NEW! from Aberdeen to the Arctic

Polar Bear, Whales, Pack Ice and British birding!

2022 Dates
  • 17 May - 26 May 2022
Duration10 Days
2022 Price
£2495 pp
No single supplement. Deposit £300
More Info

More guides from our team will be announced nearer the departure date.

Full details shortly. If you wish to register an interest by email, we will inform you when the page is complete.

This unique and thrilling holiday promises an unforgettable experience, as we explore the wildlife of the north Atlantic in spring. We combine birding for migrants on Fair Isle with the cetaceans and seabirds of the open north Atlantic Ocean, and the thrill of Polar Bears, Walrus and Arctic birding on Svalbard. All at extremely good-value prices!

Beginning in Aberdeen, where an optional birding introduction in the company of Heatherlea guides is an excellent start to your adventure, we sail north to Fair Isle, halfway between Orkney and mainland Shetland. This is a mecca for British birders, with rarities and a variety of seabirds expected at the time of our visit.

Next we visit the remote Norwegian volcanic island of Jan Mayen, home to thousands of Arctic seabirds including substantial breeding colonies of Little Auk and Brünnich's Guillemot. As we head further north, there are excellent chances of Bowhead, Humpback, Blue, Fin and Minke Whales before we reach the edge of the polar pack ice and Svalbard, only 600 miles from the North Pole. The pack ice and Svalbard itself are of course a major feature of the holiday, home to Polar Bear, Walrus, Arctic Fox, Svalbard Reindeer and a variety of birdlife, perhaps including King Eider, Steller's Eider, Ivory Gull and Little Auk. We hope for excellent views of bears, perhaps even with cubs at this time.

Finally your holiday includes return travel to the UK via Oslo, and also the option to stay in Svalbard while joining a second cruise before your flight home.

Enjoy some key 'bucket-list' experiences as you visit some of the most remote and inaccessible northern Atlantic islands to see a wide array of seabirds and other marine life. This unique voyage offers many advantages, not least the opportunity to begin your journey in the UK and of course the fantastic wildlife, from rare birds seen in the hand at Fair Isle Observatory, to Polar Bears and Walrus on the sea ice! Because international transfers are minimised, we are able to offer very attractive pricing and a range of options before and after the main holiday. Tremendous value!


Are quoted per person in shared cabins:

Quad. Porthole   £2495
Triple Porthole    £2795
Twin Porthole     £3095
Twin Window      £3295
Twin De Luxe      £3445
Superior               £3795
Junior Suite         £3995
Grand Suite         £4495

Singles - please consider sharing with people of the same gender, this works very well in comfortable accommodation on this voyage. To have single occupancy of a twin Porthole cabin, add £2695 to the price above.

Friendly and experienced Heatherlea Guides and vessel crew will be excited to share their knowledge and enthusiasm, and 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.

We expect to see many of these;

BIRDS: Red-throated Diver, Fulmar, Pink-footed Goose, Barnacle Goose, Common Eider, Long-tailed Duck, Ptarmigan, Ringed Plover, Sanderling, Purple Sandpiper, Grey Phalarope, Pomarine Skua, Arctic Skua, Long-tailed Skua, Great Skua, Sabine’s Gull, Glaucous Gull, Kittiwake, Ivory Gull, Arctic Tern, Common Guillemot, Brünnich’s Guillemot, Black Guillemot, Little Auk, Puffin and Snow Bunting. There is also the distinct possibility of rarities for your British List on Fair Isle, and of King Eider, Steller's Eider and Sabine's Gull in Svalbard.

MAMMALS: Polar Bear, Arctic Fox, Svalbard Reindeer, Walrus, Bearded Seal, Ringed Seal, Harp Seal, Common Seal, and cetaceans perhaps including Bowhead, Humpback, Blue, Fin and Minke Whale, with the possibility of Beluga in Svalbard.

OUR VESSEL                               MV Hondius

The 80-cabin MV Hondius is ideal. Meeting the latest and highest Lloyd’s Register standards for ice-strengthened cruise ships, and surpassing the requirements of the Polar Code adopted by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), Hondius represents the most flexible, advanced, innovative touring vessel in the polar regions, thoroughly optimized for exploratory voyages that provide you the utmost first-hand contact with the Arctic.

All cabins have either window or porthole, private shower and toilet, desk and chair, flatscreen TV, telephone and internet connection, hair dryer and ample storage space. Click here for full ship information, and after consulting the deck plan, contact us to reserve the specific cabin of your choice!

Pre-itinerary This is an ‘open-jaw’ journey, beginning in Aberdeen and ending in Svalbard. Holiday price includes your return flight from Longyearbyen to London Heathrow via Oslo, though you have many options to make this as convenient as possible. Heatherlea will help organize the best route for your needs. You could fly, drive or take the train to Aberdeen and there are a range of return flight options via Oslo. We will help plan your ideal route.

Here are some suggestions;

- Fly to Aberdeen, stay overnight and board at leisure. Fly back to a different airport of your choice.
- Take the train to Aberdeen the day before, and stay overnight as above. Fly back to the most convenient UK airport.
- Drive to Aberdeen. Fly back there via Oslo and collect your vehicle.
- Join from Nethy Bridge, leaving your vehicle at Mountview Hotel.
- Any other way you like! Chat to our office and we will help you plan.

At least one Heatherlea guide will be on hand in Aberdeen the night before we board to welcome you and make sure everything is ok.

Day 1: Thursday 26 May                                                                   Aberdeen
We embark MV Hondius in the afternoon. If we have time to enjoy birding in the morning, we may lead a group to Ythan estuary, a very promising place at this time of year. This is a good place to look for King Eider, which will be close if found inside the mouth of the River Ythan. Common Scoter are often seen along this coast, perhaps with a few Velvets, and many other seabirds might include divers, auks, waders, gulls and terns.

Day 2: Tuesday 17 May                                                                       Fair Isle
This iconic birding location is perhaps at its most exciting in spring, and just about anything might be here! Sadly, the famous Bird Observatory was destroyed by fire in 2019, though an appeal to replace the structure is currently underway. If the facility is restored we will visit, though birding in local island hotspots is always rewarding. Commoner seabirds 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.

Days 3 and 4: Wednesday 18 and Thursday 19 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, who can often be quite curious about boats such as ours.

Day 5: Friday 20 May                                                                        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. 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. We will also walk across the island to Kvalrossbukta to look at the remains of a 17th century Dutch whaling station and a substantial colony of Fulmar.

Days 6 to 8: Sat 21 May to Sun 22 May               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 west 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: Monday 23 May                                                                        Svalbard
Depending on the position of the 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 Bears. Bearded Seals often cruise the inner fjords, whose cliffs are lined with colonies of Brünnich's Guillemot, Puffin (the world’s largest) and Kittiwake. On the tundra we will have good opportunities to observe foraging Barnacle Geese and Snow Bunting. We expect to look for Walrus at Poolepynten, or at another convenient haulout.

Day 10: Tuesday 24 May                                                                     Svalbard
We disembark in Longyearbyen, the administrative centre of Spitsbergen, for flights south to Oslo and onward home. Alternatively you may wish to extend your holiday by continuing with a second voyage based entirely in Svalbard.

Please note that this itinerary is for guidance only. Programs may vary depending on local ice and weather conditions and opportunities to see wildlife. Flexibility is essential for a cruise of this nature.

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).

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.

* scheduled flight from Longyearbyen-Oslo-London Gatwick, airport taxes, baggage and hand luggage up to airline-included limit.

* airport transfer in Longyearbyen, ground transportation during the cruise as specified.

* the Heatherlea Pre-Flight Service offers you organisation of everything you need, including hotels, car parking, airport lounges, regional flights, and upgrades. On this holiday, all these items are chargeable, though our office services are included in your holiday price.

* the services of your Leaders.

* A 'Heatherlea Beanie'! The first item on the menu of international fashion, this little article of headgear will come in very handy. Wear your beanie with pride!

What's not included in your holiday price:

* Travel to embarkation point in Aberdeen. Hotels and activities prior to boarding.

* Travel other than flight to London after the cruise. We can organise flights to other UK destinations, though a surcharge may apply.

* holiday insurance, optional tips to ship's crew/other staff, drinks, and other personal expenses.

More holiday information

Accommodation: is in very comfortable cabins with en-suite facilities. See full details here.
Food: food on board is very good European cuisine, with a choice for all courses. Breakfast and lunch are usually an extensive buffet. There is a well stocked Bar run by the crew's Hotel staff, who are efficient, courteous and very helpful.
Mobility/Walking: is generally light/moderate, and an average level of fitness is required. There are no lifts on MV Hondius, though if you are mobile enough to manage stairs, you should be able to enjoy all aspects of this holiday. Staff are patient and courteous, and assistance is provided at both ends of zodiac voyages, all of which are optional. Land conditions can be wet and slippery, with uphill and downhill gradients, though an option to engage in very little walking when ashore is usually available. When on land all participants will be under the management of the Expedition Leader and their team, and must take note of 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, 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 up to 160 clients. There is no restriction to how many of these will be Heatherlea clients.
Holiday Payment: deposit payment of just £300pp secures your booking. Please take appropriate personal Travel Insurance to cover the possibility of your cancellation.
Photography: Opportunities are good to excellent, particularly for bears, Walrus, some birds and above all scenery.
Your leaders: Kevin Shaw is the nominated Heatherlea Leader, others may be appointed nearer the time. The voyage will be under the supervision a resident on-board Expedition Leader, plus crew leaders of a very high standard. 

Essential Information

The Group Meeting Point is at the vessel in Aberdeen. We will board in the afternoon of Day 1, Thursday 26 May 2022. Directions to the Meeting Point will be provided nearer the time. On this holiday pre-holiday hotel and car parking are not included, though these can be arranged if requested at the time of booking.

OUR VESSEL  -  Specifications

Passengers:           170 in 80 cabins
Staff & crew:          72
Length:                   107.6 meters
Breadth:                 17.6 meters
Draft:                       5.30 meters
Ice class:                 Polar Class 6 (equivalent 1A-Super)
Displacement:       5,590 tonnes
Propulsion:            2 x ABC main engines; total 4,200 kW
Speed:                    15 knots

Hondius is the first-registered Polar Class 6 vessel in the world, meeting the latest and highest Lloyd’s Register standards for ice-strengthened cruise ships. Surpassing the requirements of the Polar Code adopted by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), Hondius represents the most flexible, advanced, innovative touring vessel in the polar regions, thoroughly optimized for exploratory voyages that provide you the utmost first-hand contact with the Arctic.

Not only will the numerous amenities and on-board entertainments help make your voyage truly memorable, this ship also gives you the peace of mind that comes with choosing one of the most environmentally friendly vessel on the polar seas. Hondius uses LED lighting, steam heating, bio-degradable paints and lubricants, and state-of-the-art power management systems that keep fuel consumption and CO2 levels minimal. This means that when you sail aboard Hondius, you get to enjoy the exotic landscapes and wildlife as much as possible while impacting them as little as possible.

Hotel comfort, expedition class

Hondius offers high-quality accommodation for 170 passengers in six grand suites with balconies (27 square meters, 291 square feet), eight junior suites (19 to 20 square meters, 205 to 215 square feet), eight superior cabins (20 to 21 square meters, 215 to 226 square feet), 11 twin deluxe cabins, (19 to 21 square meters, 205 to 226 square feet), 14 twin window cabins (12 to 14 square meters, 129 to 151 square feet) as well as 27 twin porthole cabins, two triple porthole cabins, and four quadruple porthole cabins that vary in size from 12 to 18 square meters, or 129 to 194 square feet. Please be aware that a small number of cabins may have a partially obstructed view due to the size of the windows and the design requirements of the ship. For example, some windows may be partly obstructed in the lower half by a gangway. The best view is always on the outer deck or the bridge.

One deck consists of a large observation lounge and separate lecture room, which are reserved for a wide variety of interactive workshops, exhibitions, and performances particular to Hondius. Though elegantly designed in stylish mid-century modern décor, this vessel offers a distinctive cozy and informal atmosphere.

Swift & safe ship-to-shore operations

It is our philosophy to keep sea time short so that we can focus instead on fast, effective access to shore and near-shore activities. To give you the maximum contact with the nature and wildlife you traveled so far to see, we employ a tough fleet of rigid-hull inflatable Zodiac boats that guarantee swift and safe landing operations for the passengers. Hondius has two separate gangways and a sheltered indoor Zodiac embarkation platform that can also be used for special outdoor activities, such as kayaking.

Your Leaders

Heatherlea will provide at least one Leader for this voyage;

Kevin Shaw - Along with wife Caryl, Kevin is the founder of Heatherlea, and is an experienced Leader in Svalbard and Scotland.                                

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!'

Kevin with Heatherlea Guide Ian Ford, Svalbard 2019

We hope more Guides will be added later if numbers make this possible.

Field Notes

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 Polar Bears

Polar Bears make their way across the Arctic pack ice to Spitsbergen in winter, and our voyage gives us excellent chances of seeing them. Bears need frozen sea ice to hunt seals, and are great travellers. On this voyage we have chances of Bear as soon as we reach the pack ice, and then throughout our visit to Svalbard. This is a very cost effective way of looking for Polar Bear!

Here are a couple of observations from Kenny Taylor, BBC Wildlife Expert on that voyage, and also from Heatherlea Guide 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.'

Other birding and wildlife holidays in Norway

Why choose Heatherlea for your birding and wildlife holiday in Europe?

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 over 30 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.
  • Our holidays often include things which others might invite you to pay yourself, for instance Departure Taxes and tips to hotels.
  • 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).

Trip Reports

Coming Soon

Tour Details

About Heatherlea Holidays

Contact Information

The Mountview Hotel, Nethybridge,
PH25 3EB Scotland

T: 01479 821248