On the eastern coast of the mighty Hudson Bay, through a narrow channel etched in spectacular cuestas, concealed beyond the Northern village of Umiujaq, lies a vast expanse of land and water. Named after this slender passage known to local Inuit as Tursujuq, the youngest of Nunavik’s parks is also the largest of Quebec’s national parks network. Embracing no less than 26,107 square kilometres of ground, sprinkled with a myriad of lakes and rivers, the Parc national Tursujuq offers endless possibilities for those in search of adventure. Formally recognized as such in July of 2013, the park welcomed its first official visitors in the summer of 2015, letting them in on this well-kept secret.
The adventure begins in Umiujaq, a small Inuit community snug between the open water of Hudson Bay and the natural fortress watching over the 450 souls or so that have taken up residence in the area since 1986. Greeted at the airport upon arrival by the Tursujuq park staff, around a cup of tea and a slice of freshly made bannock served at the park’s visitor pavilion, the itinerary of the journey ahead is explained, looking at maps and going over safety measures.
This essential introduction continues with an afternoon guided tour of the village before everyone settles back in for the night at the new co-op hotel overlooking the beach, where local Inuit might pop by for a visit over dinner, for an evening filled with stories and laughter.
The next morning, a brisk hike on the nearby tundra will give sightseers a taste of what’s to come. From a higher point, a mere three kilometres from town, the surrounding cuestas will expose themselves and the inland sea of Tasiujaq Lake — formerly known as Richmond Gulf — awaits kayaking enthusiasts.
But before any paddles are set in motion, the guests are treated to an overnight excursion to Nastapoka Falls by motorboat up the Hudson Bay coast. Navigating north on the Nastapoka Sound, sheltered by a strip of islands of the same name, the salty aroma of the sea is simply invigorating.
Aboard the Inuit’s freighter canoes, which they manoeuvre with skill, the islands stream by, along with occasional flocks of birds nesting close by. Amongst them are eider ducks, known for their down. Once the chicks leave the nest, Inuit collect this precious material to insulate their parkas to keep them warm during the long winter months. Loons and even peregrine falcons can also be spotted for those with a keen eye.
Once at the mouth of the Nastapoka River, the striking force of its waterfall, tumbling down a 35-metre vertical drop at the end of a 170-km course, leaves everyone speechless, overpowering even the sound of the outboard motors. The whirlpool created by the uproar of the Nastapoka Falls creates a sanctuary for belugas, which like to frequent this open spa to shed their skins at the bottom of the riverbed. Known to Inuit for generations, the estuary is also teeming with salmon, making it a prime fishing spot.
While the park’s trained Inuit guides set up camp on a scenic sandbank next-door to the waterfall, and perhaps catch dinner, there’s time for another hike; this time to admire the falls from atop. Standing beside this flow of water, one can’t help but feel small next to it. Herds of muskoxen can often be seen roaming the area as well.
As this Northern summer day slowly comes to an end, the sun takes its time to set on Hudson Bay, making for a long and colourful evening show. Later in the season, starting in August, a second act takes stage, and can go on throughout the night, with Northern Lights dancing across a starry sky.
Following a hearty breakfast alfresco, it is filled with these enchanting images that we wave the Nastapoka Falls goodbye and make our way back to civilization.
Back in Umiujaq, the afternoon may be spent wandering around town, observing a carver give shape to soapstone or learning how to make Hudson-style bannock in a spiral with the ladies. If weather permits, it can also be a great opportunity to mingle with the villagers during a barbecue picnic on the beach or on the outskirts of the community.
After a good night’s rest at the co-op hotel, the real journey begins… It’s time to pack up and head out on a sea-kayaking adventure on the majestic Tasiujaq Lake. Shaped somewhat like a triangle, this immense body of water that resembles a lake is actually a gulf, merely separated from the Hudson Bay by a 5-km long gorge —Tursujuq, just 500 metres in width. Flooded with tidal seawater pouring through this hallway, the 712-km2 harbour makes an ideal playground for seals and paddlers alike.
Accompanied by the park’s guides, the next four days are spent paddling some 15 kilometres each day, all the while taking in the breathtaking vistas, at peace with the environment. Sculpted by the remarkable Hudson cuestas, the Tasiujaq coastline can, at times, be reminiscent of the Grand Canyon, giving a far west like backdrop to this extraordinary Northern locale.
Going from one delightful campsite to another, whether set along the shore or on a secluded island, each layover can be an occasion, at the end of the day, to stretch your legs and explore the park’s wilderness from another angle. Watch your step, as it’s not rare to stumble upon a congregation of camouflaged ptarmigans furtively dining on wild berries. Also be on the lookout for potential encounters with black bears, which have made the park’s plentiful caves their home.
An ancient cultural crossroad that Inuit and Cree still visit to this day, this vast territory is also home to remnants of human occupation dating back more than 3,000 years, proof of which are the few archaeological sites that can be uncovered with the help of your Inuit guides and local elders.
With arms pumped up from paddling kilometres of the clearest water and legs stiff from hiking up the wonders of nature that the cuestas are, the motorboat ride back to town through Tursujuq’s namesake opening on Hudson Bay, will seem like a breeze. With a farewell hike up the gentle slope of this salient canyon to soak up this grandiose panorama one last time, the Inuit elders’ stories unfold before your eyes, as this mythical place reveals its ultimate secrets.
For more information on the Parc national Tursujuq, contact the park’s Visitor Experience Officer in Umiujaq at 819-331-5454 or check out www.nunavikparks.ca for details on the all-inclusive packages offered this summer. For bookings, call 1-844-NUNAVIK (686-2845) toll free.