The Northwest Passage
Having captured the hearts and minds of explorers and fortune seekers for centuries, this almost unconquerable sea passage, well beyond the Arctic Circle through the Arctic regions of North America, is the Northwest Passage.
Undisputedly one of the most remote and exciting travel destinations in the world, the Northwest Passage is the only possible shipping route between the Atlantic and the Pacific and is an epic adventure for true explorers. In summer, for a few short weeks, the temperature rises enough for the ice to melt, life reappears, nature is reborn and the mythical route is free for us to relive the polar adventures of previous generations of explorers – successfully!
Many have died crossing the waters connecting the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, but probably one of the most famous was British Explorer, John Franklin, who in 1845 set sail from Greenland to the Arctic Archipelago (now known as Canada!) with 128 men onboard two ships, all of whom died. During the remainder of the 1800s, the American and British governments launched approximately 40 expeditions to find these lost explorers, but it wasn’t until 2014 when a team of Canadian divers found one of these ships at the bottom of a channel.
Any adventure across the Northwest Passage will include passing explorer sites and ship graveyards, yet despite this fascinating, if not grim history, there is so much more this destination has to offer. Visitors will be mesmerised by the landscape – the vast expanses of ice floe, myriads of jagged islands, blue-toned glaciers, mountain chains, expanses of tundra and vertiginous walls.
This truly is a remarkable journey and even today, few ships have the capabilities to successfully complete the Northwest Passage. At the heart of this vast labyrinth of icy channels, there are just three main routes that allow the Northwest Passage to be crossed.
Sailings often leave from Reykjavik and travel along the south coast of Greenland, reaching the Hudson Strait, named after the English sailor Henry Hudson, who mapped it for the first time in the early 17th Century. Then head towards the Fury and Hecla Strait, named after the ships of the explorer William Parry. Always covered in ice, this seawater channel is around 1,900 metres wide at its narrowest point, and represents an impassable obstacle for most ships. Entering the passage, you will have the privilege of visiting Igloolik, an Inuit village that was only discovered in 1822.
An unique sailing experience can be enjoyed a little further on in the Bellot Strait, amidst countless icebergs. Sail along Banks Island, famous for the wreck of HMS Investigator lying offshore, one of the ships tasked to search for Sir John Franklin’s lost expedition. There is also incredible wildlife at Fairway Rock, home to many marine mammals and sea birds.
Journeys across the Northwest Passage offer an exciting array of wildlife encounters, including arctic foxes, narwhals, muskoxen, bowhead whales, orcas, seals, belugas, walruses and the possibility of seeing one of nature’s most dangerous yet beautiful creatures, an imperial polar bear with her cubs. This is a superb destination for bird lovers, with over 26 species of sea birds that migrate, nest and fish in the region.
If you’re interested in learning more, or actually undertaking the journey, see here for details on the Northwest Passage in 2020 or for the Northwest Passage in 2021 click here. Alternatively call us on 1300 766 537.
This ultimate bucket list destination has never been more accessible…
It wasn’t that long ago Antarctica was only accessible to explorers, researchers and scientists – fortunately, this mostly untouched southernmost frozen continent with its spectacular rich wildlife, can now be reached by almost everyone.
An exhilarating trip of a lifetime to one of the world’s most inhospitable and remotest of destinations can be achieved in several ways dependent on budget, tastes and other requirements. The options now available vary to suit intrepid explorers, to luxury cruisers with more time, or those who have limited time and prefer to fly directly. Alternatively you can just fly over the continent for several hours!
With so many options to choose from, there’s almost nothing stopping you… Outlined below are a few of our favourites:
Imagine immersing yourself in the pristine beauty of Antarctica on a smaller, more intimate expedition ship. One of the beauties of this style of cruising is that it allows you to get up close and personal when seeing the icebergs, glaciers, seals, penguins and whales.
Carrying between 50 and 200 passengers, expedition vessels are able to travel through smaller waterways, and their zodiacs are take passengers right onto the shore. As they have less passengers (and tourist guidelines limit landings to 100 people at a time) everyone will ultimately have more visits to ashore.
If you love cruising with all the bells and whistles of parties, shows, discos dancing, gambling and shopping, then expedition cruising may not be for you.
Expedition holidays are more about immersion and education, suiting travellers who are there to really get into the destination and prefer a challenge. It’s important to keep in mind that expedition ships vary from ex-Russian research vessels with shared accommodation and facilities. Current expedition ships are much more modern and luxurious!
The luxurious Ponant line ships, including Le Lyrial and L’Austral, have onboard experts who know about the destination. These experts are available to you throughout your journey and they include naturalists, botanists, marine biologists, historians and geologists.
Super-fit and ultra-adventurous? We suggest you look into the cruises offering kayaking, scuba diving, cross-country skiing, hiking, helicopter rides and camping!
CRUISE SHIP VOYAGES
Large cruise ships are generally more comfortable in rough seas (particularly the Drake Passage) and offer more facilities and activities onboard. Approximately ninety percent of cruise ships depart from the very southern ports of Ushuaia in Argentina or Punta Arenas in Chile.
One of the downsides of the larger ships (those with less than 500), is that because there are very strict guidelines limiting the number of people that are permitted to embark onshore at one time, the opportunities for you to land are ultimately limited.
The ‘over 500-passenger’ cruise ships are not permitted to land passengers at all, so the views can be appreciated from the ship decks only. This may suit some (probably not most), particularly those with mobility issues.
Although the length of cruise holidays can vary, they are usually between 10 days and three weeks, with longer voyages incorporating South Georgia and the Falkland Islands.
FLY & SAIL
If you are time poor or suffer seasickness, the best way to see Antarctica would be to fly directly to the Antarctic Peninsula. By doing this you can save on the ‘lost’ days at sea and avoid notoriously arduous waterways. The best part is that you then get to enjoy sailing in the regions calmer waters.
Fly and sail is almost always a more expensive option, but it does cut out a lot of time and enables you to tick one off the bucket list in merely a week or so while still experiencing so much of the majestic landscape and wildlife.
The most popular departure option is from Punta Arenas in Chile, one of the southernmost cities in South America. From there it’s a mere three-hour flight to King George Island on the Antarctic Peninsula.
Although this is a highly appealing way to visit Antarctica, we do suggest you keep in mind that flights to Antarctica are less frequent and less predictable than regular flights.
Chartered Qantas 747’s have been flying over Antarctica on day trips for over 20 years. The approximately 12-hour trip only operates in summer from either Sydney, Hobart and Melbourne. As the warmer weather brings temperatures that start to break up the ice, it’s a great way to put the grand scale of Antarctica into perspective.
It’s an easy way to enjoy the scenery as the planes can descend to around 11,000ft and slow to 240 knots. With a glass of bubbles in hand, you also have the opportunity immerse yourself with onboard Antarctica education, documentaries, as well onboard environment and history experts.
From Australia, it’s a mere three and a half hours until you’ll see the first glimpses of ice sheets and icebergs. Up for something even more remarkable? Go for a 31 December departure from Melbourne to welcome in the near year!
For more information on booking the trip that bucket list dreams are made of, call the travel experts at Cruise Express on 1300 766 537 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Cruising World’s Itch List
Add these to your dream cruise destinations
Around-the-World Cruise from Australia. You earn huge bragging rights in the world of cruising and a lifetime of memories once you’ve circumnavigated the planet by sea. You’ll sail in the wake of Ferdinand Magellan – the first person to circle the globe by ship, a journey which took three years (1519-1522) in a sailing boat 700 times smaller than the luxurious Princess Cruises superliners which now take around three months to offer the same epic journey every year from Australia.
Circumnavigate Australia. Sailing on a deluxe cruise liner right around our own continent certainly beats dragging a caravan around the country. Unpack once, relax and watch the scenery change as you sip a drink by the pool – by far, the most relaxing way to see Australia!
A-Line Voyage. Experience the nostalgia of a voyage from England to Australia, a journey once made by migrants in the 1950s eager to start a new life in a new land Down Under. Cruise lines, including Cunard, P&O Cruises in the UK and Cruise and Maritime Voyages, regularly offer the chance to sail this historic route, either via South Africa or a shortcut through the Suez Canal.
Trans-Atlantic – Joining a classic voyage between Southampton and New York offers the opportunity to experience an iconic experience. This famous (infamous in the case of the Titanic) route was once the only way to sail from the old world (England) to the new (US) but now you can relive the adventure on a week-long, no-ports cruise with lots of time to relax. Enjoy the luxury of great ocean liners like the Queen Mary 2 which regularly offers trans-Atlantic crossings, and our tip is to sail westward from Southampton to New York instead of the other way as you will gain an extra hour (and enjoy more sleep) on most days due to the time difference.
Antarctica – The only way travellers can reach the hardest place in the world to get to is by ship. Antarctica is the world’s last unspoiled wilderness, taking the breath away of all cruise passengers who spot the great icy continent for the first time. Cruises typically sail from South America from where you can join more affordable cruises on large, luxury liners that offer spectacular scenic cruising along the Antarctic coast without the opportunity to explore ashore. Or you can join expedition-style voyages on smaller vessels which are equipped with smaller Zodiac boats that do take you onto the ice for a closer view of the scenery and the amazing wildlife. Both options provide experiences you will never forget.
Panama Canal – Although just 77km long, this engineering marvel – one of the biggest and most complex construction projects ever undertaken – offers an unforgettable experience as you sail in your cruise ship along impossibly narrow and dramatic canals and locks between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Completed in 1914, the Panama Canal was recently upgraded at a cost of just over A$6 billion to cope with increasing traffic and bigger ships.
Alaska – Alaska is one of the most popular overseas cruise destinations for Australians. The typical seven-day cruise from Vancouver or Seattle offers a perfect combination of spectacular scenery – including tumbling glaciers and the famed Inside Passage- colourful culture, exciting wildlife, and relaxing days at sea. Because so many cruise lines operate here, competition is fierce and fares are usually very affordable – with many week-long cruises available from under $1,000. The Northern Summer cruise season runs from May to September and if you select a sailing around the summer solstice in late June, you can experience the unusual phenomenon of 24-hour daylight.
The Mediterranean – There is so much to see and do in Europe and it can be exhausting to see it all by road, plane or rail with constant packing and unpacking and a different hotel every night. That’s why a cruise is the best, most relaxing and affordable way to explore countries like France, Italy, Greece and Turkey which front the Mediterranean. Wake up to a different destination every day on the many luxury liners, big and small, which ply the Mediterranean Sea. Cruise on your own or join hosted cruise tours like the group trips regularly offered by Cruise Express.
European River Cruise – Record numbers of Australians are flocking to the rivers of Europe and cruise lines are struggling to keep up, building more deluxe river vessels every year to cope with the demand. The appeal is clear – sailing through the heart of Europe, docking in thecentre of historic cities and experiencing a myriad of countries in one journey from the comfort of your moving boutique hotel. The most popular cruise is along the Rhine, Danube and rivers between Amsterdam and Budapest but you can also enjoy a river cruise through France, Portugal and Italy.
Tahiti – Captains Bligh and Cook and their crews fell in love with this exotic, tropical destination in the South Pacific and so will you when your cruise ship drops anchor off the azure lagoon of breathtaking Bora Bora –billed as the most beautiful island in the world – and the sheer peaks of Moorea. A cruise here offers you the opportunity to experience the magic of many of the islands which make up French Polynesia. French charm, friendly locals, idyllic islands and a warm and relaxed ambiance make Tahiti a dream cruise destination. Cruises are available from Australia or Papeete or several lines offer voyages between Australia and Hawaii/USA via Tahiti.
With years of helping clients reach their dream destinations, Cruise Express is your number one travel partner, first time, every time.
With so many trips to all of these destinations, please all us on 1300 766 537 for a consultation or visit our website.