Inside the Ice: Exploring the Arctic Circle
The glacial waters, icy peaks and towering fjords of the world’s Arctic region epitomise the phrase ‘bucket-list destination’. This northernmost part of the world seems like somewhere only reserved for the ultimate of adventures. Often described as one of the last lands left untouched by human hands, these barren lands and frozen seas offer travellers a chance to traverse landscapes seen by only the most adventurous of travellers.
Surrounded by the icy Arctic Ocean and consisting of parts of Alaska, Greenland, Iceland, northern Canada, Norway and Russia – the diversity of this huge region is astounding, offering far more than the icy fjords and glacial waters that often comes to mind. Exploring these bleak, wild landscapes is best done by ship, foot and Zodiac.
With Quark Expeditions' diverse fleet of small-expedition vessels and icebreakers you'll witness some of the rarest, unique and elusive wildlife on the planet, follow the long-since-covered footsteps of Fridtjof Nansen and Robert Peary, sail through towering mountain-scapes and icy waters, and meet the enigmatic Inuits while experiencing their warm cultures and ancient traditions.
With so many vastly different experiences and destinations, we’ve chosen five that we think are worthy for your Arctic travel list:
Why: The lights, nature and diverse cultural history
What: Musk ox, whales, polar bears, seals
Where: Scoresbysund, Greenland National Park, Uunartoq hot springs, Ilulissat Icefjord (UNESCO World Heritage Site), Norse and Viking historic sites, Ittoqqotoormiit (modern Greenlandic community).
When: You can visit Greenland year-round. Quark offers expeditions from September to October offering travellers wildlife and nature experiences with a chance to see the elusive Northern Lights.
Home to cavernous valleys, towering mountains and some of largest icebergs in the world, this enormous icy island has a draw that many describe as infectious – constantly calling you back to visit again. As the ice melts and moves the landscapes change, meaning every visit to Greenland will provide a new encounter and an entirely different experience.
Greenland is the world’s largest island (by area) that isn’t a continent, and as you make your way along the remote northeast coast you’ll bear witness to lands still not explored fully, even by archaeologists. The iconic colourful houses dot the pristine white landscapes (colour-coded to represent the function of the building) as you explore villages and settlements only accessible by boat, seaplane or dogsleds.
Sail with Quark Expeditions through the spectacular Scoresbysund, the birthplace of many icebergs and often described as one of the most beautiful fjord systems on the planet. Hike the world’s largest national park, explore the colourful Botanikerbugt famed for its flower-covered shores, see the Kangerlussuak area — completely inaccessible until just a few decades ago — discover remains of ancient Thule settlements and, for the lucky ones, see the elusive Northern lights.
Why: Wild landscapes and Inuit homeland
What: Whales, Arctic hares, Arctic foxes , polar bears, narwhals, walrus, wolves, lemmings
Where: Sam Ford Fjord, an Inuit art hub in Pangnirtung, and a historic whaling station in Kekerten
When: August to September
As the largest island of the Canadian Arctic archipelago, Baffin Island’s landscapes are vast, bleak and truly wild. Though seemingly inhospitable, the Inuit people have made the harsh and remote islands their home for thousands of years. Located between Canada and Greenland, Baffin Island is home to just one town and a handful of smaller communities. These isolated Inuit settlements have a rich history, unique lifestyle and ancient culture. Travel to this region to discover an internationally renowned art scene famed for beautiful tapestries, paintings, traditional whale bone carvings and more. The area’s stunning natural landscapes are best explored by Zodiac, as you sail alongside the towering Sam Ford Fjord, a traditional Inuit hunting ground, with enormous granite cliffs rising dramatically out of the frigid waters below.
Why: The realm of the polar bear
What: Whales, Arctic foxes, polar bear, walrus, reindeer, seabird colonies
Where: Longyearbyen, the World's northernmost town (located above the Arctic circle), towering cliffs of Alkefjellet, the 16km long 14th of July Glacier and the wildlife-viewing through Hinlopen Strait.
When: June to July
Home to around 2600 people, Spitsbergen is situated between the North Pole and Norway and is the largest and only inhabited island of the Svalbard archipelago. Here you can hike remote tundras and explore the unique landscapes of the polar desert, cruise past towering glaciers, fjords and icebergs in a Zodiac and immerse yourself in the scenery with an icy kayak adventure.
With polar bears, Arctic foxes, walruses, seals and whales all calling the island of Spitsbergen home, there’s no wonder it’s known as the wildlife capital of the Arctic — imagine ghostly white slabs of ice sitting starkly atop turquoise waters as your eyes scan the rugged horizon for wildlife. Whether it’s the powerful polar bear, striding across the ice or a haulout of walruses bellowing as they fight their way ashore, the Arctic’s animal life is unique, tenacious and captivating.
Why: History and isolated landscapes
What: Polar bears, walrus and seabirds
Where: Glaciated Novaya Zemlya, where the earliest Arctic explorers overwintered, the rarely visited Franz Josef Land (offering a great chance to see polar bears)
One of the most sparsely populated and isolated lands on earth, the Russian Arctic is still one of the least explored areas in the world. Following in the footsteps of early northern explorers, travellers to the Russian Arctic will witness unique and beautiful lands, from the ancient mountains of Novaya Zemlya and the wildlife sanctuary of Franz Josef Land to majestic ice-capped peaks and rugged isolated beauty. Immerse yourself in a corner of our planet few humans have ever seen.
With an expedition to the Russian Arctic, be prepared for a new experience every day: watch glaciers calving, wildlife frolicking among pristine ice shelves, panoramic views of the largest of the Eurasian arctic archipelagos and discover the third-largest wilderness area in Europe, Novaya Zemlya (“New Land”).
Why: The top of the world
What: Polar bears, Arctic seabirds, seals
Where: Stand at the top of the world at 90° North, Chena Hot Springs, Champ Island (home to mysterious marble stones, perfectly round and up to three metres in diameter), sprawling tundra near Salisbury Island and the mountainous and partially glaciated landscape of Nansen Island.
When: June and July
When it comes to travel bucket lists, few places deliver better than the North Pole. Home to no one (other than the elusive St Nick), the North Pole is the ultimate Arctic adventure. A land where the sun is always shining, the ice constantly moving and the nearest landmass located over 1000 kilometres away, the North Pole has no physical land underneath the ice, meaning it faces one of the most uncertain futures on Earth with the ever-growing effects of global warming.
Crushing your way through the ice cap, you’ll make your way farther north than the majority of humans ever will, with fewer people visiting the North Pole than have attempted to summit Everest. Spot polar bears hunting seals atop sprawling ice sheets and experience panoramic views of the sea ice from a hot air balloon surrounded by the surreal Arctic nature — all underneath the magical midnight sun.
Quark Expeditions offers adventures to the most rugged, remote, ice-choked and unexplored regions in the world. With every expedition being completely unique, dependent on weather and ice conditions, Quark Expeditions delivers intimate wildlife encounters and unrivalled exploration onboard small ships with under 200 passengers. You'll visit hard-to-reach and rarely seen regions and iconic polar landscapes onboard state-of-the-art vessels with adventure options including paddling, kayaking, helicopter sightseeing, heli-hiking, ice-sheet experiences and even Arctic mountain-biking adventures. Trailblazer, nature-enthusiast or bucket-lister, Quark Expeditions has an Arctic adventure for you.