Arctic Cruise: Iceland & Greenland Explorer

This inaugural voyage offers the rare chance to explore Vestmannaeyjar (Westman Islands), visiting the colorful port Heimaey, photographing busy puffin cliffs and hopefully hiking to the still warm rim of Eldfell, an active volcano. In Greenland, focus on the wild, ice-laden fjords of the southeast coastline, from the bewitching beauty of Skjoldungen Fjord north to Ammassalik, where Inuit hunt and fish beneath soaring granite towers. Anyone who has been on an “inaugural” trip knows the excitement and rewards of forging new landings!

Itinerary

Day 1: Keflavik, Iceland (Embark)

You land in Reykjavik, IcelandÂ’s colourful capital, set against a backdrop of still-active volcanoes, and are transferred to Keflavik, where you board the expedition ship, Polar Pioneer. In the evening, you set sail into whale-rich waters of Denmark Strait, toward the prospect of adventures ahead.

Day 2: Westman Islands

Wake to the sight of Wesmannaeyjar, the Westman Islands, an extraordinary basalt archipelago cloaked in emerald green vegetation. Dock in Heimaey, made famous in 1973 when the volcano Eldfell erupted, forcing inhabitants to flee to the mainland. Visit farmhouses dating back to 650 AD, photograph Helgafell, the Holy Mountain, hike the still-warm slopes of Eldfell and visit Pompeii of the North project, an excavation of houses buried in the 1973 eruption.

Day 3: Denmark Strait

As you cross Denmark Strait, the shipboard historian and naturalists give entertaining talks to help you appreciate the discoveries lying ahead. Thanks to cold upwellings, the nutrient waters are rich in birdlife and mammals, and the shipÂ’s bridge or outer viewing decks are perfect for spotting whales, photographing fulmars and kittiwakes, or simply becoming lost in Arctic reverie. Fin whales, the worldÂ’s second largest, are often seen, as well as humpbacks, minkes and maybe even sperm whales.

Days 4-5: GreenlandÂ’s Wild Southeast Coast

GreenlandÂ’s wild southeast coast greets you with ice-laden fjords, rugged peaks and undisturbed wildlife. Its steep, sharp-peaked mountains, countless lakes, rivers and streams and glacier-carved valleys radiate a purity found in few other places. Take full advantage of Polar PioneerÂ’s shallow draft and maneuverability to explore Skjoldungen Fjord, where glaciers carve through spectacular mountains, yet recede in the warmth of changing climes. Zodiacs ferry you ashore for leg-stretching walks up valleys, with rests to admire such tundra plants as crowberry, alpine eyebright, Arctic mouse-ear and dwarf birch. On a calm day, the serenity is overwhelming, and if close to shore, you might hear the blow of pilot or killer whales. You may visit Skjoldungen Islands, known for their spectacular ice cap views, and search for remains of an abandoned settlement.

Days 6-7: Exploring at Sea

In true expedition fashion, explorations will depend on weather and ice conditions as the ship makes its way north. Possible destinations include Koge Bugt, where the Greenland ice cap reaches the sea, releasing vast, tabular icebergs; umivik, where Fridtjof Nansen set off in 1888 with dog sleds and five companions to make the first ever crossing of the ice cap; or ice-choked Dietrichsons Sund, where glaciers have scraped smooth the surrounding coastline. Should you take walks inland, search for the charming snow bunting and rock ptarmigan. Glaucous gulls and Arctic terns are common breeders, and little auks, the most numerous Atlantic seabird, can be seen in their thousands.

Days 8-10: Inuit Villages

Visit remote trappers’ camps and Inuit villages of the Ammassalik district. Despite an often-harsh climate and the isolation, an abundance of wildlife both on land and in the surrounding waters provides just enough livelihood to support these hardy souls. People first arrived 2,000 years ago, rowing skin boats. Although outboards and aluminium have replaced paddles and umiaks, the surviving population still relies on boats to survive. The village Isortorq, or “foggy sea,” is so-named as much for the weather as the glacial silt in the milky-green fjord. The 100 or so people who live here are mostly hunters, relying on ringed, bearded, hooded and harp seals that live in the waters and on ice floes nearby. Watch out for Nanoq, as the Inuit call polar bears. Inland is a wild and mountainous world, offering views that linger in memories memory long after setting sail across the Denmark Strait. Spend the last day at sea whale watching, photographing sea birds and sharing a celebratory last dinner with new friends.

Day 11: Keflavik, Iceland (Disembark)

In the early morning hours, you reach Keflavik and the end of the memorable voyage.

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