Northwest Passage - West to East
The quest for a northern sea route to Asia obsessed Europeans for centuries. Long after its discovery, the ice-choked waters of the Northwest Passage forbade all but the hardiest navigators. Today, the Northwest Passage remains a legendary route that few have the privilege of travelling.
Consider this a modern-day voyage of exploration across the top of the world. Beginning in Kugluktuk, at the mouth of the Coppermine River, we’ll journey into legend in contemporary comfort aboard the Sea Adventurer.
In Taloyoak, formerly known as Spence Bay, we trace the routes of the explorers, including the famed John Ross expeditions in the 1830s that pinpointed the Magnetic North Pole. At Beechey Island we’ll visit the graves of members of the lost Franklin Expedition. On Devon Island, we’ll find the Dundas Harbour RCMP historical site and scan the horizon for narwhal and walrus
We’ll look for whales and polar bears on our passage through Bellot Strait. Crossing Baffin Bay toward Greenland, we’ll cruise among icebergs at the Ilulissat Icefjord. Join us in tracing one warm line through a history both tragic and inspiring: a story of courage, determination, and epic endurance!
Day 1: Kugluktuk (Coppermine)
Day 2: Coronation Gulf
Day 3: Kent Peninsula
Day 4: Queen Maude Gulf
Day 5: Gjoa Haven
Day 6: Taloyoak
Day 7: Bellot Strait
Day 8: Somerset Island & Beechey Island
Day 9: Devon Island
Day 10: Mittimatalik (Pond Inlet)
Day 11: Karrat Fjord
Day 12: Uummannaq
Day 13: Ilulissat
Day 14: Sisimiut
Day 15: Kangerlussuaq (Sondre Stromfjord)
Located at the mouth of the Coppermine river, 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. Copper deposits along the river attracted the first explorers to the area. Because the tundra is close to the tree line, a variety of wildlife can be viewed in the area, including grizzly bears, wolverines and moose, as well as tundra wildlife, such as muskoxen, caribou, foxes and wolves.
Separating Canada’s mainland from the Arctic archipelago is the Coronation Gulf. Named by Sir John Franklin in honor of coronation of King George IV, the Gulf receives the Coppermine, Tree, Rae and Richardson rivers. It is host to several hundred islands and small islets.
The Queen Maud Gulf Migratory Bird Sanctuary contains the largest variety of geese of any nesting area in North America. The Sanctuary is one of the few nesting areas for both the Atlantic Brant (Brant bernicla hrota) and Pacific Brant (Branta bernicla nigricans). Almost the entire population of Ross’ Goose (Chen rossii) nests here. It was named by Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen in 1905 for Maud of Wales, the Queen of Norway. The Ahiak Caribou calve along the Queen Maud Gulf coast in Nunavut and spend the summers here. Here we may also find bald eagles, muskox and grizzly bears.
In 1903, explorer Roald Amundsen, while looking for the Northwest Passage, sailed through the James Ross Strait and stopped at a natural harbor on the island’s south coast. Unable to proceed due to sea ice, he spent the winters of 1903-04 and 1904-05. There he learned Arctic living skills from the local Netsilik Inuit, skills that would later prove invaluable in his Antarctic explorations. He used his ship Gjøa as a base for explorations in the summer of 1904, sledding the Boothia Peninsula and travelling to the magnetic North Pole. Amundsen finally left, after 22 months on the island, in August 1905. The harbor where he lived is now the island’s only settlement, Gjøa Haven, which he called 'the finest little harbor in the world.' Today the population has blossomed from 110 in 1961 to 1,064 in 2006.
The community of Taloyoak is the northernmost community on the Canadian mainland with a population of just over 800. The word Taloyoak means "large caribou blind" in Inuktitut, and refers to a stone caribou blind traditionally used by Inuit of the area to corral and harvest caribou. The foundation of the modern community began in 1948, when poor ice conditions forced the Hudson’s Bay Co. to close its trading post at Fort Ross on the south coast of Somerset Island, some 250 kilometers north of Taloyoak. The post was relocated to its present location at Stanners Harbor, and Taloyoak - then known as Spence Bay - was born.
Bellot Strait marks the first meeting of the Atlantic and Pacific tides north of Magellan Strait. Surprisingly, the strait was missed by John Ross and wasn’t discovered until 1852 by William Kennedy, who named the strait after his second-in-command, Joseph-Rene Bellot.
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.
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 Harbor 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.
We will sail through Milne Inlet, a narwhal breeding ground, enroute to Pond Inlet. This bustling Arctic community is surrounded by one of the most beautiful landscapes in the Eastern Arctic. We will have a chance to explore the town, as well as take in a cultural presentation at the Nattinnak Centre.
In Karrat Fjord we will cruise one of Greenland’s most spectacular fjords. During ice breakup, narwhals and seals use the long leads created by high winds in this region to hunt the rich waters of the fjord. The cliffs within the fjord should give us good opportunities to see colonies of dovekies. Time spent on deck today should result in some good wildlife sightings, not to mention unbeatable photographic opportunities
Despite being situated in the shadow of a mountain, Uummannaq is the sunniest place in Greenland! It is an impressive and imposing 1,175-metre hunk of red gneiss called Uummannaq Mountain. This mountain serves as the town’s backdrop on which colorful, single-family homes desperately cling, anchored by cables and pipes. The famous Greenlandic mummies dating from the 15th century were found on the shore opposite Ummannaq.
Venturing 250km north of the Arctic Circle we find the stunning coastal community of Ilulissat. Ilulissat translates literally into "iceberg", and there couldn’t be a more fitting name. Our visit will include time in the colorful town and a chance 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.
The west Greenland coastline is a rich mixture of fishing communities, myriad islands and complex coastal waterways. We will be making an expedition stop here to explore the Greenlandic landscape.
Lying at the head of the longest fjord in western Greenland, Kangerlussuaq 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. Kangerlussuaq, which means 'The Big Fjord' in Greenlandic, is appropriately named, as it’s 168km long and is the start of our voyage.
* Itinerary may be subject to change