By Steve Winston
February 6, 2013
Polar bears, walrus, and whales. Glaciers, ice floes, and mountains. Remote villages stuck in time, with colorful wooden houses, and snowmobile as the primary form of transport. Native peoples and ancient cultures. And an earth-scape that's overwhelming in its dimensions and its beauty and its isolation.
One of the best ways to see the wild lands of northeastern Canada and Greenland is by small ship, which can navigate channels and enter small coves and harbors that larger ships can't.
A Tahoe City, California company called AdventureSmith Explorations can take you to these "Fabled Lands of the North." You'll travel on the 148-passenger National Geographic Explorer, on a special sailing from Aug. 24 through Sept. 7. A "National Geographic" photographer will be onboard, to show you how to bring home the photos of a lifetime. And former Canadian Prime Minister Kimberly Campbell will be making a special presentation about her country and its wild North!
Along the way, you'll explore the Canadian Arctic, including Baffin Island, Labrador, Newfoundland, in addition to the rugged west coast of Greenland.
The ship will navigate legendary whale-rich seas, from Greenland's fjords and the ice floes of Baffin Island to the historic fishing villages of Newfoundland and Labrador. It glides past towering icebergs and glaciers so huge you lose all sense of scale, and past polar bears, whales, and walruses. The voyage then hugs the historic coast of Labrador, where missionaries, fishermen and whalers settled amidst the Inuit natives. You'll see historic whaling towns, Inuit villages past and present...even a Viking village.
Highlights include gliding among icebergs at the breathtaking Ilulissat Icefjord, a UNESCO World Heritage site, meeting Inuit artisans, and seeing whales shoot out of the water and then back in with incredible grace. As you glide into the majestic fjords of Greenland, you may see caribou on the distant tundra. And you'll stop at the former whaling port of Sisimiut, to visit the museum and stroll among its 18th-Century wooden buildings.
The ship makes landfall on Baffin Island in the tiny town of Pangnirtung, home to a thriving community of Inuit artists. A hike along a riverside trail offers wonderful views of Autyuittuaq National Park, "the land that never melts." On Kekerten Island, once an important whaling station, you can wander among cast-iron pots once used to render oil from the blubber of the mighty bowhead whale.
The Moravian Mission of Hebron, a National Historic Site of Canada, was established in the 1830s to minister to the Inuit. The Germanic Mission buildings are still here. You'll also pass through Mugford Tickle, a channel surrounded by 4,000-foot mountains shooting up from the sea.
In 1960, the remains of a Viking village established in 1000 AD were discovered at L'Anse aux Meadows, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Norse ruins and reconstructed sod huts are still here - built 500 years before Columbus arrived.
The National Geographic Explorer is a fully-stabilized, ice-class vessel, enabling it to navigate polar passages in exceptional comfort. It carries kayaks and a fleet of Zodiac landing craft. And you'll be afforded spectacular views of the underwater Arctic, thanks to a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) and sophisticated video equipment.
Every room is an outside cabin. There are bars, restaurants, lounges, library, fitness center/spa/sauna, and observation area.
In addition, an "Open Bridge" policy allows passengers access to the crew on the bridge. With the views of the Arctic world outside, however, you may not be spending much time there!