POLAR BEAR SPECIAL!
Price based on twin private cabin with porthole.
Singles welcome if willing to share.
Leaders: Ian Ford plus another from our team with more than 12 clients.
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 just 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 on sea-ice of a Polar Bear, 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 summer, taking advantage of long daylight hours when temperatures are not severe. Our voyage coincides with 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!
Our vessel will be 'Plancius', a small ice-strengthened vessel ideal for this type of voyage. Our friendly and experienced crew will be anxious 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, 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’
Tuesday 25 June - We fly London Heathrow – Oslo, then across the Barents Sea to Spitsbergen, arriving in the capital Longyearbyen. Your first night will be spent either in Oslo or Longyearbyen, depending on availability of flights and vessel sailing schedule.
Wednesday 26 June - 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 Svalbard Poppy close to the town. Grey Phalarope may also be possible. There should be an opportunity to do some sightseeing, visit the Museum or go shopping. You join the 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.
Thursday 27 June - 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 often seen here.
Friday 28 June - Depending on the weather we may now sail to the mouth of Liefdefjorden and go ashore for a walk on the tundra island of Andøya. Many Common Eider and Pink-footed Goose 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 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.
Saturday 29 June - Today we will sail into Hinlopen Strait, home to Bearded Seal, Ringed Seal, Polar Bear, and Ivory Gull. 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.
Sunday 30 June - Today we will reach our 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, along with Ivory Gull. We may sit for several hours in the pack ice, taking in our spectacular surroundings and perhaps seeing a Ross Gull, before we turn south again.
Monday 1 July - 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 Seal. 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 that time. The island’s bird life is prolific, with colonies of Little Auk, Black Guillemot, Brünnich’s Guillemot, Puffins and Arctic Skua accessible to visitors.
Tuesday 2 July - We land at the northern tip of Prins Karls Forland near Fuglehuken, where Barentsz probably set foot on Spitsbergen for the first time. Seabirds nest on the cliffs and along the coast we see Harbour Seal, the only population found in Spitsbergen. Further we also will observe the remains of the Polar Bear hunting era, with demolished set guns and bear traps. At the opposite site of Forlandsundet at Sarstangen is 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.
Wednesday 3 July - We disembark in Longyearbyen, the administrative centre of Spitsbergen, for flights south to Oslo and onward home.
The itinerary will of course depend on weather and the presence of ice, though you will experience a thorough and rewarding exploration of the archipelago and its wildlife.
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.
This 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. In 2006 the pack ice melted 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!
Bird and Mammal List
We expect to see most, if not all, these with a chance of Ross’s Gull too!
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.
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 (eg weather).