Pre-itinerary This is an ‘open-jaw’ voyage, beginning in Aberdeen and ending in Svalbard. You might fly, drive or take the train to join in Aberdeen. Call our office and we will help plan your ideal journey.
The quoted holiday price includes return flight from Longyearbyen to Oslo. Flights from Oslo back to UK can be added depending on your preferred destination, please contact us for quotation.
Day 1: Tuesday 28 May 2024 Aberdeen
We recommend you travel to Aberdeen on Monday 27 May, ready to embark M/V Plancius in the afternoon. Once settled, we will gather for our first briefing, and the first of many a delicious dinner. Birding might include terns, gulls, auks and skuas as we set sail northwards!
Day 2: Wednesday 29 May Fair Isle
This iconic location is perhaps at its most exciting in spring, and just about anything might be here today! Birding for rarities in local island hotspots is often rewarding. Commoner seabirds including Puffin, Great Skua and Arctic Skua are very accessible, and with birding as we approach and leave the island, you will have a good list of auks, skuas, gulls and terns before we leave British waters. This might be the easiest way to visit Fair Isle, as sadly the famous Bird Observatory was destroyed by fire in 2019, though a new building is currently under construction.
Days 3 and 4: Thurs 30 and Fri 31 May at sea
We sail north to the Norwegian island of Jan Mayen, situated 300 nautical miles north-east of Iceland. During our two days at sea there will be plenty of time to watch for the blow of a Minke, Fin or Blue Whale, which could herald a rewarding encounter with these gentle giants. Perhaps we might run into a pod of Orca, which can often be quite curious about boats such as ours.
Day 5: Saturday 1 June Jan Mayen
This is a volcanic island of breath-taking beauty and mystique, dominated by Mt Beerenberg. From the slopes of the 2300m volcano, impressive glaciers spill into the sea, and the black sands show its volcanic origins. Until recently, the island was off-limits as it is a military base, and was rarely visited by tourists, but with permission from the Norwegian authorities we hope to visit the weather station. If weather allows, we will walk across the island towards Kvalrossbukta to look at the remains of a 17th century Dutch whaling station and a substantial colony of Fulmar and Little Auk.
Days 6, 7 & 8: Sun 2, Mon 3 & Tues 4 June On the edge of Arctic ice
In the midnight sun, we sail north along the edge of the sea-ice, looking out for Bowhead Whale, Harp Seal, Polar Bear and a variety of seabirds, until about 79 North, then we sail east to the edges of the continental shelf off West Spitsbergen, where we have good chances to see Fin Whale, and near the mouths of the big Spitsbergen fjords, Minke Whale.
Day 9: Wednesday 5 June Svalbard
Depending on the position of sea-ice, we cruise the maze of fjords in the spectacular Hornsund area of southern Spitsbergen, which is ringed by towering mountain peaks, which show why early Dutch explorers gave the name 'Spitsbergen' - pointed mountains - to the island. There are magnificent glaciers in the area, and the scenery is nothing short of spectacular. The area is of course renowned for its abundant and varied Arctic wildlife. We have good chances of seeing seals and of course the very symbol of the Arctic - Polar Bear. Bearded Seals often cruise the inner fjords, whose cliffs are lined with colonies of Brünnich's Guillemot, Puffin (the world’s largest individuals) and Kittiwake. On this voyage our best views of auks will perhaps come at sea. On the tundra we will have good opportunities to observe foraging Barnacle Geese, and while passerines are few, there are good numbers of Purple Sandpiper and Snow Bunting. We expect to look for Walrus at Poolepynten or at another convenient haulout. There are good chances of King Eider.
Day 10: Thursday 6 June Svalbard
We disembark in Longyearbyen, the administrative centre of Spitsbergen, for flights south to Oslo and then onwards to the UK. Transfer to the airport is included, and if flight times allow, we will visit the town of Longyearbyen briefly. Should you wish to join us for a little longer in the town, we offer an extra night's stay and a couple of walks, see below.
LONGYEARBYEN extension (one night, Thursday 6 June)
Many of our clients enjoy visiting the quaint little town of Longyearbyen, and this short extension allows you some extra time here, in the company of at least one Heatherlea Guide. We transfer from MV Plancius to the town and drop bags at our comfortable hotel. In good weather, a birding walk will be offered, and though limited, there is very interesting birdlife to observe. Snow Bunting sing from the rooftops, and flutter around the buildings. There are Purple Sandpiper, Barnacle Geese and Ptarmigan (these can be 'scoped' from the streets!), Common and possibly King Eider, Glaucous and possibly Ivory Gull, Kittiwake, Arctic Skua and more, perhaps including new birds for the tour. Arctic Fox are seen in the town on occasion, and Svalbard Reindeer are common. For those wishing to experience the culture of Svalbard, there are two fine museums, an art gallery, the world's northernmost church, a brewery, and a range of interesting shops, see more here! Your accommodation and breakfast are included, and other meals can be taken at your leisure. Morning transfer to the airport is also included on Day 11: Friday 7 June. One night at Radisson Blu Polar Hotel, Longyearbyen.
PRICE £295pp, single supplement £130.
North Spitsbergen - in the realm of the Polar Bear! extension (seven nights)
You may wish to extend your holiday by remaining aboard Plancius, and continuing with a second voyage based entirely in Svalbard. You may stay in your allocated cabin (or move to another if prebooked), and during the next voyage, explore the rugged coastline and fjords of this magical land. We have negotiated very advantageous prices for this voyage as an extension, and of course your entire trip is covered by our services including ATOL Protection.
This second voyage offers hikes on shore twice per day (subject to weather, ice and bears), and you can choose from various options to best suit your fitness and ability level. There will be very easy beach walking (good for photographers), and a range of easy, medium and challenging long hikes. Alternatively of course, you might choose to stay close to your zodiac on shore, or remain aboard the M/V Plancius and just relax and enjoy the comfortable facilities.
EXTENSION PRICES (seven nights aboard)
Quad. Porthole £3295
Twin Porthole £4395
Twin Window £4695
At the end of a long Arctic winter, spring is starting to awaken. The climate, however, still clings to the cold: ice-covered mountains, snow-swept shores, temperatures around –4° C (25°F). It’s a good time to experience the last of the winter scenery, and with a little luck, also see Polar Bear, Walrus and seals into the bargain. Birding is fascinating, with cliff-nesting birds arriving daily, and many birds seen in the coastal areas, on the water and on the wing.
Day 10: Thursday 6 June 2024 Largest town, biggest island
Instead of making a transfer to the airport, those staying for the second voyage can choose to visit Longyearbyen, the largest settlement and administrative centre of Spitsbergen. You can stroll around this former mining town, whose parish church and museum make fascinating attractions. Birds might include Glaucous Gull, Purple Sandpiper, 'Svalbard' Ptarmigan, Arctic Tern, Snow Bunting, Brent, Pink-footed and Barnacle Goose, Northern ('Borealis') Eider, Little Auk and also short-legged Svalbard Reindeer, Arctic Fox and perhaps flowering Svalbard Poppy close to the town.
You rejoin Plancius late this afternoon, and sail north up the west coast in early evening. 'Blue' Fulmar, Puffin, and Brünnich’s Guillemot can be expected.
Day 11: Friday 7 June Kongsfjorden, Blomstrandhalvøya, Krossfjorden
Blomstrandhalvøya is located on the northern side of the fjord, offering shelter and room to change plan according to weather. The landscape is likely to show signs of winter, with crags and slopes still blanketed with snow. Here there are rich opportunities to visit places of historic interest including Ny London, where you can see the remains of early 20th-century marble mining, and Ny Ålesund, one of the northernmost settlements on Earth. Once a mining village served by the world’s most northerly railway – you can still see its tracks – Ny Ålesund is now a research centre. Close to the community is a breeding ground for Barnacle and Pink-footed Geese, and Arctic Tern. In the evening, we head north along the west coast and spend the night in the sheltered surroundings of Krossfjorden, with views of colossal glaciers and lofty mountain peaks, though the extent of fjord ice dictates the itinerary here.
Day 12: Saturday 8 June Exploring the North West
Next we head toward Amsterdamoya, where you may see the remains of a 17th-century whaling station, and enjoy the beautiful scenic panorama of Smeerenburgsleta. In the afternoon, we make for the islands around Fair Haven, home to a small colony of Puffin, Brünnich’s Guillemot, and other wildlife including Arctic Fox and Snow Bunting. Nearby Fuglesangen may also offer the chance to see Little Auks flying overhead as they return to their nests among the rocks.
Day 13: Sunday 9 June Rugged Raudfjorden
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 14: Monday 10 June The stunning sights of Liefdefjorden
Depending on the weather we may 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 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 15: Tuesday 11 June North Spitsbergen splendours
This is our reserve day for activities around North Spitsbergen. Weather and wildlife permitting, we will choose the right location for another day of splendid outdoor adventures.
Day 16: Wednesday 12 June Forlandsundet or St. Johns Fjord
Forlandsundet, between the main island of Spitsbergen and narrow Prins Karls Forland, is a place of great beauty and fascinating wildlife. Walruses sometimes haul out here, and seabirds can be found around Fuglehuken. We may also see walrus populations around Sarstangen and Poolepynten. Alternatively, we might sail into St. Johns Fjord or south to the mouth of Isfjorden, landing at Alkhornet. Seabirds nest on these cliffs, Arctic foxes search below for fallen eggs and chicks, and reindeer graze the sparse vegetation. 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 17: Thursday 13 June There and back again
Even the greatest journeys eventually come to an end! Today we disembark in Longyearbyen, taking the flight back to the UK via Oslo.