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10 incredible moments from three months at sea in the Arctic

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Often, I find myself reflecting on my love for the sea. I don’t know where it came from. I didn’t grow up near the ocean, nor am I much of a beach bum. Laying around in a swimsuit, like, in front of people all day doing nothing? And how annoying is sand? Scoffs. No thanks.

Actually, if I’m being honest, I am more of a beach person now than I used to be. Pretentious young traveler me always wanted to be doing things and taking in the sights. Relaxing and holiday never belonged in the same sentence. I need to SEE and DO it ALL.

Having burnt myself out so many times since, your girl loves a lazy holiday now. Show me the resort happy hour!

But back to the ocean. With no idea where this passion came from, I can say now that I am really happy at sea. To visit the Arctic is to fall in love. I adore it. I enjoy the rocking of the boat. The wild weather and waves. The feeling of transiting in a new way. The briny air and the feeling of insignificance. Mother Natch is in charge at sea.

Visit the Arctic

Visit the Arctic

I’ve been traveling to the polar worlds by ship for years and years, making some of my favorite travel memories along the way. In these remote corners of the earth, getting around by boat is pretty much the only feasible way to visit the Arctic. My job onboard was always travel content, photography, writing, and storytelling. I sat somewhere in between the expedition team and passengers. 

But deep down, I knew I wanted to be part of the team. I wanted to get my hands dirty and learn how to work at sea. In 2023, I finally found the courage to pursue working as an expedition guide on the Ocean Endeavour, an expedition ship alternating between the Arctic with Adventure Canada and the Antarctic with Intrepid, summer to summer. 

I spent three months onboard with Adventure Canada last summer, traveling from Scotland to the Faroes to Iceland to Greenland and finishing in Canada. It was the adventure of a lifetime, and I feel honored to be part of their family. There’s such a close-knit vibe onboard. My main job was as media, taking photos and gathering content for storytelling, but I also doubled as part of the expedition team. After a decade of working independently, being part of a team felt so good. 

And arguably the best part of it all? Three months at sea means you see a ton of cool stuff. It allowed me to build on my experience, revisit places I loved, and see things through fresh eyes. If you visit the Arctic one day, hopefully, you will get to share some of these adventures, too. Here are ten of the coolest things I saw while onboard with Adventure Canada – enjoy!

Visit the Arctic

Visit the Arctic

1. Polar bears eating a beluga whale

I’ve managed to see some pretty amazing things in my life, especially since I became a full-time travel blogger in 2013. But without a doubt, one of the coolest experiences of all happened while visiting the Arctic in the Northwest Passage last September.

There is this incredible place called Coningham Bay, with a wide, shallow bay with a narrow inlet. Beluga whales like to swim into the bay to roll around and scrape off their old skin. But they become trapped inside at low tide because of the shallow entrance. Dinner time for the polar bears. 

Here, we saw over a dozen polar bears, including cubs feasting on dead whales. It was wild. Only in my morbid dreams did I imagine seeing polar bears with bloody, gorey faces. There were beluga in the bay splashing around and even narwhal! It ranks at the top of the coolest wildlife experiences ever. 

Visit the Arctic

Visit the Arctic

2. Sailing from Iceland to Greenland with Margaret Attwood

One of the coolest experiences last summer at sea was that Canadian icon and legend Margaret Attwood was onboard with us as a special guest on the Iceland to Greenland: In the Wake of the Vikings trip. If you visit the Arctic, arriving by ship is a real adventure.

A longtime friend of Adventure Canada, Margaret Attwood, joins in on a trip per year. A passionate conservationist and bird nerd along with her late husband, it was ridiculously cool to be on board with her on such a fun adventure. Very much like everybody else except with a cunning and dark sense of humor, it was inspirational to be around one of the greatest writers of our age. Hanging out with her and hearing her stories, you kind of just shut up and listen because they’re so riveting. 

She even penned a short story called Stone Mattress while onboard years ago. About revenge and murder (of course) on the Northwest Passage traveling by expedition ship, it’s now part of the book of the same name. 

Visit the Arctic

Visit the Arctic

3. Finally seeing the Northern Lights

I am so happy to report that I have finally seen the Northern Lights after all these years. It was a huge experience for me and one that I almost missed out on. 

I’ve been to the Arctic a few times, and Aurora territory, and I have never seen them. I spent a week in Arctic Finland in winter—cloudy the entire time. Other times, I’ve been in the Arctic in summertime when it doesn’t get dark—no lights. I’ve seen their equivalent a lot in New Zealand, but down here, it is nowhere near as bright or dramatic—we’re not far enough south. 

But this time, in September, as we made our way south along the western coast of Greenland, the Northern Lights came out in full force. I was getting over being sick and had gone to bed early when I started to hear knocking on my door. I ignored it for ages, but my resilient boat bestie, Krista, was not leaving til I got up to see them. Thank god for good friends!

Throwing my gear over my pajamas, we made our way to the top deck, and the aurora was popping off! It was insane! I watched it dance for ages, took a few photos, and just jumped around with everyone, celebrating such a cool experience. If you visit the Arctic and want to see the Northern Lights, Greenland is the place to be.

4. Hanging out with the Shetland ponies in Scotland

My very first trip with Adventure Canada was Scotland Slowly, which explores the northern Scottish Isles. Exploring Scotland by sea was incredible, and going by expedition ship meant we could take in many places that are usually hard to get to.

As a huge history nerd, I loved this trip. In fact, most of the books I bought for the whole season were on this trip around Scotland

But if I’m being honest here, my favorite part was being around the Shetland ponies. The Shetland Islands are not easy to access, nearly 200 kilometers north of mainland Scotland, close to Norway. We called into the tiny island of Foula for the day, home to a few dozen humans and a hell of a lot more ponies. With beautiful bird cliffs and incredible views, and tiny horses roaming around, it was a real highlight for me for the whole some.  

Visit the Arctic

Visit the Arctic

5. Standing on sea ice in Baffin Bay

By this point, I’ve been to the Arctic and Antarctic many times and spent a fair amount of time moving through sea ice, either by ship or on zodiac cruises. Punching through the ice, the crackles and booms against the ship, looking towards the horizon for polar bears, sea ice exploration is one of my favorite things about polar travel. It makes you feel like you’re exploring if you visit the Arctic.

Baffin Bay sprawls across northern Canada to Greenland. Frozen all year, channels and large parts open up in the summertime. Ice conditions definitely dictate how we travel by ship. Ships are assigned ice class rankings, depending on the strengthening to go through sea ice. The ice can be thick or thin, super-condensed, or spread out. There are heaps of factors that go into understanding sea ice conditions – many I’m still learning myself. 

But one thing I have never done before is land on sea ice, i.e., get out and walk on it. It has to be old, thick, and sturdy. This season, we found the perfect sea ice to land on in Baffin Bay, nudging the zodiacs onto the ice before hopping out and exploring for a bit. It was a really, really cool experience that not many of us have done before. It was so special. 

Visit the Arctic

Visit the Arctic

6. Getting a real education about Inuit life and history

I’ll be completely honest: I did not know heaps about Inuit life and culture before heading to the Arctic. I knew a fair amount about the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Canada, along with the horrors of the residential schools, mostly from crime podcasts I listen to. 

But then, there is only so much you can read about until you experience it yourself. And there is only so much you can even begin to comprehend as an outsider. 

Adventure Canada cares a lot about indigenous life, especially since they operate around their lands. Each trip has many local Inuk guides on board as cultural educators. They even have the only Inuk Expedition Leader in the industry. Everything happens in a real, authentic way; nothing is hidden or sugarcoated. We visited abandoned communities where Inuit residents were forced to move, see graves, and learn about the tragic history, particularly in Canada. It was really eye-opening.

Visit the Arctic

Visit the Arctic

7. Getting up close and personal with puffins in the Faroe Islands

Just like the ponies of Scotland, I was enraptured by another adorable creature – the puffin. If you visit the Arctic, hopefully you’ll see them!

I had seen puffins before on my first trip to Iceland a million years ago, but it was before I had a telephoto lens and they weren’t particularly up close. This time around, I saw them heaps, sometimes right next to you, and wow, are they one of the cutest birds of all time ever. I will die on this hill!

Much smaller than they look, they fly with the weirdest gait, legs splayed wide. We saw them a few times around Iceland and then heaps in the Faroe Islands, where they hang out on the cliffs next to some of the most popular walks. 

Visit the Arctic

Visit the Arctic

8. Having my mind blown in the Torngat Mountains 

At the edge of the Arctic Circle in Canada is one of the most incredible wilderness areas I had never heard of: the Torngat Mountains. 

I hadn’t been onboard the Ocean Endeavour long before I heard that one of the most universally beloved trips is their Greenland and Wild Labrador adventure, which spends time in the remote Torngats. Forever enamored by the very far north, land of bears and ice, Labrador hadn’t really occurred to me as a place I would love.

My very last trip of the season went here, and holy crap, guys, it was my favorite place of all. I’ll definitely go into this in detail later, but the Torngats might be my favorite mountain range in the world. A special Inuit homeland, this place is highly protected and only open for a few weeks a year. There are no roads anywhere near here. But because of Adventure Canada’s incredible relationship with Inuit, and by bringing locals onboard this trip as guides, we are able to spend nearly a week in the Torngat Mountains – with it all to ourselves. And the bears. There are tons of bears here. 

Visit the Arctic

Visit the Arctic

9. Crazy sunsets at sea in East Greenland

By mid-July we were fully immersed in the Arctic as we sailed from Iceland over to Greenland. We spent a good amount of time exploring the remote eastern side of Greenland, where very few people reside. With lots of sea ice and good weather, it was beautiful cruising through the most picturesque of Arctic landscapes. 

But what made it even more beautiful than normal with the crazy sunrises and sunsets we were getting. Sadly, this wasn’t for a good reason. 2023 was Canada’s worst wildfire summer ever. Nearly 20 million hectares of land went up in flame, burning for months at a time. 

And the smoke drifted to Greenland. Though it wasn’t super smokey or strong in southeastern Greenland, the haze contributed to long, misty sunsets that were out of this world—a beautiful tragedy.

Visit the Arctic

Visit the Arctic

10. Wandering the magnificent autumn tundra

Autumn comes early if you visit the Arctic. By September 1st, the entire countryside had turned red and gold in the far north. The mountains had their peaks dusted with the first snow, and there was a bite to the air heralding the change of seasons. The midnight sign was gone, and night returned, bringing dancing auroras amongst the stars. 

I love autumn so much, and it was cool to experience it in an entirely new landscape. There are no trees this far north, so the tundra changes colors instead. It’s also when all the berries come out, so it made hikes even better, munching on them. 

Would you like to experience some of these things if you visit the Arctic? Or have you already? Share!

Visit the Arctic

Visit the Arctic

Many thanks to Adventure Canada for hosting me in the Arctic – like always, I’m keeping it real – all opinions are my own, like you could expect less from me!

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