Commencing with a monumental cruise along one of Greenland's longest fjords, this voyage of discovery delves into the heart of the Northwest Passage. Sailing out to Davis Strait we cross into the Arctic Circle and head north, stopping along the Sisimuit Coast, where we encounter colourful houses set on the treeless tundra and meet the friendly locals to share in their culture. In Ilulissat, we marvel at vast icefields and visit the vibrant fishing community there. A hike through the tundra at Karrat Fjord provides opportunities for grand vistas and encounters with the local wildlife. Crossing from Greenland to the Canadian Arctic, we will continue our journey as conditions permit, exploring legendary locations swathed in ice and bathed in northern light: Smith Sound, the Beaufort Sea, Prince of Wales Strait, Amundsen Gulf, and Melville Island among them. Lancaster Sound is famous for its beluga whales and other marine mammals. Beechey Island holds the graves of the ill-fated Franklin expedition. Our trip concludes in the Canadian town of Kugluktuk.
Although there is no commitment to extended walking on this journey, we nonetheless want to keep the ‘accent on the active’. We therefore advise that any physical training you complete before undertaking the trip will be to good effect.
Kangerlussuaq which means 'The Big Fjord' in Greenlandic, is appropriately named, covering 168km in length. It lies at the head of the longest fjord in western Greenland, and has one of the most stable climates in the region though temperatures can range from -50C in the winter to as high as 28C in summer. If you choose to take the optional charter flights the flight departs Toronto (Ontario) in the early morning so we suggest you book one night pre-trip accommodation to ensure you do not miss the flight.
There are a number of charming fishing villages along the west coast of Greenland. Depending on timing and sea conditions, we will call in at one of these communities to experience small town Greenlandic life, or we may navigate into the stunning fjords that line the coast. This is a day in the true spirit of expedition travel and we will avail ourselves of the opportunities that present themselves.
Sailing 250km north of the Arctic Circle we find the stunning coastal community of Ilulissat. Translating literally into 'iceberg, Ilulissat could not be more appropriately named. We will include time in the colourful town and a have an opportunity to hike out to an elevated viewpoint where we can observe the great fields of ice. We will also cruise in our fleet of zodiacs in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Ilulissat Icefjord. The Icefjord is where we find the Sermeq Kujalleq Glacier, one of the most active and fastest moving in the world at 19m per day and calving more than 35 square kilometers of ice annually. The glacier has been the object of scientific attention for 250 years and, because of its relative ease of accessibility, has significantly added to the understanding of ice-cap glaciology, climate change and related geomorphic processes.
Today we will cruise one of Greenland's most spectacular fjords, Karat Fjord. During ice breakup, narwhals and seals use the long leads created by high winds in this region to hunt the rich waters. The cliffs within the fjord should give us good opportunities to see colonies of Dovekies. Spending some time on deck today should result in some good wildlife sightings, not to mention unbeatable photographic opportunities.
To the north of the Upernavik Archipelago, Melville Bay opens to the southwest into Baffin Bay. Its Kalaallisut name, Qimusseriarsuaq, means “the great dog sledding place”. Ice does not clear from the bay each summer and it is totally isolated and uninhabited. Because of local winds and extensive ice, Melville Bay is the site of dramatic landscape views. Moving into Smith Sound, we will spend a day exploring this fabled body of water that served as the main route for explorers and adventurers searching for the North Pole. Adolphus Greely, Sir George Nares and Elisha Kent Kane all travelled these waters with varying degrees of success. The Sound was named by William Baffin after Sir Thomas Smythe, promoter of voyages to find a Northwest Passage. Between forty-eight and seventy-two kilometres wide—and eighty-eight kilometres long—Smith Sound is often packed with ice and provides favourable conditions for wildlife viewing.
Meaning 'place that never thaws,' and at 1,150km above the Arctic Circle, the town of Aujuittuq is Canada's northernmost civilian community. With a population of 165, we will be welcomed into this peaceful and warm hamlet. Our activities will center around the school where we will have a chance to meet members of the community and learn about their way of life.
At the entrance to Jones Sound is Coburg Island, whose spectacular seabird cliffs are a designated National Wildlife Area. 30,000 pairs of black-legged kittiwakes and 160,000 pairs of thick-billed murres crowd the rocky ledges on this island almost completely covered by an ice cap.
The largest uninhabited island in the world supports significant concentrations of wildlife, including 26 species of seabirds and 11 species of marine mammals. At Dundas Harbour we find the lonely remains of an RCMP station dating from the 1920s. We have also spotted walrus, polar bear, muskox and caribou here. At nearby Croker Bay, we have a chance to Zodiac cruise though this scenic bay and marvel at icebergs, freshly calved from the glacier at the head of the bay.
In 1845 Sir John Franklin took his expedition of 129 men in two ships into the Wellington Channel. Not a soul returned from the fateful expedition. It was two years before search parties were launched. Aside from the bodies of three souls buried here, only relics were found as clues to the disappearance. Until recently, the three graves had left no indication as to the fate of the rest of the British party. Such is the interest in this story, the Canadian government recently announced a new initiative to locate the missing Franklin vessels.
Good soil conditions and a rare wetland environment produce abundant vegetation here, making Bathurst a major calving area for the endangered Peary Caribou. Here we also find Polar Bear Pass National Wildlife Area, a migratory route for polar bears from March to November. The north half of the island is the proposed Tuktusiuqvialuk National Park. There is a long human history on the island, with evidence of Dorset and Thule habitation as early as 2,000 BC
Melville Island was first visited by British explorer Sir William Parry in 1819. Not only did he discover the island, ice forced him to spend the winter in 1820 at what is now called 'Winter Harbour'. The island is named for Robert Dundas, 2nd Viscount Melville, who was First Sea Lord at the time. Melville Island is one of two major breeding grounds for a small sea goose, the Western High Arctic Brant. DNA analysis and field observations suggest that these birds may be distinct from other brant stocks. Numbering only 4,000-8,000 birds, this is one of the rarest goose stocks in the world.
Home to two thirds of the world's population of Lesser Snow Geese, two federal Migratory Bird Sanctuaries were founded in 1961. The island is home to Barren-ground Caribou, polar bears, muskoxen, and birds such as robins and swallows. The first grizzly-polar bear hybrid found in the wild, was on Banks Island in April 2006 near Sachs Harbour. Muskoxen, with a population of about 40,000, are the most striking of the abundant wildlife on the island. It was named Banks Island in 1820 by Sir William Parry in honour of British naturalist and botanist Sir Joseph Banks.
Prince of Wales Strait is part of the Arctic Ocean, extending northeastward for 275 km from the Amundsen Gulf to Viscount Melville Sound and separating Banks and Victoria islands. It was discovered in 1850 by Robert McClure, the Irish explorer, who came within sight of the Viscount Melville Sound before heavy ice forced him to turn back. It was named after Albert Edward, then the Prince of Wales. It was not navigated until the RCMP patrol of Sgt Larsen in 1944. It has since become the preferred route of large vessels making the passage.
Found on the west side of Victoria Island, The Hudson's Bay Company post at Prince Albert Sound was opened in 1923, moved to Walker Bay in 1928 and finally to Ulukhaktok (Holman) in 1939. The large bluff that overlooks Ulukhaktok was the source that provided the slate and copper used to make ulus and give the community its name. Ulukhaktok is also the location of the most northern golf course in the Americas and hosts the "Billy Joss Open Celebrity Golf Tournament" every summer. Over the years they have managed to attract players from the Edmonton Oilers and the Edmonton Eskimos, as well as golfers from other countries.
Our trip concludes today in the town of Kugluktuk. Located at the mouth of the Coppermine river to southwest of Victoria Island on the Coronation Gulf, Kugluktuk is the western most community in Nunavut. Originally named Coppermine, it was renamed Kugluktuk according to its Inuinnaqtun name meaning "place of moving waters", on January 1st, 1996. The Coppermine River itself is designated a Canadian Heritage River for the important role it played as an exploration and fur trade route. If you choose to take the optional charter flights the flight departs Kugluktuk bound for Edmonton (Alberta) a few hours after disembarking the ship. Overnight accommodation in Edmonton is recommended.
Per Person, Twin Share