The time when we drove 4000 miles to touch the Arctic Ocean at Tuktoyaktuk in Canada
Tuktoyaktuk (Tuktuyaaqtuuq or Tuk) is a little fishing village located far north in the Northwest territories of Canada along the Arctic Ocean. This is one of those remote community that used to be accessible only by plane or icy winter roads. In November of 2017, a brand new all season highway was open to public. It took four years to build this 137 kms long two way gravel road with thick layers of gravel packing that can withstand extreme temperatures. As soon as we heard about this road’s completion, our excitement spiked. Immediately, we started planning our roadtrip to touch the Arctic Ocean Again!
For a Little recap, we drove from Ohio to Prudhoe bay, Alaska in August 2017 to touch the Arctic Ocean. But in Prudhoe Bay you cannot take your own vehicle until the Ocean beach. Only way is to take a tour bus organised by Arctic Ocean tours. You can read about our experience in detail here.
Inuvik to Tuk Highway
In order to reach Inuvik, we drove through the challenging Dempster highway first. Check out our Dempster highway post if you are interested. On a cloudy and misty morning, packed with heavy expectations and excitement we started from Inuvik. Its an isolated gravel way that divides the vast land surrounded by thousands of lakes and Arctic ice-dome hills. You should definitely check out the satellite image of this region to understand what I mean. The geography of this area quiet overwhelming to learn and see it for real.
Things to know before you drive this highway:
- It has NO SERVICES
- Should have good vehicle and experienced driver
- Carry atleast 1 full size spare tire
- Slow down when you see an oncoming vehicle or when are driving through a curve road.
- Most importantly enjoy the scenery.
Tuktoyaktuk – The land of Pingos
Our heart pumped fast when we began to see the town at distance. Its a simple and calm settlement with no distinct skyline except the Canada’s highest (the world’s second-highest) pingo, at 49 m on west side of the community.[themify_box style=”light-blue info”]A pingo is an ice-cored hill typically conical in shape, growing and persisting only in PERMAFROST.Pingos form by the freezing of water, which moves towards the surface under either hydraulic or hydrostatic pressure. Open-system pingos form when groundwater moves from a distant, elevated source under hydraulic pressure. They typically occur on lower valley side slopes and on alluvial fan surfaces. Source [/themify_box]
At the end of the highway’s T junction, you will have to take left to enter into the community. We unknowingly took right and that path led us to a facility with geodesic domes at a higher elevation. Though we were confused and skeptic about the road we took, it was worth it to see the whole beach community from a higher elevation before experiencing the streets of town itself.
Then we drove back to the junction and took the road that actually leads straight to the Arctic ocean through the streets of this colorful, quiet community. The moment we saw the beach and the sign board of Arctic Ocean we were at the edge of our car seats. Very eager to get down and touch the ocean! There were tourists who were as excited as us dipping toes, some were tent camping there in the shores, and others waiting to take the photo op with the sign board. We parked our Nimo and first fled to touch the Arctic ocean. Naveen was planning to take a plunge, but the temperature of water was freezing cold at that time.
Exploring the streets of Tuk
After our photo ops at arctic ocean, we drove through the streets of Tuk seeing their colorful homes, exploring sod homes, church, school, cemetery, community center and stores. This village has no direction signs or signs to any restaurant or stores. This is not a commercialized touristy place. They only have street name signs. So its kind of hard to navigate if you don’t have a detailed map. While in Dawson city, we took the below picture of the community’s map at NWT visitor center for reference. But it was very abstract. For more detailed information, we recommend you to first visit Tuk’s information center which is located at the end of Beaufort Road. Here you can get detailed information and map if you would like to explore more or to find their convenience stores, gas stations, food or souvenirs.
We always like to try authentic local food. So we asked at the visitor center for recommendations. His immediate suggestion was to try Muktuk at Grandma’s kitchen. Actually, there are two places to eat in Tuk. One is End of the world restaurant (interesting name, isn’t it?) and Grandma’s kitchen. Since the first one doesn’t open until 5pm, we chose Grandma’s kitchen. And, so glad we did! The map took us to the last house at the end of a street called Oceanview Drive. It was a cozy ocean front home with a food truck parked facing the beach. The food truck was closed and had a sign asking to knock the house’s door for service. A Lady with pretty smile answered the door. By the time we were waiting, many other tourists joined us to have Grandma’s food.
We ordered Muktuk bites, dried/smoked white fish, donut and chicken burger. Muktuk is their traditional meal made of frozen beluga whale skin and blubber. She handed us a plate with few small bites of cubed muktuk, two slices of dried white fish with drizzle of salt. First we stared at the plate for few seconds, thinking what is it? and is that all?? Because, we ordered without any idea of what it will look like or taste. The excitement part of any food experience is the first glance of color, smell and texture. Then comes the taste. We knew already that Muktuk was raw fish. Surprisingly, it din’t have any raw fishy smell. It tasted little bit nutty and chewy. The white fish had usual fish taste but with smokey flavor. Their chicken burger was great too.
Like any other restaurant they don’t have tables and chairs for the customers but they have something more better. Beach front log seats around a camp fire. Since it was very cold, grandpa invited us inside their house’s front room. We had a nice chat with him asking about his life and experience of living here in Tuk. The couple were so friendly and sweet. He also let Naveen try on Parka, a traditional outer wear of natives for the freezing Arctic temperatures.
We asked him one of the most curious question that we had in our mind “How do you live when its totally dark for one month in winter?” He responded quickly with a slight smile that its not actually pitch dark like we usually imagine about the Arctic. The sun stays at below the horizon and there will be twilight for few hours in day. “Will there be any change in your routine life during those days” I asked. He said “Nope, routine life goes on same as now”.
Personal recommendations :
- Obviously, Dip your toe or plunge into Arctic Ocean
- Definitely try Muktuk at Grandma’s kitchen
- Check out their sod houses
- Get “Tuk” sticker (5$) from their convenience store. (we got ours from Stanton)
- Meet the locals if you can.
We were so fascinated to meet people who live in these communities far from the busy, noisy urban environment. Their lifestyle, food and environment is completely different from us. They experience extreme winter, no sun for a month in a year, no farming, just fishing & hunting, most of the communities like these have no access to rest of the world resulting in highly priced groceries and no big commercial establishments. Yet, they survive and very much love where they live by following their own culture and tradition. They say that they wouldn’t want to give up this lifestyle at any cost.