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The runway on Herschel Island
You have to do a fly-by to see if there is driftwood on the The runway on Herschel Island

Herschel Island: A Day Trip From Inuvik

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Herschel Island – Qikiqtaruk Territorial Park is not a place many people ever visit. With a location in the Bering Sea, five kilometres off the coast of the Yukon, and a 90 minute Twin Otter flight from Inuvik – the closest city of any size, it’s not what you would call an easy place to get to.

Also Lady Luck needs to be on your side as both Herschel Island and Inuvik can be shrouded in fog for days at a time.

Herschel Island: A Must Do Day Trip From Inuvik
Flying over the Mackenzie River Delta on the way to Herschel 

Our group of eight (who were off to Ivvavik National Park for five days) got very lucky. After waiting for three hours at the airport hangar in Inuvik we finally got the go-ahead.

The flight itself is worth the trip alone, at least if you love to fill in the blanks on a map. Inuvik is located on the Mackenzie River, the longest river in Canada so for me it was a delight to fly up the river and see it finally discharge into the Arctic Ocean.

From the air, the river looks like a highway. On the way to the island we were also treated to the sight of beluga whales and pack ice. The only thing missing was a polar bear and reportedly there was one on Herschel Island.

Lucky to have a sunny day - though we waited three hours in Inuvik to wait for clear skies
Lucky to have a sunny day – though we waited three hours in Inuvik to wait for clear skies

The plane landing on Herschel is a thrill!

Landing in a Twin Otter is a thrill. The 260 m (850 feet) runway on the island is lined by large pieces of driftwood so the pilot must do a fly-by to make sure it’s clear. Although the landing was a tad bumpy I swear we came to a complete stop in roughly 300 feet.

Herschel Island: A Must Do Day Trip From Inuvik
A look at the buildings from the air
Coming in for landing in a Twin Otter
Coming in for landing in a Twin Otter
Herschel Island: A Must Do Day Trip From Inuvik
One of the most incredible landings I’ve experienced

We were met at the plane by Ricky Joe, the chief ranger who’s been stationed on and off at Herschel Island – Qikiqtaruk Territorial Park for somewhere between 10 and 11 years. A couple of summer researchers come to meet us too – mostly because it’s a treat to speak with someone new when there are only a handful of full time residents for the summer. (The researchers hail from all over the world.)

A little history about the island

Scampering over pieces of driftwood, trying to avoid getting our feet wet, we follow Ricky around to the Northern Whaling & Trading building where our informal tour begins. In the 19th century this island was a whaling station. Between 1893-1894, at the height of the Beaufort Sea whaling period, there were 1,500 seasonal residents, more than any other town in the Yukon.

They were there for the bowhead whale which according to one of the pamphlets says “the baleen from the bowhead whale had flexibility and strength and was used to make buggy whips, parasol ribs and corset stays.” The market for whale oil was also excellent.

Herschel Island: A Must Do Day Trip From Inuvik
Walk off the plane, over some boards & past the outhouse
 Taking a tour with a park interpreter on Herschel Island
Taking a tour with a park interpreter on the island

We visited all the other buildings open to the public – including the sauna which is one of the few luxuries for the summer residents. There are display cases full of interesting things like the skulls of animals found on the island, whale bones and old implements.

Boards with descriptions and photos of all the wildflowers that call the area home are on the wall, along with loads of historical photos.

You can read about the people that have lived on the island – from the Thule people living here about 1,000 years ago to the whalers, the missionaries and the North-West Mounted Police. There’s information on how people dressed along with examples.

And interesting explanations about the monitoring of the black guillemot population nesting on Herschel Island are there if you have the time for a read. The reality is three hours goes fast when there’s so much to see and take in.

Herschel Island: A Must Do Day Trip From Inuvik
Look for information about the historic buildings inside and out
Herschel Island: A Must Do Day Trip From Inuvik
A sauna keeps the researchers and park people happy
Herschel Island: A Must Do Day Trip From Inuvik
There’s a tremendous amount of wildlife on the island including muskoxen

You’ll want to spend at least an hour just wandering around taking pictures, looking for birds and wildflowers, admiring the seals off in the distance and of course sitting around and drinking tea, in an old building brimming with history.

Loads of wildflowers with 24 hour daylight
Loads of wildflowers with 24 hour daylight
In
In the back bays the people staying on the island fish for Arctic char & Arctic cisco
 This deserted house has become a nesting site for black guillemots
This deserted house has become a nesting site for black guillemots
 Black guillemot
Black guillemot
Guillemots
Guillemots can be entertaining to watch
 A well camouflaged eider duck
A well camouflaged eider duck (one of our group scared the duck and himself)
 The old broken wing routine when we inadvertently got too close to a nest
The old broken wing routine when we inadvertently got too close to a nest
Our group signed the piece of driftwood and left it on a wall of one of the buildings like many before us
Our group signed the piece of driftwood and left it on a wall of one of the buildings like many before us
They look like yellow poppies
They look like yellow poppies to me but ??
A pack of seals can be seen on the ice several hundred yards offshore
A pack of seals can be seen on the ice several hundred yards offshore
Pilots must do a fly-by of the runway to make sure there isn't any driftwood on it
Pilots must do a fly-by of the runway to make sure there isn’t any driftwood on it
Me hanging out by the outhouse
Me hanging out by the outhouse – Photo credit: Jennifer Bain

An amazing day trip from Inuvik

If you are visiting Inuvik, I would highly recommend allowing a day to visit the island. It’s like nowhere else you’ve been.

Dress warmly though as the winds off the ice are cold. And if you’re visiting the base camp in Ivvavik National Park, there are options on some of the trips to include the stop on Herschel Island. Do it.

From Herschel Island we flew 20 minutes south to Imniarvik Fly-in Base Camp.

For more information on the park visit their website.

                         

Further reading about things to do in the Yukon

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

Herschel Island: A Must Do Day Trip From Inuvik, NWT

A huge thank you to Travel Yukon and Parks Canada for making this trip possible. It was an awesome, bug free experience!

 

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