Expedition Cruise farthest North
Next DepartureAug. 31, 2021
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, Lectures, Photography, Trekking, Wildlife observations, Zodiac
Among the Inuit and great explorers to the northernmost inhabited regions between Canada and Greenland
We are following great explorers like the danish Knud Rasmussen and the American Robert Peary who both explored these areas high to the north, where they learned to drive dog sleds and live as Inuit before their great exploits that led Rasmussen to the Pacific Ocean and Peary to Greenland´s northernmost point Kap Morris Jessup and the North Pole.
Our strategic point of return is the small Hans Ø located exactly in the middle of the narrow Kennedy Channel. This island is famous for its most friendly border dispute in the world, also called the “Whiskey Wars”.
This is a unique voyage, as our aim is to reach above 80˚ latitude in Greenlandic waters, something only a few expedition cruise ships have done in history. We expect a lot of sea ice in these waters and even though we sail with a ship of the highest ice class, the weather and ice conditions be decisive for how far we reach.
On board Albatros’ expedition vessel, we sail from Kangerlussuaq in West Greenland and set a course towards Disko Bay and from there quickly further north. Crossing Melville Bay, we continue into through the narrow waters between Greenland and Canada. The purpose is first and foremost to enjoy the magnificent polar nature and the characteristic Inuit culture. We will pass Kap York in both directions, which Peary visited in 1894 and snatched a 31- ton gigantic meteorite, Ahnighito, which he sold to The Museum of Natural History of New York for $40.000. Locally it is still referred to as Peary’s theft. In 1932 Perry’s family erected a 20 meter high monument on top of Cape York.
Heading back south, we visit Qaanaaq, the northernmost town in Greenland, and the former Thule hunting station founded in 1910 by polar explorer Knud Rasmussen. We continue along the west coast to Upernavik, Uummannaq and Ilulissat before returning to Kangerlussuaq after a voyage that covers a wide range of Greenland’s nature and its fascinating population.
Albatros has through several years developed a cruise concept that is particularly suitable for polar conditions, where ice in combination with a limited infrastructure and inaccessible wilderness provides travel of a more demanding nature. Many elements are unpredictable, and the route is largely determined by wind, ice, and sea currents. The route description should be seen as the ideal plan and it will most certainly be adjusted along the way.
Iceland to Kangerlussuaq flight
In the afternoon, we board our chartered flight in Keflavik, Iceland, bound for Kangerlussuaq in Greenland.
Upon arrival to Kangerlussuaq (Søndre Strømfjord), we will be transported to the small port located west of the airport, where our ship Ocean Atlantic, will be anchored. Zodiacs will transfer us the short distance to the ship, where you will be checked in to your cabin. After the mandatory safety drill, you will enjoy a dinner as Ocean Atlantic ‘sets sail’ through the 160-kilometer Kangerlussuaq fjord.
Sisimiut, Greenland's second-largest town
After breakfast, we arrive to the colorful town of Sisimiut, where we will get an idea of what modern Greenland looks like. With 5,400 inhabitants, it is Greenland’s second largest town.
In 1756, Count Johan Ludvig Holstein, established a colony here and called it “Holsteinsborg”. The oldest part of Sisimiut’s historic quarter features town houses from this “Holsteinsborg” era, for example the Blue Church, built in 1775.
Nowadays, Sisimiut is an important place for education and industry, and local factories process the bulk of Royal Greenland's fishing. The fish processing plant is one of the largest of its kind in Greenland, and one of the most modern in the world.
Our city tour highlights include the historic colonial quarter, as well as the museum and the beautiful church. In the afternoon, our voyage will continue northward.
Qeqertarsuaq on Disko island, 'kaffemik' in a community centre
Below Disko Island’s 1,000-meter tall mountains we put into port in a protected natural harbour. The place is aptly named Godhavn (“Good harbour”) in Danish, while its Greenlandic name “Qeqertarsuaq” simply means “The Big Island”.
Up to 1950 Godhavn was the most important town north of Nuuk, the main town of Greenland, solely because of the many whales that the whaling boats towed here from the Disko Bay. This bestowed the town with much wealth, starting already in the 16th century. The town is now on its way to oblivion as it gets harder and harder to find work, and because of the infrequent connections to the mainland. We walk through town to the characteristic, octagonal church, nicknamed “the inkpot of God”. During our stay in Qeqertarsuaq, we will visit the local community center that will be hosting a traditional Greenlandic “kaffemik”. It can best be described as a friendly gathering with coffee, cake and traditional dances and music.
Crossing the Melville Bay, a day at sea
Based on continually updated ice charts the Captain sets as direct a course as possible all the way into Nares Strait and Hans Island. To make sure we have sufficient time to get through any pack ice, we will have a few days at sea. However, the days are by no means wasted: There are always chances to see minke whales and fin whales. We are constantly followed by the little arctic fulmar, moving from windward to lee gaining speed and dynamic in its flight along the vessel. And in the lecture hall our expeditions staff have a diverse program of lectures about Greenlandic nature and culture.
During the night we cross Melville Bay, with a coastline marked by calving glaciers. The dangerous winter ice in the bay and the long distance to the Danish colonies to the south meant that the polar Inuit from Thule district were isolated from the rest of West Greenland until just 130 years ago. They thus have a closer relationship with the Inuit in Canada and speaks a dialect that differs significantly from the southern Greenlandic language.
Cape Alexander and Hans Ø
If the ice conditions are favourable, we continue north. The ship's speed will be reduced, and we should expect to be at sea most of the time. We sail through Smith Sound and pass Cape Alexander, Greenland's westernmost point.
Smith Sound and its northern continuation, the Kennedy Channel have strong currents, acting as an outlet for polar pack ice and icebergs from the Arctic Ocean. Our bridge officers will of course keep a vigilant watch as we approach Hans Island – or Hans Ø, as it is written in Danish.
Hans Island has been widely covered in the media because it is located exactly between Ellesmere Island in Canada and Greenland. The island falls within the 12-mile territorial limit of either shore, allowing both sides to claim it under international law. A veritable flag war has since unfolded between Canadian and Danish authorities, who alternately have hoisted their flag and placed a bottle of either Canadian whiskey or Danish schnapps. In 2018, the governments of the two countries have agreed to resolve the border dispute at the negotiating table and to build a weather station on the island to monitor the special pack ice conditions that occur in Nares Strait.
In 2010, Albatros Travel reached Ocean Ø with the ship Ocean Nova, and a large group of guests landed on the island as the first tourists ever - and since. A small cairn was erected to commemorating the visit.
After our call to Hans Ø, the Captain sets course again to the south.
Qaanaaq, northernmost town in Greenland
During the night we have escaped the confines of Nares Strait. Entering Inglefield Bay, we pass some of Greenland’s biggest bird cliffs and are again in habituated areas. The Captain anchors Ocean Atlantic off Qaanaaq, the only proper town in northwest Greenland.
The town was founded in 1953, when the Americans built their base near the original trading post of Thule. All Inuit were transferred to this new place. Today, some 600 people live in Qaanaaq, which is supported weekly by Air Greenland flights and twice a year by cargo ship.
We take a walk through the town, where we can visit the small museum, and the well stoked super market.
Thule – Knud Rasmussen’s hunting station
Having left Qaanaaq in the evening, Captain will cast anchor in North Star Bay at the American Thule Base. The base is off limit for us and not the scope for our visit.
We will make a Zodiac landing at abandoned settlement Uummannaq at the foot of Dundasfjeldet. It was here Knud Rasmussen in 1910 established his legendary Thule Station. For the first time the polar Inuit could trade their skins for money and not just for the simple glass beads whalers formerly paid them. A good deal of Rasmussen’s earnings actually went back into society in the form employment in the many expeditions (1st to 6th Thule Expedition), which he and his companion Peter Freuchen organised to for example Peary Land in the far north of Greenland. And in 1921-24 along the Canadian Arctic coast to Alaska. On these expeditions, local Inuit, men and women, always participated on equal terms with Knud Rasmussen and Peter Freuchen.
On our route south we will pass below Cape York and Meteor Island, famous for the huge Cape York iron meteorites. The largest of the many fragments, the 40 ton Ahnighito is on display at American Museum of Natural History. Also at Cape York is the huge cairn, erected by Robert Peary.
Kullorsuaq, Melville Bay
After a fine morning at sea we reach the distinctive rock pillar “The Devil’s Thumb” reaching 540 metres above the flat surroundings. The island is home to the 400 inhabitants living in the settlement of Kullorsuaq, which in Greenlandic obviously means ”The Big Thumb”. We are still in polar bear territory, and the local hunters have a quota of several bears. Their skins are used for the much sought-after polar bear pants, and the tasty (to the local palates) meat is shared amongst everybody in the settlement.
Upernavik town and the world’s northernmost open air museum
The Upernavik territory covers an area nearly the size of Great Britain. The town itself and the ten smaller settlements in the area, inhabits some 3000 people, mostly Inuit hunters. Upernavik is a mix between the hunter culture of old and new high-tech fishing. You can equate old and new with the dog sleighs that exist alongside the modern snowmobiles.
The city itself was founded as a Danish colonial station, but the surrounding areas and small villages history go back more than 4500 years. This was when groups of hunters and gatherers travelled along the coasts of Alaska, Canada and ultimately Greenland.
We anchor and make a landing, allowing us to visit the little city and the open air museum.
Nights are getting darker, and it might be a good idea to dress up warm, go on deck a check the sky for aurora borealis, northern light.
Uummannaq and a stroll through Greenland's most beautifully located towns.
When you wake up this morning, you will find yourself in one of Greenland’s most beautiful and sunny regions. The ship has reached Uummannaq, situated on a small island. The impressive 1,175m heart-shaped mountain has given the town its name dominates the view (Uummannaq means ‘place where the heart is’). There will be time to explore the city before heading back to the ship for lunch.
Ilulissat, the capital of the icebergs
Ilulissat is one of the most scenic located towns in Greenland. The name simply means ‘icebergs’ in Greenlandic, and the town’s nickname is rightly ‘the Iceberg Capital of the World’.
Just south of town, Ilulissat Icefjord expels gigantic icebergs into the cold waters of Disko Bay. These impressive frozen structures are born some 30km deeper into the fjord by the enormous Sermeq Kujalleq Glacier. This 10km wide glacier is the most productive outside of Antarctica. Whereas most glaciers only calve at a rate of approximately a meter/three feet a day, the Ilulissat glacier moves forward at a rate of 25 meter per day, producing more than 10% of all icebergs in Greenland. These facts, together with the fjord’s unforgettable scenery, have secured the Ice fjord a place on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
During the more than 250 years that have passed since the establishment of Ilulissat, the town has steadily flourished. Today, Ilulissat is Greenland’s third largest town, with more than 4,500 inhabitants. The legendary Arctic explorer, Knud Rasmussen was born in Ilulissat.
During the visit you will have the opportunity to join a boat trip to the Ice fjord (optional excursion). The journey takes about two and a half hours in total, a great opportunity to take a closer look at the amazing ice-sculpted scenery.
If a hike or a trip by boat does not present enough excitement, there is also an opportunity to arrange a flight excursion in fixed wing aircrafts over the Ice fjord (optional excursion).
Please note the boat and flight excursions to the Ice fjord are not included in the general tour price. Refer to Price Information for more details.
In the evening, we will cruise southward, leaving lovely Disko Bay behind us as we part.
The settlement of Sarfannguit
The settlement of Sarfannguit, which translates into ‘the place of the little stream” an appropriate name for a settlement nestled at the foothills of the mountains and glaciers in the distant backcountry. The settlement’s slightly more than 100 residents live off hunting, trapping and fishing, most often in pursuit of arctic char, reindeer and musk oxen.
Although Sarfannguit is quite remote, it lies within a few hours from Sisimiut, the second-largest town in Greenland. The accessibility to such a large town provides an indispensable economic benefit to a small community like Sarfannguit.
A stroll through the settlement offers insight into rural life in today’s Greenland, where modern conveniences and technological advancements, such as internet and smart phones have become commonplace, yet locals still place great value on important customs and preserving their traditions and their Inuit heritage.
We will continue our journey toward the fjord of Kangerlussuaq, also known as Sondre Stromfjord. Especially the first part of the fjord gives a great opportunity to enjoy an impressive passage with panoramic views of high mountains and deep valleys.
Kangerlussuaq. Flight to Iceland