Our adventure begins in the historic port town of Louisbourg, Nova Scotia. 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 on to Newfoundland and Labrador.
This morning we are anchored off the tiny fishing community of Trout River, the access point into Gros Morne National Park. Our zodiacs take us ashore and we are transferred by bus for a visit to the World Heritage-listed Tablelands. This incredible location is noted for its unique geology and exceptional scenery. Here, the Earth’s mantle is exposed on the surface – pushed up over millions of years by the movement of tectonic plates. We explore the boreal wetland landscape, featuring dramatic rock ridges, pitcher plants, white-throated sparrows and may encounter the iconic moose as we explore the park. Continuing north through the park we enjoy a visit to the Discovery Center, before arriving at Woody Point located in majestic Bonne Bay. We meet the ship here, re-boarding in the afternoon and continue our voyage northwards.
Today tells a story a thousand years in the making. We board the Zodiacs for a short cruise to the rocky shoreline. A millennium ago, Viking long-ships would have been found along this same beach. L’Anse aux Meadows is one of Canada’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites. This is where Norseman, Leif Erikson (son of Eric the Red) is thought to have founded “Vinland” around 1000 AD. As we explore the reconstructed sod huts and Norse ruins with the site’s resident archaeologist, we see evidence that the Vikings discovered North America some five hundred years prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus. This evening we leave the coastline of Newfoundland, crossing the Strait of Belle Isle overnight.
Battle Harbor marks our arrival into the province of Labrador. The location was one of the first British settlements on the east coast of the Americas. It was an important gateway to the rich Labrador fisheries. We venture ashore to explore the restored fishing, whaling, commercial buildings found in this remote community. The colorful buildings make for fantastic photographic subjects amid the backdrop of breathtaking coastal views.
The ancient rocks of the Canadian Shield (the exposed portion of the Earth’s crust) cradle the small coastal hamlet of Hopedale. This remarkable geological feature, estimated to be up to 4-billion-years-old, greets us as we sail through narrow channels and weigh anchor off Hopedale. We venture ashore by Zodiac to visit the Hopedale Moravian Mission – built in 1782 and said to be the oldest building east of Quebec. It’s a fascinating place and we learn of the influence of the early Moravian missionaries on the Inuit people of Northern Labrador. This location has been designated a Canadian National Historic Site. We plan a visit to the local museum for a deeper insight. The local Inuit produce ornate carvings and other crafts which make wonderful souvenirs.
Today we enjoy a visit to the historic town of Hebron, once the northernmost settlement in Labrador. The Moravian missionaries established Hebron in the early 1830’s and the Germanic influence is clearly seen in the architecture. The Mission was closed and the local Inuit families relocated in 1959 but the original buildings still stand today. This is another designated National Historic Site and is considered one of the most historically significant mission-built structures in the entire province. We will hope to meet the local caretakers who manage this the very historic location. They have a fascinating story to tell.
We will sail into Saglek Fjord, the southern gateway to the Torngat Mountains National Park Reserve, established in 2005.
We are midway through our exploration of Labrador at this point and our attention turns from history – to the magnificent wilderness of the Torngat Mountains National Park Reserve. The Park was established as recently as 2005 and covers almost 4,000 square miles (10,000 sq km) of Northern Labrador. It is bordered by Quebec on one side, and the Labrador Coast on the other. It is home to Canada’s highest mountains East of the Rockies, and features breathtaking fjords, remnant glacial systems and stunning landscapes. The Inuktitut word Torngat, means “place of spirits” and the Torngat Mountains have been home to Inuit and their predecessors for over 7500 years.
These mountains represent a very spiritual connection to the Inuit spirit world. Polar bears hunt seals along the coast, and both the Torngat Mountains and George River caribou herds cross paths as they migrate to and from their calving grounds. Inuit continue to use this area for hunting, fishing, and traveling throughout the park during the year. There are some terrific hiking opportunities here as we explore the area on foot and along the shoreline in the Zodiacs. Wildflowers are spectacular when in bloom and bears feast on local berries found among the sedges and grasses on the raised beaches along the shores of the fjords.
Nachvak Fjord is exceptionally beautiful. The fjord is deep and narrow and stretches more than 12 miles (20 km). The rocky walls of the fjord soar almost 3,000 feet (900 m) above us at several points. Many species migrate through the area during the short boreal summer. Numerous seal species may be encountered including ring, hooded, harp and harbor seals. Minke whales have been known to linger in the fjords, while larger species, including fin and humpback, tend to stay offshore. This is an outstanding location for landscape photography with endless subjects, a dynamic color range and interesting lighting.
As we reach the far northern stretches of coastal Labrador, we learn of the remarkable events at Martin Bay. Here a German U-boat made the only known armed landing in North America during WWII. In 1943, U-537 sat at anchor here, while the crew man-handled ashore and established an automated weather station. This station remained undiscovered until the late 1970’s when a German historian came across a reference to it in the German naval archives. The equipment was collected by the Canadian Coast Guard in the early 1980’s and is on permanent display in the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa. Later in the day, we visit the Button Islands before sailing into southern Davis Strait. Named after Thomas Button who explored the area in 1612, the islands are in the middle of the upwelling of nutrients on the edge of the continental shelf. This action makes it a magnet for thousands of seabirds and other marine mammals.
Today we will sail across the mouth of Frobisher Bay and make landfall on Monumental Island, a small, steep-sided outcrop off the southeast coast of Baffin Island. Here we are on the lookout for both polar bears and walrus that live around the island in an uneasy truce. While polar bears have been known to attack and kill young walrus they are no match for a fully-grown male walrus, especially in the water. We enjoy our final zodiac cruise here and tonight we reflect on the last 10-days of exploration while enjoying a sumptuous farewell dinner, attended by the captain of the ship. During the night the ship will negotiate the narrow channels of Frobisher Bay on the way to our disembarkation point, Iqaluit, the capital city of Nunavut.
We bid farewell to our crew and disembark the ship by Zodiac and, after a short tour of Iqaluit (if time and tides permit) we transfer to the airport for out flight back to Ottawa. On arrival, an airport transfer is provided to a central downtown location.
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