Enjoy a guided tour of colourful Spitsbergen’ capital Longyearbyen. Late afternoon sees us warmly welcomed on board Polar Pioneer.
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Enjoy the best of Svalbard, a world of endless daylight, where polar bear sightings quicken your pulse, guillemot cries echo from sea cliffs and beluga whales rise from the sea. Explore tundra adorned with wildflowers and historic camps of explorers and hunters. Push through pack ice to find walrus and bearded seals. Our schedule is flexible and we make the most of spontaneous opportunities.
Day 1 - Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen; Embarkation Day
Enjoy a guided tour of colourful Spitsbergen’ capital Longyearbyen. Late afternoon sees us warmly welcomed on board Polar Pioneer.
Day 2/10 - Exploring Svalbard
Over the next ten days, the Svalbard Archipelago is ours to explore. Our experienced expedition team, who have made countless journeys to this area, will use their expertise to design our voyage from day to day. This allows us to make best use of the prevailing weather, ice conditions and wildlife opportunities.
There are many exciting places we can choose to visit; a sample of some of the places where we may land, hike, photograph or view spectacular wildlife and scenery follows:
Kongsfjorden (Kings Bay): Kongsfjorden and the surrounding country are known to be one of the most beautiful fjord areas in Svalbard. The fjord is headed by two giant glaciers, Kronebreen and Kongsvegen. Hike on the lush tundra amongst the summer flowers and observe the remarkable bird cliffs near the 14th July Glacier, where even a few puffins nest between the cracks in the cliffs.
In this area we find the former mining settlement of Ny-Ålesund. Situated at 78º 55' N, Ny-Ålesund is one of the world’s northern-most year-round communities. The settlement of Ny-Ålesund is strongly linked to coal mining operations, scientific expeditions and recently also to various international research efforts. It is located more than 100 km north of Longyearbyen and is one of the northernmost settlements in the world. In and around Ny-Ålesund is found the largest concentration of protected buildings, cultural monuments and various remains in Svalbard, rendering the place an important cultural heritage site. The cultural history is represented by the town itself, including 30 listed buildings (out of 60 in total), industrial monuments related to the coal mining operations, Roald Amundsen’s airship mooring mast and hangar foundation and some remains of research activities. Ny-Ålesund is the largest Norwegian settlement in Svalbard that was not set fire to during World War II. The settlement is well preserved and worth experiencing, and serves as a valuable historical source.
Ny-Ålesund has also been the starting point of several historical attempts to reach the North Pole. Names like Amundsen, Ellsworth and Nobile are strongly linked to Ny-Ålesund. The place has been a centre for tourist operations, with several hotels located in town. Today, approximately 20, 000 travellers visit Ny-Ålesund on a yearly basis. Since 1964, Ny-Ålesund has also been a centre for international Arctic research and environmental monitoring. A number of countries run their own national research stations here, and research activity is high in the summer.
The islands and islets in the inner part of Kongsfjorden teem with birds. At the head of the fjord, mighty glaciers calve into the sea. All of this is framed by characteristic mountain formations. Situated at the north side of the fjord, London is a monument to past optimistic expectations for big money from the supply of marble to the world market. Further north-west lies Krossfjorden, with its cultural remains from the whaling period, Russian and Norwegian overwinterings and World War II. Large bird cliffs are also found here.
Nordvesthjørnet and Raudfjorden: It was here, in the far north-west, that Willem Barentsz and his crew discovered new land on 17 June, 1596. They described the land as being “rugged for the most part, and steep, mostly mountains and jagged peaks, from which we gave it the name of Spitsbergen”. In the centuries that followed, the large number of bowhead whales found here attracted whalers from the Netherlands and various other countries, and the area became a place of high activity, both on the shore and in the surrounding sea. This is why Nordvesthjørnet offers the largest concentration of graves, blubber ovens and other cultural treasures on Spitsbergen, all dating back to this first era of the exploitation of Svalbard’s natural resources.
Magdalenefjorden: Cruise northwards along the west coast of Spitsbergen, visiting intriguing places like Magdalenefjorden, located inside the Northwest Spitsbergen National Park. According to historical sources, Magdalenefjorden was first used by the English in the early days of the whaling era. They erected a land station on the headland and named the area Trinity Harbour. The station was closed in 1623, but the cemetery remained in use. More tourists are visiting Gravneset than any other site in Svalbard outside the settlements, but since 2015, ships carrying heavy fuel on board are no longer permitted to enter the large national parks and nature reserves in Svalbard.
The spectacular alpine scenery is lined with jagged mountain peaks, to which Spitsbergen (‘pointed mountains’) owes its name. At 1,115 metres / 3,658 feet, Hornemanntoppen is the highest mountain in the area is, located east of Magdalenefjorden. The topography of the area is mostly rocky, shorelines are covered with stones and walking here can be challenging. The topography also does not allow for much vegetation, which is limited to mosses and lichens near bird colonies. Little auks are breeding in large numbers in scree slopes everywhere around Magdalenefjorden. Amazingly, a few reindeer occasionally roam around on mossy slopes and polar bears as well as walrus are regularly seen here.
Smeerenberg: The name “Smeerenburg” means “Blubber Town”. Its whaling station served as the main base for Dutch whaling in the first half of the 17th century, which was the period when whale hunting was still happening along the coastline and in the fjords of Svalbard. Smeerenburg is situated on the island of Amsterdamøya, surrounded by fjords, tall glacier fronts and steep, rugged mountains. The most obvious sign of its days as a whaling station are the large cement-like remains of blubber from ovens where the blubber was boiled. The rest of the old Smeerenburg has largely disappeared under layers of sand.
Virgohamna is one of Svalbard's most important cultural heritage sites. On the beach are remains of blubber ovens and a Dutch whaling station. There are also graves from the whaling period. But Virgohamna is most famous for being the starting place of many an expedition attempting to reach the North Pole. Both Andrée (1896, 1897) and Wellman (1906, 1907, 1909) built bases here, consisting of a balloon shed, airship hangars and gas production works. The place was named after Andrée's steamship and transport vessel, the Virgo. All the areas with cultural remains in Virgohamna are protected. To disembark here, one must have written permission from the Governor of Svalbard.
Ytre Norskøya is situated in the middle of what used to be the Dutch whaling area in the early 1600s, when it all revolved around land-based stations for boiling the whale blubber. The station is situated by the sound Norskøysundet, between the islands of Ytre Norskøya and Indre Norskøya. A sheltered bay offers protection against the weather and a broad beach facilitates landings. Today, the remains of nine blubber ovens lie in a line along the beach in the bay. The area with 165 graves on the island is one of the largest burial grounds in Svalbard.
Woodfjorden, Liefdefjorden and Bockfjorden: Located along the north coast, Woodfjorden, Liefdefjorden and Bockfjorden are rarely-visited places. This is the land of contrasts. By the large, flat Reinsdyrflya there is a great fjord system that stretches towards several mountain ridges of varying shapes and ages, including alpine summits of very old granite, majestic red mountains of Devonian sandstone, cone-shaped remnants of three volcanoes and even hot springs. Large glacier fronts calve in the sea, while polar bears are busy hunting for ringed seals and sweeping the islets for birds’ eggs. Walk on smooth raised beach terraces to a superb viewpoint or hike in the mountains on the tundra where pretty brightly coloured wildflowers and lichen grow and where reindeer graze. We may visit trapper huts of yesteryear where Russian Pomors would hunt and survive the cold harsh winters, all while remaining alert for wandering polar bears and their cubs.
Nordaust-Svalbard Nature Reserve: Nordaust-Svalbard Nature Reserve is the most high-Arctic part of Svalbard. The fjords are covered in ice, and drift ice floats around the islands for most of the year. Glaciers cover large areas of the terrain. This is the kingdom of the polar bear and walrus. It has been protected as a nature reserve since 1973.
Nordaustlandet is the second largest island in Svalbard, with an area of 14,443 km². It is part of Nordaust-Svalbard Nature Reserve. The two large ice sheets of Austfonna and Vestfonna cover large areas of the island. The landscape is open and majestic with different types of landscapes, from the prominent fjords in the west and north to the massive glacier front facing east and south. From a distance, Nordaustlandet appears cold, unfriendly and unproductive. However, many places are unexpectedly lush, especially close to the bird cliffs.
The vegetation on land and the production in the sea have together formed a foundation for the terrestrial and marine wildlife, creating hunting opportunities for people. There are fewer signs of human activity on Nordaustlandet than in the rest of Svalbard, although there are cultural remains from Russian and Norwegian overwintering trapping, from scientific research and expeditions and from World War II. A research station in Kinnvika in Murchisonfjorden dates from the International Geophysical Year 1957-1958. A wartime memory can also be found on Nordaustlandet in the form of Station Haudegen, the German weather station in Rijpfjorden. There is a traffic ban in the near vicinity of this station. And it was on the island of Kvitøya that the story of the Andrée expedition and its mysterious disappearance and tragic end were finally unravelled.
Moffen Island: Moffen Island is situated directly north of 80°N. After the near-exctinction of walrus in Svalbard in the middle of the 20th century, Moffen Island played an important role in re-establishing the species here, a process which is still going on. Today, there are often larger numbers of walrus hauled out at the southern tip of the island. This is the reason why Moffen is protected. Approach during the summer (15th May to 15th September) is limited to a minimum distance of 500 metres / 1,640 feet.
Sjuøyane (Seven Islands): In the very north of Svalbard, in the ocean north of Nordaustlandet, is the little archipelago of Sjuøyane (the seven islands), with its characteristically hat-shaped mountains. The hard granite mountains have acquired a green covering of moss due to thousands of breeding seabirds. Walrus dive for clams in the waters between the islands and in the bays. Most of the islands have been named after the English North Pole expeditions led by Phipps (1773) and Parry (1827).
Sjuøyane are located at about 80°45′N. The mountains, of gneiss and granites, are tied together by plains created by deposits, which have given the islands their large, semi-circular bays. In general the sparse vegetation belongs to the Arctic polar desert zone. However, fertilisation by bird droppings provide a breeding ground for mosses and scurvygrass (Cochlearia groenlandica), which give some of the mountains their characteristic greenish colour.
When the ice breaks up around Sjuøyane and the first seabirds return in April–May, the islands wake again after a long winter, during which the only wildlife is the odd polar bear, Arctic fox, reindeer and walrus. There is a large number of bird cliffs in Sjuøyane, scattered around most of the islands. Little auks come in the largest numbers, but there are also several smaller colonies of Atlantic puffins and Brünnich’s guillemots. Common guillemots nest scattered around the islands. One of the few known colonies of ivory gulls can be found on Phippsøya. Ivory gulls are categorized as listed as a Near Threatened Species.
There are also several haul-out sites for walrus on Sjuøyane. The most reliable place to encounter them is Isflakbukta on the island of Phippsøya. Up to 100 animals can be seen on the beach, and normally walrus are very active in the shallow bay.
Polar bears can be seen anywhere on Sjuøyane. The polar bear distribution is strongly related to the distribution of sea ice. If there is drift ice around the islands it is more likely that there will be polar bears on the islands. Usually there are also a few polar bears remaining in the area over the summer. Reindeer and Arctic fox are also found on Sjuøyane.
Hinlopen Strait: Along the northeast coast of Spitsbergen we enter a different world – a polar desert. If ice conditions allow we will pass south through the narrow Hinlopen Strait. The strait is flanked by creamy coloured slabs of rock that are rich in fossils, as we will discover for ourselves when we go ashore. We may visit Alkefjellet in the Strait, where a series of one-hundred-metre-high dolerite towers are home to nearly a million nesting Brünnich’s guillemots – the penguins of the north – that occupy every available nook and cranny. Elsewhere we seek out eider ducks and geese and hope to spot Arctic fox and the beautiful ivory gulls. Polar bears are common in the Hinlopen area. Normally a few summer bears can be spotted on the islands in Hinlopen Strait or around the bird cliffs.
In spring, Hinlopen Strait is full of life, when the seabirds return. There is lots of noise out in the sound, as the little auk, Brünnich’s guillemot and northern fulmar all make their presence known. Most birds go to the western part of Hinlopen Strait: from Lomfjorden and southwards.
Alkefjellet to the south of Lomfjorden is the largest bird cliff in the area with several hundred thousand black-legged kittiwakes and as many Brünnick’s guillemots. There are also several colonies of northern fulmar in the area, and little auks nest scattered in Hinlopen Strait. Brünnich’s guillemots nest in many colonies, including on the island of Wahlbergøya. Black-legged kittiwakes and black guillemots also breed in several of the colonies, most of them west of Hinlopen Strait, but also around Wahlenbergfjorden. One of the colonies is on Selanderneset. Common eiders also nest in many places, but the locations have been very poorly mapped. However, there is known to be a large colony on the island of Lemströmøya, north of Wahlbergøya.
Several of the most famous and most visited haul-out sites for walrus can be found in Hinlopen Strait. Worth mentioning are Augustabukta/Torellneset and Vibebukta. White whales, ringed seals and bearded seals also occur in the area.
The abundance of reindeer in the area varies greatly. The density is highest where the vegetation is most pronounced, such as the inner parts of Lomfjorden, at the bottom of Wahlenbergfjorden, in Palanderdalen and on Scaniahalvøya. A smaller number of reindeer are also scattered around the islands in Hinlopen Strait, and the Arctic fox can be seen on both sides of the strait. There is no doubt that the easiest place to observe foxes is around the bird cliffs. This is often also where dens can be found so we avoid entering these areas.
Barentsøya and Edgeøya: East of Spitsbergen are two large islands called Barentsøya and Edgeøya. The area has a rich wildlife, especially when it comes to polar bears, reindeer, walrus, seabirds and geese. In the west of Edgeøya there are cultural remains from European whaling. Edgeøya and Tusenøyane were the main area for Russian overwintering hunting between 1700 and 1850. Traces of Norwegian overwintering hunting as well as newer scientific research can also be found. The area has been a nature reserve since 1973.
The beautiful fertile plains of Sundeneset and the area between Spitsbergen and the smaller islands of Barentsøya and Edgeøya, are a major polar bear migration route. The spongy ground is richly covered with bright green mosses, a variety of delicate and colourful flowers, particularly the yellow marsh (bog) saxifrage, various mushrooms, fungi, clear bubbling streams and small tarns. Tiny (micro) flowers such as Mouse Ears grow in Spitsbergen creating faerie like mossy rock gardens. We explore this beautiful terrain on foot, marvelling at the contrast between the colourful soft ground and the barren, rocky terrain from further north. Reindeer antlers lie scattered along the ground.
Isfjorden: Alkhornet, at the northern entrance of Isfjorden, is a striking landmark. The landscape around this large bird cliff is lush and beautiful. East of Alkhornet you can find a deep and several kilometre long bay with an exciting and diverse history. Here you will find important and vulnerable cultural remains dating from several of Svalbard’s historical periods. Alkhornet and Trygghamna offer visitors an interesting combination of cultural history and natural environment. The name Trygghamna is derived from the old Dutch name Behouden Haven and the English Safe Harbour or Safe Haven, all with the same meaning. The name reflects on the West European whaling that was carried out around Svalbard in the 17th century when whales would swim into the fjords and subsequently be caught. Trygghamna was, and still is, the perfect harbour with good anchorage. Because of its favourable geographical position, this harbour was early known and continuously in use.
At Alkhornet, reindeer observations are common, there are several fox dens, geese nest on rocks and higher up, and the bird cliff is loaded with Brünnich’s guillemots in hundreds of thousands. The cliff also houses a large colony of kittiwakes. Often seen is the glaucous gull patrolling the air around the cliff for potential prey. Arctic skuas nest here as well. The moss tundra below the cliffs bear witness of constant influx of fertilizers and some areas are extraordinary lush for this reason.
Hornsund: Majestic peaks and dramatic fjords make a visit to Hornsund special. The highest summits are often shrouded in mist, but if you are lucky you might get a glimpse of Hornsundtind, peaking at 1,431 metres / 4,695 feet. Hornsund is the southernmost fjord in Svalbard located in Sør-Spitsbergen National Park. Traces of human activity spanning 400 years can be found almost anywhere where there are possible landing sites.
With regards to birdlife, Hornsund is mainly the domain of the little auks, due to the large scree slopes – their typical nesting habitat. With abundant plankton and crustaceans, Hornsund and the areas off the west coast represent a giant food reservoir for the little auk. The West Spitsbergen Current – a branch of the Gulf Stream – brings temperate waters north along the western Spitsbergen coast and provides favourable conditions for biological production in the area.
Northern fulmar can be seen in several colonies in Hornsund. Brünnich’s guillemot and kittiwake nest at the same locations. Dunøyane and Isøyane are important nesting areas for barnacle geese, and the islands were protected as bird sanctuaries back in 1973. The sanctuaries and the strand flats on the west coast are important migrating localities for barnacle geese, pink-footed geese and brent geese. Pink-footed geese nest in large numbers on Dunøyane and on scree slopes and hillsides close to the sea, including in Hyttevika north of Hornsund and Gnålodden. In June, traffic in these areas can easily scare birds off the nest and leave the eggs unprotected and open for nest-plunderers like the glaucous gull and Arctic fox. Eider ducks nest in the sanctuaries and at most headlands and islets in the Hornsund area, including the islets off Gnålodden, at Hornsundneset, in Steinvika and Hyttevika.
A huge colony of little auks is situated at Ariekammen (100,000 to 1 million individuals) and is probably the largest in Svalbard. If you have ever been close to such a large colony when the little auks are swarming you will never forget it.
There are not many reindeer in the Hornsund area. The reindeer is mainly associated to the strand flats and valleys on the west coast and inside the fjords. The strand flats are important winter habitats, but are prone to icing (warm weather and above-zero temperatures, followed by cold weather), which makes food hard to reach. These episodes reduce reindeer numbers dramatically from time to time. The Hornsund area sustains a solid population of Arctic fox.
Bellsund cuts into Spitsbergen south of Isfjorden and splits into two branches: the fjords Van Mijenfjorden and Van Keulenfjorden. The landscape around here is characterized by high mountains where different geological structures can be seen clearly, including impressive folds. There are large bird cliffs in the area; fertilization by seabird droppings accounts for the surprisingly lush vegetation in some areas. The area holds cultural remains from several periods of Svalbard’s history, the most prominent being the era of mineral exploration and mining at the beginning of the 20th century.
Day 11/12 - At Sea
Crossing the Barents Sea to Kirkenes offers some good opportunities to encounter whales and certainly plenty of opportunities to photograph sea birds. You may enjoy final presentations from our team of experts, spend your time editing photos or simply relaxing.
Day 13 - Kirkenes, Norway: Disembarkation day
During the early morning, we cruise into the Bokfjord towards Kirkenes. Farewell your expedition team and fellow expeditioners as we all continue our onward journeys. A transfer is included to the airport.
Please consider that our voyages are expeditionary in nature. This means, that there are no concrete itineraries, your captain and expedition leader will utilise their vast experience to chart the best course for your expedition depending on the climatic and environmental conditions. Mentioned highlights and wildlife cannot be guaranteed.
The experience of sea kayaking in the humbling wilderness of the European Arctic is guaranteed to stir your soul. Paddle between brash ice and icebergs of all shapes and sizes, skim past penguin rookeries or under soaring bird cliffs, or drift quietly as you watch wildlife unobtrusively, absorbing the majestic scenery. Led by experienced guides, paddling in small groups allows us the opportunity to paddle between ice floes, brash ice and icebergs of all shapes and sizes as well as allowing easy and intimate access to beautiful coastlines.
Svalbard is the Arctic North as you always dreamed it existed. This wondrous archipelago is a land of dramatic snow-drowned peaks and glaciers, of vast icefields and forbidding icebergs, an elemental place where the seemingly endless Arctic night and the perpetual sunlight of summer carry a deeper kind of magic. One of Europe's last great wildernesses, this is also the domain of more polar bears than people, a terrain rich in epic legends of polar exploration.
To many people, the polar bear is the Arctic. The sight of such an impressive silky white bear wandering the frozen Arctic seas in search of seals symbolizes the cold, isolated nature of the Arctic so well. Polar bears are marine mammals because they spend so much of their lives away from land. In the high Arctic where there is always some sea ice to travel on, polar bears range over ice floes in the pack ice hunting seals all summer. In some areas (e.g. southern Hudson Bay, southern Svalbard) they are simply forced to come ashore. Polar bears rarely venture inland.
Complimentary custom-designed polar expedition jacket and use of gumboots during voyage
The Greg Mortimer, named after the Australian adventurer and Polar tourism pioneer (Greg Mortimer OAM), this unique vessel utilises some of the latest advancements in naval design & technology to revolutionise the small ship expedition cruising experience. The X-BOW makes sailing smoother and faster while protecting the vulnerable environments visited using a virtual anchoring system. Shore excursions are made easier, with four sea-level Zodiac loading decks & a specially-crafted activity platform, designed in close consultation with our world-renowned expedition & activity leaders. Unlike many new ships, the Greg Mortimer is not striving for absolute luxury. It will of course, be brand new, modern and comfortable in every way, but will stay true to a relaxed, comfortable and homely style of travel, purely focused on the expedition and destination. Ship Features: - Highly qualified and experienced expedition team and international crew - X-BOW® hull, designed to offer faster and more comfortable travel enabling the ship to pierce through waves and maintain speed of travel, lower fuel consumption and reduced air pollution emissions - All cabins feature twin or king bedding configuration and private bathroom. 80% of cabins include a private balcony. 60% of cabins can accommodate a third person - Purpose-built activities preparation areas including four Zodiac launching platforms for fast and safe transition off the ship as you embark on multiple daily excursions - Observation lounge and viewing platforms offer spectacular panoramic views of scenery and wildlife. - State-of-the-art lecture theatre, two hot tubs/plunge pools, art room, library, gym, wellness centre and more!
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