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HDS06-23, trip log, Around Spitsbergen, In the realm of polar bear & ice

by Oceanwide Expeditions


Day 1: Longyearbyen - Embarkation Day

Longyearbyen  - Embarkation Day
Date: 28.06.2023
Position: 78°14.2’N / 015°36.9’E
Wind: NW 3
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +8

Finally the big day has arrived! It was a lovely sunny day to have a coffee outside and enjoy the warm rays of the northern summer sun. When we arrived at the pier to embark on Hondius around 4PM, we were greeted by the Expedition Team members. They all were very friendly and helped us a great deal with our luggage, which was tagged carefully and transferred to the ship. After sorting our luggage, we put our life jackets on and had our very first Zodiac ride to the vessel. There we received a warm welcome from the Oceanwide hotel department. Soon after, our expedition leader Sarah welcomed us on board and invited all of us to the observation lounge for a mandatory safety briefing and a ship’s safety drill.

After completing the mandatory drill, we were once more invited to the observation lounge and raised our glasses with Captain Toni Salo. The anchor was lifted, and our journey began. We were on our way! Although we already had some delicious canapés, it was now time to further enjoy our galley team’s creative menu in the dining room. We enjoyed our food while sailing past beautiful landscapes, and the sun was shining bright on the horizon. We were so far north that we had daylight 24/7, and that was a great experience on its own.

The day was almost done, but not just yet. We were called to get our muck boots from our energetic Expedition Staff. Most of our landings would be wet landings and most terrain we visit could be quite wet as well, so proper muck boots were required and supplied by the Expedition Team. Once we had found a comfortable pair, it was time to relax. For some of us that meant a drink in the bar while we got to know our fellow travelers. For the rest it was already bedtime. A long and exciting journey was ahead.

Day 2: 14 Julibukta & Ny Alesund

14 Julibukta & Ny Alesund
Date: 29.06.2023
Position: 79°07.6’N / 011°48.8’E
Wind: W 2
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +5

What a great first day in Svalbard! We started the day with a mandatory AECO and Polar Bear Safety Briefings. Svalbard being one of the northernmost landmasses of the Earth, it is home to a very delicate and vulnerable ecosystem. As responsible tourism advocates, we care a great deal to make our impact in this unique place transitory. That is why we don’t allow any guests to go on shore without attending these important briefings.

After completing mandatory briefings, we had our first Svalbard experience. We had a split landing and Zodiac cruise in one of the most famous bays of West Spitsbergen: 14 Julibukta. Half of us took the Zodiacs on a cruise and saw so many interesting species, including Barnacle Geese, Atlantic Puffins, Arctic Terns, Kittiwakes, and a Glaucous Gull chick. What a wonderful introduction to the birds of the High Arctic. Then we continue toward the calving face of 14 July Glacier, where we observed the fascinating world of ice.

Whilst first Zodiac cruisers enjoyed the glacier and the rich bird life, the rest of us made a landing. To our right we had great views of the glacier and distant reindeers, and to our left we got to explore the beautiful “Hanging Gardens of Svalbard.” These included fantastic colourful flowers, such as purple saxifrage and moss campion. It was mind-blowing to see and experience how many species of plants to thrive in such harsh environments.

The second half of the day we were treated to a rare visit to Ny Alesund, known for its scientific research but also as the most northerly permanent settlement in the world. Once we moored, guests were able to freely walk amongst the museum and research bases, learning about the fascinating history of the town. Those who were interested in North Pole Race were delighted to visit the museum and learn more about Roald Amundsen’s expedition to the North Pole. Amundsen used Ny Alesund as his base when he flew over the North Pole with his airship, Norge. The day ended with wonderful meals prepared by our Galley Team.

Day 3: Gravneset/ Waggonwaybreen & Gullybukta

Gravneset/ Waggonwaybreen & Gullybukta
Date: 30.06.2023
Position: 79°33.6’N / 011°04.5’E
Wind: NW 1
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +8

Today started with Plan B, as moving fog kept us away from the landing site at Gravneset. Even so, we were gifted with an exceptionally long Zodiac cruise. Soon after we started our cruise, we found ourselves eye to eye with several harbour seals lying on rocks that were exposed during the low tide. Their flippers and heads were lifted high up, creating a banana-like resting position typical for this small pinniped species. While the drivers brought us slowly and carefully closer to them, more seals approached to take a curious look at us. Meanwhile, Black Guillemots posed for a nice photo.

While the fog continued to lift, giving way to bright sunlight, we headed toward the first glacier of the day. From far we could see a large iceberg painted bright blue by the sunlight. There were thousands of photos taken of this stunning and rare deep blue ice. We continued cruising toward the Waggonwaybreen glacier front, where we enjoyed listening to the crackling sound of brash ice.

After all guests were back on board, some 20 people were shuttled to a lovely sandy beach at Gravneset. Here early whalers butchered countless whales in the surrounding waters during the 16th and 17th centuries. About 130 graves were found here, giving insights into the tremendously strenuous life of whalers. Soon sounds of screams and laughter filled the air as one guest after another bravely plunged into the cold polar water. It was a lot of fun, and rumour has it a blue orca was seen taking plunge with our Kayak Guide, Gez.

In the afternoon we landed on a long beach in Gullybukta, where we quietly and slowly walked in small groups toward a large aggregation of resting walruses, the true kings of the Arctic. At first it looked as if they were not going to do much. But eventually one of them lifted his head, disturbing the others. We learned that those with small teeth were juveniles, while large bodies and massive teeth characterized older males.

Meanwhile the other half of the guests did a Zodiac cruise to visit the impressive glacier front of Gullybreen. It was much higher, steeper, and more broken up compared to the Waggonwaybreen we visited that morning. Back on Hondius we learned about plans for tomorrow. As always, our galley team treated us with wonderful plated dinner service.

Day 4: Amongst the pack ice

Amongst the pack ice
Date: 01.07.2023
Position: 79°52.5’N / 014°27.4’E
Wind: NNW 3
Weather: Fog
Air Temperature: +1

As the ship rounded the peninsula at Velkomstpynten and sailed into Woodfjorden, we were greeted with beaming sunshine in this glorious wonderland. Woodfjorden is the fourth longest fjord in the Svalbard archipelago and is about 64km long. As Hondius pushed through the pack ice, Captain Toni explained that being able to push through the ice was dependent on there being some spaces in the ice sheet. If these small areas of visible seawater diminish, headway becomes impossible. So we pushed farther into this jigsaw puzzle of ice that stretched as far as the eye could see, looking for the clearest pathway.

Passing the coastline, we spotted several Svalbard Reindeer, which are the only large grazing mammal in the European High Arctic. This makes them exceptional for studies concerning the introduction of pollutants to changing ecosystems. Ringed Seals were also seen from time to time resting on ice sheets. Polar Bears, though born on land, spend most of their time on sea ice. In fact, the scientific name for the Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus) means seafaring bear. So everyone was living in hope that we would catch a glimpse of this apex predator in its natural habitat.

All binoculars were trained on the ice, but the bears unfortunately proved to be elusive. We were then treated to a series of diverse and fantastically illustrated lectures from the guiding team. Ursula gave us greater insight into whales. We had previously seen Minke Whales on the expedition, so it was great to find out more about them. Lectures were punctuated by ice cream on the bow, which was a welcome distraction. The only difficulty was working out if you should have one scoop or two!

Our next lecture was on photography, which reassured us that the seemingly endless functions on modern cameras could be mastered with 10 top tips. The environmental scientists then took to the stage and enthralled us with their insights into factors effecting climate in the Arctic region, which includes but is not exclusive to the jet stream and salinity effecting ocean currents.

The day was rounded off with an invite to a BBQ on deck with a glass of mulled wine and a 70’s style disco. This may have been the most northern disco ever!

Day 5: Alkefjellet & Vaigattoyane Islands

Alkefjellet & Vaigattoyane Islands
Date: 02.07.2023
Position: 79°27.9’N / 019°15.0’E
Wind: SE 3
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +2

The day started with the great news that we had made it through the pack ice of northern Svalbard, meaning a circumnavigation of Svalbard was happening. Early in the morning we arrived at Alkefjellet, where the day started foggy and chilly. All passengers were encouraged to dress up in their warmest outfits to board the Zodiacs for a beautiful cruise at Alkefjellet, which translates to “Mount Guillemot” for obvious reasons. Some 60,000 pairs of Brünnich’s Guillemot breed in these amazing dolerite cliffs.

We began our cruise at the beautiful waterfalls and drifted along the cliffs toward the glacier. Tens of thousands of Brünnich’s guillemots were surrounding us on the cliffs, in the air, and in the water. A lucky few even saw an Arctic fox. Toward the end of our Zodiac cruise, we were treated with a beautiful view of the glacier just when the sun made an appearance. A warm drink and lovely lecture by Sara about Polar Bears were offered on our return to Hondius.

During lunch we continued through the Hinlopenstretet toward Wahlbergoya, where we encountered our first Polar Bear. The sea ice near Friesoyane and Von Otteroya proved to be a good spot for Polar Bears. Barely twenty minutes later, another bear was spotted walking on the ice, and surprisingly another bear suddenly appeared from the other side of the ice. A decent hour was spent looking at these beautiful animals before the bears disappeared in the fog. After these amazing Polar Bear sightings, we all grabbed a cup of tea to warm up. Then we joined Tanja and Saskia for their lectures about the history of polar wives and women on the ice. Many of us decided to celebrate seeing the Polar Bears with a nice glass of wine in the bar before getting ready for another day.

Day 6: Kapp Waldburg & Sundneset

Kapp Waldburg & Sundneset
Date: 03.07.2023
Position: 78°12.0’N / 021°07.9’E
Wind: NW 5
Weather: Partly cloudy
Air Temperature: +4

We dropped anchor this morning at 06.00 AM after the expedition staff scouted the area for bears. Everything looked safe, only roaming Reindeer and Kittiwakes flying all around. On this bright and sunny morning, we hoped to visit the stunning canyon at Kapp Waldburg in Barentsøya (Barents Island). Two of our expedition guides went in the Zodiacs to prepare for scouting on land but could hardly get the boats to the shell door due to rough seas and high waves. This made us wait for an hour to see if the conditions would improve.

We did spot a Polar Bear on the other side of the channel, which got us all excited. At 08.15 AM we enjoyed two lectures. Carina was talking about water treatment on board the Hondius in English in the lounge, while Mischa enthusiastically shared his passion for Marine Mammal acoustics in German in the lecture room. Due to the strong current running between the two islands and the wind picking up to over 30 knots per hour, we unfortunately had to cancel the landing.

We repositioned to our afternoon landing spot, Sundneset, a little farther west of Barentsøya. While doing that, we stopped to have a look at another Polar Bear (possibly the same as earlier) we had spotted swimming near the coast and later walking over the ice.

After another delicious lunch, everybody was excited to go for a hike at Sundneset. From Hondius we could see the beautiful coastline: green valleys, dark flat-topped mountains still with patches of snow, and lots of driftwood lying on the beach. As no big trees grow on Spitsbergen, all driftwood comes with the currents from Siberia. Spitsbergen does have forests, but not ones you can get lost in. Its Polar Willow is one of the smallest willows in the world, measuring only 2-9 centimetres in height.

Hikers were brought to shore, but at some point the sea got so rough that the anchor of Hondius wasn’t holding. It looked like we would have to return immediately for safety reasons. But luckily we were able to stay out a little longer and enjoy the many flowers, mosses, and lichens. Several groups passed by some grazing Reindeer, and we could watch them from up close as their fur blew in the strong wind. Taking the Zodiac back to ship meant we all took a non-voluntary shower before arriving. But that’s part of the Arctic experience.

All happy faces again at the end of this beautiful, sunny day. We must mention the recap from Sara today, as it was interesting to see all the sizes of the whales here in the Arctic. The largest is the Blue Whale, which measures a length of up to 31 meters: from the front of the lounge all the way to the entrance of the lecture room. Incredible! Then some staff walked in with a life-sized yearling Humpback Whale, already measuring 8,5 meters. The sun kept following us the whole evening as we were on our way to Hornsund.

Day 7: Burgerbukta & Samarinvagen

Burgerbukta & Samarinvagen
Date: 04.07.2023
Position: 77°03.5’N / 015°51.6’E
Wind: NW 5
Weather: Partly cloudy
Air Temperature: +9

Today we first ventured in West Burgerbukta, eager to explore its icy wonders. Setting off on a Zodiac cruise, we marveled at the towering ice cliffs that surrounded us. The air was crisp, and the anticipation filled our hearts with excitement. Midway through the cruise, we spotted a floating bar, a welcome surprise in the midst of the Arctic beauty.

We couldn't resist the temptation to savor hot chocolate with Rum, its warmth enveloping us as we soaked in the breathtaking scenery. The floating bar became a cozy haven amidst the icy expanse. As we continued our journey, an Ivory Gull gracefully soared through the sky. Its wings shimmered in the sunlight, casting a magical aura. We admired its elegance, a fleeting encounter with one of nature's captivating creatures. The Zodiac cruise led us closer to the mesmerizing blue ice formations, their ethereal beauty captivating our senses. The glacial landscape seemed like a frozen paradise, untouched by time.

Back on the ship, we relished a delicious lunch, replenishing our energy for the adventures yet to come. In the afternoon we embarked on another Zodiac cruise, and our destination was Samarinvågen. As we approached a humpback whale greeted us, gracefully floating in the water. Its powerful presence filled us with awe, a reminder of the magnificence of marine life.

We landed in Samarinvagen, stepping foot on the untamed terrain. The majestic humpback whale lingered nearby, adding an enchanting touch to our exploration. The landscape revealed hidden treasures, and the combination of the rugged shoreline and the whale's presence created an unforgettable experience.

Burgerbukta, the floating bar with hot chocolate, the Ivory Gull, the blue ice, lunch, the Zodiac cruise to Samarinvågen, and the humpback whale encounter were chapters of a remarkable Arctic adventure. The memories etched in our hearts would forever serve as a testament to the grandeur of nature.

Day 8: Bamsebu & Snatcherpyten

Bamsebu & Snatcherpyten
Date: 05.07.2023
Position: 77°33.8’N / 015°02.4’E
Wind: E 4
Weather: Sunny
Air Temperature: +10

An early alarm call and we stumbled sleepily from our bunks and looked out to get a taste of the weather. Already we knew it was relatively calm, as we could feel no movement in the ship as it sat at anchor off Ingeborgfjellet. Everything seemed perfect for a landing until we were informed that the wind was gusting around 30 knots and the tide was running at 3 knots. Marginal conditions for operations, so our trusted leader Sara made the safe decision to cancel.

The bridge ordered the anchor to be raised, and we set off to implement plan. Meike stepped in at short notice and delivered a lecture on Fulmars, a species used as an indicator of marine litter impact. Ursula talked to the German passengers about whale species in the Arctic. The greatest interest for most, however, was out the lounge windows as we absorbed the stunning and ever-changing Svalbard mountain landscape.

Great relief from the expedition staff, as conditions were favourable at Bamsebu. Sarah sent in the usual guide scout team to check for Polar Bear safety, and they declared it safe to land beside the beautifully constructed hut. The beach was macabre, with heaps of beluga bones piled just above the high-water mark. Passengers were divided into language groups, and guides lead a variety of highly instructive walks along the beach. The weather was magnificent, unusually warm with brilliant sunshine. We were reluctant to return to Hondius for lunch.

Hondius anchored up and sailed again for another landing at Snatcherpynten, a huge expanse of tundra and gravel stretching along the coast, with a crazy looking squint hut as a feature above the beach. This building was unusual, as it has two floors and is the oldest hut structure still standing in Svalbard.

We found several graves, one marked with an ancient wooden cross. It was quite moving to think of the people who had worked and died here in such a remote location. On shore adjacent to the hut lay the sad remnants of yet another failed Svalbard industrial mineral extraction enterprise. The islands are littered with them, and we were reminded of Bill’s Arctic lecture about the death and destruction of whales, seals, men, and ships.

The weather continued to be extremely warm as we leisurely wandered across the landscape photographing flowers, interesting rocks, signs of perm-frost, mountains, and Hondius anchored patiently for our return. We then received other informative presentations by our guides.

Day 9: Ymerbukta & Alkhornet

Ymerbukta & Alkhornet
Date: 06.07.2023
Position: 78°12.1’N / 013°55.0’E
Wind: SW 3
Weather: Sunny
Air Temperature: +9

What a last day in Svalbard! This morning we woke up to an extraordinary day: cloudless sky, a warm and sunny Arctic summer day. Our first landing was in Ymerbukta. Half of us stretched our legs toward Esmarkbreen (Esmark Glacier) at the end of the landing side, while another half took a Zodiac cruise in the bay. To our delight, halfway to the glacier front we encountered Polar Bear footprints. The large ones clearly belonged to a mother Bear, while the smaller footprints indicated a little cub accompanying her. We had seen many spectacular glaciers during our voyage, but this was the first time we had a chance to get that close to a glacier front. As expected, so many wonderful photos were taken.

After a delicious pizza lunch, we were ready for the last landing of the voyage. And what an ending it was! We landed in the skirts of the Alkhornet, a beautiful mountain that reminded some of us of the Dolomites in Italy. The steep cliff of the mountain is favoured by many breeding bird species, such as Kittiwakes and Guillemots. This of course attracts Arctic Foxes to the area. And to our delight, we found a den with 12 cubs (some swore they counted 13).

We respectfully took turns watching the little cubs enjoying the sunny day. The cubs were extremely curious and playful, which led to a very exciting sighting. Some of us also ventured up to the mountain, where we were greeted by many grazing Reindeers with calves.

Around 5pm we reluctantly bid farewell to this incredible landing site and headed back to Hondius. Back on board, we had Captain Toni’s farewell cocktail and end of the trip slideshow prepared by Misha. Most of us had tears in their eyes watching the beautiful images Misha put together. The Galley Team also treated us with one last gala dinner, where we had the chance to say thank you to the wonderful Hotel team who made our stay so unforgettable.

Day 10: Disembarkation day - Longyearbyen Port

Disembarkation day - Longyearbyen Port
Date: 07.07.2023
Position: 78°10.12’N / 014°19.28’E
Wind: NW 3
Weather: Sunny
Air Temperature: +8

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 her team. We can’t thank them and the rest of the staff enough for all their hard work. We leave with some sadness but also with many fond memories we will never forget.

Thank you for your enthusiasm and support, but most of all for joining us on this adventurous Arctic voyage. We hope to see you again in the future, wherever that might be!


Tripcode: HDS06-23
Dates: 28 Jun - 7 Jul, 2023
Duration: 9 nights
Ship: m/v Hondius
Embark: Longyearbyen
Disembark: Longyearbyen

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