HDS05-23, trip log, East Spitsbergen - Summer Solstice

by Oceanwide Expeditions


Day 1: Longyearbyen - Embarkation Day

Longyearbyen  - Embarkation Day
Date: 21.06.2023
Position: Port
Wind: NW 4
Weather: Sunny
Air Temperature: +5

When we arrived at the quayside in Longyearbyen, our adventure began immediately with a Zodiac ride! Hondius, our transport and home for the next seven days, was sitting out at anchor in the fjord. In beautiful sunshine, we donned our lifejackets for the first time for the short but exciting transfer to the ship. We were greeted by the enthusiastic staff and shown to our cabins.

Once settled in, we gathered in the observation lounge for a mandatory safety drill from our Chief Officer, Matei. This included an evacuation exercise ending next to our designated lifeboat station. We then had an initial briefing from the Deputy Hotel Manager, Alfredo, before our Expedition Team Leader, Sara, invited her multi-talented team to introduce themselves to us. Sara then gave us an outline of the cruise schedule and some key safety rules. She also gave us more details on the next day’s activities, including timings (Plan A) and expected weather. Then it was down to the dining room for our first taste of the excellent food on board and to meet some of our fellow travelers and members of the expedition team, who joined us for dinner. There was no stopping even after that, as we made our way down to Deck 3 to be fitted for our essential muck boots. Finally we made our way to bed, tired but excited. Our adventure had begun!

Day 2: Gashamna & Burgerbukta

Gashamna & Burgerbukta
Date: 22.06.2023
Position: 76°57.0’N / 015°49.0’E
Wind: NW 2
Weather: Foggy
Air Temperature: +6

“Good morning, good morning, good morning,” said Sara over the intercom. “We have a Blue Whale at the 5 ‘o clock position of the ship.” Some of us managed to see it, along with some Humpback Whales in the same area. Wow, what a way to start the day!

As we enjoyed our breakfast, the expedition team were scouting the shorelines of Gåshamna for a safe landing. Gåshamna means “Goose Bay” and used to be an English whaling settlement. The scouts found a fresh walrus carcass on the beach close to our landing site. As polar bears can be attracted to the smell of a decaying animal, a landing was no longer an option. Sara hatched an alternative plan to do a shoreline cruise to have a closer look at the walrus carcass and also check out the trapper’s hut and whale bones on the beach – all in glorious sunshine.

During lunch we repositioned to the north side of Hornsund, where we prepared for a Zodiac cruise. With the weather still gorgeous, we explored this spectacular fjord, gazing up at mountains with numerous waterfalls. And, of course, we couldn’t skip the photo opportunities at this amazing location. We then moved toward the glacier, which looked glorious in the bright sun. We were also able to experience the unique popping sound of the floating ice surrounding us. When ice melts, air escapes and creates an amazing crackling sound.

After more than two hours out on the water, it was time to make our way back to the ship. We enjoyed a delicious dinner buffet. Shortly after this, our Indian guests had an Indian / Bollywood evening planned, with dancing and singing. The Indian songs inspired many of us to join the dancing, and the party continued until midnight. What a wonderful day!

Day 3: Russebukta & at sea towards Kapp Lee

Russebukta & at sea towards Kapp Lee
Date: 23.06.2023
Position: 77°36’N / 20°58’E
Wind: NW 2
Weather: Sunny
Air Temperature: +6

So begins our third full day aboard the ship. In the morning, we were treated to another fine breakfast by Head Chef Bawa and his talented team, strengthening us for the morning landing. As we landed on Russesbukta, we were able to take in a vast landscape of open tundra and sedimentary mountains. We saw the first blooming flowers, such as Buttercups, Purple Saxifrage and Svalbard Poppies and close views of Reindeer.

The groups were divided into short, medium, and long hikes. The short and medium hikers stayed closer to the shoreside, watching Reindeer and a Polar Fox going about their business. The long hikers went deep into the tundra for what ended up being a six-mile hike at good speed. In the warm weather, the tundra had become rather muddy, and some people got temporarily stuck. Rivers also had to be crossed – sometimes in teams of five – a unique experience for many. A proper Arctic adventure, all expertly managed by skilled guides. One of the wildlife highlights was the close sighting of Red Phalarope (also called Grey Phalarope), in its magnificent breeding plumage.

After lunch we sailed through open water close to Edgeoya, finding Minke, Fin, Humpback Whales, and even the elusive Northern Bottlenose Whale, which passed close to the ship. Pelin gave her “Introduction to the Arctic” lecture, followed by Simon and Andrew’s joint lecture on “Birds of the Arctic”. We sailed through Freemansundet and spotted Walrus hauled out on an ice floe. The evening was incredibly calm, with warm light illuminating the surrounding waters and mountains beautifully, showing a softer side of the Arctic. Dinner was then served, drinks ordered, and everyone enjoyed some downtime before tomorrow’s adventures. Another beautiful day in this incredible environment.

Day 4: Kapp Walberg & Kapp Lee

Kapp Walberg & Kapp Lee
Date: 24.06.2023
Position: 78°14’N / 021°55’E
Wind: E 3
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +5

Another day lay ahead of us, full of activities. After breakfast the first group went ashore at Kapp Walberg, while the second listened to a great lecture from Julia about Puffins. We then swapped at the beach. It was the first successful landing for our expedition leader Sara after 12 attempts: bears spotted ashore had always prevented her landing here.

We climbed up to the gully to be greeted by the incredible sight of hundreds of Kittiwakes nesting on both cliff faces, jostling each other to get the best site for protection from the Arctic Fox. One of them was around, waiting for the chance to grab a bird that flew too close to her. We reluctantly dragged ourselves away down toward the landing site. It was quite muddy in places, so we washed our muck boots in the sea before heading back onboard.

After lunch we were anchored in front of Kapp Lee, facing a big haul out of Walruses. Because of the possibility of polar bears in the area, it was decided to do a Zodiac cruise instead of a landing.

On the water we found walruses lying on the beach and swimming close to our Zodiacs, curious to find out what we were doing in their territory. We were about to head back to the ship when we got the message from a guide that they had spotted a Polar Bear ashore.

Sara organized a very careful approach, with the bear on a slope about 600m from the water’s edge. We were all able to spot the bear resting between the rocks and looking at us. What an experience! For many guests, this was their first sighting. And to end this perfect day, our lovely crew prepared everything for the famous BBQ on the outer deck. We ate, drank, and danced the evening away.

Day 5: Sundneset & Mohnbukta

Sundneset & Mohnbukta
Date: 25.06.2023
Position: 78°09’N / 20°59’E
Wind: ENE 3
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +5

Another early(ish) start today. As we tucked into our breakfast, the expedition team were going ashore at Sundneset to scout. As soon as they gave the all-clear, those of us doing the long hike took to the Zodiacs and met Claudio and Pelin on the shore for the start of a brisk three-hour walk. Following on behind, the medium and short walk groups started to come ashore to be teamed up with their guides.

Before long the beach was empty, as each group headed off in different directions. Among the burgeoning tundra flowers and reindeer, we had a fly over from an Ivory Gull. One of the groups happened on a pond that had Red Phalaropes swimming among a group of King Eiders. Gazing down among the bright sunshine and sparkling ice, it was hard to imagine a more colorful scene.

Our transit to Mohnbukta for our afternoon activity was a significant distance, so Mikhail entertained and educated us on the fascinating subject of whale acoustics. Soon after we were again Zodiac cruising toward the glacier in bright sunshine. Lttle did we know how fantastic the next couple of hours were to prove. In the ice in front of the glacier, we encountered a large group of white whales – Belugas!

They were feeding, excitedly chattering away as we approached. Unaffected by our presence, they started swimming closely around us, allowing incredible views and photo opportunities. Our most experienced guides described this as the best encounter they have ever had with this iconic Arctic cetacean. Even the many Ivory Gulls and Great Skuas had to accept the role of support to the main act. We considered ourselves privileged to have been there.

Day 6: Gashamna & Samarinvagen

Gashamna & Samarinvagen
Date: 26.06.2023
Position: 76°56’N / 016°16’E
Wind: SSE 2
Weather: Sunny
Air Temperature: +6

We awoke out at sea having made good progress overnight, managing to pass round the southern tip of Svalbard with no fuss. With the accompaniment of some Fin Whales, we closed in on our first target of the day. Our destination was an obvious one, homing back in on the fresh-looking Walrus carcass that we had found on the beach at Gåshamna, back when we were young and innocent. Unfortunately, there were no bears present. We lingered for a while, searching from the bridge and outer decks, but soon decided to carry on deeper into Hornsund. We kept to our original plan of a morning on the ship with a lecture program consisting of Sara talking about Polar Bears and Claudio on climate change.

After an early lunch, we were soon off for our afternoon adventures of a split landing and cruise in Samarinvågen, further enticed outside by yet more Belugas feeding around the edge of the glacier. The cruisers enjoyed a fantastic jaunt down to the end of the fjord, complete with large areas of popping, crackling brash ice and the backdrop of a beautiful glacier. Those on land enjoyed a short but steep hike up a small hill to obtain some breathtaking views of the fjord in the golden late-afternoon light. The landing site was large enough for everyone to find their own patch of calm, soothed by a trickling stream under the snow and a fine array of early season flowers: Purple Saxifrage, Arctic Mouse-ear and Willow Grass.

Some of us went up another slope to experience the thrill of being able to stand on, touch, and even eat a real-life glacier. For the more adventurous types in the group, there was also the chance to indulge in the always-popular tradition of a polar plunge. No fewer than 74 brave souls went into the cold water for a dip. Cold but thrilled, we then headed back to the ship to warm up and enjoy some more of the epic scenery in the fabulous evening light.

Day 7: Ingeborgfjellet & Bamsebu

Ingeborgfjellet & Bamsebu
Date: 27.06.2023
Position: 77°54’N / 015°02’E
Wind: NW 3
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +8

We were woken up early by Sara who informed us that, although we had arrived at our morning exploration site, we couldn’t see it because of the fog. She explained that this meant we would not be landing because we could not scout the area safely. So while we waited and hoped for a favorable weather change, Andrew gave his lecture on the increasing importance of wildlife photography. Everyone can extract more value from our photographs through citizen science. Coen followed up the theme with his 10 tips for better wildlife photos.

By the time we sat down for lunch, the fog was starting lift. This coincided with our arrival at Bamsebu. Sara announced the planned landing could go ahead, so it was down to our cabins for a final change into our gear while the guides scouted on shore. At the landing site we saw a well-maintained hut, still in use, with some relics from its previous life as a base for hunting Beluga Whales. The deadly slaughter of these beautiful animals was spread along the beach in the form of skulls and carcasses of an estimated 550 animals. A somber start to our final trek across classic Arctic tundra and shoreline.

But our spirits were lightened when we came back to the landing site as pod of these fine white whales were contentedly logging just offshore. A fine and fitting way to end our last expedition before returning to Hondius. And so, slightly sad, we gathered for the Captain’s farewell cocktail and a chance to say thank you to the expedition team.

Charlotte had worked hard to prepare a slideshow, which she now shared with us. It was a beautiful summary of the things we have seen and experienced together, filled with emotional memories. It really captured the essence of the trip. Thank you, Charlotte! We then headed to the dining room to enjoy the final gala dinner and thank the hotel team that had looked after us so well.

Day 8: Disembarkation Day

Disembarkation Day
Date: 28.06.2023
Position: 78°10.12’N / 014°19.28’E
Wind: SE 1
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +5

Our bags were packed and left outside our doors for the staff to collect. After a last breakfast, we disembarked the ship and said goodbye to Sara and all her team. And what a team! We can’t thank them and the rest of the staff enough for their hard work. We left with some sadness but many great memories – this was our adventure.


Tripcode: HDS05-23
Dates: 21 Jun - 28 Jun, 2023
Duration: 7 nights
Ship: m/v Hondius
Embark: Longyearbyen
Disembark: Longyearbyen

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Hondius is the world’s first-registered Polar Class 6 vessel and was built from the ground up for expedition cruising.

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