The Northwest Passage - In the Wake of Great Explorers - Westbound

Kangerlussuaq - Cambridge Bay

Sail in the wake of early explorers on an expedition from Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, to Cambridge Bay, Canada. Experience the rugged and daunting beauty of the terrain that some of history’s greatest explorers had to overcome. Even today, few ships have the capability to navigate this sea passage that cuts through the remote Arctic regions of North America.

  • Sail through the fabled Northwest Passage
  • Discover the Illuissat Icefjord, a UNESCO World Heritage site
  • Explore Gjøa Havn, where the Amundsen expedition spent two years and several members of the Franklin expedition team are buried
  • Trace the course of history as we sail the route of famous expeditions vessels of the past


Connecting the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, the Northwest Passage is a beautiful and unforgiving route, having claimed the lives of many explorers over the years. Since the late 15th century, the search for this fabled route through the Canadian Arctic was a holy grail for explorers. There are records of almost 40 expeditions that sailed these waters, either to explore this unknown territory or to find the sea route to Asia. The first recorded attempt was the voyage of John Cabot in 1497. The most famous journeys here were James Cook’s failed attempt to sail the Northwest Passage in 1776, and of course the ill-fated Franklin expedition of 1834. The first explorer to conquer the Northwest Passage by ship was Norwegian Roald Amundsen. His expedition lasted from 1903 to 1906, on the converted herring boat named 'Gjøa'. On this Hurtigruten cruise, we sail in the wake of the great explorers to discover this renowned waterway. 

Starting in Kangerlussuaq, you have the opportunity to see some Greenlandic Inuit settlements and the UNESCO World Heritage site of Ilulissat Icefjord before we cross the Davis Strait and venture into the Canadian Arctic archipelago of Nunavut, starting our expedition into the heart and history of the Northwest passage.

The True North

We make our way through the icy waters of Arctic Canada, or ‘Nunavut’, as it is known in Inuit. You will be amazed by the vast expanses of pristine wilderness seen from the deck. We aim to visit several sites with traces of earlier expeditions. We will call at some of the world’s northernmost communities, explore legendary inlets and channels, and take you on exciting small-boat tours and landings. When conditions allow, we will launch our kayaks or take you on hikes.

Top of the World

Being at the top of the world means sailing in the midst of ice. On this voyage, like the voyages of the explorers before us, we will go where the ice allows.

Price Includes: 

  • Hurtigruten expedition voyage in the cabin category of your choice on a full-board basis  
  • Economy-class flight from Copenhagen to Kangerlussuaq
  • Transfer from the airport to the ship in Kangerlussuaq, and the ship to the airport in Cambridge Bay
  • Economy-class flight from Cambridge Bay to Montréal
  • Transfer from the airport to the hotel in Montréal
  • Overnight hotel stay in Montréal, including breakfast, after the voyage
  • Wind- and water-resistant jacket  
  • Landings with small boats and activities on board and ashore
  • Professional English-speaking expedition team that gives lectures and accompanies landings and activities
  • Complimentary tea and coffee

Not Included: 

  • International flights
  • Travel insurance
  • Luggage handling
  • Optional excursions and gratuities

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Cruise Itinerary

This is an expedition where the elements rule, and the weather, wind, and ice conditions will determine our final schedule. Safety is paramount and the captain will decide the sailing itinerary during the voyage. Therefore, this itinerary is only an indication of what you can experience, and why every expedition with Hurtigruten is unique.

August 29, 2018

Departs from Copenhagen/Kangerlussuaq
Day 1
Photo: Robert Szymanski Photo

Flying North

Location : Copenhagen/Kangerlussuaq

Starting with a flight from Copenhagen, Denmark, you arrive in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland. The airport in Kangerlussuaq dates back to World War II. The Americans built this airstrip as staging post for flights into Europe. Today, this is the main hub for international flights into Greenland’s scattered settlements. Kangerlussuaq means 'big fjord' and once on board, the MS Fram will sail almost the entire length of the fjord (118 miles) before reaching the open sea.

Day 2
Photo: Martin Johansen Photo

Modern Settlement with Ancient Traditions

Location : Sisimiut

On our way to Sisimiut, we encourage you to be out on deck to look for whales. The waters close to the settlement are frequented by several species of whales, such as humpback and fin. Harbor porpoises and minke whales can be encountered along the west coast of Greenland. If we are lucky, we might also see a large number of seals, the most common being the harp seal. Sisimiut is situated 25 miles north of the Arctic Circle. It is a modern settlement that maintains ancient traditions. Go ashore to explore the colorful town, visit the small museum, hike in the hills, and shop for local handicrafts. Just across Disko Bay is DisKo Island and the settlement of Qeqertarsuaq. This is where the Gjøa expedition and the second Fram expedition stopped to procure dogs and other equipment on their way to the Northwest Passage.

Day 3
Photo: Thomas Haltner Photo

Witness the 'Birth' of Icebergs

Location : Ilulissat

Ilulissat is set in the stunning scenery of the Ilulissat Icefjord, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Just outside the town, at the mouth of the fjord, you can often see enormous icebergs that have run aground. They originate from the Jakobshavn Glacier, one of the most productive glaciers in the Northern Hemisphere. The icebergs make their way down the 12-miles fjord before entering Disko Bay. Marvel at the changes in hue of the ice when the iceberg surface is struck by the midnight sun. Hear the icebergs’ soundtrack of cracking and rumbling as the sounds echo from one end of Ilulissat to the other. We offer a variety of options for viewing the Icefjord. A short walk through town will bring you to the head of a network of short trails that take you to the shores of the fjord. There are also options to get out on the water to see the ice and the possibility of going whale watching with local boat companies, and the opportunity to go high up for an aerial view with 'flightseeing' trips by fixed-wing aircraft or helicopter.

Day 4-5
Photo: Chelsea Claus Photo

Crossing the Davis Strait

Location : At Sea

We cross the Davis Strait, a northern arm of the Labrador Sea. This strait was named after the English explorer John Davis, who led three expeditions in the area between 1585 and 1587. He was looking for a route through the Northwest Passage, and discovered the Hudson Strait. Davis was the first to draw attention to seal hunting and whaling possibilities in the Davis Strait, and to show that the Newfoundland cod fisheries extended this far north.

Day 6
Photo: City Escapes Nature Photo Photo

One of Canada's True Jewels of the North

Location : Pond Inlet, Baffin Island

Explorer Sir John Ross named Pond Inlet in 1818 after John Pond, a renowned British astronomer. Today the picturesque hamlet of Pond Inlet, also called 'Mittimatalik' in Inuktitut, is a traditional Inuit community, located on the northern tip of Baffin Island near the eastern entrance to the Northwest Passage. Pond Inlet is surrounded by mountain ranges, several dozen glaciers, scenic fjords and inlets, ice caves, geological hoodoos, and drifting icebergs. As we arrive, we sail through a pretty channel flanked by the peaks and glaciers of Baffin and Bylot Islands. At these latitudes the sea is frozen for most of the year, only opening up in July for a short late-summer season. This is where the search for High Arctic wildlife, such as polar bears, can begin. Pond Inlet is also a great place to see large pods of narwhal, signalling the start of our Arctic safari. When you go ashore, you will have your first opportunity to compare life in a settlement in the Canadian Arctic with one that you have seen in Greenland. Pond Inlet has a small visitor's center, and the cultural performance by the local community will be a highlight. In the evening, we will cruise the spectacular Arctic landscape of Eclipse Sound.

Day 7
Photo: Albert Knapp Alamy Photo

Abandoned Settlements and Wildlife Encounters

Location : Landcaster Sound And Devon Island

Devon Island is the largest uninhabited island on Earth (Antarctica is counted as a continent). On the south coast of Devon Island lies Dundas Harbour, an abandoned settlement with an old Royal Canadian Mounted Police camp and several archeological sites. Go ashore to see the ruins of some of these buildings, along with an impressive Thule site. The Thule people were the ancestors of the Inuit. Further west is Croker’s Bay, a large fjord with two tidewater glaciers at the head of the bay. The area is rich in wildlife, and as with any expedition in the Arctic, the search for wildlife is part of the experience. We may see several seal species such as walrus, and beluga or even narwhal whales. Polar bears are frequently seen in the area and the tundra around the shore supports small populations of Arctic hares and musk oxen. This is a perfect place for a small boat excursions, and your opportunity to see marine life and glaciers up close.

Day 8

Thrilling Locations for History Buffs

Location : Beechy Island And Radstock Bay

Our first stop today is Radstock Bay, which is dominated by the striking Caswell Tower – a prominence of sedimentary rock rising from the sea. The shoreline around Caswall Tower is a good location for short walks to a prehistoric Inuit dwelling site, annd Caswall Tower features a challenging hike to the summit for great views over the surrounding area. The summit is actually the location of a small station used seasonally for polar bear research. Next up is Beechy Island. This place is closely linked to the history of exploration of the Northwest Passage. The most famous voyage, one surrounded in mystery, is the British expedition led by Sir John Franklin. Two ships sailed into the passage in 1845, but neither the ships nor any of the 129 crewmembers were ever seen again. It is known that the Franklin Expedition spent the winter of 1845–1846 on Beechy Island. Three graves on the shore (plus another from one of the search parties) is proof of the unfortunate outcome for the expedition members. As you go ashore, you will see the graves and the remains of Northumberland House, a house built by the rescuers searching for Franklin and his men. The desolate location of the graves and the ruins of Northumberland House create a haunting reminder of the incredible challenges faced by explorers in this powerful wilderness.

Day 9
Photo: All Canada Photos / Alamy Stock Photo Photo

Fierce Currents and Icebergs

Location : Fort Ross And The Bellot Strait

Bellot Strait is a narrow passage serving as the route from Prince Regent Inlet to Peel Sound and Franklin Strait. To the south of the channel, you find the Boothia Peninsula – the northernmost point in mainland North America. The strait, only about one-mile wide, has fierce currents that can run up to 9 miles per hour. And there may be the added navigational challenge of ice in the water. As a result, a careful assessment of the conditions of the day is required and traveling through it must be timed to avoid the strongest currents. No need to worry, though. MS Fram was purpose-built as an expedition vessel with a 1B ice class, ship-depth sounding database, extractable forward-sounding sonar, and iceberg search lights – and the captain and his crew are experienced in sailing treacherous waters. At the eastern end of the channel is historic Fort Ross, a trading post established by the Hudson's Bay Company in 1937. There are still two small huts ashore that are maintained by the Canadian Coast Guard that are occasionally used by the local Inuit for shelter during hunting trips. After exploring Fort Ross, we will attempt a trip through the narrows of Bellot Strait. This strait is where the waters of the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans meet, and crossing the passage means we will be leaving the Atlantic Ocean and enter the Pacific Ocean. We will continue looking out for wildlife. Remember the more eyes keeping watch, the better the chance of spotting the polar bear, often seen in this area.

Day 10

Cruising Coningham Bay

Location : At Sea

After the safe emergence from the Bellot Strait we cross Victoria Strait and arrive at Coningham Bay. We will launch our small boats and explore the bay. We hope for wildlife sightings, as this shallow, broad bay is a known hotspot for beluga whales and polar bears.

Day 11
Photo: Ondrej Prosicky Photo

Cruising the James Ross Strait

Location : At Sea

Enjoy being navigating through the 112-miles long and 31 to 40–mile wide James Ross Strait. It is named after British Polar explorer James Clark Ross, and Roald Amundsen sailed here on the Gjøa expedition. The strait runs between King William Island and the Boothia Peninsula, and based on the conditions, at hand we will conduct landings for hikes or small boat cruising.

Day 12
Photo: Michael G. Mill Photo

The Heart of the Northwest Passage

Location : Gjøa Haven

Gjøa Haven is a popular destination for fans of Arctic history. The name honors Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, who wintered here during the Gjøa expedition. He called the place 'the finest little harbor in the world'. Amundsen and his men spent two years at Gjøa Haven, and they were busily engaged in collecting scientific data. Hunting caribou and exploring the surrounding area varied their work routines. When Amundsen arrived, there was no European settlement here. But he was in contact with the local Inuit and he learned a lot from them about survival and travel in polar regions. The local Inuit people, the Netsilik Inuit, are direct descendants of the ancient Thule people, and they have lived in the area for over 1,000 years. The John Ross expedition of 1829–1833 had previously visited this region and the ill-fated John Franklin expedition of 1845 perished nearby, so Gjøa Haven is often visited by Arctic history buffs. Today the settlement is known for its vibrant arts and crafts scene, where carvers are famous for their renderings of shamanistic faces and talented seamstresses produce beautiful articles of Inuit clothing. It is also home to excellent cultural venues including the Heritage Centre, the Hamlet Centre, and the Northwest Passage Territorial Trail. In the warm months when the tundra is covered with flowers and the sea is open, numerous Arctic birds nest nearby, including loons, geese, ducks, terns, jaegers, plovers, snow buntings, and snowy owls. A handsome herd of musk oxen live on the island and there are some caribou too. When we arrive, we will be warmly welcomed to 'the finest little harbor in the world'.

Day 13
Photo: Paul Reeves Photography Photo

“A Good Fishing Place”

Location : Cambridge Bay, Victoria Island

The community of Cambridge Bay is located on the southeast coast of Victoria Island. In Inuinnaqtun it is called 'Iqaluktuuttiaq', meaning 'a good fishing place.' The hamlet is located close to the Ekalluk River, which is famous for giant char. It is rich in archaeological history. Archaeological sites found all over this enormous island prove that indigenous peoples have been living in this part of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago continuously for the last 4,000 years. Roald Amundsen visited the Cambridge Bay in 1905. In 1918 he traversed the same route back from west to east in his new ship – the Maud. The Hudson's Bay Company purchased this vessel as a fur trading supply ship, arriving in Cambridge Bay in 1921. The Maud was used for years before it sank in the harbor. Its exposed hull has been a Cambridge Bay landmark for 80 years. An attempt is currently underway to re-float the vessel and return her to Norway.  Wildlife abounds in this area with caribou, musk oxen, seals, and geese. In August, when the tundra is brilliant with wildflowers, it is also teeming with birds. This is where the expedition ends. After disembarkation in the morning, we will transfer you to the airport for your flight to Montréal, followed by a transfer to your hotel.

Day 14
Photo: Vlad G / shutterstock Photo

A Unesco City Of Design

Location : Montréal, Canada

Fly home or extend your experience with more Days to explore Montréal. Montréal’s contrast to your recent expedition through the Northwest Passage will provide a delightful and striking ending note to your journey. Take in the photogenic 18th-century facades of Old Montréal before strolling along the Canal de Lachine. Discover the shops downtown before enjoying one of the most exciting food scenes in North America. Montréal is famed for Kamouraska lamb and Arctic char. Not to mention Poutine: fries covered in cheese curds and gravy. Montréal also offers irresistible patisseries, English pubs, Jewish delis and magnificent food markets reminiscent of Paris.

September 11, 2018

Location Montréal, Canada
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Flight Packages

Please contact us if you wish to add on return flights and airport transfers to Montreal and Copenhagen.