The Northwest Passage is one of the world’s most iconic maritime routes of discovery. Several 12 night voyages cover the full spectrum of Arctic scenery, culture, history and wildlife — making it a much-loved classic. Follow in the footsteps of the early Arctic explorers such as Franklin, Amundsen and Larsen, exploring the vast archipelago of islands and channels that create Canada’s high Arctic region. This is the home of polar bear, barren land grizzly, musk ox, caribou, walrus, beluga and possibly even narwhal. Enjoy daily shore excursions to wildlife locations, historic points of interest and/ or Inuit communities. There are several variations of this itinerary – east to west, west to east – linking the west coast of Greenland to Cambridge Bay in the heart of the Northwest Passage. One itinerary includes more time exploring Baffin Island’s rugged east coast, ending in Iqaluit.
Classic Northwest Passage Voyage overview...
Wildlife is a major draw card of this Arctic vacation, but there is also plenty of historical interest, and the stories of Sir John Franklin's ill-fated expedition nearly 170 years ago are central to our voyage. Franklin made his last heroic foray into the Arctic in 1845 with two ships and 129 men, never to be heard from again. The fate of the expedition remained a mystery until September 2014, when one of the vessels, HMS Erebus, was discovered in a remarkable state of preservation in the frigid waters of Victoria Strait.
Day 1: Ottawa
We depart Ottawa - Canada’s elegant capital city - this morning on our charter flight bound for Kangerlussuaq, on the west coast of Greenland. On arrival we enjoy a short tour before boarding the ship in the afternoon. Excitement is in the air as we cast off and enjoy a welcome cocktail while cruising along Sondre Stromfjord, en route to the fabled Northwest Passage.
Day 2: Sisimiut
We will explore the fjord behind the town of Sisimiut by Zodiac before going ashore to explore this beautiful location in the afternoon. Characterised by colorful local houses, the town features a towering granite peak as a backdrop. We hope to meet a few of the traditional Greenlandic kayakers as they show us their incredible skills in their small watercraft. A small museum is another interesting diversion.
Day 3: Ilulissat, Greenland & the Jacobshavn Icefjord
For many, today is a highlight of the voyage. Truly one of the wonders of the world, the Jacobshavn Icefjord - a UNESCO World Heritage site - spews gigantic tabular icebergs out into Disko Bay. The glacier that creates these stunning monoliths advances up to 40 meters per day, creating around 50 cubic kilometers of ice annually. Our approach to Ilulissat is always dependent on the amount of ice in and around the mouth of the fjord. Our Captain and officers are skilled ice navigators and our ship has one of the highest ice ratings of any vessel exploring Arctic waters, making for safe and comfortable travel through the iceberg-laden waters.
Days 4: At Sea - Baffin Bay
Leaving the rugged coastline of Greenland, our crossing of Baffin Bay is highly dependent on the extent of the so-called ‘middle ice’. We probe northwards seeking out the edges of the middle ice and plan to follow the line of ice until we reach the coast of Baffin Island. Our time at sea will be determined by the extent of the ice and amount of wildlife we encounter. As we transit Baffin Bay we are always on the lookout for fin, sperm, sei and humpback whales as well as the numerous species of Arctic seals and seabirds that inhabit these waters. Our onboard experts deliver fascinating presentations on board focusing on the wildlife, history, geology and cultures of the Arctic.
Day 5: Pond Inlet
Nearing the far north of Baffin Island we enter a broad channel - home to the remote Inuit community of Pond Inlet / Mittimatalik. A highlight is a visit to the Natinnak Centre, where a fascinating cultural exhibit showcases aspects of daily life, culture and history of the people of the north. Inuit carvings, jewelry and other traditional crafts are on display and purchasing such items from the local artisans is a great way to support the community. We enjoy meeting the children of Pond Inlet and marveling at their athletic abilities as they demonstrate the skills and challenges of traditional Inuit games. Skills and physical agility developed by such games were often those necessary for everyday survival in the harsh Arctic environment.
Days 6: Lancaster Sound & Dundas Harbour
We are now at almost 75 degrees north of latitude. Crusing the coastline of Devon Island, we are now in the waters of Lancaster Sound - a rich, bio-diverse region often referred to as the wildlife “super highway” of the Arctic. These massive volumes of water from Baffin Bay to the east, Beaufort Sea to the west, and from the archipelago of islands to the north, combine to make a rich cocktail of nutrients supporting an abundance of Arctic wildlife. We plan on visiting the old Royal Canadian Mounted Police (CRMP) outpost at Dundas Harbour, situated on the southern shores of Devon Island.
Days 7: Maxwell Bay
A large bay on the south coast of Devon Island, Maxwell Bay offers some wonderful hiking opportunities ashore and great wildlife watching from the water. Muskox and caribou can be found here as well as Polar bears. Harp seals, ringed seals, bearded seals and even walruses have been spotted in the various coves and inlets of the bay.
Day 8: Beechey Island
Beechey Island holds great historic importance on our journey through the Northwest Passage. It is here that Sir John Franklin’s ill-fated expedition spent its last ‘comfortable’ winter in 1845 before disappearing into the icy vastness, sparking an incredible series of search expeditions that would span almost three decades. The mystery of what happened to Franklin was partially solved in September 2014, when a joint Parks Canada and Royal Canadian Geographic Society expedition found the long lost Franklin shipwreck, HMS Erebus, in the Victoria Strait. One Ocean Expeditions played a vital role in the search by carrying underwater search equipment on our ship as well as scientists, historians, researchers, dignitaries and sponsors of this history-defining mission. A trip ashore at Beechey Island to visit the grave markers on a remote windswept beach is a thrilling moment for history buffs.
Day 9: Prince Leopold Island
Having crossed Prince Regent Inlet overnight, we approach the towering bird cliffs of Prince Leopold Island in the morning. The island is home to thick-billed murres, black guillemots, northern fulmars and black-legged kittiwakes. Numbering in the order of several hundred thousand birds, Prince Leopold Island is one of the most significant Migratory Bird Sanctuaries in the whole of the Canadian Arctic and makes for fantastic zodiac cruising. The sea ice around Prince Leopold Island is a great place for spotting ringed seals and wherever we find ringed seals, we usually find Polar bear. Nearby Port Leopold is an historic site where in 1848, English explorer James Clark Ross wintered here during the search for the missing Franklin expedition. In addition to Port Leopold’s historical attractions, the shallow gravel beds along the shoreline are attractive to the beluga whales who tend to molt in this part of the Arctic each summer.
Day 10: Fort Ross & Bellot Strait
Continuing to navigate the ship south into Prince Regent Inlet, we approach the eastern end of Ballot Strait. The historic site of Fort Ross, located at the southern end of Somerset Island, is a former Hudson’s Bay Company fur-trading outpost. Fascinating archaeological sites nearby tell a story of more than a thousand years of habitation by the Inuit and their predecessors. Having explored Fort Ross, we attempt a transit through the narrow of Bellot Strait. The aim is to enter at slack tide if possible, in order to avoid a current that roars through the passage at more than seven knots during the peak flow. The mixing of waters in this Strait provides an abundant food source for marine mammals and we keep our eyes peeled for harp seals, bearded seals and even Polar bears. The skill fo the Captain and Officers and capabilities of the ship become apparent during this exciting day of Arctic navigation.
Day 11: Coningham Bay
Having emerged from Bellot Strait, we cross the Victoria Strait and arrive at Coningham Bay on the shore of Prince of Whales Island. Here, in the heart of the Northwest Passage, we hope to encounter one of the most remarkable wildlife sites in the Arctic. This is a known hotspot for Polar bears. They come here to feast on beluga whales often caught in the rocky shallows at the entrance to the bay. It is an astonishing sight to see these incredible hunters in their natural environment, with a shoreline littered with whale skeletons, and very healthy looking Polar bears.
Day 12: Victoria Strait, King William Island
Heading further into the Northwest Passage, the mystery of Sir John Franklin and his ‘lost expedition’ is beginning to unravel. Prior to the recent discovery of the HMS Erebus in September 2014, very little was known of how the Franklin Expedition spent its last months in the frozen Arctic. The vessels, abandoned in the ice of Victoria Strait, are just coming to life thanks to the ongoing efforts of Parks Canada’s marine archeological team and the recent Victoria Strait Expedition. On Victory Point a lifeboat left abandoned, bits and pieces of copper and iron, cutlery and buttons and a skeleton here and there all tell a story of a desperate race south in search of rescue that never came. We hope to visit Victory Point and the Victoria Strait, traveling very near the actual location of the wreck of HMS Erebus, all while learning about the quest for exploration that eventually opened up the Arctic. On this, our last night of the expedition, we enjoy a celebratory dinner, attended by the Captain of the ship and reflect on our epic voyage.
Day 13: Cambridge Bay (Nunavut) to Edmonton (Alberta)
Our journey is all but complete as we approach the community of Cambridge Bay. This remote outpost is a centre for hunting, trapping and fishing. The Inuit have had summer camps in the vicinity for hundreds of years. Amundsen spent two winters in this area, learning how to master dog-sledding from the locals prior to his attempt on the South Pole. We say farewell to our crew and make our way ashore by zodiac. A special charter flight returns us to Edmonton in the early evening.
These voyages are operated by One Ocean Expeditions - true experts in Polar expedition cruising.
August 19-31, 2020 • westbound
August 31-September 12, 2020 • eastbound
These two expeditions are planned to visit all the same locations, with only a couple of variations noted below. The other variation is that with the approach of autumn the weather cools and the tundra comes alive with fall colors.
The Westbound expedition plans to visit Maxwell Bay, as noted above. The Eastbound expedition departing on August 31 will however skip Maxwell Bay in favor of a visit to the spectacular Gibbs Fjord with towering cliffs all around. Our expedition ship will seem dwarfed by the giant peaks and snowy glaciers as we cruise slowly along the dark waters. One recent guest was heard to comment that Gibbs Fjord “was like something out of Lord of the Rings” - and we think you’ll agree! If we’re lucky we may see endangered bowhead whales here.
2020 Expedition Cruise rates (per person)
Triple cabin: $13,195
Twin cabin: $16,595
Superior cabin: $17,895
Superior Plus cabin: $18,195
Shackleton Suite: $19,495
One Ocean Suite: $21,495
From now through June 2019 either voyage is available with an early booking promotion of $1,000 off these rates per person! Ask us for details!
Charter flights Ottawa/Kangerlussauq and Cambridge Bay/Edmonton are an additional $1995 per person.
Optional Sea Kayaking supplement: US$695
In 2020 these Classic Northwest Passage voyages will be aboard the beautiful RCGS Resolute.
Mark at Galapagos Travel wrote a Trip Report on the incredible beluga and bear experiences from his 2012 voyage, which was published by International Travel News in 2013. read more