The Arctic coastlines offer some of the finest scenery and wildlife experiences in the world. From the Scottish Isles to the High Arctic, visitors to the region can witness enormous colonies of seabirds thronging the cliffs and shores, and enjoy the thrilling antics of whales and dolphins at sea and seals and Walrus hauled out on the rocks and ice floes. The lucky may even encounter the very symbol of the Arctic - the Polar Bear. Though remote and sparsely populated today, many of the places we explore have been inhabited in the last 5000 years, and thousands of unique prehistoric and historic sites are a testimony to the thriving cultures of the past.
The Norwegian name for this archipelago including Bear Island and Jan Mayen is Svalbard. However it is usually known as Spitsbergen. Covering an area almost as big as the Republic of Ireland, Spitsbergen with its population of 3,500 in five settlements is still today virtually unspoilt wilderness. With its rugged mountains, sweeping tundra, ice caps and glaciers, it is a true High Arctic archipelago, and only 600 miles from the North Pole.
Its abundant wildlife was once a huge draw for whalers and trappers but now discerning visitors are discovering the attractions of huge Arctic seabird colonies and the chance to enjoy and photograph species like Walrus, Reindeer, Arctic Fox and of course, Polar Bear. All itineraries are for guidance only. Programs may vary depending on local ice and weather conditions and in order to take advantage of opportunities to see wildlife. Flexibility is paramount for expedition cruises.
Day 1: Arrive in Longyearbyen, the administrative capital of the Spitsbergen archipelago of which West Spitsbergen is the largest island. Before embarking there is an opportunity to stroll around this former mining town, whose parish church and Polar Museum are well worth visiting, while in the surrounds of Longyearbyen, more than 100 species of plant have been recorded. In the early evening the ship will sail out of Isfjorden.
Day 2: Heading north along the west coast, we arrive by morning in Krossfjorden, where we take to the Zodiacs for an exhilarating cruise along the sculpted front of the 14th of July Glacier. On the surprisingly fertile slopes near the glacier, a colorful variety of flowers bloom, while large numbers of Kittiwakes and Brünnich’s Guillemots nest on the nearby cliffs. There is also a good chance of spotting opportunistic Arctic Foxes, patrolling the base of the cliffs in case a hapless chick falls from its nest, and Bearded Seals, who cruise this scenic fjord. In the afternoon we sail to Ny Ålesund, the world’s most northerly settlement.
Once a mining village - served by the world’s most northerly railway, which can still be seen - Ny Ålesund is now a research centre. Close to the village is a breeding ground for Barnacle Geese, Pink-footed Geese and Arctic Terns. Visitors interested in the history of Arctic exploration will want to walk to the anchoring mast used by Amundsen and Nobile in the airship Norge in 1926 and Nobile in the airship Italia in 1928 before their flights to the North Pole.
Day 3: At Smeerenburg on Amsterdamøya, we visit the remains of a 17th century Dutch whaling station, the blubber pots now surrounded by hundreds of tree trunks washed ashore after drifting over from Siberia. The principal quarry of the whalers was the Greenland or Bowhead Whale, which was hunted to the brink of extinction. Often called the Right Whale, it was the right one to pursue, being a slow-moving animal which could be approached closely. In the afternoon we visit the Little Auk colony of Fuglesangen, then sail past the 80th parallel to Moffen Island on which Walrus haul out.
Day 4: Depending on the weather we may now sail to the mouth of Liefdefjorden and go ashore for a walk on the tundra island of Andoya. Many Common Eiders and Pink-footed Geese nest here, and the rarer King Eider may also be seen. We hope to sail into Liefdefjorden, cruising near the 5km long face of the impressive Monaco glacier. The waters of the glacier front are a favorite feeding spot for thousands of Kittiwakes and on previous voyages Polar Bears have been seen on the glacier, providing wonderful opportunities for photography.
Day 5: Before turning south into Hinlopen Strait (if the pack-ice allows us) we will have reached our most northerly position. On and around the ice at the entrance to the strait, which divides West Spitsbergen from ice-clad Nordaustlandet, there is a good chance of seeing Bearded and Ringed Seals, Polar Bears and Ivory Gulls. On the eastern side of Lomfjordshalvøya we take a Zodiac cruise through the ice floes to the bird cliffs of Alkefjellet, where thousands of Brünnich’s Guillemots nest in a spectacular setting.
The basalt pillars, rising hundreds of meters, and the overhanging ice cap with its waterfall are an awe-inspiring sight. Finally, on the eastern side of Hinlopen Strait we intend to make an evening landing in Augustabukta on the island of Nordaustlandet, the most northerly of the major Spitsbergen islands. Spitsbergen Reindeer graze the sparse vegetation of this largely ice-covered island, where Pink-footed Geese, Walrus and a rare Ivory Gull colony are also found.
Day 6: Retracing our route westwards, we visit Raudfjord on the north coast of West Spitsbergen, a beautiful fjord dominated by spectacular glaciers and favoured by Ringed and Bearded Seals. The cliffs and shoreline of the fjord also support thriving seabird colonies and a surprisingly rich vegetation, which flourishes in sheltered spots. On the offshore island of Ytre Norskøya, we visit a 17th century Dutch whaling site, whose large graveyard is a poignant reminder of the hardships and dangers of life here at the time. The island’s bird life is prolific, with colonies of Little Auks, Black Guillemots, Brünnich’s Guillemots, Puffins and Arctic Skuas accessible to visitors.
Day 7: We sail south to the mouth of Isfjorden and land at Alkhornet. Seabirds nest on its cliffs and Arctic Foxes search the cliff base for fallen eggs and chicks, while Spitsbergen Reindeer graze the relatively luxuriant vegetation. The reindeer may seem unbothered by human presence, but this is not really the case. The animals must survive the harsh winter, when temperatures plummet and food is hard to find, so they preserve what energy they can, fleeing only when it is absolutely necessary. In the afternoon we cruise through beautiful Borebukta, following a glacier front before continuing to Longyearbyen.
Day 8: Return to Longyearbyen and disembark for the transfer to the airport and the flight to Oslo and home.
Also see tour packages in:
Arctic Arctic Norway Nature & Wildlife Wildlife Viewing Boating and Sailing
Email it to a friend:
Click here to email this vacation to a friend