This fabulous trip to the 'Kingdom of the Polar Bear' takes place in May - June 2019, and is organised by Heatherlea in partnership with BBC Wildlife Magazine. We join a cruise which will take us to the edge of the polar ice-pack with the opportunity to see Polar Bear, Walrus and many Arctic birds, and also to enjoy the culture and history of this unique environment in the frozen far north.
The first adventurers setting foot in new Arctic lands must have been astonished by the dramatic scenery and rich wildlife. In 1596 the Dutch captain Willem Barentsz discovered a land he called 'The new land of the pointed mountains', which in Dutch was rendered as 'Spitsbergen', the former name of the whole of this remote northern land. Today, Spitsbergen is the largest island in the archipelago of Svalbard - literally 'The cold edge' as described in traditional Norse accounts of the area.
On this holiday, you too can experience the majesty of these North Atlantic islands, only 800 miles from the North Pole, as we explore one of the last great wildernesses on earth. Spitsbergen is home to countless birds nesting on spectacular cliffs where glaciers mirror the sunset, seemingly setting fire to the mountain tops. There is more too — nothing can prepare you for your first sighting of a Polar Bear on the sea-ice, the undisputed king of the Arctic and a key highlight of this fabulous wildlife adventure. We will sail at the rim of the Northwest Spitsbergen pack–ice and concentrate on bear and whale observations on this departure.
We visit in late spring, taking advantage of long daylight hours when temperatures are not severe. Our voyage coincides with the beginning of the breeding season for most bird species, and you will never forget the wonderful wildlife of this harsh, beautiful landscape. Be sure at the end of the day to spend time outside on deck and marvel at the low sun, lighting the mountains as the sea turns a vivid orange-pink. It may be some time before you make it back to your cabin!
We expect to see many if not most of these;
BIRDS: Red-throated Diver, Great Northern Diver, Fulmar, Pink-footed Goose, Barnacle Goose, Pale-bellied Brent Goose, Common Eider, King Eider, Long-tailed Duck, Ptarmigan, Ringed Plover, Sanderling, Purple Sandpiper, Turnstone, Grey Phalarope, Pomarine Skua, Arctic Skua, Long-tailed Skua, Great Skua, Sabine’s Gull, Glaucous Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Kittiwake, Ivory Gull, Arctic Tern, Common Guillemot, Brünnich’s Guillemot, Black Guillemot, Little Auk, Puffin, Snow Bunting.
MAMMALS: Polar Bear, Arctic Fox, Svalbard Reindeer, Walrus, Bearded Seal, Ringed Seal, Harp Seal, Common Seal, cetaceans including Beluga and Minke Whale.
Our vessel is ideal for this type of voyage - full details below! Our friendly and experienced crew will be excited to share their knowledge and enthusiasm, and we will navigate safely through pack-ice and narrow waterways. We will be flexible in our itinerary, paying close attention to weather and ice, changing course and using inflatable zodiacs amongst the ice-floes, and spending as much time ashore as possible. Expect a friendly, intimate atmosphere in a cosy and comfortable onboard environment. Join the Arctic wildlife trip of a lifetime!
‘The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew, the furrow followed free, we were the first that ever burst into that silent sea’.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’
DAY 1: Sun 26 May
We fly from London to Oslo (NB flights from other UK destinations to Oslo are also available, please contact us for details), where we overnight at a comfortable hotel near the airport for a one night stay. Dinner and breakfast the next morning are included.
DAY 2: Mon 27 May
We transfer to Oslo Airport in the morning for our flight to Longyearbyen. Longyearbyen is a former mining and scientific centre, named after an American mining engineer. Today you should have some time to acclimatise in this fascinating and picturesque northern settlement of around 2000 people. Birds here include Glaucous Gull, Purple Sandpiper, 'Svalbard' Ptarmigan, an Arctic Tern colony, Snow Bunting, Barnacle Goose, Northern ('Borealis') Eider, and also short-legged Svalbard Reindeer, Little Auk, Arctic Fox and perhaps flowering Svalbard Poppy close to the town. Grey Phalarope may also be seen. There should be an opportunity to do some sightseeing, visit the Museum or go shopping. We join the M/V Plancius late this afternoon, and after our safety drill and briefing, sail north up the west coast in early evening. 'Blue' Fulmar, Little Auk, Puffin, and Brünnich’s Guillemot can be expected.
DAY 3: Tues 28 May
We sail to Raudfjord on the north coast of West Spitsbergen, a beautiful fjord dominated by spectacular glaciers and favoured by Ringed and Bearded Seal. The cliffs and shoreline of the fjord also support thriving seabird colonies and a surprisingly rich vegetation, which flourishes in sheltered spots. Polar bear are frequently seen here.
DAY 4: Wed 29 May
Depending on the weather we may sail to the mouth of Liefdefjorden and possibly go ashore for a walk on the tundra island of Andøya. Many Common Eider and Pink-footed Goose nest here, and 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 face are a favourite feeding spot for thousands of Kittiwake, and on previous voyages Polar Bear have been seen on the glacier, providing wonderful opportunities for photography.
DAY 5: Thurs 30 May
Today we will sail into Hinlopen Strait, home to Bearded Seal, Ringed Seal, Polar Bear, and Ivory Gull. At the entrance there is the possibility of Blue Whale. We’ll navigate the ice floes of Lomfjordshalvøya in our zodiacs and explore the bird cliffs of Alkefjellet with thousands of Brünnich’s Guillemot. On the east side of Hinlopenstrait, we’ll attempt a landing at Palanderbukta on Nordaustlandet, home to Reindeer, Pink-footed Goose, breeding Ivory Gull, and Walrus.
DAY 6: Fri 31 May
We will try to reach the northernmost point at Phippsøya, in the Seven Islands north of Nordaustlandet. Here we will be at 81 degrees north, just 540 miles from the geographic North Pole. Polar Bear inhabit this region, as do Ivory Gull. The ship may sit for several hours in the pack ice before turning west again.
DAY 7: Sat 1 June
Retracing our route westwards, our route takes us through and along the pack ice, keeping watch for Polar Bear and the elusive Greenland Whale (Bowhead). About 40 nautical miles west of Spitsbergen we sail along the edge of the continental shelf, where Fin Whale forage in summer in the upwellings along the Spitsbergen banks. At the mouth of the Kongsfjord we also have good chances to see Minke Whale.
DAY 8: Sun 2 June
We travel to Forlandsundet at Sarstangen, a haul out place for Walrus. Alternatively we sail into St. Johns Fjord or south to the mouth of Isfjorden and land at Alkhornet. Seabirds nest on its cliffs and Arctic Fox 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 face before continuing to Longyearbyen.
DAY 9: Mon 3 June
We disembark in Longyearbyen, the administrative centre of Spitsbergen, for flights south to Oslo and onward to the UK.
Please note: all itineraries are given as a guide only. Actual holiday content may vary according to the judgement of your guide, and elements beyond our control, such as weather and the presence of ice. We do expect a thorough and rewarding exploration of the archipelago and its wildlife!
TRAVEL TO LONGYEARBYEN
The Group will gather in Oslo, where we overnight at a comfortable hotel near the airport for a one night stay. Dinner, bed and breakfast is included in your holiday price. The main point of departure will be London, though flights to Oslo from other UK airports can be arranged - please get in touch with the Heatherlea office for more details. Supplements may apply. On this holiday pre-flight hotel and Airport VIP Lounge are not included, though these can be arranged if requested at the time of booking.
We transfer to Oslo Airport in the morning for our flight to Longyearbyen and enjoy a couple of free hours exploring the town, where lunch (not included) can be taken at your leisure. We board M/V Plancius, our home for the next 7 nights, in the mid-afternoon.
M/V Plancius was completely rebuilt in 2009 as a 116-passenger vessel and complies with the latest SOLAS-regulations (Safety Of Life At Sea). There are 53 passenger cabins with private toilets and showers in 4 quadruple porthole cabins, 2 triple porthole cabins, 9 twin porthole cabins, 26 twin cabins with window and 2 twin deluxe cabins, all (ca. 12.5 square meters), and 10 twin superior cabins (ca. 21 square meters). All cabins offer lower berths (one queen-size bed in the superior cabins and two single beds in the twin cabins), except for the 4 quadruple cabins (for 4 persons in 2x upper and lower beds), and 2 triple cabins (1 bunk bed plus 1 lower bed).
The vessel offers a restaurant/lecture room on deck 3 and a spacious observation lounge (with bar) on deck 5 with large windows, offering full panorama view. M/V Plancius has large open deck spaces (with full walk-around possibilities on deck 4), giving excellent opportunities to enjoy the scenery and wildlife. She is furthermore equipped with 10 Mark V zodiacs, including 40 HP 4-stroke outboard engines and 2 gangways on the starboard side, guaranteeing a swift zodiac operation.
Oceanwide Expeditions has a team of resident onboard expedition staff. Heatherlea will provide four Leaders for this voyage, and we will also be joined by a member of the BBC Wildlife Team.
Kevin Shaw - Along with his wife Caryl, Kevin is the founder of Heatherlea, and is very excited to be one of the guides joining you on this amazing adventure, his third to the Arctic with these vessel operators.
Notes by Kevin, Svalbard 2008
This was our first Arctic holiday, and back in the Heatherlea office we knew exactly what we
wanted.... during the cruise the especially pleasing things were when all this preparation paid off. The
exceptional views of bears, and the experience with walruses were surely up there with the best
possible wildlife watching anywhere, anytime. The scenery and permanent daylight were extra
special, and everything went smoothly throughout: very satisfying for us as organisers!
Ian Ford - A popular leader with Heatherlea both in Scotland and Overseas, Ian is one of our Senior Guides, and is very much looking forward to your company in Spitzbergen.
Rob Jordan - Rob has been guiding with Heatherlea since 2013. An experienced guide and skilled photographer, he is very much looking forward to guiding you on this Heatherlea and BBC Wildlife trip to Spitzbergen.
Notes by Rob Jordan
''Good morning Arctic Explorers'' – it was the voice of Expedition Leader Michael over the tannoy. ''We have our first Polar Bear on the ice ahead of us to our starboard bow!'' As everyone gathered in the cold overcast morning light on the ships foredeck, we found MS Plancius at a standstill on the edge of the sea ice at the head of a huge fjord, surrounded by peaks. Scanning the ice flows ahead a creamy figure; difficult to locate at first, lay with its back toward us amongst jumbled blocks of ice, seemingly unaware of our interest and scrutiny. And despite watching him for some time, that’s where he stayed, sleeping and flicking an ear, presumably well fed and refusing to acknowledge our presence. He will always remain my first ever wild Polar Bear, and in this special wild landscape, that first sighting was one of the most memorable and thrilling experiences of my life.
The fourth Heatherlea Leader will be a member of our regular team, announcement nearer the time!
Summer at this latitude features generally settled weather, with light winds and perhaps a little rain. Temperatures should be between minus and plus 5 degrees Celsius. Sea conditions are unlikely to be adverse. Days are long, and you can expect wildlife to appear at any hour. We expect more than one sighting of all key birds and mammals including Polar Bear, so you shouldn’t miss anything. You will need waterproof boots, gaiters and wellies, and can expect maximum walking distances of around three miles, over moderate terrain (though of course most of the holiday is spent on the vessel). Biting insects are not expected. Due to the light, the dramatic landscape, and the quality and quantity of wildlife, this is an ideal location for photography.
The itinerary is given as a guide only. Actual holiday content may vary according to the judgement of our captain and crew, and elements beyond our control, especially weather.
A quick note about Spitsbergen and Polar Bears
Polar Bears make their way across the Arctic pack ice to Spitsbergen in winter, and our voyage to this northerly archipelago gives us excellent chances of seeing them. Frequently the pack ice melts in summer, isolating bears on the islands, and there is an obvious danger to Polar Bears if this recent trend continues. Bears need frozen sea ice to hunt seals, and although none of us can be sure of the future, it seems very possible that the Polar Bear may become much harder to find if the Arctic Ocean continues to warm. If you haven’t been here yet, put Spitsbergen high on your wildlife holiday agenda!
OUR LAST VISIT TO SPITSBERGEN WITH BBC WILDLIFE
Heatherlea and BBC Wildlife enjoyed a fantastic voyage to Spitsbergen in 2008, here are a couple of observations from Kenny Taylor, BBC Wildlife Expert on that voyage, and also from our own Dylan Walker.
'A Midsummer's Ice Bear' - Kenny Taylor
'The sky is overcast, the cloud low, the ice white alongside the ship. The polar bear we’ve watched since very early in the morning - a young adult, its coat yellowish and stained with seal blood down one leg - is now a few hundred metres away, moving very slowly over the frozen sea. I train a telescope on it, just in time to see it slip into a thin, dark gash of open water. The bear vanishes, then a few seconds later, its head emerges, and submerges.
There’s a seal hauled out near the channel, in the bear’s direction of travel. The bear surfaces again, now very close to the seal. The scene is like a frame from a cartoon – white bear head seen from behind, small, rounded ears prominent as it stares, motionless, at the equally motionless dark shape only metres away. But this is no comedy.
Slowly, slowly, the bear slips underwater once more. The seal dozes. Suddenly, there’s an explosion of water and bear from the far side of the slab of ice as the big predator, now facing in our direction, propels itself from the sea and lunges at the target. The seal escapes, but only just, as the bear cuffs the water, perhaps as an attack move, perhaps in frustration. After a pause, it moves on, still searching for food.
In not much more than a couple of hours, we’ve gone from the first, almost dreamlike impressions of the edge of the pack ice, to this first experience of a polar bear hunting within full view. There will be other bears and another hunt seen during the course of what will be a remarkable day’s journey. But it’s the first encounter and the first hunt that will stay in mind, as if etched in crystal, coloured in grey, white and glacial blue'.
'Awesome Encounters' - Heatherlea Guide Dylan Walker
'One of the things that struck me most about our Spitsbergen cruise was the inseparable link between the land and the sea. The impoverished islands of Svalbard are almost entirely reliant on the bountiful ocean to function. Seals, Polar Bears and seabirds may come ashore to breed, but they forage on ice and under water. Arctic Foxes rely on the eggs from seabird colonies, whilst the guano deposited by auks provides vital nutrients for Arctic plants, which are grazed by herds of Reindeer. We were lucky enough to see nearly all of the animals positioned at, or near, the top of that food chain – whales, seals, seabirds and, of course, Polar Bears!
In a European context, Spitsbergen is a first class destination for viewing marine mammals, as most species are almost impossible to see anywhere else. These include Bearded Seal, Harp Seal, Ringed Seal, Walrus, Beluga, and Polar Bear (which is classified as a marine mammal because it spends most of its time on sea ice).
I am sure that we all feel extremely privileged to have had such incredible encounters with these ‘rare’ mammals. Watching them in one of the harshest environments on Earth has only heightened my respect for these superb animals still further.'
More Holiday Information:
Accommodation: is in comfortable cabins with en-suite facilities. See full details here.
Food: food on board is good, European cuisine, with a choice for most courses. There is a well stocked Bar, run by the crew's Hotel staff, who are efficient, courteous and very helpful.
Walking: is generally light/moderate. An average level of fitness is required. On land you will be under the management of the Expedition Leader and his team, and must take note of their instructions, which are there for your safety and benefit.
Weather: will be cold, though can be surprisingly warm and pleasant. we travel in late spring/early summer, though of course at this latitude bad weather is quite possible. Warm clothing is essential, though your large vessel offers more than adequate cover and heating. Daytime temperatures can be around 5 - 6'C .
Insects: biting insects are not expected, though there will be flies on the boggy landscape. Little other insect life is expected.
Group size: you will part of a ship's complement of over 100 clients. There is no restriction to how many of these will be Heatherlea/BBC Wildlife clients.
Flights: from London are included. Local flights can be arranged from any airport linked to Oslo, though a price surcharge may apply. We will of course be happy to make personal arrangements for your convenience.
Holiday Payment: is requested in three stages.
STAGE 1: Deposit payment of £800pp secures your booking. Please note that all payments are non-refundable. We strongly recommend that you take appropriate personal Travel Insurance to cover the possibility of your cancellation.
STAGE 2: A second payment is required by Thursday 31 May 2018. This payment will be £3495pp (for triple and quadruple cabins), £4195pp (for all twin cabins).
STAGE 3: Balance payment is required by Friday 1 March 2019.
We need to take payment this way because of advance commitments to the vessel operators. Other than these payment terms, standard Heatherlea Terms and Conditions will apply to your booking.
Photography: Opportunities are good, particularly for bears, Walrus, some birds and above all scenery.
Your leaders: Kevin Shaw, Ian Ford and Rob Jordan are the nominated Heatherlea Leaders, and a fourth will be appointed nearer the time. All are experienced Heatherlea guides, and we will also be joined by at least one member of the BBC Wildlife team. The voyage will be under the supervision a resident on-board Expedition Leader, plus crew naturalists of a very high standard.
What's included in your holiday price:
* full-board accommodation (as specified) during voyage. Includes breakfast, lunch, dinner and all excursions, talks and reports provided by Expedition Leaders, Heatherlea and BBC Wildlife staff.
* return scheduled flight from London Gatwick – Oslo and Oslo - Longyearbyen Airport, airport taxes, baggage and hand luggage up to airline included limit.
* airport transfers in Longyearbyen, ground transportation, accommodation and meals as specified.
* The Heatherlea Pre-Flight Service offers you organisation of everything you need at the airport, including hotels, car parking, airport lounges, regional flights, and upgrades. On this holiday, all these items are chargeable.
* the services of your Leaders.
What's not included in your holiday price:
* holiday insurance, optional tips to ship's crew/other staff, drinks, and other personal expenses.
* Lunch in Longyearbyen on day 2.
* Pre-flight airport hotel and lounge are not included on this holiday, we instead include hotel, dinner and breakfast in Oslo on Day 1.
WHY CHOOSE HEATHERLEA?
Our overseas holidays are planned with care to offer great birding and wildlife, led by capable Leaders who really look after you. Every holiday is run the 'Heatherlea Way', and we hope our Overseas Adventures remind you of the quality and care so many of you enjoy in Scotland. That means rewarding and exciting days in the field, and good quality accommodation and meals, with a real flavour of the country we are visiting. Heatherlea always seek to include the personal touches that make all the difference.
Heatherlea holidays are not ‘dawn to dusk’ expeditions. Our less-intensive approach is ideal for those who want to relax whilst experiencing the best wildlife watching, and wherever possible we organise early or late activity on an optional basis. We also take sensible breaks when in very hot places and regular comfort breaks on every holiday whenever possible. All itineraries are planned carefully around the best wildlife opportunities, and you won’t miss out on memorable wildlife, whilst enjoying relaxed, informal days that are great fun.
The really important part of any wildlife holiday is the experience for you, our valued customer. Heatherlea invest in many things to offer you the best possible service;
* We have been organising birding and wildlife holidays for 27 seasons, and have a highly experienced and capable office team. We also offer a telephone and email service outside normal office hours.
* Heatherlea overseas holidays have a maximum of 12 clients per trip, putting the emphasis on personal service, and helping you get the best possible experience. (Please note there is no strict maximum to our client number on this holiday).
* All elements of our holidays are sold under our own licence, ATOL 6113. Under ‘Flight-Plus’ legislation it is a legal requirement of any tour operator to hold an ATOL licence for the supply of any overseas holiday where a flight is involved, if that holiday includes either overseas accommodation and/or car hire. It can be a criminal offence for an operator to book flights as part of a package without an ATOL licence. Heatherlea also hold full Tour Operator Insurance for your added protection.
* Heatherlea is your complete wildlife holiday provider. Our ‘Back Office’ team can organise all your pre-flight and other travel needs. Our specialists will help you book the right services, at the best price. Book holiday extensions through us, and your ATOL protection is extended further. We don’t charge extra for this service.
* Heatherlea is a limited company, registered in Scotland, and registered to pay VAT (applies to all holidays within the European Union).