The sad truth about Yellowknife is that even though it’s the capital city of the Northwest Territories, there’s not much to actually do there. Well, I guess that’s not entirely true, I should say that there was not much for us to do there. During the summer, you can get 24 hour daylight and this gives you endless opportunity to frolic in the great outdoors and do a wide range of outdoor activities such as sports, games, camping, fishing, swimming, general shenanigans, or just relaxing in nature. During the winter, you’re limited by the 24 hour nightlight, but you could go ice fishing, or viewing the auroras, or get a snowmobile tour, or play in the snow, build a snowman, or write your name with urine.
But we were in Yellowknife in March, meaning that we got equal amounts of daylight and night time, which meant that we could do a little bit of both season activities, and a little bit of neither season activities. At night, we were able to enjoy the northern lights dancing directly over us and showing up in every possible direction, which was endlessly exciting and fascinating – I could watch those lights dance forever. During the day, we were still able to do a number of activities, like driving/walking/playing on the frozen ice at the Great Slave Lake, which is a little scary at first, but very thrilling for some reason. We also toured the city maybe 5 or 6 times, driven on famous roads used in the TV show “Ice Road Truckers”, and even checked out their Centre Mall, which was… kind of depressing, truth be told. But seeing as the winter was starting to melt, the scenery wasn’t exactly beautiful to behold, not to mention it’s still fairly cold, so you spend a lot of time indoors, mostly at their one Tim Hortons.
We didn’t really play much in the snow because we get enough of that stuff back home in Edmonton, nor did we go on any snowmobile tours or ice fishing tours, even though we really wanted to. The other thing we could have done is checked out the various outlets of local food and eateries, which we only sort-of did. But why? The unfortunate reason is because everything up there is for some reason, significantly more expensive. Any sort of tour started at around $125 per person for a 2 hour excursion. To the rich tourist, that’s not so bad, but we were sleeping in the back of my 2005 Impreza Wagon without running the engine, and rental winter sleeping bags which only cost us $56 each for the entire week. So a tour for one person for two hours would essentially cost us our sleeping bags for the week.
As much as we would have loved to restaurant hop, the food was also very expensive up there. Both Tim Hortons and McDonalds had higher prices than the rest of the country (I imagine import fees cost more or something). Even a bowl of Vietnamese pho (which we can get for $8 a bowl in Edmonton) cost nearly $13.99 for a small bowl of beef pho. We did however have what many in the city claimed to the “The best Fish and chips in all of Canada“, which was a bold claim. And although it was rather good, it cost us a whopping $30 for one cod and chips, which is insanity! We did try some specialties though, like a dish called “Have you ever seen an Eggroll this big?”, which was actually really good.
This meant that we ended up spending most of our time during the day doing… well, not much at all. We actually found it difficult to fill our time in during the day since we didn’t couldn’t shell out the money for the expensive tours. We actually spent most of our time at either the pool, which is where we showered, or at their Information Centre, which has both a lot of information, and a very welcoming staff that actually invited us to hang around there and use their internet (seeing as we were travelers without a hotel) and power sockets to charge out devices. But essentually, we spent most of our day time simply waiting for night time to come. One time we actually just sat in the car and watched Netflix on my phone while waiting for night time. When it did though, that’s when time actually kind of flew by… for one, the Ice castle, which I mentioned in my last post, although is cool during the day, is even cooler at night.
Aside from watching the Auroras though, there wasn’t actually that much to do now that I think about it. I guess you could say we, or I more specifically, chased the auroras. Actually, I guess the thing we did the most during the day was location scouting for shooting at night. It’s kind of what I do anywhere I travel, I scout places during the day and try to imagine shooting them at night, because (for those who know me), I love shooting more at night than during the day. But of course once the night sky had come in, I had to find these places again in the dark, and with Yellowknife being such a small city, some places were indeed very dark… Like walking out into the middle of the ice lake at night, in an area where cars can’t access, because Igloos were somewhere in a general direction. Weirdly, walking on the unpaved parts of the lake (yes, the snow gets “paved” or flattened in the more commonly access areas) was a bit scary. Not in the sense that I’ll die or fall through the ice, but in the sense that the snow there is strangely different from Edmonton snow. It had a very strong crunch to it, and reacted almost like cardboard. It’s very sturdy, but if you find a kink in it, you’ll fall through it easily and next thing you know, you’re knee deep in snow.
The best part about photographing the auroras though is probably just being able to see them. Back home in Edmonton, photographing them is a little bit different. They’re a lot more faint and you usually have to look North or Northeast-ish, and you need to have a “trained eye” to see them, since they’re usually hazey looking and kind of look like haze clouds. So you spend more time searching for them than looking at them. But in Yellowknife, since it’s in the middle of the Auroral circle, the Northern Lights are directly above you, and come and go from every direction. Once you get your shot composed, you press the shutter and let it sit and do it’s thing, and while it does, you look up and around and simply enjoy the fantastical scientific display that’s all around you. Watching them dance and wave right before your eyes is an experience that I frankly cannot explain or describe as anything other than “Amazing”. Even before I saw the Northern Lights in Yellowknife, I always said that the one thing photographs cannot do justice to is the Northern Lights. You simply cannot capture the delicate looking beauty and extravagance that is the aurora borealis in a single frame, or even a video. Not even a 360 degree video tour can encapsulate the feeling of seeing these lights in person. You simply have to see the Northern Lights in person to fully appreciate and understand them.
I can see why the native Canadians called it the Dance of the Spirits, and why Europeans thought it was a sign from the gods, because they really do look like something from out of this world… Something that cannot be explained with just words or even a photograph. It’s something that you have to actually see.