The Canadian High Arctic is most often accessed by flights to Iqaluit or Resolute. It is a is a long, long way north. North of the Arctic Circle and north of most of Alaska. There is a saying that ‘Resolute is not the end of the world, but you can see it from here’ that should give you an idea of location. Baffin, Devon and Ellesmere Islands all offer incredible scenery; mountain, fjords, glaciers and pack ice that make up this wilderness area and provide homes for rare and interesting wildlife including: muskox, walrus, beluga whales and the polar bear.
The Northwest Passage is a sea passage through the Arctic that connects the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, first traversed by Roald Amundsen in 1903-06. The search for this Passage claimed the lives of many, it is now a journey you can enjoy whilst your expedition’s historian will help you discover the courage, misery and the incredible endurance of some of history’s greatest explorers (Franklin in particular).
If you are interested in visiting the Canadian High Arctic, please visit our dedicated Arctic Luxury and Expedition Cruises website, the Arctic Travel Centre.
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For many hundreds of years the Northwest Passage captured the imagination of many of the world’s famed explorers, including Sir Francis Drake, Sir Martin Frobisher and Captain James Cook. All of them met with failure, some met with disaster. Sir Humphrey Gilbert, whose writings on the passage inspired many later voyages, drowned during his attempt in 1583. The worst tragedy occurred when Sir John Franklin and 128 men on-board the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror vanished in 1845. The stories of what happened are as gruesome as they interesting and your expedition historian will discuss the many and varied accounts of what happened. The story is still unfolding as the the HMS Erebus was discovered as recently as 2014; with the help of Parks Canada and Royal Canadian Geographic Society and the crew and captain of the Expedition ship Akademik Sergey Vavilov in the Victoria Strait.
Knowledge of an Arctic passage was derived over hundreds of years, from information gathered during voyages by such explorers as John Davis, William Baffin, Sir John Ross, Sir William Parry, Frederick William Beechey and Sir George Back. It wasn’t until 1903-6 that the famed explorer Roald Amundsen finally proved that the sea did link the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans (Bearing Sea). The wonderful thing about voyages in this region is you get to find out the incredible history as well as seeing some of the Arctic’s most amazing wildlife, which in many ways was protected by the region being inaccessible for most of the year.
Prince Leopold Island is a migratory bird sanctuary, located near the High Arctic Nunavut communities. It is located within Lancaster Sound at the junction of Prince Regent Inlet and Barrow Strait. The plankton blooms that occur here in the Arctic spring and summer provide plentiful food for fish and crustaceans, which in turn are eaten by seabirds. The high cliffs are home to hundreds of thousands of birds; thick-billed murre (100,000 pairs), northern fulmar (22,000 pairs), black-legged kittiwake (29,000 pairs) and black guillemot (4,000 pairs). The sanctuary is one of the most important multi-species seabird colonies in the Arctic. A variety of marine mammals are also attracted to the areas of open water (Lancaster Sound & Barrow Inlet), including Beluga, Bowhead Whale, Narwhal, Walrus, Ringed Seal, Bearded Seal and Polar Bear.
Ellesmere Island is located in the Canadian territory of Nunavut, part of the Qikiqtaaluk Region. This island has seven fjords that cut into it as well as Lake Hazen. The towering Challenger Mountain range (the most northern mountain range in the world) looms over the beautiful glaciers and fjords. Here you may see the occasional polar bear.
Baffin Island is the largest island in the Canadian Arctic, named after English explorer William Baffin. The island has been inhabited by Inuit communities for many centuries and today you can still see the remains of Viking structures. The wildlife you can expect to find on Baffin Island include: caribou, polar bears, Arctic fox, Arctic hare, lemming and Arctic wolf. On the pack ice (the ideal hunting ground for polar bears) you will find ringed seals, bearded seals.
The bird life throughout the Canadian High Arctic is absolutely astounding. Some of them include: Canada goose, snow goose, brant goose, phalarope, various waders, Brunnich’s guillemot and plovers, glaucous gull, herring gull and ivory gull, Arctic tern, coots, loons and mallards.
The Canadian Arctic is home to two thirds of the world’s polar bear population. They spend majority of their time on the sea ice where they can hunt seals. Whales in the Canadian Arctic are perhaps a bit shy but if you keep your eyes out you will have the chance to see narwhal, beluga, humpack and grey whales.
Some sites in the Canadian Arctic don’t lend themselves to a physical landing or may be best seen from water level. Zodiacs (rubber inflatable boats) offer a safe way to explore sites like: Baffin Island and Ellesmere Island. Many bays, natural harbours or fjords are quite calm and cruising along the shoreline is a fun way of exploring. Expert guides, often with years of experience, handle the zodiacs with ease and skill. Keen photographers need not worry as the guides will ensure everyone gets a good look.
Note: Please ensure you are adequately dressed as it can get cold; waterproof pants are essential.
Most ships offer kayaking (for an additional cost) for up to 20 guests. It’s an incredible way to gain a very different perspective, with expert guides and a Zodiac close enough to offer assistance, yet far enough away not to disrupt the tranquility. Occasionally, if you’re lucky, whales will come to investigate but don’t worry as the guides will form the kayaks into a ‘raft’ and you will enjoy a genuine once-in-a-lifetime experience.