Following the Polar Bears
Spitsbergen, part of Svalbard archipelago, a remote island chain situated between Norway and the North Pole, offers a tremendous wildlife and birdlife experience, as well as a fascinating lesson in glaciology. First used as a whaling base in the 17th and 18th centuries, the islands are now celebrated as a breeding ground for many seabirds, along with marine mammals and the elusive polar bear.
As we voyage up the coastline we will watch the wildlife and witness glaciers, ice filled bays and fascinating plant life, while soaking up the stunning landscapes that surrounds us. A major focus on our voyage will be the wildlife that inhabits the edges of the Arctic ice pack. It’s here, at more than 80° North of latitude and less than 600 miles from the North Pole, that we often find polar bears. These magnificent animals are the iconic symbol of the Arctic. We also hope to see a great diversity of wildlife including beluga whales, walrus, reindeer, Arctic fox and witness birdlife in staggering numbers. Our days are filled with guided shore excursions affording excellent hiking opportunities, zodiac cruising and exploring on the ship.
For the photography enthusiasts, this trip is a must!
Day 1 – Longyearbyen, Svalbard
Today we embark our expedition ship, the Akademik Sergey Vavilov in Longyearbyen and as we throw the lines, we sail out of Adventfjorden and into Isfjorden during the early evening. With almost 24 hours of daylight at this time of the year, enjoy the views from the outer decks of the ship as we depart. We meet our expedition team during an introductory briefing and then enjoy a welcome dinner in the ships comfortable dining room.
Days 2 & 3 – Krossfjorden and Northwestern Spitsbergen
The rocky shores of Krossfjorden are home to numerous bird colonies and a range of species. We anchor the ship off one small harbour and cruise in the zodiacs along the bird cliffs near the 14th of July glacier. Bearded and ringed seals are known to frequent the area and we keep our eyes peeled for them in the dark waters of the fjord.
Lilliehook Glacier, at the head of the northwestern arm of Krossfjorden is an incredible sight. The glacier face stretches almost seven kilometres and has a height of around 80-meters. Viewed from the ship or on a zodiac cruise you come to appreciate the enormous scale of our surroundings. Later in the day as we sail out of Krossfjorden and Kongsfjorden, we may be fortunate enough to see the historic airship anchor pylon near the scientific community of Ny Ålesund.
Smeerenburgfjorden has a four hundred year history of whaling and is a favorite spot as we round the north-western tip of Spitsbergen. A wander along the beach looking at the blubber cookers, or an hour behind a tripod shooting landscapes on your camera might be on the schedule, and we are always on the lookout for wildlife that can appear anywhere in Svalbard.
Days 4 & 5 – Polar Pack Ice, Phippsoya and the Seven Islands
We continue north and east up into the ice, aiming to cross the 80° north parallel. As we approach the ice edge the ship slows down and all hands are either on the bridge or out on the outer decks as we start scanning for wildlife. Bearded seals, ringed seals and walrus may be found hauled out on the edges of the ice. Harp seals swim in herds of 10 to 20 through the open water channels in the ice. A buttery colored lump miles away on the ice metamorphoses into a polar bear as we slowly work our way through the ice toward it. Our ship is perfectly designed for near silent approach to the wildlife on the ice and our Captain takes great pride in bringing us in close enough to experience the wildlife without disturbing it.
At 81° degrees north latitude, Phippsoya, one of the Seven Islands, is only 540 nautical miles from the North Pole. Because of its proximity to the permanent pack ice, Phippsoya offers the potential for great polar bear viewing. We have enjoyed excellent encounters with them in recent seasons in this vicinity. Be sure to get up to the bridge and take a picture of the ships GPS showing this incredibly high polar latitude, so close to the North Pole!
Days 6,7,8 – Hinlopen Strait and Nordaustlandet
From the ice edge we head south into the strait separating Svalbard’s two main islands: Spitsbergen and Nordaustlandet. In Hinlopen Strait the bird cliffs at Alkefjellet are home to more than a hundred thousand breeding Brunnich’s guillemots, as well as thousands of kittiwakes and black guillemots. A spectacular site and a challenging one for our zodiacs as the tidal currents roar through Hinlopen Strait. Nearby Murchison Fjord is a wonderful place to kayak or cruise as we navigate the waterways between the islands. There are some excellent hiking routes here which take us up to high points affording staggering views, countless photographic opportunities and chances of encountering Arctic wildlife.
Day 9 – Leifdefjorden
Entering Leifdefjorden we slowly cruise towards the Monaco Glacier – a vast sweep of ice several kilometers wide. We often encounter beluga whales along the coastline in this vicinity. The adults are pure white and the younger animals a mottled grey. It is estimated that there are approximately five to ten thousand belugas in the Svalbard population.
Monaco Glacier provides a fabulous backdrop for a zodiac cruise. Miles of ice face broken up by ice caves and tumbling seracs are a sight to behold, as are the thousands of black-legged kittiwakes feeding on the upwelling of nutrients found near the sub-glacial outflow. A morning of cruising in the ice is best followed by a hike on the tundra. Red phalaropes, purple sandpipers and vibrant tundra provide plenty of viewing and photography opportunities. As we explore the landscape on foot, the remains of fox traps and sun bleached seal bones speak of both human interaction and wildlife predation.
Day 10 – Alkehornet
Alkehornet, at the mouth of Isfjord, offers breathtaking views and an incredible tundra walk as we near the end of our adventure in Svalbard. Arctic fox can often be seen here, as well as reindeer. Towering above the landing site is a horn-shaped mount covered in guillemots and kittiwakes. Only as we approach and stop to listen will we hear the chorus of thousands of birds, all singing at the same time. This evening we celebrate our journey with a special dinner attended by the ship’s Captain. It’s a great time to reflect on a wonderful voyage in this wild and remote corner of the planet.
Day 11 – Longyearbyen
Arriving back into Longyearbyen this morning, we disembark after breakfast and say farewell to our expedition team and fellow passengers. A transfer into town is provided for those choosing to stay a few days. If you are departing today, we have a few hours this morning to explore the town, before transferring to the airport for your onward flight to Tromso or Oslo.
Specific sites visited will depend on ice and weather conditions experienced and the itinerary will be updated throughout the voyage in order to take advantage of favourable conditions.
1. 11 days, 10 nights on board Akademik Vavilov ship.
2. Guided shore excursions in english.
3. professional photography guide.
4. 3 meals a day
5. Water and wind proof overall and boots.
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