Photo Story | Northwest Passage

Ten Fascinating Points of Interest on Into the Northwest Passage

© Dennis Minty

Each Adventure Canada expedition holds its own unique highlights. On Into the Northwest Passage, the poignant historical sites, spectacular scenery, beautiful Inuit communities, and incredible ice leave us in awe. These are our picks for Into the Northwest Passage’s top ten highlights.

For centuries it was among Earth’s greatest riddles: Did a sea route link Europe to “the Orient” by way of the top of the world? Today the Northwest Passage remains wrapped in history and mystery—a fabled corridor of Inuit culture, glittering ice, prowling bears, snow-capped peaks, eerie ruins, and clues to the epic Franklin tragedy that are only now being pieced together.

People often ask us which of our Northwest Passage trips they should take. (Can’t it be both?) Here, in our humble opinion, are the best highlights of Adventure Canada’s Into the Northwest Passage expedition.

Sunset Northwest passage

© Scott Forsyth

1. Sneak through haunting straits, following the sea lanes of history

Along the south end of King William Island is the crux of the Northwest Passage, where the straits are shallow but the past runs deep. Squeak past bleak headlands and islands where Franklin’s men fell in their tracks. Most eerie of all, sail near the graveyards of the Arctic’s most infamous shipwrecks, the Erebus and Terror. Did they drift here? Were they sailed? Are there photographs, journals, or bodies aboard? Learn about the ongoing investigations and marvel at the mysteries of that most tragic expedition.

Mittimatalik driver

© Dennis Minty

2. Visit Mittimatalik, one of Nunavut’s most scenically situated communities

The biggest town in the High Arctic of Canada is also—we would argue—one of its most beautifully located. Mittimatalik, also known as Pond Inlet, nestles along whale-laden Eclipse Sound, peering toward the peaks and glaciers of Sirmilik National Park. For its 1,500 or so Inuit residents, this community is a cultural haven. Tour around town with warm local guides, hear (and likely learn a bit of) the Inuktitut language, witness a cultural extravaganza of Inuit sports and song, and purchase unique local carvings and craftworks.

Beechey island graves

© Dennis Minty

3. Pay homage to adventurers past at historic, haunting Beechey Island

With shattered shale plains, eroding bluffs, and little greenery, Beechey Island appears utterly sterile. But to history buffs, it’s hallowed ground. Here, three mariners with the lost Franklin expedition were interred. For 170 years—until the recent discovery of Franklin’s ships—their graves were the prime monument to that tragic, mysterious voyage. Pay respects to the trio, explore artefacts left by Franklin searchers, and marvel at what it was like for Englishmen to live and die here, so distant from the only world they knew.

Ilulissat Zodiac cruises

© Dennis Minty

4. See icebergs bigger than you ever imagined—all while sipping a latte

Ilulissat means “icebergs.” The name says it all. Beside this renowned town of 4,700 people is Sermeq Kujalleq (Jakobshavn Glacier), the busiest glacier in the Northern Hemisphere, spewing 20 billion tonnes of ice per year into the local waterfront. Appropriately, this is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, not to mention Greenland’s top tourist attraction. Tour amongst the skyscraping bergs by Zodiac (often accompanied by humpback whales!), peruse the local museums and shops (sealskin chic!), and dine on distinctive Greenlandic fare (muskox burgers anyone?).

Narwhal

© Michelle Valberg

5. Have a whale of a time in Tallurutiup Imanga, a protected Inuit waterway

Overlaying much of the Northwest Passage is Tallurutiup Imanga, a landmark marine sanctuary established through a pact between Inuit and Canada. Sail and Zodiac through this natural and cultural seascape, witnessing ecological wonders. Here, the greatest Arctic whales, bus-sized bowheads, skim for plankton—while belugas and narwhal gobble cod in the fjords. On sea cliffs, murres and guillemots nest by the countless thousands. And on the drifting ice floes? Seals and the white bears that love to feed on them.

Kayakers west Greenland

© Dennis Minty

6. Experience the west Greenland coast, where the Arctic is sublime

Sailing down the legendary Kangerlussuaq Fjord (Søndre Strømfjord) is a true polar pleasure. A whopping 190 kilometres long but just two kilometres wide, this intimate seaway is flanked by countless frosted peaks and glaciers and straddles the Arctic Circle. The rest of Greenland’s west coast is no less majestic—think icebergs, jagged isles, and misty summits. Explore this glittering land and seascape by ship, Zodiac, or on shore. Keep your eyes peeled for whales and make sure your camera has a spare memory card, because you might just fill it up!

Devon Island croker bay Zodiac cruise

© Dennis Minty

7. Stay cool while exploring the face of some of Canada’s greatest glaciers

Devon Island, the world’s largest uninhabited island, makes up for what it lacks in people with its ample ice—4,000 gigatons of the stuff, forming an ice cap almost a kilometre deep and sending glaciers churning down to the sea. By ship and Zodiac, explore the faces of these tidewater glaciers, while watching for the calving of house-sized icebergs, weaving amongst iridescent blue “bergy bits,” and marvelling at the diversity of wildlife—including greedily feeding seabirds and, often, polar bears, beluga, and narwhal.

Walking in Gjoa Haven

© Scott Forsyth

8. Tour a town steeped in the legacy of the Amundsen and Franklin voyages

Snug in what Roald Amundsen proclaimed “the finest little harbour in the world” is historic Uqsuqtuuq, also known as Gjoa Haven, on King William Island. En route through the Northwest Passage, Amundsen spent two light-hearted winters here, learning how to drive dogsleds, make igloos, and wear fur from Inuit who chose to stay here with him. At the excellent cultural centre you, too, can learn from the locals—not just about Amundsen’s journey but also Franklin’s, including the key role Inuit played in finding, and now guarding, the long-lost ships Erebus and Terror.

Dundas harbour buildings

© Dennis Minty

9. Experience a polar hardship posting

A century ago the Arctic was disputed territory. Mounties and Inuit special constables were thus sent to Devon Island to fly Canada’s flag, make sovereignty patrols, and staff a remote station at Dundas Harbour. After the Mounties left, this was the site of the first Arctic relocation, when Inuit families were infamously moved to bolster Canada’s claims to the Far North. Tour the station’s eerie structures, learn about the hardships here, and take in the tundra’s local wildlife, which often includes foxes, muskoxen, and walruses.

Ship at sea

© Lee Narraway

10. Sail historic Davis Strait, a crossroads of whalers, Inuit, and explorers

For at least a millennium, this shivering sea has united Europe and Arctic North America. Inuit travel here, as did Vikings, Scottish whalers, explorers like Franklin and Amundsen, and more. On the outer decks, keep your eyes peeled for pilot and sperm whales, seabirds, and fantastical icebergs.