Connecting the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, the Northwest Passage is a beautiful and unforgiving route that has 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 journey here was James Cook’s failed attempt to sail the Passage in 1776, and of course the ill-fated Franklin expedition of 1834. The first to conquer the Northwest Passage by ship was Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen. His expedition lasted from 1903 to 1906, on the converted herring boat named ‘Gjøa’. On our Hurtigruten voyage, we sail in the wake of the great explorers to discover this renowned waterway.
The True North
From Cambridge Bay, we venture into the Canadian Arctic Archipelago of Nunavut, starting our expedition into the heart and history of the Northwest Passage. As we make our way through the icy waters you will be amazed by the vast expanses of pristine wilderness seen from the deck. We aim to visit several sites that have traces of these expeditions. We will call at some of the world’s northernmost communities, explore legendary inlets and channels, and take you on exciting small-boat cruising and landings. When conditions allow, we will launch our kayaks or take you on hikes.
Then we cross Davis Strait, and as we reach Greenland, you have the chance to discover some of the Greenlandic Inuit settlements and the Ilulissat Icefjord, a UNESCO World Heritage site, before the expedition ends in Kangerlussuaq.
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. No matter where we sail or what we will see, we promise a safe and thrilling expedition. After all, you will sail into the Northwest Passage, something few ships attempt even today.
Please Note: your voyage prices include economy-class flight from Montreal (2018) or Edmonton (2019) to Cambridge Bay & economy-class flight from Kangerlussuaq to Copenhagen.
This itinerary is also available in reverse. Click here for additional dates.
Edmonton is the capital city of the province of Alberta and located on the North Saskatchewan river, provides it a wide range of cultural, sporting and tourist attractions. Stroll through the Fort Edmonton Park, Canada's largest living history museum, discover the West Edmonton Mall, the largest mall in North America and enjoy the longest stretch of urban parkland in North America, the Edmonton's river valley.
2018 departure starts in Montreal.
An early morning transfer will take you to the airport for your flight to Cambridge Bay. 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.' This hamlet is located close to the Ekalluk River, which is famous for giant char. Victoria Island is rich in archaeological history. Archaeological sites found all over this enormous island indicate that indigenous peoples have been living in this part of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago continuously for the last 4,000 years. Roald Amundsen visited Cambridge Bay in 1905. In 1918 he traversed the same route back from west to east on his new ship, the Maud. Then Hudson Bay Company purchased this vessel as a fur trading supply ship, returning to 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, geese, and seals. This is where MS Fram awaits to take you into the Northwest Passage.
Gjøa Haven is a popular destination for fans of Arctic history. The name honors the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, who wintered here on 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 routine. 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 lives on the island and there are some here caribou too. When we arrive, we will be warmly welcomed to 'the finest little harbor in the world.'
Enjoy navigating through the 112-mile long and 30–40-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 conditions at hand we will conduct landings for hikes or small-boat cruising.
When we 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 belugas and polar bears. The Bellot Strait is a narrow passage that serves 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 nine miles per hour. There may be the added navigational challenge of ice in the water. As a result, a careful assessment of the conditions on the day is required and the transit 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. We will continue to keep an eye out for wildlife. Remember, the more eyes keeping watch, the greater the chance of spotting the polar bear, which is often seen in this area. This strait is where the waters of the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans meet. After having crossed the passage we will be leaving the Pacific Ocean and entering the Atlantic Ocean.
At the end of the channel is historic Fort Ross, a trading post established by the Hudson Bay Company in 1937. There are still two small huts ashore that are maintained by the Canadian Coast Guard, which are occasionally used by the local Inuit for shelter during hunting trips.
Our first stop today 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 over-wintered on Beechy Island during the winter of1845–1846. Three graves on the shore (plus another one 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, 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. Next up is Radstock Bay, dominated by the striking landmark Caswell Tower – a prominence of sedimentary rock rising from the sea. The shoreline around Caswall provides a short walk to a pre-historic Inuit dwelling site. Caswall Tower also features a challenging hike to the summit for great views over the surrounding area. The summit is the location of a small station used seasonally for polar bear research.
Devon Island is the largest uninhabited island on Earth (Antarctica is counted as a continent). We arrive at Dundas Harbour, an abandoned settlement which had a Royal Canadian Mounted Police camp and contains several archeological sites. Go ashore to see the ruins of some of these buildings, along with an impressive Thule site. The people who lived here were the ancestors of the Inuit. West of Dundas Harbour 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 natural encounters is part of the experience. We may see several seal species such as walrus, or whales such as the beluga or even the narwhal. Polar bears are frequently seen in the area and the tundra around the shore supports a small number of Arctic hares and musk oxen. This is a perfect place for small-boat excursions to see marine life and glaciers up close.
In the morning, we will head farther south and sail the spectacular Arctic landscape of Eclipse Sound before we arrive at Pond Inlet. Explorer Sir John Ross named Pond Inlet in 1818 for John Pond, a renowned British astronomer. Today the picturesque hamlet, 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, with 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 the Baffin and Bylot Islands. At these latitudes the sea is frozen for most of the year, only opening up in July for a short while. 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. Pond Inlet has a small visitor center, and the cultural performance by the local community will be a highlight.
We cross Davis Strait, a northern arm of the Labrador Sea. This strait was named for 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 he discovered the Hudson Strait. Davis was the first to draw attention to seal hunting and whaling possibilities in the Davis Strait, and discovered that the Newfoundland cod fisheries extended this far north.
Our first stop in Greenland is Ilulissat. When you go ashore, you will have your first chance to compare life in a settlement in Greenland with a settlement you have seen in the Canadian Arctic. The town 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-mile 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 maybe even whales from local boats. You can also go high up for an aerial view – with ‘flightseeing’ trips by fixed-wing aircraft or by helicopter.
En route to Sisimiut, we encourage you to be out on deck to look for whales. The waters close to the settlement are frequented by several whale species, 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 obtain dogs and other equipment on their way to the Northwest Passage.
Kangerlussuaq means 'big fjord' and, MS Fram will sail almost the entire length of the fjord (118 miles) before reaching the town. When we arrive in Kangerlussuaq, the expedition is over. After debarkation you will join a final excursion to the Greenland ice sheet. This vast icy wasteland stretches 1,500 miles north and reaches heights of up to 10,500 feet above sea level. The road to the edge of the ice sheet boasts beautiful natural scenery ranging from Arctic desert and tundra with low-growing shrubs to hilly terrains that offer breathtaking views over the landscape. Your plane to Copenhagen leaves late in the evening.
You arrive in the Danish capital early in the morning and we hope you have the time to explore "Wonderful, Wonderful Copenhagen" before you head home.
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 us is unique.
This itinerary is also available in reverse. Click here for additional dates.
Our Polar Inside cabins are situated on lower deck and offer a cosy atmosphere. All cabins include bathrooms with shower/wc. Most of the cabins have separate beds where one can be turned into a sofa, and others offer upper and lower berths. Some of the cabins have more facilities than others.
Our Polar Outside cabins are situated on lower deck and they all have bathrooms with shower/wc. Most of them offer separate beds where one can be turned into a sofa, and others offer upper and lower berths. Some of the cabins have more facilities than others.
Our Arctic Superior cabins are comfortable cabins situated on both upper and middle deck, where you can enjoy a relaxing atmosphere. All the cabins have bathrooms with shower/wc. You will also find coffee and tea facilities in these cabins. Most of them have separate beds, where one can be turned into a sofa and some have double beds. Some of the cabins have more facilities than others.
Our Expeditions Suites are the most exquisite cabins on the ship. Situated on upper deck, you can enjoy the most comfortable suites on board. Inside you will find seating areas with TV, bathrooms with shower/wc and most of them have double beds. All of the suites offer cabin kits, which contains bathrobe, slippers and other beauty articles. Some of the suites do have more facilities than others.
Vessel Type: Expedition
Passenger Capacity: 276
MS Fram is designed for sailing in polar waters, holds the highest safety standards and is the perfect size for optimum nautical manoeuverability and guests' comfort. With space for only 276 guests, you are sure to get to know many of your fellow travellers. You will share stunning sights and memories of a lifetime long after returning home. The Norwegian word Fram means ‘forward’ – lifting expectations of the voyage at hand.
MS Fram was built in 2007 with one mission in mind - to bring her guests closer to nature, wildlife and unforgettable experiences. As well as offering numerous lounges in which to relax, our more active guests can use our well-equipped gym. Meanwhile, on deck, our Jacuzzis guarantee you surreal memories when passing the towering icebergs of Antarctica or Greenland.