The northern limit of Spitsbergen is just 600 miles from the North Pole. As summer arrives, the ice flows recede so that by the middle of June we can gain access to some of the most biologically-rich parts of this Arctic Archipelago. By sailing on this trip, along the glacier-filled fjords of Spitsbergen's north-western coast, the doors to a fabled Arctic wilderness are thrown open to you.
As you sail along the coastline, admiring the scenery and learning something of its history, we are always on watch for opportunities to see Arctic mammals. Top of people's lists is usually the polar bear. This enigmatic Lord of the Ice is both a formidable and beautiful animal and has invariably been observed on this voyage. Some of the best sightings take place when the on board team find the carcass of a beached whale or walrus. This can attract the attention of several hungry polar bears, so if time permits you might anchor overnight to watch the spectacle.
Both harbour seals and the charismatic walrus are to be found along this coast. Sometimes walruses are found on their own on the sea ice. At other times you may come across a community of them at a haulout site. Here you can sit quietly as you watch these massive members of the seal family bicker and sway their long tusks towards each other, or enjoy the sight of them rubbing their huge, blubbery bodies over rough stones to scratch themselves. An encounter with the walruses is a wonderful experience which will linger in both your memory and nostrils. Along with bearded seals and fin whales breaking the surface, you may be lucky to have chances of seeing beautiful beluga whales. Whilst sightings take place on many voyages, they can be fleeting, so better to keep your camera close at hand, or just absorb the moment rather than rushing below decks to find it. These ephemeral white whales are highly gregarious and are often seen in large pods close to the shore.
These early summer North Spitsbergen sailing voyages also provide some of the best opportunities to see Arctic birdlife. Species such as the king eider, Sabine's gulls and Arctic skuas are all found alongside the more common guillemots, puffins and little auks. Birds nest in colonies exceeding one hundred thousand and come to this coast every year to breed and feed in the rich coastal waters. At places such as Trygghamna, where sheer cliffs tower overhead and are crowded with thousands of guillemots and their chicks, you may be lucky enough to see opportunistic Arctic foxes dashing around. Early season they will be after eggs. Later they will target fledgling chicks which have fallen short of the sea on their maiden flight.
Alongside the stunning landscapes and incredible wildlife are sites of historical and cultural significance. You may sail to the famed research station at Ny Ålesund to see the site from which Amundsen set off to conquer the North Pole in his air ship. Your voyage may enter Kongsfjord, often said to be the most beautiful and picturesque fjord on Spitsbergen. As you sail through the iced waters to the end of the fjord, you reach a pair of immense glaciers which meet and share a calving ice front. As the boat slows to a halt, you are left to stare up at the towering wall of ice in a silence only punctuated by the deep rumbling from within the glaciers themselves.
Both your expedition leader and skipper are permanently on hand, offering the benefits of their experience and knowledge whilst in the Arctic. Whilst ashore, your expedition leader will impart a wealth of knowledge on flora and fauna, geology and history. Whilst sailing, there may be opportunities to help with sailing the charismatic one hundred year old ice-strengthened schooner. With comfortable cabins, hot showers, good food and a comfy 'pilot house' in which to relax, you can experience the Arctic realm from the comfort of a unique Arctic vessel.
Whilst on this trip, photographic opportunities abound. Whilst that doesn't mean that the Arctic's enigmatic mammals will always be on hand to photograph (they try to keep a low profile across this vast Arctic wilderness), the scenery and the stunning ship are always there. Throughout June, the Midnight Sun offers twenty four hours of daylight so there is always a chance of spotting wildlife - you just have to be awake and on watch to see it! This is also a time when birdlife can accumulate in vast numbers. In September, the landscape enjoys a greater range of lighting and late in the month we hope for early season displays of the Northern Lights. Whilst the ship and the Arctic wildlife provide wonderful photographic subjects, it is probably the vast, desolate surroundings which shall leave the greatest impression.
11 Day Sample Itinerary
These 11 day sailing voyages will explore the West & North coast of Spitsbergen in search of wildlife and marine life encounters. You will enjoy a variety of zodiac cruising and shore landings throughout the voyage.
Day 1: Embarkation in Longyearbyen
Please note that our polar itineraries are written to provide a flavour of each voyage. Sailing rather than motor-only will be undertaken where and when conditions allow. The actual route will be decided by the captain and expedition team in accordance with prevailing ice, weather and sea conditions and opportunities to see wildlife and wilderness scenery. The onboard team aim to provide you with the most rewarding experience possible and as a result, our itinerary may need to change at short notice. Itineraries have been changed in the past on account of instances such as impassable pack ice and the discovery of a dead whale with numerous polar bears feeding on it. Please remember that any changes in our itineraries are made with you in mind.
After arriving in Longyearbyen, the 'capital' (actually the administrative centre) of Spitsbergen, you may wish to visit the Svalbard Museum which has an interesting collection on the history of Spitsbergen, the mining industry and polar exploration. The ship will sail in the early evening, leaving Isfjorden and sailing for Trygghamna where you will see the remains of an 18th century Russian Pomor hunting settlement and a 17th century English whaling station and where some of Spitsbergen's best-preserved 'blubber ovens' can be seen, which you will visit the next morning.
Day 2: Alkhornet
From Trygghamna you will walk to Alkhornet a large seabird cliff, where a large colony of kittiwakes and Brünnichs guillemots come to breed and are prospecting their breeding places. Below the cliffs you can often catch a glimpse of the Arctic foxes emerging from their dens around the base of the cliffs to look for fallen eggs or chicks, and Reindeer graze on the lush vegetation.
Day 3: Fuglefjorden with views of Svitjodbreen and Birgerbukta
Today you will sail into Fuglefjorden with views on Svitjodbreen and Birgerbukta, with breeding places for Great Skuas and good chances for bears. In Birgerbukta you will find blubber ovens of the Basques. You will try to visit Ytre Norskøya, a small island which was used for many years as a lookout point for Dutch whalers. There we can follow the trails made by whalers to the summit of the island, passing by cliffs with nesting birds along the way. Close to the shore, the remains of 17th century blubber ovens can be seen. Arctic skuas and eiders breed among the graves of 200 Dutch whalers, which have been pushed to the surface by the permafrost.
Day 4: Raudfjord
Raudfjord on the north coast of Spitsbergen is a beautiful fjord with spectacular glaciers and an exceptional variety of wildlife. It is a favourite for Ringed and Bearded Seals and offers chances for spotting Polar Bears and Belugas.
Day 5: Reindyrsflya
If conditions allow, you might land on the northern-side of Reindyrfla, the largest tundra area on Spitsbergen. Its vast undulating plain provides good grazing for Reindeer and several species of waders also breed here. On the tundra lakes there is a good chance of spotting Red-throated Divers and King Eiders, whose breeding plumage is delightfully colourful.
Day 6: Monaco Glacier
Depending on the weather, you will aim sail into Liefdefjorden and cruise within sight of the 5-kilometre-long (3.1 miles) face of the precipitous Monaco Glacier. The waters in front of this glacier are a favourite feeding spot for thousands of kittiwakes, and the base of the ice can be a good place to spot a hunting polar bear.
Day 7: Fuglesangen
In the morning you will land at Fuglesangen, where you can sit near the Little Auks. Sailing southwards you might visit Magdalenafjord - one of the most picturesque places on Spitsbergen, with many impressive glacier fronts. During a shore visit you can see the remains of 17th century English whaling activities and hopefully get some great sightings of little auks.
Day 8: Ny Ålesund
You will head north, aiming for Kongsfjorden and Krossfjorden. The landscape is likely to show signs of winter, the crags and slopes still blanketed with snow. Here there are rich opportunities for snowshoeing or hiking and visiting places of historic interest: Ny London, where you can see the remains of early 20th-century marble mining, and Ny Ålesund, the northernmost community in the world. There are also research stations and the famous anchor mast of the dirigible Norge, which took the first flight across the North Pole to Nome, Alaska in 1926. Krossfjorden offers views of colossal glaciers and lofty mountain peaks, but ultimately the extent of fjord ice dictates the itinerary here.
Day 9: Fuglehuken
On your way south, you will try to make a landing on Fuglehuken, where you can see many remains from the Polar Bear hunting era. There are large seabird colonies and a haul out place for harbour seals. Alternatively you will land on the coast of Forlandsundet at Engelsbukta or Sarstangen, where walruses are sometimes hauled out. The tundra offers some great walking in a beautiful setting.
Day 10: Bohemanflya
Bohemanflya is an expansive tundra with its own avifauna and spectacular geological formations along the coast. In Gipsvika you can go on shore near Templet, a mountainous location of eroded sedimentary rock from the Upper Carboniferous period – around 290 million years ago.
Day 11: Disembark in Longyearbyen
After a farewell breakfast, you will be free to catch your flight from Longyearbyen airport.
Single supplement: This supplement can be avoided if you are willing to share with someone of the same gender. Single occupancy is 1.85 times the per person sharing cabin price.
Our prices include:
Voyage as indicated in draft itinerary.
Group airport transfers to & from the vessel (when arriving/departing on recommended group flight).
All meals, snacks, coffee and tea.
All shore excursions and zodiac activities.
Programme of lectures by noted naturalists and leadership by experienced expedition staff.
All miscellaneous services taxes and port charges throughout the programme.
Comprehensive pre-departure material.
Passports and visas.
Pre and post land arrangements.
Transfers to and from the vessel (except when arriving/departing on recommended group flights).
Items of a personal nature (alcohol, laundry etc).
Cancellation and personal insurance.
Arrival and departure tax.
Activity Level: Low-Medium