Navigating the Northwest Passage

Navigating the Northwest Passage

PHOTO: Gjoa Haven, the “finest little harbor in the world,” is part of your voyage through the Northwest Passage. (Courtesy Flickr/Tristan in Ottawa)  

Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen might have done it first, but today no one navigates the Northwest Passage better than Hurtigruten.

This Norwegian cruise line is known for its small-ship excursions along the Norwegian coast, as well as sailings to Antarctica, Greenland, Iceland, Spitsbergen and Europe, and twice-annual trans-Atlantic crossings.

Those looking to follow in the footsteps of such adventurers as John Cabot and James Cook (but with happier outcomes) will enjoy not just the scenery, but Hurtigruten’s excursions to some of the same sites visited by these intrepid explorers as they set out to discover a short cut from Europe to Asia.

This unique journey starts in Montreal, where passengers will have the chance to explore some of the city’s Old World charms, such as the Notre-Dame Basilica and picturesque shopping streets, before departing for Cambridge Bay. Located on the southeast coast of Victoria Island, this remote community is the official starting point of the journey across the Northwest Passage.

The first stop is Gjoa Haven, otherwise known as the “finest little harbor in the world.” Roald Amundsen wintered there and collected scientific data over the course of two years. And while it is also the site of several ill-fated voyages by Amundsen’s predecessors, today it’s known as a vibrant artisan community and cultural center. In the warmer months, the tundra becomes a flower-covered expanse, where visitors can spot numerous Arctic birds nesting, alongside musk oxen and caribou.

The fourth day of the journey takes passengers along the 112-mile James Ross Strait, where, depending on conditions, the crew will conduct landings so that passengers can hike. As the ship makes its way through Coningham Bay and Bellot Strait, passengers will have the opportunity to take a small boat cruise out to search for belugas and polar bears. The Bellot Strait is where the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans meet and traversing this passage can be treacherous thanks to a combination of powerful currents and icy waters.

Day six brings a visit to historic Fort Ross, which was established by the Hudson Bay Co. as a trading post in 1937. From there, it’s on to Beechy Island, where the expedition led by British explorer Sir John Franklin disappeared in 1845. Radstock Bay is the next stop. Dominated by the Caswell Tower, a sedimentary rock rising out of the ocean, this locale is the home to pre-historic Inuit dwellings and is a great spot to hike.

Devon Island, the largest uninhabited island on Earth, is next on the itinerary and provides the perfect vantage point from which to spot several species of seal, as well as beluga and narwhals. Heading still further south, passengers will sail through the Eclipse Sound before making land in Baffin Island’s Pond Inlet, where passengers will visit a small cultural center for a performance by the local Inuit community.

Ilulissat, set in a UNESCO World Heritage site, is the first stop in Greenland. It’s here that visitors can see giant icebergs that have run ashore, and take a “flightseeing” trip on a fixed-wing plane or helicopter. Continue on across the Davis Strait to Sisimiut, a modern settlement of colorful homes, shops and a small museum. Harp seals are numerous in the waters surrounding this town, and several whale species ply these waters.

The journey comes to a close as the ship makes its way to Kangerlussuaq. Once in port, passengers take a final expedition to a Greenland ice sheet before boarding a plane to Copenhagen for a day of exploration and flights home. http://www.travelpulse.com/