Into the Northwest Passage: 4 billion years of Earth history

Into the Northwest Passage: 4 billion years of Earth history

  • View over Ilulissat Icefjord Disko Bay Greenland by Martin Lipman
    View over Ilulissat Icefjord Disko Bay Greenland by Martin Lipman
  • Cultural Educator Myna Ishulutak Dundas Harbour by Scott Forsyth
    Cultural Educator Myna Ishulutak Dundas Harbour by Scott Forsyth
  • Ilulissat ship anchored by Dennis Minty
    Ilulissat ship anchored by Dennis Minty
  • Beechey Island Nunavut by Mark Edward Harris
    Beechey Island Nunavut by Mark Edward Harris
  • Walrus on the shore by Martin Lipman
    Walrus on the shore by Martin Lipman

24 August - 9 September 2022 (16 days)

Dr Owen Weller
(Pembroke 2006)
Lecturer, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Cambridge
£8700.00 / $11,995
Price details  

Price per person, excluding flights

Tour type  
Activity level  
A small-ship expedition

Due to high demand, regrettably the 2022 NWP expedition is (nearly) sold out BUT Cambridge alumni have exclusive access to a number of reserved cabins. Please make sure you mention Cambridge University to gain exclusive access to these.

Explore the best of Arctic flora, fauna, culture and landscapes, and examine key features of Earth’s 4 billion year geological history on this remarkable expedition cruise. Follow in the footsteps of the early Arctic explorers such as Franklin, Amundsen, and Larsen, navigating the archipelago of islands and channels that create Canada’s High Arctic region. Become immersed in the history of exploration as you visit defining sites, hear stories depicting contemporary life, and learn why the Arctic continues to capture the interest and imagination of scientists, explorers and the people of the North. Also, appreciate the longer-term history of the region, as you examine the rock record of Earth’s turbulent past through three supercontinent cycles.


  • Seek polar bears, walruses, seabirds, and other Arctic wildlife in a pristine natural environment.
  • Witness first-hand the warm hospitality and vibrant culture of the Inuit whose ancestors made the Arctic their home since the end of the last Ice Age. 
  • Cruise amongst a flotilla of icebergs at the mouth of the Ilulissat Icefjord, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the bedrock outlet for the most productive glacier in the Northern Hemisphere.
  • Cross the Arctic Circle as you sail the length of Kangerlussuaq Fjord (Søndre Strømfjord) and view a stunning cross-section of ancient 3.8 billion year old continental crust in the cliff walls.
  • Visit Queen Maud Gulf, home to the wrecks of the Franklin ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror.
  • Examine km-scale cliffs containing the c. 60 million year old volcanic record of the opening of Davis Strait and the separation of Greenland from Arctic Canada.
  • Transit Ikirasak (Bellot Strait), the narrow and dramatic waterway across the Boothia Uplift, a geological feature associated with the 430 million year old Caledonian mountains of Norway, eastern Greenland and Scotland.
  • Walk amongst the 3D fossil record of some of the oldest (1.9 billion year old) preserved lifeforms on Earth.
  • Ultimately, retrace the historic route of European explorers, who for centuries picked their way through ice in hopes of finding a sailing route through the passage.

Download the brochure for full information on this tour, including cabin options and information about the ship, The Ocean Endeavour.



Day 1: Kangerlussuaq, Greenland

Kangerlussuaq is a former (secret) U.S. Air Force base and Greenland’s primary flight hub. After a charter flight from Toronto, the adventure begins with a transfer to the Ocean Endeavour by Zodiac.

With 190 kilometres of superb scenery, Kangerlussuaq Fjord (Søndre Strømfjord) is one of the longest fjords in the world. Start the geological odyssey by sailing down this dramatic fjord, viewing 3.8 billion year old gneisses crosscut by the magmatic plumbing system of c. 2.0 billion year old volcanoes.

Day 2: Sisimiut Coast

Sail West Greenland’s complex coastal waterways, which include glaciers, rocky islands, and fjords against a towering mountain backdrop. The waters are relatively warm here, due to the West Greenland Current and abundant fauna and marine life have supported human habitation in this region as far back as 4,500 years. Superbly exposed along the coast is a cross-section of an ancient Himalayan-scale mountain belt, which sutures northern and southern Greenland, and is part of a network of mountain belts that led to the formation of Earth’s first supercontinent, Nuna, 1.8 billion years ago.

Day 3: Ilulissat

Ilulissat means “iceberg”— an apt name for this site at the outlet of the Sermeq Kujalleq glacier. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the source of the majority of the icebergs in the North Atlantic.

Cruise in Adventure Canada's fleet of Zodiacs to marvel at the size, texture and colour of the icebergs, visit the town of Ilulissat, with its museums, cafes, craft shops, and busy fishing harbour, and hike to the very edge of the rocky icefjord for a stunning view of the iceberg logjam at its mouth.

Day 4–5: Western Greenland

Exploring by ship and Zodiac along the west coast of Greenland, there are numerous options for expedition stops, to make the most of weather conditions, key geological features (including the looming volcanic cliffs of Disko Island) and wildlife sightings. Departing Greenland, cross Baffin Bay toward Nunavut, Canada.

Day 6: At Sea—Davis Strait

Steaming towards Nunavut, the expedition team will deepen your understanding of various aspects of the Arctic, including its dynamic geological history, the saga of British Arctic exploration, and the resilience and adaptability of the Inuit and their ancestors who flourished in a stirringly beautiful but harsh environment since the end of the last Ice Age. This is an excellent time to enjoy workshops, watch a documentary, or get out on deck. Keep your binoculars ready for minke and humpback whales, as well as the seabirds that are sure to mark our passage.

Day 7: Mittimatalik (Pond Inlet), NU, Canada

Mittimatalik is a busy Arctic community in a beautiful setting that faces a stunning glacial landscape of piedmont glaciers, nunataks, and cirques carved into the bedrock of Bylot Island. The cultural presentation at the Community Hall is not to be missed—handcrafted goods may be available here as well.

The network of fjords adorning the coast of Baffin Island in the vicinity of Mittimatalik offer the opportunity to view km-scale cross-sections of ancient continental crust capped by the ice caps of the northern Arctic Cordillera. Learn about the cutting-edge geological research being done in the region.

Day 8–10: Tallurutiup Imanga (Lancaster Sound) & Devon Island

Spend three days exploring Tallurutiup Imanga (Lancaster Sound), one of the newest National Marine Conservation Areas in Canada. Narwhal, beluga, and bowhead whale transit and feed in this area. Cruise by ship and Zodiac in order to examine and contrast the folded sedimentary and volcanic strata of the older Borden Rift Basin with the overlying very gently dipping, younger clastic and carbonate rock formations of the Paleozoic Arctic Platform, and gain knowledge on the ancient tectonic movements in the region.

On the northern border of Tallurutiup Imanga lies Devon Island, the largest uninhabited island on Earth at over 50,000 square kilometres. Flat-topped mountains, glacial valleys, and a substantial ice cap give Devon Island its unique character. Hike the tundra, cruise a glacier face, and seek wildlife from ship and on shore. Archaeological sites with expert interpretation allow us to learn about the Inuit history of this now-abandoned island. Visit the remains of an RCMP and Hudson's Bay Company site at Dundas Harbour.

Day 11: Beechey Island

In 1845, Sir John Franklin set out from England with HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, attempting to sail through the Northwest Passage. His crew overwintered at Beechey Island, where three of his men died.

Numerous search parties later used Beechey as a depot and rendezvous point. Amundsen, Bernier, and Larsen visited Beechey. Thomas Morgan of the HMS Investigator was buried here in 1854 alongside Franklin’s men. The graves and ruins of Northumberland House are a haunting memorial to British Arctic exploration, built on a curvilinear set of raised beaches.

Day 12-13: Prince Regent Inlet

This passage marks an area rich in marine and avian life. Thick-billed murres, ivory gulls, beluga, narwhal, and bowhead whales reside in the ice-strewn waters. In addition to abundant wildlife, delve deeper into the exploration of the Northwest Passage and mercantile efforts of the Hudson's Bay Company, prior to transiting Bellot Strait through Boothia Uplift, a crustal-scale fold associated with formation of the ancient Caledonian mountains (named after the Latin name for Scotland, where similar rocks are preserved) and assembly of Earth’s third supercontinent, Pangea.

Day 14–16: Kitikmeot Region

The traditional territory of the Netsilik Inuit, the Kitikmeot Region consists of parts of Victoria Island, the adjacent part of the mainland as far as the Boothia Peninsula, King William Island, and the southern portion of Prince of Wales Island. Recently, the Kitikmeot Region has been in the news since the finding of the lost ships of the Franklin Expedition in its waters. It is Nunavut’s least-populated region, though wildlife abounds here both in the sea and on land.

Also calling in at Uqsuqtuuq (Gjoa Haven) home of the Guardians of Terror Bay. The European name, Gjoa Haven, honours Roald Amundsen, who overwintered in the bay for two years while searching for the Northwest Passage. Amundsen became the first European to cross the Northwest Passage, thanks to the knowledge and largesse of Inuit.

Along the southern shore of Coronation Gulf, carbonate strata dated at 1.9 billion years old display in full 3D some of the most spectacular fossil stromatolites found in the northern Hemisphere, documenting in stunning detail a world teaming with life in the intertidal to subtidal zone of shallow warm seas.

Day 17: Kugluktuk, NU, Canada

Located at the mouth of the Coppermine River, Kugluktuk is the westernmost community in Nunavut, and is nestled in a landscape dominated by spectacular ridge forming, east-west trending volcanic rocks dated at c. 720 million years ago and marking the breakup of Earth’s second supercontinent, Rodinia.

Iqaluktuuttiaq (Cambridge Bay), NU, is an alternate disembarkation point and may be used based on the sea, ice, and weather conditions.

Disembark the Ocean Endeavour and make your way to the airport to meet the charter flights to Yellowknife, NT.

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Address: 55 Woodlawn Avenue, Mississauga, ON L5G 3K7 CANADA
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Telephone: +001 800 363 7566