The Far North, Thule and Hans Island - Arctic 2024
Next DepartureAug. 23, 2024
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, Air Safari, Boat, Kayaking, Lectures, Zodiac
Among the Inuit and the great explorers to the northernmost inhabited polar regions in the Kennedy channel 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 precisely 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”. We expect a lot of sea ice in these waters, and even though we sail with a ship of the highest ice class, the present weather conditions will be decisive for how far we reach.
On board our expedition vessel, Ocean Albatros, we sail from Kangerlussuaq in West Greenland, set a course towards Disko Bay, and from there, quickly further north. Crossing Melville Bay, we continue through the narrow waters between Greenland and Canada. The purpose is, first and foremost, to enjoy the magnificent polar nature and the distinctive Inuit culture. We will pass Kap York in both directions, which Peary visited in 1894.
Heading back south, we visit Qaanaaq, the northernmost town in Greenland, and the former Thule hunting station founded in 1910 by 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 primarily determined by wind, ice, and sea currents. The route description is the ideal plan and will most certainly be adjusted along the way.
Facts about The Far North, Thule and Hans Island - Arctic 2024
Iceland or Denmark - Kangerlussuaq
Welcome to Greenland!
Guests not participating in any excursions can take a stroll around the town on their own until embarkation time around the late afternoon.
In the afternoon, we will be transported to the small port located west of the airport, where our ship, Ocean Albatros, 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 dinner as Ocean Albatros ‘sets sail’ through the 160-kilometre Kangerlussuaq fjord.
Sisimiut - experience Greenland's second-largest town
After breakfast, we plan to arrive to the colourful 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 townhouses 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 can 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
Below Disko Island’s 1,000-metre tall mountains, we pull 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 might visit the local community.
Crossing 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 expedition 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.
Uummannaq was founded as a colony in 1758 on the Nuussuaq mainland, but shortly thereafter, in 1763, it was moved to the nearby island, as seal hunting was more bountiful here. On our walk along the town’s steep streets we visit the historic train-oil building, built in 1860. Inside its yellow walls, whale and seal blubber used to be stored. Because of the horrid stench, the blubber was not boiled here, but well outside town! Behind the train-oil storage we will find a peat hut, which was still in use a few years ago.
The dry and settled arctic climate has around 2,000 hours of sunshine and 100 millimetres of precipitation per year, giving Uummannaq the right to call itself the Greenlandic Riviera!
Passing Cape Alexander
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. A small cairn was erected 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 plan to escape the confines of the Nares Strait. Entering Inglefield Bay, as we pass some of Greenland’s biggest bird cliffs and are again in habituated areas. The Captain anchors Ocean Albatros 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.
Depending on the weather, we might 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, the Captain will cast anchor in North Star Bay at the American Thule Base. The base is off-limits for us and outside the scope of our visit.
We are planning to make a Zodiac landing at the 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. On these expeditions, local Inuit, men and women, always participated on equal terms with Knud Rasmussen and Peter Freuchen.
On our route south we should 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.
After a fine morning at sea we should 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 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.
If going according to plan, 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 and check the sky for the aurora borealis -the Northern Lights.
Uummannaq and a stroll through Greenland's most beautifully located towns
When you wake up this morning, you should find yourself in one of Greenland’s most beautiful and sunny regions. The ship is set to reach Uummannaq, situated on a small island. The impressive 1,175 metre heart-shaped mountain has given the town its name (Uummannaq means ‘place where the heart is’). There should be enough 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 metre/three feet a day, the Ilulissat glacier moves forward at a rate of 25 metres 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, if the weather allows, 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, and offers 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 a fixed wing aircraft 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 should 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” is 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 might offer an insight into rural life in today’s Greenland, where modern conveniences and technological advancements, such as the internet and smartphones have become commonplace, yet locals still place great value on important customs and preserving their traditions and their Inuit heritage.
We will then continue our journey toward the fjord of Kangerlussuaq, also known as Sondre Stromfjord.
During the night, we will have completed our passage through the 160-kilometre/100 mile Kangerlussuaq Fjord. After breakfast aboard the ship, we will bid farewell to the ship's staff and the Zodiac boats will shuttle us to shore.
Due to Kangerlussuaq’s military history and present-day role as an important air travel hub, Kangerlussuaq remains fairly isolated from Greenland’s rich cultural traditions, in comparison to other regions. While you still find cultural experiences when visiting Kangerlussuaq, the most impressive attraction is the surrounding nature, which is just beckoning to be explored.
In Kangerlussuaq, we offer an optional excursion (not included in the tour price) to the beautiful Reindeer Glacier. The duration of the excursion is about four hours. We do not recommend the excursion for people who suffer from bad necks or backs, as the gravel road to the ice sheet is occasionally bumpy and uneven.
Your arctic adventure and time in Greenland conclude as we board the return flight from Kangerlussuaq to Reykjavik or Copenhagen.
- 14-day/13-night cruise on Ocean Albatros in a shared outside double room with a private bathroom in the category chosen
- Flights: Iceland or Denmark – Kangerlussuaq round trip
- Local transport in Kangerlussuaq on days 1 and 14
- English-speaking expedition staff
- Guided walks with the expedition team
- Nature hikes and Zodiac cruises per itinerary
- City tours in Sisimiut, Qeqertarsuaq, Uummannaq, and Ilulissat
- Cultural arrangements in Sisimiut, Qeqertarsuaq, and Ilulissat
- Information briefings and lectures by the expedition team
- Special photo workshop
- Full board on the ship
- Dinner drink package
- Free coffee, tea, and afternoon snacks on the ship
- Welcome and farewell cocktails
- Taxes, tariffs, and landing fees
- Digital visual journal link after the voyage, including voyage log, gallery, species list, and more
- Extra excursions and activities not mentioned in the itinerary
- Single room supplement and cabin upgrades
- Meals not on board the ship
- Beverages (other than coffee and tea and dinner-drink package)
- Tips for the crew (we recommend USD 14 per person per day)
- Personal expenses
- Travel, cancellation, and senior insurance
- Anything not mentioned under ’Inclusions’
- Sisimiut - Experience Greenland's Second-Largest City
- Qeqertarsuaq On Disko Island
- Cape Alexander, Greenland's Westernmost Point
- Landing on Hans Island - Located Exactly Between Ellesmere Island in Canada and Greenland
- Qaanaaq, Northernmost Town In Greenland
- Thule – Knud Rasmussen’S Hunting Station
- Kullorsuaq, Melville Bay
- Upernavik Town And The World’S Northernmost Open Air Museum
- Uummannaq And A Walking Tour Of One Of Greenland'S Most Beautifully Located Towns.
- Ilulisat, the Iceberg Capital of Greenland
- The Settlement Of Sarfannguit
Please keep in mind, the itinerary and outdoor activities during each voyage are solely dependent on weather and operational conditions to ensure the safety and quality of experience of our guests. The route and shore landings will be determined by the captain and expedition leader and communicated to guests through regularly scheduled briefings. Albatros Expeditions reserves the right to modify the landings and locations visited during a voyage based on weather and local conditions and climate to ensure a safe and delightful experience for all our guests and staff. Our trips are expeditionary in nature, and thus changes to timings are common place due to the environment we operate in as well as wildlife opportunities and locations.