Meaning “Place of the Coal” in the local language, Paulatuk, 400 kilometers (250 miles) east of Inuvik, is a small community of 190 Inuvialuit, most of whom live a traditional lifestyle of hunting, trapping, and fishing. A Roman Catholic mission and trading post, established in 1935, attracted Inuvialuit families from camps along the Arctic coast. Their descendants continue living off the abundant natural resources.
To the northeast are the Smoking Hills, seams of coal, rich with sulfide, that were ignited centuries ago and still burn today, filling the immediate area with distinctively shaped clouds of smoke.
Sprawling across Parry Peninsula, to the east of Paulatuk, is Tuktut Nogait National Park, the major staging area for the 125,000-strong bluenose caribou herd, which migrates across the north.
The only accommodation in town is the Paulatuk Visitor Centre Hotel (867/580-3051, $185 pp), with 10 rooms that share bathrooms and a small kitchen. The only scheduled flights to Paulatuk are with Aklak Air (867/777-3777, www.aklakair.ca) from Inuvik. This company also does plane charters into the nearby park; or contact the Paulatuk Community Corporation (867/580-3601) for boat access.
© Andrew Hempstead, from Moon Western Canada, 3rd Edition