On Monday, I set off on a trip that’s a dream for most travellers: an Arctic cruise. I’ll be visiting a part of the world that most of us see only on television, and a region few of us really know much about. So before I set out to start my voyage, it seems like a good idea to tell you a little about the cruise I’ll be taking, and the Arctic itself.
Early Monday morning I’ll be flying to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, to begin my cruise, called Heart of the Arctic. Adventure Canada, the company that runs the trip, travels the Arctic like few others, and this cruise will afford me a unique and fascinating look at the top of the world. And I’ll be capturing it all with some high-quality camera equipment from Nikon Canada, my sponsor on this trip.
We start with a cruise down the coast of Greenland and a visit to its capital, Nuuk — one of the world’s northernmost capital cities. Then our ship, the Ocean Endeavour, will cross the Davis Strait and begin a voyage around the coast of Baffin Island, above Canada’s Arctic coast. It’s the fifth-largest island in the world, with iconic landscapes, lots of wildlife and Inuit settlements with names like Pangnirtung, Kimmirut and Kinngait, better known as Cape Dorset.
Finally, we’ll visit Akpatok Island, with its famous colonies of seabirds, and end the cruise in Kuujjuaq, the homeland of the Inuit in Nunavik, the northern part of Quebec. (For a full description of the cruise with all the details, check out Adventure Canada’s website.)
Adventure Canada offers trips called Arctic Explorer, Into the Northwest Passage and Bears of Churchill, among others. But the Heart of the Arctic is unique in that it focuses on the people and the arts of the North, along with the land and its wildlife. Some of the towns and villages we’ll be visiting are world-famous for the distinctive arts of the Inuit: their soapstone carvings, tapestries and prints, even knitted clothing.
And of course, we’ll be meeting the Inuit people, learning about their amazing history and their way of life. The ancestors of the Inuit came to northern Canada between 800 and 1,000 years ago, and made their way across the Arctic to settle and live off its limited resources. Along the way they developed a rich culture, with houses, clothing and tools perfectly designed to let them survive in one of the world’s harshest climates.
Nunavut, where Baffin Island is located, is the Inuit homeland, established in 1999 as one of Canada’s official territories, much like the Northwest Territories. It’s governed mostly by the Inuit, who have preserved its culture even while the modern world has crept in.
An Arctic cruise is also about wildlife. And sailing in high summer, when birds are raising their young and animals feeding up for the winter, we’ll have a great chance of seeing a lot of Arctic creatures. The waters we’re sailing are home to more than a dozen species of whales and dolphins, including the giant blue whale and the narwhal, with its unicorn-like horn.
Then there are seals and walruses, arctic wolves and foxes, and a wealth of bird life, from tiny shore birds to snowy owls and gyrfalcons, the king of the falcon world. And of course, polar bears, the world’s largest bear species and a powerful symbol of the north.
To photograph it, I’ll be using a bucket-list collection of camera equipment, courtesy of Nikon Canada. To start with, I’ll be taking the new D500, an SLR for photo enthusiasts with the features of a professional camera. Then there’s an arsenal of lenses that would make most photographers drool.
For everyday shooting, I’ll have the Nikkor 16-80mm ED zoom, plus the 24-120mm ED mid-range zoom. Then, the showpiece: the Nikkor 200-500mm ED telephoto lens, perfect for pulling in wildlife from 100 paces – or more. All the lenses feature Nikon’s potent vibration reduction. As well, I’ll be taking along the Nikon 1 J5, a compact mirrorless camera, for those spur-of-the-moment shots.
It shapes up as the trip of a lifetime. And even while I’ve been given thorough briefing notes, I really don’t know what to expect once we get under way. I’ve cruised the Antarctic, but this Arctic cruise is a whole other experience, filled with people and things I’ve never seen before. And if it was steaming hot in Toronto this week, relief is on the way: the average midsummer temperature where I’m going is about 8 degrees Celsius, or 46 degrees Fahrenheit, and Arctic weather is unpredictable. I’m bringing a parka.
Photos courtesy of Adventure Canada — top photo by L. Narraway