Baffin Island: Adventure & Inuit Art
One of the most remote and uninhabited areas in North America, rugged and beautiful Baffin Island is an excellent destination for the traveler willing to spend some time and money for an adventure vacation; it's also a great place if your mission is to find high-quality Inuit arts and crafts.
Iqaluit: Gateway to Baffin Island
On the southern end of the island, Iqaluit (pronounced Ee-ka-loo-eet), meaning "place of many fish" in Inuktitut, is the capital of Nunavut and, like most Inuit settlements, is quite young; it grew up alongside a U.S. Air Force airstrip built here in 1942. The rambling community overlooking Frobisher Bay now boasts a rapidly growing population of more than 7,000 and is a hodgepodge of weather-proofed government and civic buildings.
It's easy to spend a day or two exploring the galleries and museums of Iqaluit, but if you've come this far, you definitely should continue on to yet more remote and traditional communities. Iqaluit is the population and governmental center of Baffin, but far more scenic and culturally significant destinations are just a short plane ride away.
The hotly contested waterway snaking between the high Arctic archipelago connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans is fast becoming a tourist destination. Although the landscape is bleak (think flat, brown expanses) and wildlife sightings rather unimpressive compared to elsewhere in Nunavut, the passage still holds its own, if only for sheer historic and symbolic significance. Between the 15th and 20th centuries, European explorers tried in vain to find a short route to the riches of Asia, each failing miserably. Sir John Franklin's plight may have been the worst, with his sailors eating their leather boots as a last resort. Finally, in 1906, Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, using skills garnered from the Inuit, completed the first Northwest Passage crossing. There are a great number of historical sites dotting the passage, namely the graves of four Franklin sailors on Beechey Island.
The little community of Gjoa Haven, approximately midway along the Passage, was named after Amundsen's ship, the Gjoa. One resident even boasts being Amundsen's grandson. Gjoa Haven is also home to the Northwest Passage Territorial Trail (tel. 867/975-7700; www.nunavutparks.com), a collection of six sites significant to the Passage's history, including a museum with a replica of the Gjoa, shelters used by Amundsen during his quest, and grave sites believed to be where more members of Franklin's crew were buried.
In recent years, the Passage has become popular for its current affairs, as well. Recent easing of ice-pack conditions has made the passageway more accessible to marine traffic, and many nations are staking its claim. One of the only ways to visit the Passage is by ship, and cruise ship visits have increased rapidly.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.