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.
With a rich mixture of fishing communities, myriad islands and complex coastal waterways the west Greenland coastline makes for delightful exploration. We will be making an expedition stop here to enjoy the Greenlandic landscape.
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.
Over the next two days we will cruise some 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. 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.
Qikiqtarjuaq, a community located on Broughton Island, is known for its wildlife, whale watching, and as an access point for Auyuittuq National Park. It is one of the Nunavut communities closest to Greenland. Qikiqtarjuaq (fondly called "Qik", for short) is known as the iceberg capital of Nunavut and was home to a NORAD military station that formed part of the Distant Early Warning (DEW) line in the 1950s.
Qikiqtarjuaq also boasts a burgeoning traditional Inuit craft industry, and local craftspeople are eager to share their wares. Talented local artists produce Inuit carvings, with a particular focus on intricate ivory work and jewelry. The community is famously warm and welcoming of visitors.
Today we will explore the eastern coast of Baffin Island or Qikiqtaaluk in the region of Auyuittuq National Park. Named after English explorer William Baffin, Baffin Island is the largest island in Canada, and home to 11,000 people. Likely known to Pre-Columbian Norse of Greenland and Iceland during the eleventh century, the island is presumed to be the Helluland of the Viking sagas. The Penny Ice Cap and the Barnes Ice Cap are the largest ice caps on the island, both remnants of the Laurentide ice sheet that once covered much of the North American continent. Both are currently in a state of retreat.
Today will be an expedition day in the truest sense as we navigate the fjords of northeast Baffin Island. The Ocean Endeavour is the perfect vessel for exploring these hidden treasures of the north, as her manuvrability and shallow draft allow her to access regions that would be impassable to larger vessels. Moving through waters known to harbour belugas, narwhals, and other marine mammals, we will be monitoring at all times from the deck and bridge to maximize our wildlife opportunities.
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 follow the route of nineteenth-century explorers into Lancaster Sound, and on to the island.
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 until very recently. In 2014, Canadian archaeologists discovered remnants of the HMS Erebus in the frozen waters of the Northwest Passage, reigniting interest in this fabled region.
Sailing Peel Sound, we get into serious polar bear country and will be on the lookout for good spotting opportunities. Parry Channel is named after Arctic explorer William Edward Parry who got as far as Melville Island in 1819 before being blocked by ice at McClure Strait. Depending on ice conditions, we may make expedition stops along the way among the spectacular landscapes, a perfect setting for hiking and exploring the geological diversity of the area.
In 1903, explorer Roald Amundsen attempted the Northwest Passage, sailing through the James Ross Strait. Unable to proceed due to sea ice, he spent the winters of 1903 04 and 1904 05 in the beautiful harbour he found Usqsuqtuuq. While 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, Gj a, as a base for explorations in the summer of 1904, sledding the Boothia Peninsula and travelling to the magnetic North Pole. Usqsuqtuuq offers a lot to its visitors, including he Northwest Passage Territorial Historic Park, and Canada's most northerly golf course. Although Usqsuqtuuq is becoming more modern, many traditional Inuit activities are still being enjoyed, including throat singing, drum dancing, and hunting.
Sir John Franklin's flagship, the HMS Erebus, was a Hecla-class bomb vessel, built in Wales in 1826. She was named after the dark region in Hades of Greek mythology and weighed 372 tons. The ship took part in the Ross Expedition from 1839 to 1843, and was abandoned during the legendary Franklin Expedition after becoming icebound during an attempt to locate the fabled Northwest Passage. Her sunken wreck had actually been designated a National Historic Site prior to being located in September of 2014 by a Parks Canada underwater archaeology team. Two years later, Franklin's other ship, Terror, was located, spurring further interest in one of the great mysteries of polar exploration.
Located between Victoria Island and the Arctic coast of mainland Canada, the Coronation Gulf is an extensive body of water that is linked to the Arctic Ocean via the Dolphin and Union Strait on the west and by the Dease Strait and Queen Maud Gulf on the east. The gulf was named in 1821 by John Franklin in honour of the coronation of King George IV. The environment and Inuit cultural history of the region was studied by Rudolph Anderson and Diamond Jenness in 1916 as part of the Canadian Arctic Expedition. We will be exploring the area scouting for an opportunistic expedition stop.
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.