the First Air and Canadian North websites for their occasional fare sales and tour packages.

Fortunately, most of my flights were on 737 jets, operated by the two major airlines (First Air for Montreal-Yellowknife via Kuujjuaq, Iqaluit, and Rankin Inlet, Canadian North for Yellowknife-Cambridge Bay-Edmonton with connection in Yellowknife), and also Air Canada connecting from Edmonton through Toronto the rest of the way home, as well as for the start of my trip from home to Montreal. Jet service is sometimes available to Cambridge Bay, but for that destination I took a Canadian North turboprop back to Yellowknife, rather than extend my stay in Cambridge Bay. Many of my flights were on "combi" jets, with cargo riding up front and passengers boarding in the rear, so even at the Montreal airport which has jetways in abundance (forget about jetways in the Arctic, even the relatively large Yellowknife airport has only five gates), passengers had to walk on the tarmac and take a stairway up to the back of the plane. Several of my jet flights (Iqaluit-Rankin Inlet, Rankin Inlet-Yellowknife, Yellowknife-Cambridge Bay), as well as the Cambridge Bay-Yellowknife turboprop, I didn't have to go through screening by Canada's equivalent to the TSA, even though the Iqaluit and Yellowknife airports have screening facilities for flights heading south. (The small Kuujjuaq airport does screening for jet flights north to Iqaluit and south to Montreal.) Canada's TSA equivalent seems less unpleasant than its U.S. counterpart, but it still is nice that cross-Nunavut flights, like many western Alaska flights, are blessedly TSA-free.

Not only are roads scarce in the far north, but there isn't a lot of pavement either. Much of the pavement in Nunavut is in Iqaluit, but mostly in the city centre, and even there it's hit-or-miss with many minor roads unpaved. Only some main roads in Rankin Inlet are paved. I saw no pavement at all in Cambridge Bay, the smallest and northernmost Nunavut community I visited where permafrost makes it harder to maintain pavement. Kuujjuaq QC, the southernmost community I visited (it's south of the 60th parallel), has a mix of paved and unpaved roads, at least in town.

Branded fast food is not widely available in Nunavut, and not available at all in Kuujjuaq. Iqaluit and Rankin Inlet each has one or more Tim Hortons Express outlets within grocery stores, but only coffee and some baked goods there, without the sandwich offerings at full-service Tim Hortons. Iqaluit and Cambridge Bay each have a combined KFC/Pizza Hut Express, with a subset of their usual chicken and pizza menus. Especially for breakfast, I wound up eating mainly at the hotels where I stayed, except in Yellowknife which has a broad range of restaurants.

One other little practical pointer: Retailers in the far north often charge up to a quarter for each disposable plastic bag. Bring your own tote bag, or buy one up there you can take home as a souvenir.

(rest to follow in next post)
« Last Edit: December 19, 2014, 08:59:32 PM by oscar »
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oscar

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Re: Nunavut "road trip" report (very long, with photos)
« Reply #1 on: September 04, 2014, 08:08:35 PM »

Part 2: Iqaluit



^  An overview of Iqaluit, from a road in the Plateau Subdivision. Iqaluit has a population approaching 7,000, much of which lives in several subdivisions away from the city centre. But the core area is fairly compact and walkable, weather cooperating. Since there's no public transit (but lots of taxis), a car rental is nice to have but not indispensable, to get to outlying destinations such as the "Road to Nowhere", the old townsite in Apex (about 5 km from downtown Iqaluit), and Sylvia Grinnell Territorial Park west of downtown (more on that later). There seems to be only one car rental company in Iqaluit, at an off-airport location (with no regular airport shuttle), so it seems like most visitors get by without renting a car.



^  There are no road signs directing motorists to Iqaluit's airport, or for that matter other destinations in the Iqaluit area except an easy-to-miss sign for the turnoff to Sylvia Grinnell Territorial Park west of downtown. But it's really easy to find the fugly old yellow airport terminal, just a few blocks from downtown, which reminds me of the Vogon spaceship in the "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy". Since the building is on stilts (as is common but not universal in Iqaluit, to protect subsurface permafrost), you have to climb stairs to get into the building, then take stairs down onto the tarmac before taking another set of stairs up into your plane (no jetways), though at least the terminal stairs are covered to keep them out of the rain and snow. A new terminal building is under construction, which will be red rather than yellow, much better-looking, and looks to be more passenger-friendly, using a thermosiphon system to keep the ground-level building from thawing the permafrost underneath.





^  Nunavut Territory might've preferred its legislative assembly building to be surrounded by trees, like NWT's. Too bad Iqaluit is well north of the tree line, as is most of the rest of Nunavut. So its assembly building is right at the corner of Federal Road and Nunavut Drive in the heart of downtown Iqaluit. I stepped inside to rest my legs, but just missed one of the two weekday public tours.

The sign up front uses all four of Nunavut's official languages, including Inuvialuk, an Inuit language using the Latin alphabet that is spoken mainly in far western Nunavut. Since most Inuvialuk speakers are two time zones away from Iqaluit, that language is not used on Iqaluit road signs, so the signs only need to use three languages (or two, if French is omitted).



^  Iqaluit's occasional street blades are the best-looking I've seen in Arctic Canada, such as this one I spotted on Queen Elizabeth II Way (a major street, reportedly paved for one of the Queen's two visits to Iqaluit).



^  This photo, and the next five, are from Sylvia Grinnell Territorial Park, on an unpaved main road just west of the airport, and about a 30-minute walk from downtown Iqaluit. The park is a nice place to view river rapids (the two shown above), lots of tundra, and other local flora and fauna. It also has several km of well-maintained unpaved park roads, including some interesting signage, not enough of which is used elsewhere in Iqaluit or Nunavut.



^  Inuktitut is added to speed limit signs, both within the park and elsewhere. "Maximum" helpfully means the same in English and in French, so the signs are properly tri-lingual.





^ Other signs in the park, like the hill crest warning and dogsled crossing signs, avoid messing with multiple languages by using only symbols, like the bridge freeze warning signs used everywhere in Canada except Nunavut.



^  The park's roads, and a few roads elsewhere, are lined with these coloured delineators, to help you stay on-road when the ground is snow-covered. Yellow is always on the left, green on the right, so if you see yellow on your right or green on your left, you've strayed off the road.



^  This sign at one of the park's unisex toilets reflects that, up there, people often have to wear a lot more clothing than the rest of us.

Part 3: Kuujjuaq, Rankin Inlet, and Cambridge Bay

Kuujjuaq is the "county seat" of, and largest community in, Quebec's Kativik region. Even though Kativik is a "territory equivalent" rather than a "regional county municipality" (MRC in French), like other Quebec county equivalents it has its own locally-elected regional government in addition to municipal, provincial, and federal governments. The outside signage on the regional government building is trilingual Inuktitut-French-English or English-Inuktitut-French. I was out and about in Kuujjuaq only on a Sunday afternoon, so I couldn't step inside the government building.



^  The interesting flag for the Kativik region uses an apparently Inuktitut-based emblem within an outline of the region's boundaries, which I saw on many government vehicles around town.

On the other hand, the local "palais du justice", or courthouse, seems to be a provincial function, and is one place with no English on its exterior signs, though the primarily-French signs also include Inuktitut. As I've noted earlier in my post about Nunavut and northern Quebec stop signs, on Kuujjuaq's road signs it's French that gets short shrift.

While Nunavut is divided into three administrative regions (each of which I visited), unlike Kativik the regions in Nunavut don't have their own county-like regional governments. There are only three levels of government in Nunavut: city/hamlet/other municipal, territorial, and federal. But Rankin Inlet and Cambridge Bay are deemed the seats of their respective Kivalliq and Kitikmeot regions (as Iqaluit is seat of its Qikiqtaaluk region), since many territorial agencies have offices in those communities, scattered among several different buildings. To my surprise, there is no full-time courthouse in either Rankin Inlet or Cambridge Bay. Nunavut's courts are highly centralised in Iqaluit, with judges flying out to try cases in outlying communities as needed, supplemented by part-time and sometimes non-lawyer resident justices of the peace to take care of minor legal matters.



^   Behind Rankin Inlet's main territorial office building (below left) is the hamlet's signature landmark, a man-shaped stone statue called an "inukshuk", an iconic Inuit symbol often seen elsewhere in Nunavut. My guess is that it's about five meters tall. It's on a rocky outcropping above otherwise flat land, increasing its prominence. There are also good views of Rankin Inlet from the base of the inukshuk, including the harbour area to the left.

In Cambridge Bay, I saw little of roadgeek interest, other than the stop signs I've previously discussed. However, I took a lot of photos of the Cambridge Bay harbour and other places on the waterfront, in hopes one of them turns out to be the unmarked landing site where earlier this year Russian explorers drove over the ice into the hamlet on their way back to Russia, after previously driving over the North Pole to Nunavut's Resolute Bay. The desk clerk at the hotel where I stayed confirmed that the Russians did land in Cambridge Bay, and drove a few blocks uphill to park their amphibious vehicles near the hotel, before resuming their trek back to Russia. If and when I nail down where the explorers landed, and if a photo of that spot made it into my photo archives, I'll post it here or separately.
« Last Edit: December 19, 2014, 09:11:00 PM by oscar »
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Pete from Boston

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Re: Nunavut "road trip" report (very long, with photos)
« Reply #2 on: September 04, 2014, 08:50:08 PM »

These are all fascinating, and strike a chord with some road-trip desires I had when younger (I had designs on getting my Honda to James Bay back then).  I take it from the "retirement bucket list" comment that this was purely pleasure travel?
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oscar

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Re: Nunavut "road trip" report (very long, with photos)
« Reply #3 on: September 04, 2014, 08:59:23 PM »

These are all fascinating, and strike a chord with some road-trip desires I had when younger (I had designs on getting my Honda to James Bay back then).  I take it from the "retirement bucket list" comment that this was purely pleasure travel?

Yeah.  I certainly wish I could've gotten an employer to help pay for it!
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cpzilliacus

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Re: Nunavut "road trip" report (very long, with photos)
« Reply #4 on: September 07, 2014, 11:45:02 PM »

In mid-August, I flew up to Nunavut, via Quebec, and worked my way across Canada's northernmost, mostly roadless territory. This report covers the three stops I made in Nunavut (the capital city Iqaluit on Baffin Island, Rankin Inlet on the mainland, and Cambridge Bay on the real Victoria Island along the Northwest Passage), plus an overnight stop in Kuujjuaq QC on my way up to Nunavut, and two nights in Yellowknife NT. The emphasis will be on Iqaluit, especially since I've already covered the Yellowknife part of my trip elsewhere, but there will be briefer coverage of Kuujjuaq, Rankin Inlet, and Cambridge Bay.

Oscar, thank you for sharing the great narrative and superb pictures!
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