A visit to Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge, Canada’s most northerly wilderness lodge at 311 miles (500 km) north of the Arctic Circle, is an arctic expedition unlike any other. From late June to mid-August, travelers can explore the area around the lodge on Somerset Island and experience for themselves the trip that fashion icon Jeanne Beker recently called “magical, and very personal.”
Quark Expeditions® account manager David Tanguay also recently traveled to Arctic Watch and, in an interview with us upon his return, said that the experience was “just amazing.” Check out his high arctic adventure story below.
Base Camp for Arctic Adventure
Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge hosts Richard Weber and Josée Auclair are polar explorers. Their son Tessum has followed in their footsteps, and their other son, Nansen, is a guide and wildlife photographer. Together with their team, the family created a cozy, comfortable base camp for all kinds of adventures for David and his fellow travelers on Somerset Island.
Every morning after breakfast, expedition guides presented the Adventure Options for the day. Throughout the week, travelers went out in guided groups to kayak, hike, fish, ATV, bike the tundra, go stand-up paddleboarding and take photographs.
The adventure, however, began for David before he even set eyes on the lodge at 74°N. His journey began in Yellowknife, the capital of Canada’s Northwest Territories, where passengers boarded a charter flight to Somerset Island. Usually, a comfortable flight is a pretty unexceptional experience, but not this time.
“We were flying over the lodge, right at the inlet, and we saw all these belugas in the water,” says David. “We could see them so clearly – it was just spectacular!”
The Cunningham River estuary is the summer home to hundreds of beluga whales, and as David would soon learn, his bird’s-eye view from the plane was only the start of his adventure. That first day at Arctic Watch, he chose the kayaking Adventure Option and was soon gliding alongside those belugas across the surface of the bay.
“There were about 500 belugas in the inlet,” David says. “When we were kayaking, they would come by us and swim right underneath our kayaks.”
Life at a Land-Based Arctic Expedition
South of the lodge, deep canyons provide challenging hiking and incredibly rewarding photography experiences. The Northwest Passage lies to the north, and west of the camp is an area called Red Valley, a popular Arctic Watch ATV destination. It was one of the adventures David opted into on his trip.
“Two hours on the ATVs took us to this spectacular area high up in the mountains. We could see the valley in front of us and the Northwest Passage in the back,” he says, reminiscing.
The group had lunch outside before heading off to visit an ancient Thule settlement. David remembers his surprise at how nice the weather was that high in the Arctic. “We’re talking about 10°C [50°F], so it was very comfortable in terms of weather conditions,” he says.
Somerset Island Is Home to Amazing Arctic Wildlife
According to David, those conditions were perfect for seeing arctic wildlife in its natural habitat. “With weather that nice, the wildlife was very active,” he explains. “Of course, the belugas were there, and we saw arctic hare, as well.”
After their day trips, everyone would regroup at the lodge to share their experiences. “We all saw lots of birds, and one hiking group saw 5 polar bears while they were out!” recalls David.
One day, he says, the entire camp hiked along the Cunningham River, and then paddled back to the lodge in rafts and on kayaks and paddleboards.
“Halfway back down the river, we heard there was a herd of muskoxen nearby,” he says. “We stopped and went ashore, walked up the hill a little bit, and saw about 14 muskoxen from a distance.”
The group approached quietly and slowly, maintaining a safe and respectful distance, but were still able to get a great look at the herd.
“That’s the beauty of an arctic expedition, right? You never know what’s going to happen, so you expect the unexpected,” says David.
A True Canadian Arctic Experience
Back at the lodge each evening, David found that the food prepared by chef Justin Tse was exceptional. Rather than simply providing sustenance, dining at Arctic Watch carried the arctic experience into the after-hours.
“The quality of the food was absolutely phenomenal,” says David. “Everything was homemade, and fresh ingredients were brought up every week with the plane. It’s a true Canadian culinary experience, because they bring in the cheese from Quebec, for example, and the salmon from the Atlantic provinces. Your dinner might be beef from Alberta with wine from British Columbia. It was fantastic and really, really fresh.”
For David, the intimacy of the Arctic Watch experience made for an unforgettable expedition, with memories and relationships to last a lifetime.
“Being able to have those experiences in a small group of just 26 people from different backgrounds and different cultures … well, by the second or third day, you feel like you’re a family,” he says. “The Weber family are also very good hosts – they provide great service and great food!”
Food aside, the other thing David really enjoyed was the diversity of Adventure Options at Arctic Watch.
“On some trips,” he explains, “you have to do what everyone else does. Because the group at Arctic Watch is so small, it means that you can have pretty much any experience you want!”
The Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge offers a unique experience north of the Arctic Circle. Contact a Polar Travel Adviser to book your own polar adventure.