On review: Polar bears, snowmobiles, icebergs and Inuit culture: on board an Arctic cruise to Greenland

Travel photographer and writer Lisa Young takes an adventure holiday to the heart of the Arctic and discovers a remote and fascinating wilderness

Watching endless continents of ice floes float silently past the broad side of your ship, or a hulking mass of ice carve off the side of a towering iceberg with a thundering, spine shattering crash is one of those moments you snapshot in your mind with the caption; “Wow, this is the Arctic”.

As 52 years-old I have photographed incredible places in my career, but the Arctic is one of the most remote and most beautiful.

I had jumped at the chance to write a story on cruising in the Arctic. The Inuit culture was also a big draw. Their culture is rich but it is changing and I wanted to see it for myself before influences took their toll.

Starting the voyage

From Ottawa in Québec Province I flew 2.5 hours north to Kuujjuaq (Fort Chimmo), then at Nunavik I boarded the ice-class Ocean Endeavour.

Travel. 1 ©Lisa Young 2016_Ocean Endeavour Ship off Akpatok Island_Arctic Canada
The Ocean Endeavour Ship off Akpatok Island, Arctic Canada

Over the first night, we sailed north towards Akpatok Island, a protected bird sanctuary popular with polar bears. Sure enough, an early morning wake-up call alerted passengers to a sighting.

Travel. Michelle Valberg Polar Bear Alley
We got a close view of the polar bears. Michelle Valberg

Seven bears could be seen roaming the shore of Akpatok. We took to the Zodiacs (the ship’s 20 smaller inflatable boats used for exploration) for a closer view.

Dressed warmly and with a life jacket, we felt privileged to get a closer view as the bears attempted to clamber up the steep limestone cliffs to get bird eggs, or catch fledglings as the chicks failed to launch themselves.

Meeting the Inuit community at Kangiqsujuaq
Travel. Rob Poulton
Floating chunks of ice. Photo by Rob Poulton

Landing on our second day was not as easy. Large chunks of ice at Kangiqsujuaq (Wakeham Bay) made it hard for us to get to the shore. But we made it into the small community of 700 residents and were free to wander around the village.

I dropped into the gym, a local meeting point, where I met Inuit elders, sampled beluga whale meat and watched demonstrations of traditional Inuit games. Practically every house has a quad bike or snowmobile outside, which was surprising but essential for the conditions.

Dodging pack ice and melting icebergs
Travel. ©Lisa Young 2016_Entering the Inuit hamlet of Kimmirut (Lake Harbour)_Arctic Canada
Entering the Inuit hamlet of Kimmirut

The following day, we woke in sight of Cape Dorset, dodging pack ice and melting icebergs to reach another village. Kids played on the shore, building snowcastles instead of sandcastles. The community of 1,400 inhabitants is internationally famous for its soapstone carvers.

Our ship continued along the southern part of Baffin Island to the picturesque waterfront hamlet of Kimmirut (Lake Harbour).

Kimmirut means ‘the heel’ in the Inuktitut language, referring to an outcrop of marble across the bay that resembles a human heel. Around 150 visitors make their way to the village and surrounding national park each year.

Continuing along Baffin Island’s south coast, we stopped at the Lower Savage Islands and then made slow progress through the thick pack ice; the ship crunching its way through sufficiently loose ice.

Sailing into an icy fairytale
Travel. 1 ©Lisa Young 2016_Ice Floe in the Cumberland Sound
Ice Floe in the Cumberland Sound

We passed through a slalom of icebergs that had broken off Greenland’s glaciers and drifted south, making our way into Cumberland Sound. Standing on the ship’s bridge, I watched the great icebergs sparkle in the sun floating on a dark emerald sea.

We cruised into comparatively open water again before leaving the East Baffin coast and heading into the Davis Strait. Sailing at an average of 15 knots, we spent the next 30 hours at sea, occupying ourselves with reading about what was up ahead, or watching for whales and birds from the deck.

A huge spray of water blew high into the air – a natural signal there was a whale nearby. A few minutes later a whale lifted its massive body out of the water and took a fresh breath before returning to the depths.

Greenland’s bays, fjords and mountains
Travel. 1 ©Lisa Young 2016_Traditional House at Itilleq_Greenland
A pretty blue painted traditional style house at Itilleq

Since starting our journey, we had covered around 1,500 nautical miles on our way to Nuuk (Godthab). This is Greenland’s capital city and was established as the first Greenlandic town in 1728. Translated, Nuuk means ‘the headland’, and it has a rich history that dates back over 4,200 years.

Along Greenland’s west coast we cruised into bays and fjords to see massive, awe-inspiring glaciers, waterfalls and rare sea birds.

We anchored in Evighedsfjorden, a stunning fjord surrounded by snow-capped mountains and boarded the Zodiacs to get a closer view of the massive Maniitsoq ice sheet. As we bobbed about on the calm water, a massive chunk of ice calved off the glacier and plummeted in to the water with a spine-tingling booming crash.

Travel. ©Lisa Young 2016_Traditionally dressed couple_ Itilleq Island & Village_Greenland
A traditionally dressed couple on Itilleq Island & Village, Greenland

Colourful fishing villages dot the coast of west Greenland. We visited Itilleq (population 93), an island village a kilometre from the mainland. There are no roads, no cars, just brightly painted wooden houses and a beautiful Lutheran church. It must have been laundry day, as there were clothes flapping in the breeze outside every house.

Finally, the ship sailed towards Kangerlussuaq along the Søndre Strømfjord, a most spectacular ending to an incredible journey.

I flew out of Greenland from Kangerlussuaq and over the Greenland ice cap (the length of the country and world’s largest).  It is remote and desolate, but it is pure and made me feel alive – and by ship is an ideal way to explore them in comfort, safety and style.

The next Heart of the Arctic voyage is 11 July to 23 July 2016. From $3,995 for a Category 1 berth, plus charter flight $1,995 (excludes international flights to Canada) See Adventure Canada

British Airways and Air Canada fly from the UK to Ottawa

In Ottawa, Lisa Young used Airbnb and stayed with Jessica & Ryan 

All other photos by www.lisayoung.co.uk