Sail the iconic Northwest Passage with Polartours
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Information about Northwest Passage
The Northwest Passage is the iconic arctic sea route between the Atlantic and the Pacific. There’s no single defined route through the hundreds of Arctic islands, and many lives were lost trying to navigate through the treacherous, ice-bound narrows, including the Franklin expedition. It wasn’t until 1906 that Roald Amundsen made a successful voyage between the oceans.
The Northwest Passage is usually only fully accessible by ships from late August into September when the ice has retreated enough to make a crossing attempt. Earlier, the outer part of the NW passage can be explored.There is the chance to observe arctic wildlife, including Polar Bears, Caribou, Musk-ox, and even Wolf, and whales and seals, with the Narwhal being an elusive highlight. Many seabirds will be reaching the end of the breeding season, but there is also the chance to see a range of Arctic birds typical of northern Canada.
Interesting facts about Northwest Passage
Our expert guide says: “The Northwest Passage is a fabulous route, with loads of opportunity to see not only “must-see” arctic animals like polar bears and the Narwhal, and a range of birds including the Snow Goose, but also to learn about the infamous Franklin expedition and to meet the Inuit people who live along its shores.”
Pictures of Northwest Passage
Highlights in Northwest Passage
Narrow strait separating Somerset Island to the north from Murchison Promontory of Boothia Peninsula to the south, the northernmost part of mainland America.
The 2km (1.2 mi) wide and 25 km (16 mi) strait connects the Gulf of Boothia, Prince Regent Inlet, and Brentford Bay to the east with Peel Sound and Franklin Strait to the west. It became a strait on ‘one’ of the NW passage routes. On a map of the Canadian Arctic, unless you look in detail, it is easy to assume the Boothia Peninsula and Somerset Island is one peninsula. In many ways, with Bellot Strait locked in ice much of the year, it is like the peninsula. Since it is so narrow, it can be a place to look for Narwhal, and, along the shore, Polar Bear, or even wolf.
This long sound separates Somerset Island on the east from Prince of Wales Island on the west. To the north it opens onto Parry Channel. To the south, at the mouth the Bellot Strait, it merges with Franklin Strait.
Sir John Franklin passed through the strait in 1846, an unseasonably warm summer, since typically Peel Sound is frozen. The east side of Peel Sound was traced by James Clark Ross in 1849, searching for Franklin, and in 1858 Francis Leopold McClintock tried to penetrate it and was blocked by ice. Even today cruise ships attempting the NW passage prefer the Bellot Strait route compared to Peel Sound.
King William Island
The island (the 61st-largest island in the world and Canada's 15th-largest island) and the surrounding area was the region where the Erebus and Terror ended up.
It is now known the two ships became stranded in 1846 when frozen in the sea ice northwest of the island. After abandoning the two ships, most of the crew died from exposure and starvation as they attempted to walk south near the western coastline. Two of Franklin's men were buried at Hall Point on the island's south coast. It wasn't until June 29, 1981, that researchers finally had luck. A team led by Canadian archaeologist Owen Beattie, found 31 pieces of human bone fragments on the southern tip of the island, called Booth Point. On September 9, 2014 the Victoria Strait Expedition located the wreck of HMS Erebus. The HMS Terror, was found in 2016 in Terror Bay, off the south-west coast of King William Island.
The area also played an important for the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen on the expedition through the Northwest Passage, spending nearly two years with his ship on the SE coast at what is now known as Gjoa Haven. The island is separated from the Boothia Peninsula by the James Ross Strait to the northeast, and the Rae Strait to the east. To the west is the Victoria Strait and beyond it Victoria Island. Within the Simpson Strait, to the south of the island, then the Adelaide Peninsula, part of mainland Canada. Queen Maud Gulf lies to the southwest.
Resolute & Cornwallis Island
A large island (96th in the world, 21st in Canada) at key location with Devon Island to the east, Bathurst Island to the west, and Somerset Island further to the South, across the main passage, with various smaller islands nearby.
Cornwallis Island is the location of Resolute, one of the most northerly settlements in Canada, certainly the most northern ‘town’. The airport is used as a hub to join cruise ships, though still a challenge, with a beach landing and a Zodiac cruise to get to and from the ship, with luggage!
Key historical site where Franklin spent his first winter before the Erebus and Terror vanished to the outside World.
Made very sombre with the graves of three of Franklin’s men, and others, plus later memorials. Situated on the very southwest corner of Devon Island, separated by Barrow Strait, it is at a key ‘crossroad’ in the northwest Passage and was the main base in the search for Franklin.
This remote location is a key destination for everyone that visits the NW passage, with the main focus on the location, rather than wildlife, but offshore can be good for Beluga.
On Ellesmere Island (10th largest in the World) and the most northerly community in Canada. In Inuktitut it is called Aujuittuq—”the place that never thaws”.
It is the only ‘public’ community on Ellesmere Island, created in 1953 by the Canadian Government with a relocation of Inuit families from Inukjuak, Quebec. It is also one of the coldest inhabited places in the world, with an average yearly temperature of −16.5 °C (2.3 °F). There is an airport, but even today it can be a challenging place to land, or even get ashore by Zodiac from a ship.
Fort Ross is an abandoned former trading post on Somerset Island. First established in 1937 by the Hudson's Bay Company, it was only operational to 1948, as severe ice conditions in the surrounding waters made the site hard to reach and economically unviable.
It is interesting to visit a Hudson’s Bay Company hut and to contemplate the location. It is situated at the eastern end of Bellot Strait on a south-eastern peninsula of Somerset Island, a key location in the northwest Passage. Also good for a rage of high arctic species.
Situated on the SE side of King William Island it is the location where the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen and his crew spent some time on his route through the Northwest Passage.
In October 1903 he put Gjøa into a natural harbour on the southeast coast of King William Island. He stayed there for nearly two years, learning from the local Netsilik Inuit, and the skills to live off the land and travel efficiently in the Arctic environment. This knowledge proved to be vital for Amundsen's later successful exploration to the South Pole. He also explored the Boothia Peninsula, searching for the exact location of the North Magnetic Pole. Today there is a community at Gjoa Haven and a popular landing for cruise ships. Permanent European-style settlement started in 1927, as a Hudson's Bay Company trading outpost. The settlement attracted the traditionally nomadic Inuit people as they adapted a more settled lifestyle. By 2016 the population was 1,324.
Between Ellesmere Island and Devon Island at the entrance to Jones Sound.
It is part of the Nirjutiqavvik National Wildlife Area and Cambridge Point, with spectacular cliffs that are an important location for breeding seabirds including black guillemot, black-legged kittiwake, glaucous gull, northern fulmar, and thick-billed murre. Offshore waters are also good for marine mammals.
Prince Leopold Island
This island is in a key location in Lancaster Sound at the junction of Prince Regent Inlet and Barrow Strait, off the northwest coast of Somerset Island. It has some really impressive and steep seabird cliffs that is one of the most important sites in the Canadian Arctic and a bird sanctuary.
Also good area to look for marine mammals and other Arctic wildlife.