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February 02, 2009

HUNTING DOWN CANADA’S COOLEST ADVENTURES

Canada

Polar Bears - there are more in
Nunavut Territory than anywhere else in the world
Canada
Adventurous holidaymakers ready
for anything in Canada's Arctic around Iqaluit

david ellis

THERE's almost no mercury in the thermometer at minus-26C in winter, and on Christmas Day there might be five hours of sunshine – if there's any of the stuff at all, because most Christmases it's snowing. Twenty-four hours.

But mid-year things change: on balmy summer's days the locals frolic in 20-hours of daily sunshine as temperatures soar to a sizzling average-eight. That's right, eight. Celsius.

Yet rather than looking on such conditions as negatives, the 31,000 folk of the Canadian city of Iqaluit see them as positives – and want the world to beat a path to their door, where they say the greeting's far warmer than the weather.

And that they'll gladly share their table with you too: whale blubber and muskox, caribou, seal, walrus, chicken, game fish, clams, shrimps and lobsters.

And bear's feet, with those lucky enough to be invited to a private home, or who choose a "country food" café where the local Inuits dine, find themselves chowing-down as their hosts do: with the fingers, and savouring those tasty morsels raw or frozen.

"Remarkably, after the initial shock, visitors find this hospitality not only a very unique part of a fascinating cultural and adventurous holiday, but a very touching one too, as the people are just so accommodating," says Ed Smith whose Sydney-based Canada and Alaska Specialist Holidays is funnelling increasing number of inquisitives Aussie holidaymakers to Iqualuit.

"These visitors find there's so much to do in the fascinating outdoors for the hunter armed with gun or camera," says Smith, himself an expatriate Canadian who is quick to point out that you don't have to survive on "country food" when visiting Iqualuit.

"There are all the regular restaurants, pizza parlours, Mexican diners and Chinese takeaways, and you'll even find tropical fruits in the supermarkets in the coldest depths of winter," he says.

Iqaluit is on Baffin Island and is the capital of Nunavut, Canada's newest territory covering a vast 1.95 million square kilometres (20% of the country,) and was created a decade ago through the most comprehensive settlement ever reached between a state and an aboriginal group.

Long occupied by nomadic Inuits, Arctic Nunavut was first visited by white man in the 16th century when English explorer Martin Frobisher came upon Baffin Island during his search for a Polar route to China.

On a third visit in 1578 he also took 300 Cornish miners to excavate a thousand tonnes of what he thought was gold-bearing ore. But back in England it turned out to be nothing but iron pyrite (Fool's Gold,) and ended up as filling for pot-holed country roads.

Within 100 years of Frobisher's visits, the Dutch were whaling the area, and in 1670 the famous Hudson's Bay Company was established – one of its earliest trading posts was re-located in 1949 to what is now Apex 5km from Iqaluit, and its historic buildings are a fascinating drawcard for visitors.

The unusual Igloo-shaped Anglican Cathedral in Iqaluit is another attraction, as are the Legislative Assembly and the local museum.

But it's the outdoors that attract most visitors – sport-hunters who team-up with professional outfitters to seek 800kg polar bears (more than half the world's polar bear population live here,) muskox, foxes, lemmings, wolves and Arctic hares to name a few.

They also fish through holes cut in iced-over rivers and lakes, dangling lures that attract a variety of species that are speared rather than hooked… and when the ice melts, fly-fish from the shores for lake trout, fighting Arctic char and Arctic graylings.

Non sport-hunters armed with cameras hike or dog-sled spectacular trails in search of many of these creatures too, and walruses, seals, whales and countless species of birdlife from ptarmigans to snowy owls, ravens, gulls, terns, loons, ducks and geese.

And snap the amazing dancing lights of the aurora borealis, or hunt in the local stores for carved walrus tusks, sealskin mittens, hand-made jewellery, custom-made parkas, fur clothes and animal-skin boots.

Iqualuit is 2000km north of Ottawa and so pilots and Santa can't miss it in the snow, its airport passenger terminal is painted bright yellow.

Canada & Alaska Specialist Holidays can add a short-break to Iqaluit to a Canada, Alaska or USA vacation, or create hunting or outdoor adventure packages year-round; phone 1300 79 49 59.



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