pic29Well here we go again, another well overdue addition my journey down the Mackenzie River. Here are a few more details and shots of my paddle trip. I hope you enjoy.

As part of this adventure I had planned a side trip to the Great Bear Lake where the fishing was said to be legendary. Every photo I saw of this place featured a sun burnt, overweight international visitor with bad glasses holding a fish that would have made Rex Hunt look like an amateur.

This lake is unique in that it is the 7th largest in the world, the only community on it has a population of about 1000, it has never had a commercial fishing industry and it’s located on the northern edge of the tree line which makes for striking scenery. Did I mention its in the middle of NOWHERE… and is only accessible by plane or boat – except in the winter when they make a road on the ice.

To make it happen I needed to organize a ride in a boat up a fast flowing river and had been earlier informed that this venture would cost me $200-300. The local lads however can smell a tourist a mile away and the first quote I received was $800! Nice try boys. By the next morning the price had come down so we loaded up with food, my kayak was tied on the boat and we were off.

pic26Lake Trout are the fish of choice in this area and after asking around I soon got the impression that I would need to catch a 50lb fish to raise eyebrows. With no luck fishing from my kayak (the locals were seriously worried I would be dragged out into the lake if I actually did hook one) I took the much less glorious option of fishing from the local dock. This however proved to be an amazing experience as the water was crystal clear and you could see the fish swimming around. The one trout I managed to catch was over 2 feet long which proved to be a bit of a handful and I saw others in the water that were much bigger. Unfortunately my camera battery died and I wasn’t able to get a shot of it before I threw it back…

The paddle back down to my starting point proved to be just as exciting. The clear water was full of a fish known as Arctic Greyling and I was able to give my new fly rod a good work out. Other highlights of this section were about 1km of class 1 rapids, stunning ice / rock formations on the river bank, seeing a female moose and its calf in the water and an awesome camp site on a sand bank in the middle of the river!

While the scenery and wildlife were definitely highlights, the generosity of the people I met along the way was something I will always remember. Whenever I was in a town, the locals were always very friendly and I received a number of offers for meals, accommodation or the use of their shower / washing machine / computer. On more than one occasion I was even told “here is my address, its unlocked so just go in and help yourself to what ever you want.” Mind you I did start to worry when I was (from a distance and amid smirks) repeatedly offered showers.


Now I think that I think about it there were a few times when I arrived in town in pretty rough shape – unshaven for the duration of the trip, with filthy clothes, hands and face black from charcoal, smelling like BO and smoke. It’s funny how your gauge of what’s clean and what isn’t changes when you’ve been camping by yourself for a while. Having just washed my clothes in my large cooking pot I sat back and came to the conclusion that if I were back home, my newly “clean” clothes would be considered too dirty to wear, even for working at the orchard.

Being an Aussie seemed to be a bit of a draw card and everyone wanted to hear “G’day mate.” Mind you there were lots of times when I may as well have been speaking Chinese and I received lots of blank looks when asking questions. My personal favorites were the “smile and nodders” You could get away with saying almost anything and always get the same response…

When people could understand me the conversation generally went along the lines of:

“So where are you from, England?”

Close, I’m actually from Australia…

“Oh, sorry about that maaate!”

“Crikey, a dingo stole my baby! Ha ha ha ha…” more often than not teenagers were
coming out with this one – that’s the Simpsons for you!

“Do you know Crocodile Dundee?…that’s not a knife…” or

“Australia eh? Id better get you a beer then.”

I didn’t pay for a single beer at any of the towns I visited and wasn’t allowed to buy a round either…thanks lads! Even when kayaking people would pull up in their motor boats and offer me cold cans of soft-drink (pop as its called here) or as soon as they worked out I was Aussie they would pull out a beer. Some of the communities didn’t have bottle shops and in others alcohol was prohibited altogether. Neither of these circumstances produced a totally dry town and I was told that if you had the money, drinks could always be found on the black market. The going price for a 700ml bourbon was apparently between $80-120.

pic24Before the trip I had joined the Wilderness Travelers Program which meant that I needed to check in with the police at each town that had a station. This ended up providing me with some adventures in its self as I was invited back to the copper’s places for drinks, given ration packs of food, rides in the police cars and tours of the cells (not necessarily in that order). Somehow I’m not sure you’d get that kind of service back home…thanx guys.

That’s it for PART TWO. Stay tuned for PART THREE  of my trip down the Mighty Mac… or read about PART ONE!

For more photos of paddling the Mackenzie River CLICK HERE

2 Responses to Mackenzie River – Hay River to Tuktoyaktuk – Part 2

  1. Paul says:

    David – thanks for sharing notes from the trip. My son and I are looking at floating Ft. Simpson to Tuktoyaktuk in June/July 2015. How were mosquitoes? Were you able to leave your kayak unattended when you went into towns? Thanks, Paul

    • admin says:

      The mosquitoes can be brutal like anywhere up north. If you can, camp on islands or sand bars if available. Bring a mosquito headnet and whatever bug repellent you feel is best. The kayaks can be left on shore, but I was always very conscientious about it and always tried to keep an eye on things. Drop us a line and let us know how it goes!

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