Home » M/V Ocean Atlantic: Into the North West Passage
The journey begins in West Greenland’s Kangerlussuaq, from where we cruise west to the Inuit land of Nunavut on Baffin Island. Inuit have lived on this coast for millennia, and during our voyage to the north we will visit several small settlements. It was from here that Inuit migrated to Northwest Greenland 1000 years ago and created the basis for the modern Greenlandic population. We will be constantly on the lookout for polar bears, narwhals and the bowhead whales feeding off Baffin's coasts in September. From Baffin Island we will navigate into Lancaster Sound, the start of the Northwest Passage, and then head back to Greenland. We will visit the admired Knud Rasmussen's trading station in Thule and navigate further down the west coast to Upernavik, Uummannaq and Ilulissat before returning to Kangerlussuaq after an expedition voyage that encompasses the wide range of Arctic nature and its fascinating population.
Duration: 14 Days
In the afternoon, we board our chartered flight in Keflavik, Iceland, bound for Kangerlussuaq in Greenland.
Upon arrival to Kangerlussuaq (Søndre Strømfjord), we will be transported to the small port located west of the airport, where our ship Ocean Atlantic, will be anchored. Zodiacs will transfer us the short distance to the ship, where you will be checked in to your cabin. After the mandatory safety drill, you will enjoy a dinner as Ocean Atlantic ‘sets sail’ through the 160-kilometer Kangerlussuaq fjord.
We now have a day at sea, where the ship is heading across Davis Strait to Baffin Island in the Canadian territory of Nunavut. During our crossing, there are good opportunities to relax in the ship's library, participate in the series of lectures held by Albatros Expeditions’ lecturers and look for seabirds and whales on our course to the southwest.
Our onboard lecturers will make inspiring and enriching presentations about both John Davis, Canada's and Greenland’s past history and about the unique polar wildlife, nature and climatology.
The west coast of Greenland is favored by mild waters of the Gulf Stream, whereas the Baffin Island current along Baffin Island's shores is cold. The officers on the bridge will keep an eye out for the icebergs, flowing down "Iceberg Alley" from the big glaciers in Greenland and Arctic Canada.
Over night we have approached Cape Dyer, where the United States established one of their many DEW (Distant Early Warning) stations that surround the Arctic continental American. Cape Dyer itself is a towering edge towards the Davis Strait of about 800 meters elevation. The station on the very top of it has sister buildings in more places around Greenland and even the Ice Sheet. The cliff and the station could very well be our first view of Arctic Canada (if you’re awake!).
Like its Greenlandic named counterpart Qeqertarsuaq, Qikiqtarjuaq means “the big island”. The town with around 600 inhabitants lies on an island outside of Baffin’s east coast. The area is known for their many whales, and the Bowhead whale (also known as the Greenland right whale or Arctic whale) which is only found in Polar waters is often observed in congregations here.
We follow the Baffin Island east coast further north to Isabella Bay, which is designated a Bowhead whale sanctuary, so if we haven’t had any sightings yet, the chances are very good with hundreds of whales being spotted feeding here each summer. The Ninginganiq marine habitat around Isabella Bay is since 2010 a protected National Wildlife Area. This is an important habitat for a lot of marine mammals and seabirds, apart from the Bowhead whales. The Inuktitut word "Ninginganiq" translates roughly into "the place where fog sits". We hope to avoid this foreboding name as we journey into the bay and keep a watchful eye for the excitingly abundant fauna.
Arctic Canada is called the territory of Nunavut. The North Eastern area that includes Ellesmere, Devon and Baffin Island is known as the Qikqtaaluk region. It covers an area of nearly 1 million square kilometers, which is roughly half of Greenland. The desolate landscapes offers us beautiful views that can stretch for hundreds of kilometers over the glacially scarred landmasses.
The sheer magnitude of vertical rocks on each side of the Sam Ford Fjord, make it worth a side step. For many rock climbers these mouthwatering impressive sheer steep granite walls are a pilgrimage point. However we are not adventuring in here for climbing, but much more for the natural beauty of the fjord and the dark waters that are home to narwhals and seals. The isolated fjord was created by glaciers and some of the cliffs are up to 1500 meters over sea level. In this amazing wilderness area, we also hope to spot many migratory birds.
Pond Inlet, which in the local Inuit language is named Mittimatalik is a town of 1600 inhabitants, of which most are Inuits. We take a stroll through the town and we will do well to notice the building styles and culture, as we will compare these to what we see later in Greenland.
The polar Arctic climate allows for only short summers. Still visitors like us come here to experience the spectacular views with mountains, glaciers and icebergs floating along.
After our visit we head back to our ship for lunch and head north through the Eclipse Sound dividing Baffin Island and Bylot Island.
Today we cruise further north into the gateway to the Northwest Passage, Lancaster Sound. Depending on the ice situation and the weather, we will make our way into the entrance of the passage. The idea of a short cut through the North West to the Pacific Ocean was alive for hundreds of years before it was finally deemed too difficult. A few icebreaking tanker ships from Canadas northern oil fields are the only commercial ships navigating the route.
During the day we will cruise along the eastern coast of Devon, which is the largest uninhabited island in the world. We will continue north towards Ellesmere Island, which is the third largest island in Arctic Canada. All migrations of the Inuit to Greenland have crossed over Ellesmere Island and Smith Sound. Our course will break east and set straight for Greenland’s western coast, as we wave our goodbyes to the Canadian coasts and waters.
Smith Sound and its northern continuation the Kennedy Channel have strong currents. These are known to take chunks of ice towards the south, so its not unlikely we will see this phenomenon as we cruise through these Arctic waters.
During the night we will have traversed Smith Sound and we arrive at Greenland’s western coast. We are now in inhabited areas once again.
We will anchor beside the Uummanaq hill and the Dundas Peninsula. We can see the American Thule Air Base (Pittufik) in the distance. This is the location of Knud Rasmussen’s legendary trading station. This is where the Cape York or Polar Eskimos could trade their skins and not only receive glass pearls like the early whalers would give them, but rather actual tools and weapons. Most of the proceeds that Knud Rasmussen later gained in Denmark, were used to fund further expeditions accompanied by local Inuits. In this way the expeditions became famous for being sponsored by the local Inuit communities. The expeditions were known as 1st to 6th Thule Expedition.
The trading station is also the meeting point between Knud Rasmussen and the one-eyed Meqqusaaq and the shaman Qillarsuaq, who had arrived here from Baffin Island along with 20 other Canadian Iniut. Our voyage has basically followed the same route.
We cruise around the Melville Bay and follow the coast heading in a southern direction. We pass Meteor Island and Savissivik which is the largest settlement in the Avannarsuaq (or Thule) area. The name translates into ”The place where you can sharpen your knife”. The name is related to the iron meteor that struck this area thousands of years ago which the Inuit’s with great care “carved” arrow heads and knives from.
The Melville Bay is an exciting and adventurous place to travel around. Here we have calving glaciers and rough seasons, that isolated the Eskimo’s of the northern area from the rest of Western Greenland until only around 120 years ago. The language of the Northern Eskimo’s is quite different from southern Greenland.
It is not every summer that the sea ice breaks up, and if it doesn’t, it will make our voyage different, but at the same time increase our chances to see seals close-up, along with their natural predator, the polar bear.
After a fantastic day of coastal and ice cruising we arrive at the extraordinary looking 540 meter tall rock tower; the Devils Thumb, or rather Kullorsuaq in Greenlandic. We visit the local village where around 400 inhabitants have their home. They are avid hunters and poachers here, and it’s even common for the locals to hunt the polar bear. They use the skins to make the coveted polar bear pants as well as using the meat, passing it around to every house in the village (the meat is said to be of a very acquired taste).
The Upernavik territory covers an area nearly the size of Great Britain. In the town itself and the 10 smaller villages in the area, 3000 inhabitants roam. Upernavik is home to the world’s northernmost open air museum with well preserved buildings from the colonial period. Today, Upernavik is a mix between the hunter culture of old and the new wave with high-tech fishing. You can equate the old and new with the dog sleighs that exist alongside the modern snowmobiles. Even this far north the modern times are catching up.
The city itself was founded as a Danish colonial station, but the surrounding areas and small villages history go back more than 4500 years. This was when groups of hunters and gatherers travelled along the coasts of Alaska, Canada and ultimately Greenland.
We anchor and make a landing, allowing us to visit the little city and the museum.
Leaving Upernavik behind us we pass Svartenhuks darkly colored hills, we keep a lookout for the muskoxen and the whales these waters are famous for.
When you wake up this morning, you will find yourself almost 600km north of the Arctic Circle, and in one of Greenland’s most beautiful and sunny regions. The ship has reached Uummannaq, situated on a small island. The impressive 1,175m heart-shaped mountain has given the town its name dominates the view (Uummannaq means ‘place where the heart is’). There will be time to explore the city before heading back to the ship for lunch.
Ilulissat is possibly the most well located town in Greenland. The name simply means ‘icebergs’ in Greenlandic, and the town’s nickname is rightly ‘the Iceberg Capital’.
In Disko Bay, which is located just off the coast of Ilulissat, gigantic icebergs are packed in the cold waters. These icebergs come from the Ice fjord, a half hour’s hike south of Ilulissat. These impressive frozen structures are born some 70km (43,5 mi) deeper into the fjord by the enormous Sermeq Kujalleq Glacier. This 10km (6 mi) wide glacier is the most productive glacier outside of Antarctica; Whereas most glaciers only calve at a rate of approximately a meter/three feet a day, the Ilulissat glacier calves at a rate of 25m (82 ft) per day. The icebergs produced by the glacier represent more than 10% of all icebergs in Greenland, corresponding to 20 MMT (22 million us tons) of ice per day!
These facts, together with the fjord’s unforgettable scenery, have secured the Ice fjord a place on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
During the more than 250 years that have passed since the establishment of Ilulissat, the town has steadily flourished. Today, Ilulissat is Greenland’s third largest town, with more than 4,500 inhabitants. The town is very vibrant, welcoming and lively with a wide range of cultural attractions, according to Greenlandic standards.
The legendary polar explorer, Knud Rasmussen, and his good friend Jørgen Brønlund, were both born in Ilulissat.
On this day, you will also have the opportunity to join a boat trip to the Ice fjord (optional excursion). The journey takes about two and a half hours in total, a great opportunity to take a closer look at the amazing ice-sculpted scenery.
The trip is definitely something out of the ordinary and a great natural experience that you will remember for years to come – but be sure to have warm clothing on!
If a hike or a trip by boat does not present enough excitement, there is also an opportunity to arrange a helicopter ride over the Ice fjord (optional excursion).
Please note the boat and helicopter excursions to the Ice fjord are not included in the general tour price. Furthermore, the helicopter excursion must be booked in advance. Refer to Price Information for more details.
In the evening, we will cruise southward, leaving lovely Disko Bay behind us as we part.
The last day will be at sea getting glimpses of sea birds migrating south.
Our lecturers onboard will make inspiring and enriching presentations about Greenland’s history, nature, wildlife and climatology. Enjoy the captain’s farewell drink and a slideshow with all the memories and highlights from our voyage made by the onboard Photographer this evening.
During the night, we will have completed our passage through the 160-kilometer/100 mile Kangerlussuaq Fjord. After breakfast aboard the ship, we will bid farewell to the ship's staff and the Zodiac boats will shuttle us to shore.
Due to Kangerlussuaq’s military history and present-day role as an important air travel hub, Kangerlussuaq remains fairly isolated from Greenland’s rich cultural traditions, in comparison to other regions. While you still find cultural experiences when visiting Kangerlussuaq, the most impressive attraction is the surrounding nature, which is just beckoning to be explored.
It is not difficult for one to see that Kangerlussuaq’s landscape has largely been shaped by the last glaciation period, often known simply as the “Ice Age,” some 18,000 years ago. The mountains are rounded and soft, and many meltwater lakes remain. From the inland ice sheet, best known as the Greenland Ice Sheet, the meltwater cuts its way through the porous moraine landscape and flows into Kangerlussuaq Fjord.
Kangerlussuaq’s present-day climate is largely influenced by its well-sheltered location between Greenland’s Ice Sheet, the fjord and mountains. This contributes to its stable conditions, minimal cloud cover and roughly 300 clear nights per year.
This close proximity to the Ice Sheet, combined with the continental climate, is also of great significance to the local conditions. The dry climate, combined with warm winds that “fall” from the Ice Sheet, can result in temperatures that jump up to 30°C (86°F) in the summer, but then fall to an extreme -40°C (-40°F) in winter, making it the coldest inhabited area in Greenland.
In Kangerlussuaq, we offer an optional excursion to the beautiful Reindeer Glacier. The duration of the excursion is about four hours.
Please note that the excursion is not included in the general tour price. Refer to Price Information for more details. We do not recommend the excursion for people who suffer from bad necks or backs, as the gravel road to the ice sheet is occasionally bumpy and uneven.
As our time in Greenland concludes, your arctic adventure is also at an end. We fly from Kangerlussuaq to Keflavik Airport, Iceland.
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