Victoria Island is part of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago that straddles the boundary between Nunavut and the Northwest Territories. Covering an area of 217,290 sq km (83,890 sq mi) it ranks as the ninth largest island in the world. Only just smaller than Britain and with a total population of little more than 2,000, it rates as one of the most sparsely populated regions on earth.
It is an island of peninsulas, craggy coastlines and innumerable inlets. Glaciers have carved the scenery into a series of moraines and glacial lakes, and though the landscape is relatively flat the Shaler Mountains in the north rise to 655 m (2,550 ft) above sea level. Though seemingly bleak, this habitat supports over two hundred species of plants and breeding populations of 50 species of bird and nine species of mammal.
This hostile environment supports only two communities of note. Located on the island’s south east coast, Iqaluktuutiak (Cambridge Bay) serves as the administrative center for Canada’s arctic region. Originally named after the Duke of Cambridge by fur trappers in 1839, the area was used by Copper Indians as a summer camp until the 1950s and given a more descriptive name, which means ‘good place to fish’, reflecting the local diet. Holman, situated on the island’s west coast, is the best place to view’ the seasonal migration of caribou, musk ox and grizzly bear that use the year-round ice to move to and from the island.
This is a place where tourism feels like exploration and, whilst human activity has left some scars on the landscape, Victoria Island is still a near pristine wilderness. You will need the guidance of local experts to travel safely and to understand this magical arctic landscape
Population: 2,050 (2006)
When to go: June to August
How to get there: The only year-round direct flights are from Yellowknife.
Highlights: Bird watching on the Diamond Jenness Peninsula. Watching the fantastic migrations of oxen and caribou. Camping out in the midnight sun in July and August.
Seeing grizzly bears feasting on salmon in September/October.
You should know: hunting and culling are a big part of the local culture. If this is not to your taste, check with guides before joining any expedition.