Visiting the High Arctic

May 6, 2003
Author: P&S

Choosing a holiday on board a ship is never an easy task, particularly with so many options available, so many places to visit, and so many ways to cruise.

These choices include well-proven favourites such as cruising the Mediterranean or Caribbean, or ‘doing’ the Baltic and Scandinavia at the height of the northern summer.

For many the fact that you are among hundreds if not thousands of other guests on board ship is all part of the excitement and allure, but for others it might be that you want to get away from it all, and be somewhere less inhabited by your fellow human being.

Which is why specialist cruising has become an important choice, offering full time cruising without the crowds of sightseers and providing visits to the more out of the way destination.

Fortunately some of the least explored parts of our world have now become accessible without becoming overcrowded. For instance it was not that many years ago that only intrepid explorers could visit regions in the high Arctic above Canada and Greenland, or those remote far eastern lands separating Russia from Alaska, places such as Wrangel Island, known previously only through National geographic movies. But today it’s possible to go there in the comfort of well-founded ice-breaking ships, and be among other like-minded people who share your interests, all the while being assisted by experts in the history and geography of the wild places being visited.

This is where specialist tours organised by Unique Destinations come into their own, providing access to such remote spots where one can explore the archaeological, cultural and natural history of these remote lands.

Such a cruise is to a world on the edge of the Arctic pack ice, peopled by the most northerly populations, of which Wrangel Island is a world famous nature reserve protected and preserved by its sheer isolation and surrounded by the formidable East Siberian Sea. The ship, the Kapitan Khlebnikov sails there only at the height of the northern summer (July), which is the best time to explore and appreciate the wild life and flora of this strange island, which has the world’s greatest number of polar bears and walruses. You also get the opportunity that few others can boast of by sailing through the Bering Strait and visiting other remote islands off the Chutkotka Peninsular.

Yet another exciting opportunity this August is to visit and explore North Canada and Greenland, the land of the Inuit made famous by explorers Robert Peary, Sir John Franklin, Otto Sverdrup and Adolphus Greely.

The tour starts in Ottawa from where you fly to Resolute (doesn’t that name conjure up images of isolation?) to join the Kapitan Khlebnikov for the voyage through the ice into Baffin Bay and Ellismere Island, navigating along the American Polar Route.

Both the Siberian and Canadian trips last 19 and 14 days respectively (10-22/3 July for Russia – you cross the International Date Line) and 6-19 August for Canada/Greenland).

The ship on both voyages is the Russian icebreaker Kapitan Khlebnikov, with quality accommodation and facilities including the use of helicopter and zodiac for excursions off ship and ashore.

The vessel was built in 1980 by Wartsila in Finland and is specially designed to work in the challenging conditions of the High Arctic. The ship has 54 outside cabins and suites, each featuring private bathroom en suite, two lower berths, a desk and large cupboard space. Public areas include two dining rooms (catering is to European standard and international cuisine), a lounge and bar, well stocked auditorium, indoor swimming pool (yes, swimming in the Arctic), gymnasium and sauna.

The navigation bridge offers spectacular views as the ship negotiates her way but for other occasions passengers have access to a well-stocked library of polar books and videos, a shop and small infirmary. The ship also has an elevator (lift) for those who find stairs difficult.

From a navigational and safety aspect the ship packs 24,000 horse power and a massive icebreaking hull for any eventuality, and is equipped with the latest satellite navigation and communication equipment, including sophisticated Immarsat telephone, facsimile and email.

Zodiac landing craft are used for shore excursions to remote beaches and to explore cliff faces and is supported by helicopter for ice and wildlife reconnaissance, providing outstanding aerial views of polar landscapes. On occasion local landbased helicopters are used for this purpose – these excursions are weather dependent.

Unique Destinations is offering a 45 % discount on fares beginning at USD4950 per person sharing. Full details available from Hans van Heukelum at (27) 073 145 2191 or (+27) 021 462 7032 (Cape Town).

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