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Baffin Island, in the Canadian territory of Nunavut, is the largest island in Canada and the fifth largest island in the world. Its area is 507,451 km2 (195,928 sq mi) and its population is about 11,000.
Named after English explorer William Baffin, it is likely that the island was known to Pre-Columbian Norse explorers from Greenland and Iceland and may be the location of Helluland, spoken of in the Icelandic sagas. In September 2008, Nunatsiaq News reported that a team led by Dr. Patricia Sutherland had found archaeological remains of yarn, rats, tally sticks, a carved wooden Dorset culture face mask depicting Caucasian features, and possible architectural remains, which place European traders and possibly settlers on Baffin Island not later than AD 1000. What the source of this Old World contact may have been is unclear; the report states: "Dating of some yarn and other artifacts, presumed to be left by Vikings on Baffin Island, have produced an age that predates the Vikings by several hundred years. These finds may represent evidence of contact with Europeans prior to the Vikings' arrival in Greenland". Dr Sutherland's research eventually led to a 2012 announcement that whetstones had been found with remnants of alloys indicative of Viking presence. The archaeological site at Nanook is thought to be a trading post and port, and thus Baffin Island would be Helluland.
To the south lies Hudson Strait, separating Baffin Island from mainland Quebec. South of the western end of the island is the Fury and Hecla Strait which separates the island from the Melville Peninsula on the mainland. To the east are Davis Strait and Baffin Bay, with Greenland beyond. The Foxe Basin, the Gulf of Boothia and Lancaster Sound separate Baffin Island from the rest of the archipelago to the west and north. The Baffin Mountains run along the northeastern shore of the island and are a part of the Arctic Cordillera. Mount Odin is the highest peak, with an elevation of at least 2,143 metres, although some sources say 2,147 metres. Another peak of note is Mount Asgard, located in Auyuittuq National Park, with an elevation of 2,011 metres. Mount Thor, with an elevation of 1,675 meres, is said to have the greatest purely vertical drop of any mountain on Earth, at 1,250 metres. The two largest lakes on the island lie in the south-central part of the island: Nettilling Lake (5,542 km2) and Amadjuak Lake (3,115 km2) further south. The Barnes Ice Cap, in the middle of the island, has been retreating since at least the early 1960s, when the Geographical Branch of the then-Department of Mines and Technical Surveys sent a three-man survey team to the area to measure isostatic rebound and cross-valley features of the Isortoq River.
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Explore the history of Nunavut to learn of tales of ancestors who risked their lives in small skin boats hunting whale in ice packed waters, accounts of the Tariassuit (shadow people), or enchanting memories of lives lived in close-knit Inuit communities. See Drum Dancing, where women sit in a circle and chosen men are coaxed to dance by the messages in the ayaya songs that the women are singing and hear throat singing, usually performed by two women who stand face to face, with one singer leading the song and the other repeating the sound of the first. The cyclic sound mimics the calls of birds and animals and other sounds of nature in a fast rhythm.
Qimmiit, Eskimo dogs, or canis familiaris borealis have been pulling qamutiit (sleds) across the arctic ice and snow for more than 2,000 years. Though mostly replaced by snowmobiles, dog sleds are still used as a form of transportation in the arctic, and a variety of dog team adventures are available in many communities throughout Nunavut.
The full wonder of the Arctic sky,also known as Aurora Borealis, is best seen during the dark winter months, when only a luminous moon lights the snow-covered land and the star-studded sky glows with the dancing colours of the northern lights. The quest of many winter visitors, the aurora borealis, is a truly magical spectacle to behold. Created by the glow of molecular gases in the atmosphere activated by charged particles from the sun, the aurora normally occurs in a broad 500- to 1,000-kilometre-wide belt known as the auroral oval, which is centered on the North Magnetic Pole. Infused with subtly shifting greenish and lilac hues, the northern lights seen across Nunavut emanate a mystical quality.
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Mount Thor might be very unknown to regular travellers, it is a very popular mountain among experienced climbers. The main feature and the claim for being famous is the fact that is has the greatest purely vertical drop at 1,250 metres. The average angle of the drop is 105 degrees. Thor Mountain is located in the Auyuittuq National Park, on Baffin Island, Canada. It's part of the Baffin Mountains, which is again part of the Arctic Cordillera. Pangnirtung is the nearest settlement, 46 kilometres away and with about 1,300 inhabitants. It can be reached by plane from Iqaluit, the capital and largest town on Baffin Island, reached in turn from other Canadian cities like Montreal and Ottawa.
The three Arctic whales most likely to be sited include the snowy white beluga, the unicorn-like narwhals, and the massive bowhead. The coasts of Baffin Island, with countless inlets, fjords and bays, are ideal for whale watching.
Almost every community on Baffin Island hosts spring festivals in April, which may include any or all of traditional games, snowmobile drag races, square dances, parades, and community feasts to celebrate the return of the sun and spring.
April through early June is often considered the best month to visit Baffin Island. The sun has returned and the daylight hours are long, temperatures are pleasant. Most of the snow accumulates in the early spring, as temperatures warm with the returning daylight. The high mountains and glaciers of Baffin Island get a lot of snow, creating some great year-round opportunities for extreme back country skiing or snowboarding. June is a bit of a transition month for communities as most of the snow has melted on the land and the ice begins to break up as well, making it difficult to travel by snowmobile and too soon for travel by boat. But June has sunshine 24/7 - the Midnight Sun. The weather is pleasant. July and August are the summer months. This is when the water activities begin and the boats are returned to the water. Canoeing and kayaking are possible on the rivers and fiords. September thru December is another transition period - days get shorter, the weather is less predictable, and temperatures are cooler. November through March sees extremely cold temperatures and there are few daylight hours, though this is the best time to see the the Northern Lights (Aurora borealis).
For Baffin Island destinations travellers board in either Ottawa (Ontario) or Montreal (Quebec) for direct service to Nunavut’s capital city of Iqaluit. There is also east-west routing that links Yellowknife, Rankin Inlet and Iqaluit.
For general travel, all communities are fly-in only. Cambridge Bay, Rankin Inlet, and Iqaluit are the transportation hubs for their respective regions. Most communities are serviced daily by one or more regional airlines, however smaller communities may be less frequent. Charters are also available. Some northern airlines also fly routes between the regions providing extra flexibility in scheduling your itinerary.
The diet of the Inuit continues to be drawn primarily from subsistence fishing and hunting, and these staples are collectively known as country food. Generally healthier and much less expensive than chicken or beef brought up from the south, sampling some of the country foods can be one of the most memorable parts of your visit.
Local restaurants often include some kind of northern appetizers or combination entrees on their menus in addition to the standard North American plate. Caribou, a northern staple, is widely available, and is both nutritious and low in fat. Muskox is similar to a well-marbled beef. For seafood, Arctic char has a delicate taste that lies between salmon and trout, scallops are gathered from Cumberland Sound or turbot and Greenland shrimp is sometimes available.
Community feasts offer traditional fare such as raw and boiled caribou, seal and raw frozen char. Another Inuit delicacy is maktaaq - whale skin usually cut it into small bits and swallowed whole.
Due to the remoteness of the area, the prices of most items can be 2-3 times more expensive than what you would expect to pay for the same item in southern Canada.
The water in the communities is treated and fine to drink. Many families prefer to haul their own water from nearby sources. Bottled water and soda pop is readily available at local stores, but can be very expensive due to the cost of bringing the drinks to the remote locations.
Restrictions on importing and consuming alcohol in Nunavut are quite different from those in other parts of Canada. Possession of alcohol is prohibited in some communities, and restricted in others. Rules vary from community to community so check with the local RCMP, your outfitter, or the hotel. Please respect the wishes of the community. Trading alcohol for anything is illegal, and do not leave left over alcohol in the community.
Large communities will have hotels and lodges, though they may not be luxurious, although most are clean and functional. Space is limited in the smaller communities, and it is fairly common to share a room with others. Similar to other northern experiences, hotels are expensive - you can expect to pay $140-$180 per night, not including meals. Meals will run on average an extra $60-$90 per day if you eat in the hotel - which is often the only place in town to get a meal.
A number of communities have a bed & breakfast as an alternative to the hotel. You will have to make arrangements with your host or the local hotel for your other meals. Tourist homes are similar, although you usually have access to a kitchen and you are responsible for cooking all your own meals.
Some travellers wish to immerse themselves into the culture and billet with a local Inuit family with a homestays. To arrange a homestay, begin by calling the hamlet office or visitor centre in the community you wish to visit for a list of families offering this service.
Camping is allowed in national parks If you are canoeing, wilderness camping, or hiking outside a national park, you should contact the Inuit Land Administration Office for permit requirements for the area in which you are traveling.
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