What’s so Special about East Spitsbergen?

by Oceanwide Expeditions Blog

Though eastern Svalbard does not differ dramatically from the rest of the island group, the itineraries we follow there give you a different experience than our other Svalbard options.

Regions: Arctic

Destinations: Svalbard

Go on an east Spitsbergen trip and see much more than east Spitsbergen

We’ve written about our north Spitsbergen trips and Spitsbergen circumnavigations, but too little attention has yet been paid to the eastern reaches of this amazing island. And despite their name, our east Spitsbergen voyages see a lot more than just east Spitsbergen.

More accurately, they see eastern Svalbard, touring such remote islands as Edgeøya and Barentsøya (anglicized as Edge Island and Barents Island, respectively). Though eastern Svalbard does not differ dramatically from the rest of the island group, the itineraries we follow there give you a different experience than our other Svalbard options.

More emphasized, for example, is local history, such as the trappers, researchers, and Pomor residents whose artifacts can still be seen there. One of the sites we hope to visit, Stretehamna, features an octagonal trapper’s cabin built around 1905, nicknamed “the carousel.” We also see a 19th-century Pomor house (and usually a walrus herd) in this ruggedly scenic area.

Picture by Troels Jacobsen

There’s more. When we sail to Barentsøya, we aim to visit the hut of a German scientific expedition (Würzbugerhütte) that took place over half a century ago. And at Ahlstrandhalvøya, at the mouth of Van Keulenfjorden, we witness the somber sight of beluga skeletons from 19th-century whale hunting. Belugas were fortunately not hunted into extinction, so we may encounter some.

Naturally, eastern Svalbard is also a great place to see polar bears. But even if few or no bears show up, the scenery we enjoy exemplifies the high Arctic: 14 spectacular glaciers can be seen around the Bautaen area of Hornsund, and the mountains there (such as Hornsundtind) underscore why ancient Dutch explorers named these islands Spitsbergen, meaning “pointed mountains.”

Not only are eastern Svalbard’s mountains deserving of the most high-flown superlatives, they are home to thousands of seabirds, such as little auks and kittiwakes. Harp seals, Arctic foxes, and reindeer are often spotted along the lower elevations closer to shore. Because eastern Svalbard is less visited due to its remoteness, you might see more wildlife there than other areas.

Picture by unknown photographer

Little wonder, then, that eastern Svalbard is a photographer’s paradise. And if you come when the northern lights can be seen, this will only add to the atmosphere. But many travelers prefer the 24-hour daylight of the midnight sun, which is why our Svalbard solstice trips are so popular. This phenomenon lasts from late June until late August, the high season of Svalbard.

As with all Svalbard voyages, our east Spitsbergen trips give you some of the best odds of seeing polar bears out of anywhere in the Arctic. But it goes without saying that there are far more animals in and around Svalbard than just polar bears: humpback whales, bearded seals, and puffins are also favorites among our guests. Though we can never promise the appearance of any wildlife, the wildlife of eastern Svalbard is sometimes difficult to avoid.

All areas of Svalbard offer stark Arctic beauty and the chance of seeing exotic species, so the cliché is true that all of its areas are great for different reasons. But if you’re a traveler who enjoys local history and culture as much as wildlife, landscapes, and ice formations, an east Spitsbergen trip might be your best bet of seeing much more than just east Spitsbergen.

Main image by Melissa Scott

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