Our adventure begins in the historic port town of Louisbourg, Nova Scotia, where we board our expedition vessel, the Akademik Ioffe. First visited in 1597 by the English, the town was fortified in 1713 by the French in recognition of its strategic maritime location. During the 18th century, Louisbourg was the third busiest seaport in North America. We board the ship in the late afternoon in time for a dinner of fresh, local lobster as we sail out past the lighthouse, into the North Atlantic - and onto the Grand Banks.
Located on the edge of the Grand Banks, hundreds of kilometers from the coast, Sable Island has a storied history as a graveyard of ships, with more than 350 ships falling victim to the treacherous currents and sandbars. Sporadically inhabited by sealers, shipwreck survivors and salvagers, the island is now home to fewer than six year-round inhabitants, a herd of wild horses and one of the largest gray seal colonies in the world. It is an important stopover for numerous migratory bird species as they make their way to and from the High Arctic regions. Sable Island forms one of Canada’s newest national parks and we explore the long sand beaches.
We return to Cape Breton and continue our exploration of this beautiful island by stopping in Englishtown. We have a few options in this area. The Atlantic puffins and razorbills on Bird Island might call to us as we put the Zodiacs down in the water, or perhaps heading into the community of Englishtown will be of interest. The Gaelic College in Cape Breton is a short bus ride away from the beach where we disembark. The region can be explored by sea kayak, stand up paddleboard, Zodiac or bicycle – all alongside our expert guides and naturalists who will share their excitement for the destination along the way.
In September of 1864, representatives from the British Colonies in North America met in Charlottetown to discuss Confederation. On July 1st, 1867, the Dominion of Canada came into being. Today, we anchor just offshore Prince Edward Island near the town of North Rustico. From here we can split off in several directions. A tour into Charlottetown for those interested in a day in town is an option, or perhaps a visit to Green Gables, or spend a few hours at the island’s famous Cavendish beach (with a mandatory sampling of Cows Ice Cream!) Another enticing option could be a leisurely bicycle ride along the Confederation Trail or the Coastal Drive. A round of golf on one of the islands celebrated golf courses, or a kayak paddle in Rustico Bay. You will be welcomed back to the ship for a dinner of fresh Atlantic seafood as we travel north to the Magdalen Islands.
Sculpted out of sandstone, these islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence are home to unique fishing communities with beautifully maintained waterfront houses and boats, flowing grassy plains and sandstone shorelines sculpted by the elements. In addition to the traditional fishing and sealing culture found in the islands, we will encounter a wide diversity of bird and sea life.
Europeans first discovered the islands in the mid 15th century, though it’s thought indigenous Miíkmaqs had been visiting for centuries to hunt walrus. Quebecois and Acadian culture runs strongly through the towns and villages of the islands, through local cuisine, craft and language. The island’s gentle terrain is a cyclist’s paradise, while the sea kayaking and stand up paddle boarding through sea arches and into sandstone sea caves is superb. Otherwise you might enjoy a whale-watching cruise in the Zodiacs or head to the beach to soak up some sun or build sand castles!
At Bonaventure Island we drop the anchor near the town of Percé and explore the island by Zodiac. This location has a rich natural, historic, and geological heritage. Sculpted over time by the sea, the island is situated at the tip of the Gaspé Peninsula. The outstanding flora and fauna, including its famous colony of Northern Gannets make it a must-see location. Almost 300 different species of birds have been recorded as visiting, migrating to, or living on Bonaventure Island. An afternoon visit to the community of Percé will provide a window into the rich fishing culture of French-Canada. Zodiac cruising, sea kayaking and stand up paddle boarding are all activities that can be undertaken here, weather permitting.
At the mouth of the St. Lawrence River where the river water mixes with Arctic waters from the Strait of Belle Isle and the more temperate Atlantic waters, Anticosti Island is rich in marine wildlife. We plan to hike along the beaches near the eastern end of the island followed by a Zodiac cruise along the cliffs at East Point. We hope to observe several species of shorebirds and seabirds as well as whales and seals, which are frequent visitors to the island's waters. Bald eagles soaring along the shoreline, deer in the woods and whales just offshore are all common sights in this location.
Sailing into majestic Bonne Bay, in the heart of Gros Morne National Park, the cliffs soar up out of the water and are covered in a green blanket of tuckamore forest – windswept spruce sculpted by the ocean breeze. At Woody Point we are welcomed ashore by a delegation from the community before hiking up to the excellent interpretation center. From there, various guided walks take us into the World Heritage-listed Tablelands and to the lookout for a view over much of the park – a spectacular experience! A boreal wetland landscape, featuring dramatic rock ridges, pitcher plants, white-throated sparrows and perhaps even a moose could all be encountered as we explore the park. The twisting mountain road to Trout River makes for a challenging bike ride with our guides or a paddle along the shore of Bonne Bay in the sea kayaks provide yet another memorable activity.
The community of Francois (pron. Fran-sway) on the south coast of Newfoundland - was settled in the late 1700s. Small boat fishers harvested a variety of species during the summer fishing season. Francois’s rich fishing heritage also included operation of a whale factory in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Known as an ‘out-port’, and accessible only by boat or from the air by helicopter, Francois has a deep harbor which is navigable year-round. When entering Francois harbor, we are first greeted by one of the few remaining manned light stations anywhere on the coast of Newfoundland. Once past the light, the narrow opening leading into the steep-walled rocky fjord amazes us. This is a spectacular location and for many, a highlight of the trip.
Saint-Pierre et Miquelon are a small group of islands situated off the south coast of Newfoundland. They were first settled by the French in the early 17th century and today, the islands represent the sole remaining vestige of France’s once vast North American empire. Walking down the streets feels like taking a stroll through a provincial French town. As a part of France, the area has much in common with Europe, but also with its Canadian and American neighbors. There's an excellent puffin colony here and, if weather permits, we cruise in the Zodiacs to see these colorful birds. Tonight we enjoy a special dinner attended by the captain to mark the end of our voyage through Canada’s spectacular Atlantic provinces.
We sail back to Cape Breton across the mouth of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, heading again for the historic port of Louisbourg. We will disembark in the morning and, while some of us will head to the airport, many will add a few extra days in Cape Breton to enjoy one of the gems of Canada’s East Coast.
Note: Polar exploration can be unpredictable. Specific sites visited will depend on prevailing weather and ice conditions at the time of sailing. The above itinerary should be read as a ‘guide only’ and may change. The ship’s captain in conjunction with the expedition leader continually review the sailing plan throughout the voyage, making adjustments to the itinerary along the way to take advantage of optimal weather and ice conditions or to maximize our encounters with wildlife. Decades of experience spent exploring these waterways mean we have a large number of outstanding landing sites and Zodiac cruising locations to consider, even when the weather conditions may not be ideal. A flexible approach is something we encourage you to bring to the ship.
* Itinerary may be subject to change