Tuktoyaktuk part 2: The Arctic Ocean

Our journey continues to Tuktoyaktuk (Tuk)….

Day 3: Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk

Our journey to the Arctic Ocean finds my husband Ryan and I at the Gwich’in campground just outside of Inuvik. Our goal is to make it to Tuk and to circle back to Inuvik!

Campbell-Clarke says goodbye to the Dempster Highway as she and husband Ryan enter Inuvik, NWT

We pack up our camp area and start our journey into Inuvik. We drive through and are surprised how big the town is, however, we decide to return to explore later in the day. We aren’t sure of the road conditions and, as it’s quite arduous along the Dempster Highway, we don’t want to take any chances.

Once out of Inuvik, we are on the official Tuk Highway to the Arctic Ocean. Instantly the trees disappear and only tundra and brush seem to be able to survive the harsh weather of the Arctic. It feels like an alien planet as the windy road maneuvers through the permafrost landscape.

The road is in incredible condition as we start to approach the outside of Tuk’s town limits, where it quickly turns into a rutted nightmare. Again, I’m thankful I’m not driving and that we have a truck.

Once we arrive in Tuk, we note the drastic differences for those living in the Arctic. All the buildings are built on stilts due to permafrost heaving. The town has this eerie feeling of being on the edge of the world. To make it even more difficult, it’s Sunday, so nothing appears to be open. We find a small building with information. It isn’t open yet. We decide to head to the Arctic Ocean and it’s absolutely freezing cold! The winds are a brutal force with nothing to stop them. There’s two other vehicles. Another tourist takes a snap of Ryan and I officially at the Arctic Ocean. 

“So? Are you going to jump in?” Ryan asks. “Maybe later,” I tell him. 

We head to the information centre and get a map of Tuktoyaktuk and some tips on things to see and do in the town. Here’s the top list:

  1. Climb a Pingo

A pingo is basically an ice-formed hill due to permafrost. What is really cool is there’s estimated to be 11,000 pingoes in the world, but Tuktoyaktuk peninsula is supposed to have the largest number—1,350! I had no idea the little hills we saw along the way were pingoes! 

Nor did I have any idea we literally drove past one several times in town. So it was time to “hike” up the pingo and get a slightly higher view of Tuk.

  1. Visit the original Arctic houses
Ryan standing in front of the Sod House

The modern stilted house isn’t the only interesting architecture in the Arctic. There are still original Arctic houses you can visit while in Tuk. This includes the Sod House. It basically involved using the earth to provide protective and warm housing with the horrific cold and windy weather conditions. The house would be dug out in the ground and protected with sod and snow. The entry into the house was through a tunnel built below the level of the floor. The cold air is denser and heavier than warm air, so it gets trapped inside the tunnel, which keeps heated air inside. The original arctic entrance!

  1. Visit the Arctic Ocean

In Canada, you can go to all three of its oceans by vehicle.

  1. Try muktuk at Grandma’s kitchen

Tucked away we find Grandma’s kitchen (which is actually a little trailer). The kitchen is boarded up and we wonder if it’s not open because it’s Sunday. A man is standing there awkwardly and says, “my wife just went to go ask.” Minutes later the wife appears and says,”I just woke her up so she will be out soon.” It’s 2 p.m., but when you own your own business, you can make your hours!

A tasty snack of seal and dried muktuk (also known as boiled beluga whale blubber) after a long day of travel

After about 20 minutes “Grandma” arrives and starts taking orders. The couple before us is told there is only one plate left of muktuk (boiled beluga whale blubber) and our hearts drop that they will take the food we wanted to try! However, the couple orders burgers and we rejoiced. We order muktuk and jerky.

The wind is too chilly and we decide to eat in the truck. The muktuk is interesting. It doesn’t really have any distinct flavour, but the texture is chewy. I’m not a fan, but I’m sure it’s like when someone eats Vegemite from Australia!

After our visit in Tuk it’s time to head back to Inuvik to explore!

Our Lady of Victory Catholic church in Inuvik, NWT

The most famous landmark is the igloo church, known as Our Lady of Victoria Church. Unfortunately, you cannot go in to visit, but we got to admire the interesting architecture. We decide to park the truck and wander around the town, trying to locate something for dinner. As we walk, we note that they also have a community centre that looks eerily similar to Whitehorse’s Canada Games Centre. Happy thoughts of a shower come to mind, so we decide to go and enjoy the facilities.

After we lose about an inch of muck from our bodies, we decide to go to the same campground to sleep before the journey back down south.

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The road trip begins: Tuktoyaktuk on The Dempster Highway

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The view from the road as mountains give way to tundra

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