- Beluga Whale Watching. Cunningham Inlet, Somerset Island, Nunavut is one of the best spots in the world to observe Beluga whales. From about mid July to August 10, beluga whales come to the mouth of the Cunningham River to molt in the warmer river water and nurse their young. The best whale watching spots are only a 15 minute walk from the lodge. Beluga whale watching can be done at any time.
- Hiking GullCanyon. We can hike starting from the lodge or we can use the ATVs or Unimog truck to get to a starting point farther afield. A moderate walk is the best way to see wild flowers, birds or find fossils. It is also the best method to approach wildlife. There are mountains to climb and canyons to explore.
- There is abundant wildlife - muskox roaming the tundra, baby foxes playing at the fox mound, innumerable birds that nest annually in the Arctic to rear their young, whales by the thousands, many varied seals, and an occasional polar bear.
- The area around and on Somerset Island there are numerous historical and archaeological sites. Along the coast are tent rings and remains of camps from Thule culture (AD 1000 - 1400) and paleo-Eskimos. These sites can be visited by foot, ATV, mountain, or kayak.
- Fishing. Inukshuk Lake is home to a good population of arctic char. Arctic char is the arctic member of the trout and salmon family. Char is a true game fish. The fish in Inukshuk Lake generally run 3 to 8 pounds. Creswell Bay, located at the southern end of Somerset Island has world class char fishing. Here the char can get over twenty pounds.
- Birders are welcome. We make special trips for birding by foot, sea kayak and ATV. Northern Somerset Island is the summer home to a wide variety of land and sea birds. We have attempted to identify as many as possible, these we have listed below.
- Sea Kayaking. We have two options for kayaking day trips. The first option is to start at the Lodge, paddle the few hundred yards down the river into Cunningham Inlet. The floating sea ice is amazing shapes and colors. From our kayaks we can sea whales, seals and sea birds. The second option is paddling the lower canyon of the Cunningham River. The water is blue and so clear, you can see every rock on the bottom. We stop under the nest of a Rough-legged hawk. The parents keep guard, never going far from the nest, so we can get a good view of them. The rock along the river is full of fossil shells, sea anemones and trilobites. The canyon does a perfect 180 degree turn and heads toward the camp. The river is swift, but there are no rapids. The easy paddle takes about three hours.
- Rafting. We have two 17 foot inflatable rafts. We paddle (or drift) the lower canyon of the Cunningham River. This is a remarkable geographic spot. Nature has hewn a path for the river through solid rock. The water is blue and so clear, you can see every rock on the bottom. Muskox grazes on the top of the cliffs. The rock along the river is full of fossil shells, sea anemones and trilobites. The canyon does a perfect 180 degree turn and heads toward the camp. The current is swift, but there are no rapids. This easy paddle takes about three hours.
Day 1: Mid morning, climb aboard a private plane for a four and a half hour flight from Yellowknife. You land on our private gravel airstrip next to the lodge. Everyone receives a tour of the facilities, puts their luggage in their cabin, then meets in the Great Room for a welcome and to meet our staff. Dinner is served in our cozy dining room.
Day 2: Breakfast is served at 8:00 am. There is a hands-on introduction to driving All Terrain Vehicles (ATV). These practical vehicles are easy and fun to drive. Then we hike a short distance to the Cunningham river estuary for whale watching. Beluga whales frolic in the shallow water only a few yards off shore amongst the ice floes. Buffet lunch typically includes: nutritious soups, such as French Canadian Pea, leek, potato, and cream of corn; freshly-baked sourdough and rye breads; specialty meats and cheeses; fresh vegetables; and homemade desserts.
In the afternoon we hike to Triple Waterfalls, a five story torrent of free-falling water. There we will see nesting peregrine falcons and other birds such as loons, snow buntings, sandpipers, and rough-legged hawks. We explore the canyon and see wild arctic flowers. Encounters with muskox are common. Evening meals typically include a main course of baked arctic char, grilled muskox, barbecued pork tenderloin, or other meat. Side dishes of oven-roasted vegetables, red and white wine, fresh bread and homemade desserts round out the meal.
Evening activities include free time for local exploration. The library has a broad selection of arctic and polar titles. Our Interpretive Centre contains collections of local fossils, skeletal remains of arctic fauna, and collection of traditional Inuit skin clothing from Canada, Greenland and Siberia.
Day 3: Breakfast, served at 8:00 am, typically includes fresh coffee, home-baked pastries, muffins, cinnamon rolls, fresh fruit, yoghurt, muesli, French toast or pancakes with Quebec maple syrup, eggs, double-smoked bacon, sausages and various other snacks. We travel by ATV, crossing the Cunningham River delta, then along the Muskox Ridge trail. This affords a scenic overview of the whole area. To date, every excursion has encountered muskox. We pass an impressive arctic fox den, frequently watching fox cubs at play.
A picnic lunch at our own Canadian Arctic Holidays (CAH) shelter at Inukshuk Lake is followed by the opportunity to fish for arctic char. Fishing gear is supplied. Returning on ATVs we take an alternate route via the River Trail, viewing hoodoos (sculptured sand pillars), and local coal deposits. The evening begins with fresh arctic char sushi made from the day’s catch. Another fabulous dinner follows. That evening, Richard Weber, internationally recognized polar explorer, offers an informal lecture on his North Pole adventures. His historic 1995 unassisted journey to the North Pole and back, a feat that has never been repeated, will be highlighted.
Day 4: Another hearty breakfast is served at 8:00 am. Today’s focus is on sea kayaking in Cunningham Inlet. All equipment and basic instruction are provided. We paddle amongst icebergs, ring seals and bearded seals, watching for beluga whales. Frequent sightings of sea birds, including arctic terns and eider ducks, can be expected. This afternoon we are back at the Cunningham River estuary to watch the beluga whales. This site is unique in the world because of the density of the whale population and their proximity to the guests. Frequently we are within a couple of yards of the animals. We can clearly hear their communication calls. To appreciate the underwater calls, we use a hydrophone.
Day 5: Following breakfast we depart, crossing the Cunningham River delta, with the ultimate goal of Flatrock Falls. Guests have the option of hiking, or traveling by Mercedes Unimog truck, mountain bike, or ATV. Somerset Island canyons are as yet un-named. They were formed as the result of a shifting fault lines and their walls, mostly vertical, vary from 200 to 1000 feet. Millions of fossils of prehistoric plants and animals litter the ground. Today’s trip also offers opportunities to observe nesting sites of local birds including terns, plovers, and snow geese. A picnic lunch is served directly on the flat rocks that surround this canyon.
After lunch, everyone hikes to Gull Canyon, named by us for the striking biological contrasts between barren canyon and lush gull rookery. This spot was recently visited by the Canadian Wildlife Service, not only to view the gull rookery but also the presence of peregrine falcons. Their comments were that this spot is a unique and special micro-ecosystem. This evening, guests have the opportunity to watch, or for the more adventurous, participate in, demonstrations of traditional Inuit games and throat singing. Throat singing is unique to the indigenous peoples of the polar regions of the world and is unlike any other vocal music in western culture.
Day 6: Today’s excursion is by ATV to Cape Anne. We visit five Thule sites along coast. The ride includes scenic vistas, icebergs, ancient Inuit campsites and prehistoric giant whale bones. The Thule culture was a bowhead whale hunting culture, ancestors of today’s modern Inuit. The Cape Anne Thule site is the largest in the area and includes the remains of 15 stone and bone houses. Return trip is overland via the Red Valley and guests can expect to be inspired by the magnitude of the landscape.
At the end of a long day, we enjoy another delicious dinner. This evening guests can relax with a lecture by Richard Weber. His presentation includes stunning images and fascinating stories of Arctic expeditions to Baffin, Ellesmere and other High Arctic islands.
Day 7: Begin this final day with one of Josee’s wonderful breakfasts. The first leg of today’s journey is covered by Mercedes Unimog truck. Our goal is to reach our raft and kayak put-in on the Cunningham River, 20 km. Typically, we hike the final six km through badlands, passing the skeletal remains of two bowhead whales dated at four to five thousand years old. Not uncommonly we encounter muskox, snow geese, jaegers, arctic foxes, sand pipers, and rough-legged hawks.
Our picnic lunch is eaten on the beach beside the river, while the staff prepare the rafts and kayaks. On the return, guests have the choice of paddling their own kayaks, or traveling by raft. The river is swift flowing crystal clear water with no difficult sections or rapids. The views are amazing and include steep canyon walls and at one point, a 180 degree turn. Guests can expect to be on the water for two to three hours.
Day 8: Today is your last day in the High Arctic. By now you are familiar with our corner of Somereset Island. There may be an activity that you missed during the week or an activity that you particularly enjoyed and want to repeat, such as a final visit to the whales, or see the muskox herd for a final time. Today we do the activity that you want. In the late afternoon the plane will arrive to take you back to Yellowknife. You are free to spend time there or head south to Edmonton, Alberta.
Note: Daily activities are subject to desires and abilities of guests and the weather. All activities are lead by a guide.
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