We encountered many ice floes blocking our passage through Ungava Bay. However, on the bright side, many of them were quite sculptural and very beautiful to photograph, especially when the water is calm enough to offer perfect reflections.
BTW an ice floe is the remnants of the frozen sea or river, unlike an ice berg, which has broken off from a glacier. In the arctic the water usually freezes to a depth of 6 feet in the winter. When the ice floes pile up against each other or land, then they become taller and more interesting to look at. They are also carved by the action of wind and waves.
If you do decide to take an Arctic Cruise, be sure to take part in the excursions to land aboard the small and fast zodiac boats. The zodiacs will take you to places that the large ship just can't get to.
Be sure to wear wet weather gear while aboard the zodiac as there may be some spray. Also keep your camera protected from water. It is also imperative to wear tall rubber boots as the landings ashore often involve stepping into up to 8 inches of water, and believe me it is cold water!
One advantage that the Arctic has over the Antarctic is polar bears. I honestly didn't think we would actually see a polar bear, but over the week, I saw five myself, others aboard saw more.
Each bear that we saw, save one, did not stick around once they sensed our approach. Polar Bears are hunted by the Inuit and they have learned to run at the first sight or smell of humans. However, luckily for us, one bear was not afraid and seemed quite curious. He actually came closer to our zodiacs and allowed us to get within 40 feet of him. And, we stayed there with him for about 20 minutes. This experience was definitely one of the highlights of the week for me.
Kimmirut is located on Baffin Island in the territory of Nunavut. It is also known as Lake Harbour and enjoys a mild climate and is home to a skilled group of artisans. Soapstone carvings are their specialty. There is a gallery in town where you can view and purchase their work.
Kimmirut has a population of 425 people, most of whom rely on hunting for their livelihood. Caribou, seal, fish and beluga whale are plentiful here.
We spent a full day hiking from town to Lake Soper . We saw many arctic wildflowers in bloom as well as the remains of caribou scattered in their midst.
About 20,000 people live in the harsh environment of the Baffin region, 85% of these are Inuit. The Inuit have descended from the Mongolian race, most have dark eyes, straight black hair and dark skin.
In the past, hunting and trapping were the sole means of survival for the Inuit. However, with the decline in the demand for fur, their source for livelihood has suffered. After years of dependence on Government assistance, the Inuit are now being led into a system of aboriginal self-government. The Inuit are trying to create new jobs for their people. One such endeavour is the Cruise North Expedition that I travelled on.
In the three communities that we visited, I found the locals very friendly and just as interested in us as we were them. In Kangiqsualujjuaq, we watched local Inuit girls perform traditional throat singing for us and on board the ship, we had two local guides and we dined on local dishes such as caribou and arctic char.
Unlike an ice floe which is simply the frozen layer of ice on top of a body of water, an ice berg is formed when it falls off of a glacier into the water. The ice bergs that we encountered probably came from Greenland glaciers and floated south into Hudson Strait.
We spent a great morning in the zodiacs cruising very close to and in between some grounded ice bergs. They were probably quite small specimans by ice berg standards, but they were very sculptural and beautiful nonetheless.
Only when I travel do I make the time or effort to see the sun set. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to fit into my daily routine at home.
We had a spectacular sunset on our third day at sea and it lasted almost an hour. In the Arctic the sun sets around 10pm and rises again by 4am.
My cousin and I travelled with Cruise North Expeditions on their inaugural voyage of the Canadian Arctic. Being the very first trip was not without its complications, but I was very satisfied with the services aboard the ship and with the wildlife and scenery that we passed along the way.
Ours was a 7 day voyage that began in Kuujjuaq in northern Quebec and was supposed to travel as far west as Cape Dorset at the mouth of Hudson Bay. However, due to the tides and heavy ice coverage on Ungava Bay, we only made it across Hudson Strait to Kimmerut, travelled east along the south shore of Baffin Island and then returned to Kuujjuaq.
See my travelogues for a detailed itinerary and more photos.
We encountered this large bearded seal on our zodiac trip to Akpatok Island. He didn't seem the least bit bothered by us and posed for all the photographers.
We also spotted ringed seals and polar bears on this trip as well as many types of birds including thick billed murres, eider ducks, gulls and snow buntings.
We had several opportunities to leave the ship and/or the zodiacs for a walk on shore. It really is the best way to appreciate the local landscape, to notice the tiny arctic flowers and to catch a glimpse of elusive wildlife and birds. We usually were accompanied by local guides as well, and they were all very friendly and happy to discuss their lives and culture.
Notice the Inuktitut translation for "stop" in the photo.
There are some nice Inuit carvings and art available for sale in Baffin Island. They are all handcarved out of some sort of bone (whale, seal, antler) so it could cause customs problems in some countries. The prices rise the further from the carver you go - they were fairly expensive in Iqaluit and astronomically priced in the galleries of Montreal.
A couple of museums are worth a look. Firstly, the tourist office in Pangnirtung has some good displays about Inuit history and culture, and there are two whaling boats belonging to the Hudson Bay Company which can be seen through the tourist office.
In Iqaluit, the Nunatta Sanukataangit (probanly wrong spelling...) has hundreds of carvings and a bizarre curator (the regional Elvis impersonator!).
There are also the remains of some Hudson bay Company buildings in the nearby 'suburb' of Apex.