Overnight we sailed north, to reach Krossfjord - a 30km-long fjord graced with impressive peaks rising to over 1,000m and heavily glaciated valleys. Krossfjord forks into Möllerfjord to the East and Lilliehöökfjord to the West, divided by the mountainous spit of land, Kong Haakons Halvøya. Our very first excitement for the day, before breakfast had even started, was the sighting of our very first Polar Bears!
A beautiful mother bear and her cub were sighted, swimming across Lilliehöökfjord. We observed them quietly from the ship’s decks until they eventually reached a spot on shore where they could clamber out and continue their search for food on foot. The female bear was noted to be wearing a radio collar, showing that she is a known and tracked bear.
After the excitement of these incredible creatures gracing our morning, we enjoyed breakfast with spectacular views before continuing to our anchorage/drifting position for the morning at the front of Lilliehöökbreen. A quick round of important briefings about AECO, Polar Bear safety and zodiac safety followed, from our Expedition Leader, Sara and AEL, Lawrence and then it was time to embark upon our very first zodiac outing of the trip!
Weather conditions were perfect for cruising, with virtually no wind and a slightly overcast sky - perfect for appreciating the ice at close quarters! We navigated through the brash ice in zodiacs to the front of Lilliehöökbreen, the largest (11km wide!) and most actively calving glacier in this fjord system. This glacier was photographed in 1906 by the Duke Albert I of Monaco (who charted the fjord in the same year) and was subsequently photographed, for comparison, in 2006 by his great-grandson, Duke Albert II of Monaco - the glacier has retreated by an alarming 40% within that century, meaning that where we anchored our ship in the morning would technically be almost within the glacier itself, if you were to refer to those charts!
We were treated to many bird species during our hour on the water, including many Arctic Terns (both nesting on the small islets at the western side of the glacier, and feeding around the icy waters), a pair of Great skuas, many Northern fulmars, Black guillemots, a few Brünnichs guillemots swimming by and several Glaucous gulls. Some of us were also treated to a pair of beautiful Ivory gulls, who appeared on an iceberg towards the end of the cruise! The icebergs were small but spectacular in their formations, with one or two in particular having been carved into intricate shapes - a process most likely accelerated by the fairly unusual rainfall experienced in Svalbard the day before. After an hour or so on the water it was time to head back to the ship for a delicious buffet lunch and a quick rest before our next little adventure.
Frortende Julibukta, Krossfjord Over lunch we repositioned Hondius to the beautiful bay known as “Fourteenth of July” (named for the French National Day, Bastille Day, by the Duke of Monaco I). Here, we had the glacier front of Fjortende Julibreen to one side and a small cliff-front packed with little clusters of nesting Brünnichs guillemots and Atlantic puffins to the opposite side. In the middle: our absolutely gorgeous landing site!
Backed by a stunning mountain landscape and rather lush vegetation (by Arctic standards!), the Fjortende Julibukta landing site offered us a chance to stretch our legs in the sunshine, with a casual stroll along the beach towards the glacier-front, enjoying the sights of nesting Arctic skuas along the way. To the opposite side, the high cliffs were packed with seabird colonies, (mostly Black-legged Kittiwakes), their ever-present cries echoing around the bay. We sat and watched them as they circled high in the sky, calling to each other and to their chicks on the nest, bringing food and fending off the kleptoparasitic behaviours of the pirates of the sky - the Arctic Skuas!
At the northern end of this landing site we also had the beautiful “hanging gardens” to enjoy: a small cliff carpeted with many plants, including Drooping saxifrage, Alpine and Hawkweed-leaved saxifrage, Moss campion and many others. The bird cliffs above provide the essential fertilizers to create such a lushly vegetated site.
Our landing was combined with a zodiac cruise in the most wonderful sunshine! We cruised slowly past the smaller bird cliffs, which afforded us great views of the Puffins and Guillemots and we also took a cruise through some more brash ice at the glacier front, encountering Kittiwakes resting on bergy bits and, for a few lucky souls, a couple of seals (a Harbour seal and a Bearded seal).
We stayed and enjoyed the sunshine here until early evening before heading back to the ship to get spruced up for Captain’s Cocktails! Captain Toni introduced himself and welcomed us to this special trip. During and after dinner we had yet more excitement… Blue whales were sighted to the ship’s Starboard side during dinner service! Their enormous blows gave away the first clue to the species. Immediately after dinner, (just when we thought the day couldn’t pack in anymore!) we spotted many Fin whales, a Minke whale and a Walrus…AND White-beaked dolphins! What an extraordinary day.