PLA05-23, trip log, North Spitsbergen, In search of polar bear & pack ice

by Oceanwide Expeditions


Day 1: Longyearbyen, embarkation day

Longyearbyen, embarkation day
Fecha: 22.06.2023
Posición: 78°14.5’ N, 015°32.6’E
Viento: S 4
Clima: Sunny
Temperatura del Aire: +8

Many of the guests arrived at Longyearbyen on the day of embarkation. Throughout the afternoon the luggage was shuttled from the key out to Plancius on anchor in the bay. By 4pm there was an eager line of guests waiting to embark on the Zodiac journey! Luckily our first zodiac trip stayed dry, but we are prepared for any weather that might come!

Once on board the evening went by quickly as we were busy with familiarisations, safety briefings, cocktails with the Captain and of course a lovely first dinner. As we set off out of Isfjord in the evening, and northward towards our first scheduled activity of the trip, there was time to enjoy the views of the flat table-topped mountains in the late evening light.

Day 2: St. Jonsfjorden and Gjersenodden

St. Jonsfjorden and Gjersenodden
Fecha: 23.06.2023
Posición: 78°31.11’N / 012°42.18’E
Viento: Light air
Clima: Overcast/fog
Temperatura del Aire: +6

This morning we woke to a foggy sky and after a delicious breakfast in the dining room we prepared to land. As we did however the fog lowered, and it was soon obvious that a landing would not be possible due to low visibility and the fact that we can’t see if there are polar bears on shore. Therefore, we continued into Saint Jonsfjorden and as we did so the fog lifted somewhat.

At around 10:30 we boarded with zodiacs with great anticipation for our first excursion off the ship and we went ashore at Charles Laguna.

Once ashore we split into groups with a fast, a medium and a slow hiking group. The hikes went up a steep spur above the beach and descended back further to the east. There saw a harbour seal hauled out on the beach.

Then it was back to the Plancius and during lunch the ship moved across the fjord for our afternoon landing. This time we went ashore at Gjertsenodden. Once ashore the first thing to look at was the small trappers hut which is built out of solid logs in a log cabin style. Inside there is a small fireplace and a bed. Certainly, a cold place to spend even a summer in these lands.

The group split again, and the fast hikers walked towards the top of the mountain, the medium hikers went to the east, and the slow hikers including a large group of photographers scoured the baren landscape for wildlife to photograph. We had an incredible encounter with a brown female, and a white male ptarmigan, a pair of skua, and a very friendly harbour seal which swam in front of us at the mouth of a small creek bubble feeding for almost an hour.

Evening came and the ship headed back out to sea. Just after 10pm, the call came over the ships PA system that a large whale had been spotted. Could it be a blue whale??

Yes! It certainly was, and for half an hour the whale was feeding around the ship, surfacing every few minutes with a huge blow before showing us its flukes each time it dove again. This was a truly special moment, and we were very lucky to have such a close encounter with this magnificent animal on our voyage.

Day 3: Signehamna, Lilliehookbreen and Tinayrebukta

Signehamna, Lilliehookbreen and Tinayrebukta
Fecha: 24.06.2023
Posición: 79°16.13’N / 011°33.7’E
Viento: SW 3
Clima: Overcast
Temperatura del Aire: +4

The morning was spent anchored near Signehamna, a short zodiac ride away from the shore. We all gathered on the landing site, before dividing up into smaller groups. Those wanting a little more exercise and a slightly more elevated view embarked on a longer and faster paced hike. Other options included the medium hike, the leisurely group, and the photography group. A variety of wildlife was observed during the afternoon including Svalbard reindeer, arctic turns, arctic skua, and dozens of kittiwakes gathered on a few of the lakes at a slightly higher elevation. In some areas we could observe the remans from the German marine weather station ‘Knospe’.

During lunch we cruised along the glacier front of Lillehookbreen onboard Plancius, a stunning glacier front stretching eleven kilometres wide. As we explored the bay, we could get a real sense of the sheer size of the glacier, photographing the varying shades of colour and the different ice formations. We could hear the loud thunder like sounds as we witnessed a few calving’s from the glacier front.

In the afternoon we visited Tinayrebukta, once on shore we divided into groups with a variety of options. Those on the longer hike, went at quite a pace, reaching higher elevation to take in the beautiful views of the surrounding peaks and the Tinayrebreen glacier. Closer to the landing site the calls from rock ptarmigan could be heard; and various wildlife spotted, including arctic fox, snow bunting, and a puffin on the water during the return zodiac trip back to the ship.

The kayakers enjoyed exceptionally calm paddling conditions during both the morning and the afternoon, taking in similar sights and surroundings from the comfort of their kayaks.

After another great day, we all headed back to the ship for our evening recap with the plans for the following day, followed by another delicious evening meal.

Day 4: Gullybukta (Magdalenafjord) and Smeerenburgfjorden

Gullybukta (Magdalenafjord) and Smeerenburgfjorden
Fecha: 25.06.2023
Posición: 79°33.17’N / 010°58.34’E
Viento: SW 3
Clima: Overcast
Temperatura del Aire: +5

In the morning we woke up at the entrance of the beautiful Magdalenafjord. Very curious to find out wether our toothwalking friends where home. And they were! So, after breakfast we went to see them. Half of the group had a small zodiac cruise at the glacier in Gullybukta while the other half visited the walrus. Then we swapped.

When coming ashore we could already smell the typical smell of a group of walruses, and Philipp felt the need to clarify that it was not him we could smell. We walked closer and spread out in a line to make sure everyone had a good view of the animals. They seemed to have a good time cuddled together on the beach. Some of them seemed to not quite agree on who should be where but all in all walrus life looked quite nice.

We walked back to the landing site and drove back to Plancius to refuel ourselves with a delicious lunch. After lunch we went in the zodiacs again for a cruise among the calving front the beautiful glacier Smeerenburgbreen according to the map this is one connected glacier front. But as we could see, the glacier had retreated so much that its front was now split in several pieces and large parts of the glacier front was now on land and not in the water. So even though we always kept a distance of at least 400m to the glacier front, according to the map we were traveling inside the glacier.

At the glacier front we saw a group of belugas swimming along the edge of the glacier! We could drive around beautiful small rock islands that quite recently had emerged from the ice and see the marks in the rock from the ice traveling over it. Some of us also saw a bearded seal hauled out on the ice. Then we made our way back to the ship trough drifting crush ice. In the recap Emely told us about walruses and Chris about glacier crevasses. In the evening we reached the ice edge and some eager souls started scouting for wildlife.

And shortly before midnight we had our first polar-bear sighting! A big male that ate a seal. A great end of a day full of experiences.

Day 5: A day in the Arctic pack ice

A day in the Arctic pack ice
Fecha: 26.06.2023
Posición: 80°05.9’N / 013°11.0’E
Viento: ESE 2
Clima: Partly cloudy
Temperatura del Aire: +1

The morning starts unusually late: the wake-up call, performed by Philip, sounds a whole half-hour later than usual. Last night, shortly after reaching the pack ice, we had a wonderful opportunity to observe a polar bear devouring the carcass of a seal it had killed. The observation started around midnight, so we went to sleep well past 1 AM.

Today is an ice day! No landings on the shore, no Zodiac cruises, only contemplating the eternal ice and spending time on the open decks of the ship, slowly making its way through drifting ice floes. The main task is to find a polar bear! But that, as they say, is an ambitious task. Mostly, the main idea of our presence in the pack ice is to comprehend the silent beauty of the white, cold silence.

There is a dense fog. The Plancius moves forward slowly, pushing the ice floes aside, while some of us stand at the bow of the ship with cameras and binoculars at the ready. And then – boom! – the fog dissipates. Sunlight floods everything around, as far as the eye can see – white ice floes everywhere, stretching to the horizon. Immediately, there is a need to put on sunglasses; everything is just too bright.

Arctic fulmars fly around, bearded seals and ringed seals lie here and there, looking at us in surprise. The wind has completely subsided, and the usually cold northern sun starts to scorch noticeably.

So, an hour passes, two hours, and we keep staring at this unusual landscape for those living in temperate latitudes, searching for the white, furry predator.

Lunchtime arrives, but we still don't disperse. We take turns having lunch, just in case we miss the sudden appearance of a bear. But no, it's still only seals and Kittiwakes.

Evening comes. The sun, without any intention of setting below the horizon, just descends slightly. The light becomes softer and less contrasting. At 6:30 PM, we are invited to the observatory lounge for a daily recap. Philip announces plans for tomorrow, Annelou tells us about the formation of sea ice, and Sasha and Andy talk about belugas.

Dinner is listed on the program as a special Arctic dinner. We are invited to the aft of the third deck, where a real barbecue awaits us! What a surprise! Tables are set up there as well, so while sitting at them, we can glance at the icy sea with one eye just in case the furry beast appears after all.

Closer to nine o'clock in the evening, fog starts to thicken, as if a curtain is descending in the theatre of Arctic nature. Not today, my friends, not today. There will be more days, more opportunities.

A wonderful, unhurried, harmonious day of contemplation! To experience the pack ice is to feel a unique, incomparable sense of tranquillity and witness the power and grandeur of the Arctic first-hand.

Day 6: Raudfjorden and Fuglesangen

Raudfjorden and Fuglesangen
Fecha: 27.06.2023
Posición: 79°47.31’N / 011°51.43’E
Viento: SW 2
Clima: Calm/ice
Temperatura del Aire: +10

Like almost every morning Philip woke us up at 7:15. We started our day in pleasant sunshine in the pack ice, and to our surprise, there was a walrus lying on an ice floe just right next to our ship. It was taking a sun bath and holding its head in an inquisitive way to check us out.

After breakfast we started our journey towards Raudfjorden. During our journey time, Emily held a lecture about polar bears followed by George who told us the story of Salomon August Andrée, who flew a high balloon over the Arctic in the early 19th century. Karin then talked about the flora in Svalbard. When we reached Hamiltonbukta in Raudfjorden, there was a call from the bridge who spotted the second polar bear of this trip. It was right in front of Plancius, and it moved rapidly northbound. We stayed and observed it for 1 1/2 hours until we went deeper into the fjord where we found another walrus hauled out on the ice. We scouted for more bears, but then the fog started to hit in.

Plancius then headed towards our destination for the afternoon. After lunch, we arrived at Fuglesangen. We loaded all zodiacs to visit a little auk colony. There are over 10,000 birds nesting and they make big noise on the way to the landing site. We encountered another curious walrus in the water and the landing was not the easiest because of the slippery boulders on the beach but with the help of all the staff, we made it safe and sound as we all gathered to make our way for the little auk colony. We spotted an Arctic Fox, which was running towards the ridge of the mount. It was moulting, but still had white patches of fur on its coat. Once we made it to the birds, we all split into small groups and sat down for over one hour to observe these wonderful little birds. We were able to see them flying in and out of their little burrows under the rocks. It was amazing to see them up close, and to listen to their funny calls that sounded like laughter. Occasionally, the walrus would make an appearance in the water. We slowly returned to the ship.

As always we gathered in the lounge for the recaps of the day. After our Expedition Leader Philip told us the plans for the upcoming day, Chris gave us a recap about his work with huskies in Arctic Norway. Karin talked about the circle of life in the Arctic sea, and finally we enjoyed once more the delicious dinner, which ended with an Austrian classic: the Apfelstrudel with vanilla sauce.

After gathering at the bar for some drinks, the bridge noticed us again that they had spotted a large whale blow. It took us some time but eventually the whale came up to the surface again, and it was a blue whale. The second one of the trip. What a way to end another fabulous day in Svalbard.

Day 7: Ymerbukta and Alkhornet

Ymerbukta and Alkhornet
Fecha: 28.06.2023
Posición: 78°16.7’N / 014°0.54’E
Viento: NE 2
Clima: Overcast
Temperatura del Aire: +7

Another day, another beautiful landing in the Arctic! This morning it was slightly overcast, but almost no wind just like in the past days. The water was crystal clear, and we got dropped by zodiac at the landing site and as always, we divided into different hiking groups.

We had an amazing view into the bay and the water surface was mirroring the whole scenery. The relatively flat hills on this landing site were still mostly covered with snow and here and there we could see the meltwater rivers finding their way through the ice and into the sea close to the landing site. We were lucky to observe some rock ptarmigans and some snow buntings, and some reindeer (plus young juveniles). We were astonished by the number of flowers in bloom we encountered during our walks. To top off this morning landing we even went for a polar plunge! The water had about 3 degrees Celsius. Quite a lot of people went swimming and some even went a couple of times! What a great way to start the day with!

After a short lunch break and a chance to get a warm tea after this eventful morning we landed in Alkhornet. A stunning scenery opened in front of us as we shuttled towards the landing site by zodiac again. The beautiful brown, green tundra covered almost all the landscape and here and there we could see little white dots from the distance: reindeer – everywhere! Not too long after arrival we all spotted a little Arctic Fox den up the hill quite in the distance. As we had a closer look, we even saw several pups that were actively exploring the surrounding area of the den! Everyone was overwhelmed with the sheer amount of cuteness watching the little ones play in the grass under strong supervision of their mum. What a special place to finish this incredible journey.

We ended the day with a toast by the captain, and a farewell by our expedition leader Philipp. George showed us the amazing slideshow he had been working on.

Day 8: Arrival back into Longyearbyen

Arrival back into Longyearbyen
Fecha: 29.06.2023
Posición: 78°14.5’ N, 015°32.6’E
Viento: NE 2
Clima: Overcast
Temperatura del Aire: +7

Early this morning, we arrived in Longyearbyen. While we enjoyed a last breakfast on board, our suitcases were taken off the ship. It is a sad moment to disembark from Plancius, which has been a comfortable and cozy home during this unforgettable journey. We have shared many unique moments, seen a range of rarely sighted wildlife, and made new friends. Loaded with fond memories we now must head home.

Thank you all for travelling with us on this voyage, for your enthusiasm, support, and good company. We very much hope to see you again in the future, wherever that might be!


Código del viaje: PLA05-23
Fechas: 22 jun. - 29 jun., 2023
Duración: 7 noches
Barco: El Plancius
Embarque: Longyearbyen
Desembarque: Longyearbyen

¿Ha estado en este viaje?

Aboard El Plancius

Nuestro barco más antiguo, el Plancius, es un clásico para algunos de nuestros viajes polares más populares.

More about the El Plancius »