Fabled Lands of the North: Greenland to Newfoundland
Fabled Lands Of The North: Greenland to Newfoundland
On this north-to-south expedition aboard National Geographic Explorer, begin by sailing the spectacular, 100-mile-long Kangerlussuaq Fjord. Then venture into ice-thronged waters to confront the towering ice wall of Ilulissat Icefjord—a UNESCO World Heritage site—and navigate the Davis Strait to Baffin Island. Along the way, encounter a historic Viking village, an abandoned Moravian mission, and the fascinating traditions of the Inuit communities who still live in these remote places. Ranging through the Hudson Strait, we make our way, like the Vikings before us, further south to Newfoundland and Labrador, navigating magnificent icebergs. Hike the tundra while being on the lookout for caribou and arctic foxes; and seek out whales, walruses, and polar bears along the rugged coastlines by sea kayak and Zodiac.
Explore two UNESCO World Heritage sites alongside a team of experts: glide among soaring icebergs at the mouth of the Ilulissat Icefjord; and ponder the remains of the 11th-century Viking village at L’Anse aux Meadows
Meet Inuit artisans on Baffin Island and learn about their carving and weaving traditions
Join our naturalists to search for polar bears, caribou, arctic foxes, humpback and minke whales, walruses, and more in their natural habitat
Explore the untamed coasts of Newfoundland and Labrador, discovering spectacular fjords and cliffs on foot and by kayak and Zodiac
Explore three distinct regions in the north on a far-ranging expedition. You’ll discover Greenland’s epic ice; Baffin Island’s sublime wildlife; and Newfoundland’s intriguing culture, history, and landscapes. There will be opportunities to hike, kayak, and Zodiac cruise. Meet welcoming people and learn how their ways of life are changing. Go with a top expedition team, and each day join a different naturalist for more viewpoints. Plus, get top photos with the help of a certified photo instructor.
Book now to receive complimentary charter airfare from Reykjavík to Kangerlussuaq. Complimentary air is based on economy group flights and must be ticketed by Lindblad Expeditions. In the case that Lindblad's group flight is not available at time of booking, we reserve the right to issue a credit. Baggage fees may be additional. Call for details.
FREE BAR TAB AND CREW TIPS INCLUDED
We will cover your bar tab and all tips for the crew on all National Geographic Resolution,National Geographic Explorer, National Geographic Endurance, and National Geographic Orion voyages.
Cabins, Dates & Rates
Travel on this itinerary from $16,360 per person
Browse our team directory to discover the full cast of expedition staff
It was not marketing hyperbole to describe our voyage as being “in the wake of the Vikings” as we have exactly followed the route of Leif Eriksson who departed from the Norse eastern settlement of Greenland in the year AD 1,000 and sailed west to what became known as “the new world.” We have a description of that voyage in one of the Icelandic sagas, the Vinland Saga, named for that voyage’s final destination. That saga names three other areas that we have traversed on this voyage: Helluland, a land of flat slabs which is most likely Baffin Island; Markland, a land of forests, which is thought to be Labrador; and finally Vinland itself, Newfoundland and the Gulf of St. Lawrence beyond. A land of forests would certainly interest Norse travelers who needed timber for their ships—there was none to be had in either Iceland or Greenland. But what are we to make of the name Vinland? There are natural vines in the region but some historians have suggested that the name signifies a land for fit for Christian settlement, a land of wheat fields and vines where the sacraments could be readily offered, for the Norse had become Christian at precisely the time of Leif Eriksson’s epic voyage.
a popular medieval tale describing the voyage of the Irish monk Brendan in these waters, the Vinland saga might have been dismissed as a fable until the painstaking archaeological research of Helge and Anne Stine Ingstad in the 1960s led to the authentication of the Viking site at L’Anse aux Meadows. Most likely it was the site used by Leif Eriksson to over winter on his way south. The settlement was epoch-making: the first iron working in the Americas, the first European child—named Snorre—to be born in the Americas, and intriguingly, the first encounter between the two great migratory branches of
who marched east or west out of Africa at the start of our human story some 50,000 years ago. It may not have been a happy encounter, if indeed an encounter occurred, as it was again repeated for another half a millennium. Our visit to the site was thus a fitting culmination to the major historical and cultural theme of the voyage. Two parts comprised this visit: the archaeological site itself and the recreated Viking village of Norstead. We had perfect weather—early autumnal sunshine enabling us both to explore the site and take good photographs.
In the afternoon, we visited the township of St. Anthony focusing on the work of the medical missionary Dr. Grenfell (1865-1940) who based his work there. His work brought medical assistance and wider awareness of the conditions endured by the numerous small fishing communities that ran the length of the Labrador coast in the days when “cod was king.” The excellent Dr. Wilfred Grenfell Interpretation Centre and Grenfell House Museum told his inspiring story. National Geographic/Lindblad guests were particularly drawn to his personal motto: “When two paths open before you, choose the most venturesome.”
It would have been tempting to hide away indoors while the wind whipped the water into whitecaps and windows skipped from crest to crest. We could have snuggled warm inside while sleet slipped between misty raindrops and a flake or two of snow flew by. Oh, it would have been so easy to nestle into a soft lounge chair and watch the enveloping fog swallow up the land. But thankfully we didn’t, and we were rewarded with sounds and smells and memories of a glorious day.
The ship inserted itself as far into the lee as possible between Great Caribou Island and Battle Island, partially freeing us from the winds. She soon hid in the veiling mists while we meandered about the shore. Some of us, aided by Battle Harbour Historic Trust guides, saw two hundred years of fishing history come alive. Others found themselves drawn to the hillsides and colors of fall. Bunchberry carpeted the rounded rocky ridges sharing their abode with crowberry and blueberry upon which whimbrels strode and horned larks flitted. Devoid of their orange aggregate fruits, cloudberry leaves turned to gold and maroon. In valleys, purplish monkshood thrust tall stalks almost shoulder high. All glistened with moisture as if adorned with sparkling jewels. No matter the direction chosen, we all eventually followed our noses to feast on fish cakes and local specialty jams.
Even more awaited our exploring eyes as the hands on the clock marched toward afternoon. Sooty shearwaters sliced through the fog as we felt our way towards the mainland and Cape Charles. The misty curtain was cast aside on our approach and Zodiacs flew once more to unknown shores. Summer homes and the paraphernalia of fisherman lined the edges of the sea but once again most of us felt the draw of the land and we meandered high above. Here were trees – real trees, not just carpets of shrubbery obstructing our passage but tallish greenery. Mountain ash and spruce thrived in the narrow valleys. We have left the arctic behind and although the vegetation still struggles with short growing seasons, it stands at least head tall in sheltered situations. Above the harbour in the moody mist, dark tannic pools dotted the landscape. Spongy mosses added a spring to each and every step. In the distance a foghorn could be heard issuing its melancholy warning and reminding us that we are no longer alone. With each step we find ourselves just a little closer to the world outside but having been in the wild we return changed, maybe just a little or maybe a whole, whole lot.
At midnight the Explorer was at 56°40’N / 59°55’W on a southeast heading bound for Quaker Hat on the southern part of Labrador. Just after sunrise, a pod of white-beaked dolphins greeted the
National Geographic Explorer
as we ploughed through the calm sea. This beautiful morning at sea was spent being on deck and bridge watching the seascape and enjoying the almost balmy temperature (45°F/7°C). Our historian David Barnes primed us about the world of the Norse, as we sailed along the coast of Markland (the Norse name for Labrador) en route to Vinland (the Norse name for Newfoundland). During late morning we were seeing our first real forest (with tall, upright spruce trees) on this voyage. We have come south of tree line and are definately out of the Arctic and into the boreal climate zone. Before lunch, National Geographic photographer Michael Melford, gave us a good introduction to the technical basics of digital photography.
Since we passed White Bear Island last evening we logged 277 nautical miles before we stopped in the afternoon at the tiny settlement, Indian Harbour, that was once home to a few fishermen. After meandering in the archipelago along Cut Throat Island, Run-by-Guess Island and Ice Tickle Island, the
National Geographic Explorer
anchored in a bay, and the kayaks were launched and populated with guests who preferred to explore the local waters that way. Others went zodiac cruising between and around the small islands and still others took a long hike on the adjacent Mundy Island.
The vegetation was very lush and berries were very, very abundant all over: black crowberries and bearberries, orange cloudberries, red bunchberries and lingonberries, as well as blue bilberries.
We had a true Indian summer afternoon in Indian Harbour. The weather was balmy (above 50°F) until we finished the outings, then the wind picked up and clouds moved in. We heaved anchor 5:00 p.m. and sailed south towards our next destination along the Labrador coast: Battle Harbour.
After recap and dinner, the photo team hosted a session in the lounge where photos from this voyage could be submitted for comments and reviews.
Clear skies and an early breakfast prepared us for our landing at Hebron, one of eight former Moravian Mission sites along the Labrador coast and by far the best preserved. Indeed, the Canadian Parks Authority embarked on a remarkable program of restoration of this historic site that includes the church meeting house and school, its adjacent garden plot and other buildings such as the Hudson’s Bay Company Office and Blubber House. We had visited another Moravian site the day before at Ramah - where the physical remains were little more that intriguing bumps on the ground surface – but today’s visit was revelatory. One could sense the Mission settlement in action, frozen in time (and, it has to be said, a little battered by half a century of north Atlantic gales) at the point of its sudden and melancholy evacuation in 1959 after over a century and quarter of service to the community.
Having their distant origins in Moravia (one of the provinces of today’s Czech Republic), by the eighteenth century the Moravians had migrated to northern Germany and on out into Denmark and Britain. Their emphasis was on personal piety, that is, regular Bible study and prayer, in hymn singing (frowned on by some other Protestants as the introduction of secular songs into the sanctuary of worship) and mission. By the 1830s, there was growing awareness in Europe of the Arctic regions, with the first voyage of HMS Beagle bringing some specimens of Fuegian aboriginals back to Britain (where they were presented to the King) and talk of finding a way through the “North-west Passage,” drawing the public’s attention to the peoples then known as the
To prospective missionaries these peoples represented a challenge as thrilling as that of any unconquered peak for a mountaineer. According to Christ’s own words in the Gospels, the new world would be ushered in only after the Gospel had been preached at “the uttermost ends of the earth.” Where else might that be if not in Tierra del Fuego or Labrador? Missions to these marginal outposts of the global community would hasten on the divine eschatological plan; the missionaries would be active participants in the Divine Plan.
We are now far less sanguine in our attitude to missionary activity, wincing at the unquestioned cultural superiority those Europeans undoubtedly felt towards the heathen they took into their care. They brought medicine but, ironically, also disease; in the case of the Yanama of Tierra del Fuego, European diseases led to the demise of the entire population within a century of the arrival of the first Anglican missionaries. But there is also a plus column. The missionaries were well-intentioned and caring; they brought literacy and new skills, softening the impact of what we must now see as an inevitable process of globalization. There was much poignancy in walking around the site, seeing the early ages of death recorded on the gravestones in the cemetery but also in reading the contemporary apology issued by the government of Newfoundland to the people of this community – not for founding the settlement (in which it played no part) but for winding it up so abruptly in 1959. Our guides were delightful young people from the local Inuit community living proof of a tradition battered and bruised yet unbroken.
In the afternoon, after a lively presentation from the Rt Hon Kim Campbell on similarities and differences between Canada and the United States, we entered the scenically spectacular waters of Mugford Tickle and were treated to several sightings of black bear and a peregrine falcon apparently attracted to the afternoon barbeque snacks being served on the aft deck!
It started with Northern lights, translucent green curtains hanging from nothing, high in the sky, dancing to a magnetic beat. Then a fresh dusting of snow on tall glacier carved-mountains whose weirdly layered rock, dark and light lines over and over, grow steep above scree slopes. Finally, light slowly fills the scene down to the last corner making the water sparkle at its high points along the sharp crests of its gentle heaving. Very pretty, very nice to take in, eye candy, special to explore by boat and by foot, but we have different ambitions today, another world to investigate.
In dry suits we drop into the water, roll in on our backs, first just bubbles and cold, at 33 degrees the water feels thick, then we begin to see. The sky, the mountains, the surface of the sea are all gone. First we recognize the most colorful, the most familiar, us, not floating, just descending slowly, expelling bubbles of breath and buoyancy. Above us we see the ‘bottom’ of the sea surface, light with dark ripples, it must be like the view from behind Alice’s looking glass. Below us we see a flat, brown bottom falling off to black nothing, the great death of the fjord. The water around us, holding us, is not blue, rather it is somewhat whitish, tinted by a thick soup of almost transparent creatures, a dab of color here and there.
This is end of the summer bloom, mostly large zooplankton now, an inch across or a tick more, animals that eat other animals rather than only phytoplankton. Most of the larger ‘creatures’ are gelatinous, harder to see for their prey, as well as would be predators. Some of zooplankton are kin to the familiar jelly, a medusa with some interesting shapes inside and a fringe of tentacles to entrap their prey.
Others seem similar to a jelly, but are only very distant relatives such as the comb jelly with eight rows of fused hairs that they rhythmically beat for locomotion. They catch their crustacean prey with two long sticky tentacles. I call it the ‘fisherman.’
The most common object in the water column, however, is a mucus ball produced by a creature more closely related to us rather than the jelly. The Larvacea, a member of our phylum, produce an intricate ‘house’ that it uses to filter food out of the water. A Lavacean looks somewhat like a safety pin to me and two, three or four times a day it will abandon its house and inflate a new, prefabbed structure in minutes.
As simple as they are, all of these zooplankton are important to the oceans, they consume, they die, they fall to the bottom of the sea, feeding creatures there or being buried by a constant marine snow, huge amounts of carbon stored in the ooze. Yes, they are small, but their numbers are legion.