Kvitøya (“White Island”) is located in the far north east of the Svalbard archipelago close to the Russian border. Arctic cruise passengers who visit the area are treated to the awesome spectacle of the ice-cap Kvitøyjøkulen which covers 705 km2, leaving small pockets of ice-free land dotted around the edges of the island.
Kvitøya is fairly free of wildlife on top of its ice shield, hosting only the occasional polar bear crossing on its way to happier hunting grounds. However despite the ice shield wildlife is still plentiful on the few clear spots on the edges of the island.
Birds that prefer flat lands for their colonies like Red-throated Divers and Arctic Terns arrive during breeding season. Polar bears are fairly common along the shores, and there is a robust walrus population (more females than males) that uses the region as a haul-out area.
Kvitøya was first discovered by a Dutch gentleman by the name of Cornelis Giles in 1707. The island would in fact show up on maps as “Giles Land” until the name was changed by the Norwegian whaler Johan Kjeldsen in 1876.
The island became the final stop for a hydrogen balloon crew in 1897, led by Swedish explorer Salomon August Andrée. Attempting to fly over the North Pole they had to set down amongst the Arctic pack ice, and travelled to the island on foot. No one knew of their demise on the island despite a large search and rescue operation. Not until 30 years later did a Norwegian sealer find the remains of the ill-fated expedition. A monument to the crew stands on the island today.
If you’d like to experience the remote wild of Kvitøya then please check out our Spitsbergen cruises.