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HDS11x23, trip log, Around Spitsbergen - Kvitoya, In the realm of polar bear & ice

by Oceanwide Expeditions


Day 1: Longyearbyen - Embarkation Day

Longyearbyen - Embarkation Day
Date: 10.08.2023
Position: 78°14.0’N / 015°36.5’E
Wind: SE 5
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +9

After travelling from all over the globe, we finally arrived in Longyearbyen to begin our Arctic adventure. Longyearbyen is the largest settlement on Svalbard, with roughly 2,500 inhabitants, of which 30% are non-Norwegians. It was founded by John Monroe Longyear in 1906 as a mining settlement. With the closure of the many of the coal mines on Svalbard, Longyearbyen transitioned from a mining settlement to a “normal” town, with a hospital, school, pubs, and cultural life that is impressive for such a small settlement. Longyearbyen also houses a small university centre that teaches and does research in Arctic technology, geophysics, biology, and geology.

We were shuttled in the Zodiacs, in slightly windy conditions, from the pier to our new home, the beautiful M/V Hondius. We boarded Hondius and began exploring the ship. When everyone had arrived, we attended our mandatory safety briefings. We were shown how to put on our life jackets and where to gather and board lifeboats. Captain Ernesto then welcomed us with the Captains Cocktails, including juice, bubbles, and canapes. We toasted the voyage together. Expedition Leader Marcel then introduced himself, and the expedition team and told us what to expect from our journey.

Next we were invited to the restaurant to enjoy our first meal on board. After dinner we were called to Deck 3 to be fitted for the rubber muck boots that will keep our feet warm and dry when leaving and re-boarding the Zodiacs.

Many of us went to unpack and rest after a long day of travel and excitement. Some of us went onto the outer decks to enjoy the beautiful scenery as we sailed out of Isfjorden, admiring glaciers, mountains, and icebergs. In the pleasant and calm conditions, some Fin Whales and Humpback Whales were spotted in the distance. We all went to bed well fed and excited to see what spectacular wildlife and experiences the trip would bring.

Day 2: Ny-Ålesund and 14 Julibukta

Ny-Ålesund and 14 Julibukta
Date: 11.08.2023
Position: 79°00.0’N / 020°50.7’E
Wind: SE 1
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +9

Today was the first full day of our trip, and everyone was excited to leave the ship to begin exploring the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard! Before we could do that, there was the important matter of mandatory briefings. These provided us with information to ensure our safety during the voyage, along with protecting this special place and its flora and fauna. The first briefing was a video covering the regulations of the Association of Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO). This was followed by two short presentations from Expedition Leader Marcel, one regarding Zodiac safety and the second Polar Bear safety. We were also advised of the restrictions relating to taking mobile phones ashore at Ny-Ålesund, the scientific community we would be visiting this morning. Once imparted with this knowledge we could finally go ashore there!

The many of us in the Chinese groups were very excited to visit the Chinese research station. We took lots of photographs outside the building, with our country’s flag in hand and big smiles on our faces! Others of us from Italy, India, and the Netherlands also sought out their nation’s research buildings. This is indicative of what a unique place Ny-Ålesund is – a community of scientists from around the world joining together in this settlement to research the Arctic. A point of real historical interest here was the mast used by expeditions led by Amundsen and Nobile to try and reach the North Pole using airships, the Norge in 1926 and Italia in 1828. Wildlife highlights included an Ivory Gull circling the husky kennel, male Svalbard Reindeer with impressive antlers, and two Arctic Foxes. After buying some souvenirs at the shop and sending our postcards, it was time to return on board Hondius to continue our journey.

Shortly after lunch, we arrived at Fjortende Julibukta (otherwise called 14th of July Bay). This beautiful area was named in honour of French National Day during the exploration of the area funded by Prince Albert I of Monaco in the early 1900s. We enjoyed the opportunity to stretch their legs on shore, and view the impressive 14th July glacier from the land, walking within a perimeter of guides. Glaciologist Jakub was stationed towards this river of ice and enthusiastically shared his immense knowledge.

Everyone also had the chance to go for a Zodiac cruise to view the glacier from the water and to pass by the seabird cliffs. Atlantic Puffins were a highlight: these beautiful birds with their colourful beaks and bright orange feet whizzed over our heads. Their close relatives, the Brunnich’s Guillemots, were also seen along with Black-legged Kittiwakes and Glaucous Gull. In terms of mammals, a confident Harbour Seal surfaced very close next to a couple of lucky Zodiacs, whilst on land an Arctic Fox was observed running quickly across the mountainside. All agreed this was a wonderful first day of our expedition in Svalbard!

Day 3: Seven Islands

Seven Islands
Date: 12.08.2023
Position: 80°39.6’N / 020°53.8’E
Wind: NE 3
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +4

We woke on the morning of day three just as Hondius slid slowly into the passage between Phippsøya and Parryøya Islands, in the Seven Islands. These islands are the northernmost part of Svalbard, so there was no land north of us all the way to the north pole.

After breakfast we put on our warmest clothes and loaded the Zodiacs for a cruise with the promise of Walrus. Sure enough, as we drove westwards towards a small island just offshore from Parryøya, we began to see these majestic sea creatures hauled out on the Island and swimming in the sea. There was a large group of them, perhaps over 100 altogether. The groups in the water seemed to take turns to approach closer to the Zodiacs while bobbing their heads to get a good look at us. Perhaps they didn’t like what they saw because they always retreated again, back toward their island. The wind was brisk and the sea state choppy, so we didn’t stay with the Walrus very long.

We slowly cruised back towards Phippsøya where we finished our Zodiac cruise by navigating along the long sandy beach past an old hut. On this beach we found a small group of very relaxed Walrus hauled out up on the soft sand. So relaxed were they that the entire time we watched them they barely moved a flipper.

Back on the ship it was time for lunch. After lunch it was time for the day’s planned landing. The scouts went out to the chosen site, but immediately returned. The site was not suitable for landing due to many very fresh bear tracks found there - indicating the strong possibility of the presence of a bear somewhere nearby.

We were delayed while the ship was repositioned. The new site, on Phippsøya, was scouted and found to be free of bears. The landing was back on, and this time we were successful. Everyone had their turn ashore to get a closer look at the Walrus. While on the beach we noticed that it was almost literally covered in plastic rubbish, including a huge fishing net. We were not able to collect all of it, but many of us worked to make this beach a little bit cleaner. Towards the end of the afternoon a fog bank began lowering over the island and it was time to head back to the safety of the ship and away from the barren polar desert of Phippsøya Island.

Dinner was served and we headed out towards the open ocean once more, this time in search of pack ice. What would tomorrow have in store for us???

Day 4: Ice Edge

Ice Edge
Date: 13.08.2023
Position: 81°02.2’N / 024°32.3’E
Wind: ENE 3
Weather: Cloudy
Air Temperature: -1

What do you know about the color gray? It seems you truly come to appreciate this hue only once you've ventured into the Arctic. The gray skies looming over our ship displayed an array of shades. Aft, a dark gray cluster of layered clouds enshrouded the Spitsbergen land that was no longer visible to us, while ahead, the same layered clouds displayed an almost white hue. How can this be, you may ask? Well, it's quite simple: the color of clouds is directly influenced by what lies beneath them, whether it's the land or water surface. If it's dark, bare rocks, the clouds above will be dark as well, but if it's snow or ice, the clouds will be bright and white. This was how intrepid explorers of polar latitudes in times past gained insight into where to steer their frigates or barks.

Hondius was headed northeast towards the pack ice of the Arctic Ocean. A moderate wind was blowing, and the small waves attacked the ship's port side. Judging by the almost white hue of the sky directly on course, there wasn't much distance left to the pack ice.

And here it was, the eternal ice! At first, we encountered solitary ice floes, melancholically drifting aimlessly, swaying on the waves. But then, before our eyes, small clusters of ice floes emerged, followed by larger groups, and finally, a vast white expanse appeared – a field of ice floes colliding and brushing against each other. This was the real Arctic! Once, we read about it in geography textbooks, and now we were seeing it with our own eyes!

From the early hours of the morning, our guides took turns on the Bridge, peering into the distance and adjusting the lenses of their binoculars. Yes, one of the objectives for this day was to venture into the ice, but another equally important goal was to spot a white and fluffy representative of the local fauna! Therefore, our guides, exerting maximum effort and sparing no strain on their eyes, section by section, scanned the ice's surface. There, a uniquely shaped floe; here, a lone harp seal lounging on an ice floe; over there, a black-legged kittiwake perching. And look, who's that strolling lazily from foot to foot? Let's take a closer look... It's a Polar Bear!!!

We were just finishing breakfast when Marcel, our expedition leader, made the long-awaited announcement: "Friends, we have just spotted a Polar Bear! Dress warmly and head out to the open decks, while we approach it more closely." Immediately, we rushed to put on warm clothing. Meanwhile, Ernesto, our captain, skillfully navigating between the ice floes, steered the ship towards the bear.

And there it was, right nearby! We all rushed to the deck, aiming our binoculars, camera lenses, and phone cameras at it. But wait, why do we keep saying "bear" all the time? As it turned out, this was a young, beautiful, and graceful female polar bear!

She turned out to be curious: pacing back and forth along the ship's sides, occasionally stopping to raise her head, sniffing the air, and trying to understand what strange and unfamiliar scents were wafting from different corners of this perplexing floating contraption. What were these mammals standing and gazing at her?

We stood there, clicking the shutters of our cameras, occasionally moving from one deck to another to get a better view. After some time, our furry friend lost interest in us. She hopped from one ice floe to another, moving on to her own business. We watched her go and headed indoors to warm up, have hot tea, show off our fresh photos to each other, and watch the videos we had captured on our phones.

Soon, our guides Jakub and Jerry invited us to join them in the lecture room and observation lounge, respectively. They had planned to give us a lecture on the nature of ice and its various forms, but things took an unexpected turn! Captain Ernesto had found us another bear! Naturally, the lecture had to be postponed. Once again, we dressed warmly and hurried to the open decks. This time, it was a male bear, approximately the same size and age as the female we had encountered earlier. His curiosity about who we were and what we were all about seemed even greater than that of our morning guest. He circled the ship, sniffing the air, and posed eagerly for photos. He stretched his neck, sat down, lay on the ice, and jumped from one floe to another. Quite some time passed before his curiosity subsided. Continuously looking around, he gradually melted into the boundless expanse of the eternal ice.

Hondius continued forging her path, slowly parting the small ice floes and navigating around the larger ones. Midday had come and gone. Lunch began and ended, after which Jakub and Jerry called us to re-join them for the lecture, but, once again, fate had other plans. This time, it was a Walrus, another prominent member of the Arctic fauna. Huge and unwieldy, it had hauled itself onto an ice floe, where it slept peacefully, occasionally shifting its weight. We approached it so closely that even without binoculars, one could make out its lengthy tusks. The Walrus lazily opened its eyes, lifted itself onto its front flippers, and bestowed upon us a look brimming with disdain. Then, it reclined on the ice once more and promptly dozed off.

A small group of four ivory gulls sat nearby. These rare and beautiful birds intermittently approached the walrus, trying to figure out if it could be their next meal. Realizing that they had absolutely no chance of eating the walrus, they perched for a while longer before fluttering up into the sky and disappearing.

We returned to the observation lounge and lecture room, where Jerry and Jakub were eagerly awaiting us, ready to share their knowledge about the nature of ice, but... alas! Before we could even settle in, a new announcement echoed through the ship that a Polar Bear was approaching. We looked out the window and indeed, there he was, a magnificent specimen, heading straight towards us! With cameras in hand and jackets hastily zipped up, we hurried to the open decks, taking up positions of anticipation. But it seemed the bear was no fool; he knew a thing or two about satire and irony. Just about a hundred meters shy of the ship, he found a more comfortable ice floe, settled in, and dozed off. There's a suspicion he wasn't sleeping at all, but lying there, casting sneaky glances at us from under his eyelids, quietly chuckling to himself as he observed us standing there freezing, cameras at the ready.

A comical scene had unfolded: the ship stood amidst a vast expanse of eternal ice, a Walrus napped on its left side, a Polar Pear lounged on its right, while in the lecture room, Jakub lay on the couch, gazing at the ceiling, contemplating and trying to understand what was happening and when it would all end.

The hotel department decided to surprise us: in celebration of crossing the 81st parallel, they treated us all to ice cream. Tables were set up on the ship's deck, plates of colorful chocolate and vanilla ice cream scoops were served, and despite the cold weather, we eagerly indulged in this treat, periodically glancing to check if the bear had awakened. Nope, still sleeping, that rascal! Well, so be it, we'd have to move on.

After enduring the cold outside for a while longer, we finally retreated indoors. An announcement was made about the start of the lecture on the nature of ice. Hondius set off and slowly continued its journey northeast, navigating through tightly packed ice floes. Jakub surveyed the attentive audience, took a deep breath to deliver his welcoming words and delve into the world of ice, but then – oh, what a nuisance! – the bear woke up.

"Damn it!" Jakub muttered through his teeth and, informing everyone that he was going for negotiations with the bear, left the lecture room. And what did we do? Well, we went after our jackets and cameras, too. And this time, let me tell you, it was truly worth it!

The bear approached very close. For those of us with massive telephoto lenses on our cameras, we had to quickly switch lenses because the bear just didn't fit in the frame! By the way, upon observing the bear in all its detail, we realized it was our morning guest. Whether it was because he really liked us or he had some additional questions about our essence, he went out of his way to follow us for a whole six kilometers, just to take another stroll right under our noses. Having thoroughly filled up our SD cards, he eventually wandered off.

The rest of the day unfolded in a relaxed manner. Jakub and Jerry, now with no competitors to vie for our attention, finally told us about the nature of ice. In the evening, the daily recap took place, followed by dinner.

After dinner, Sasha, one of the guides, gathered those interested in the lecture room, where he shared stories of his life in the Soviet ghost town of Pyramiden, accompanied by a presentation of his photos and videos.

Around 11 o'clock at night, an announcement rang out that, believe it or not, we had found two more bears! Though already experienced and tired, we still went to see them. A huge, fearsome white bear was tearing at the carcass of either a seal or a walrus, feasting on its bloody dinner. Meanwhile, another bear was sneaking in the direction of the first, pondering on the go whether it would be safe to join the feast.

By nighttime, the weather had really cleared up. The sun shone brightly, and a calmness prevailed. A wonderful and unforgettable day!

Day 5: Kvitøya

Date: 14.08.2023
Position: 80°03.8’N / 033°05.8’E
Wind: NNE 2
Weather: Sunny
Air Temperature: 0

Today was a day filled with anticipation, fear, disappointment, and finally, triumph. Our journey took us from the icy waters of the Arctic Ocean to the remote and treacherous island of Kvitoya in eastern Svalbard. This island, rarely visited by humans, is known for its polar bears, ice-choked waters, and harsh weather conditions. It was also the final resting place of three brave explorers from the Andree balloon expedition to the North Pole.

Our day started early, as we set out to reach Andreeneset, at the western tip of Kvitoya. This is the place where Andree and his team perished and were discovered 303 years later. The anticipation among the crew was palpable, as we knew that this would be a significant moment for all of us. However, as we approached the landing site, our excitement turned into disappointment. A Polar Bear was spotted in the vicinity, making it too dangerous for us to land. Adding to our misfortune, dense sea ice floes had also entered the area, making it impossible for us to cruise near the site. It was a somber moment, as we realized that nature was not on our side today.

Despite this setback, our expedition team quickly changed gears, making the best of the situation. John, one of our knowledgeable guides, gave a captivating lecture on the history of North Pole exploration. His words took us on a journey through time, reliving the triumphs and tribulations of those who came before us. Hazel, another expert in her field, shared her extensive knowledge about Walruses and their importance in the Arctic ecosystem. These lectures provided a much-needed distraction from our disappointment, but deep down, we couldn't help but feel a pang of longing to set foot on the hallowed grounds of Andreeneset.

After lunch, we sailed towards our second destination - the eastern tip of Kvitoya, a place called Kraemerpynten. This tiny stony area seemed insignificant compared to the grandeur of Andreeneset, but we were determined to make the most of it. Our expedition leader, Marcel, led the way as our guides scouted the area both on land and from our trusty Zodiacs. It was here that our luck finally turned around.

Marcel declared that we would be able to land on Kvitoya after all. It was an exhilarating moment, filled with a mix of relief and excitement. The weather was on our side, with the sun shining brightly, casting a warm glow on the icy landscape. A subtle mist enveloped the top of the ice cap, giving the whole scene a mystical ambiance.

We hopped into our Zodiacs and cruised along the icy cliffs of Kvitoya, the shimmering ice glistening in the sunlight. The journey to the shore felt like a dream, as we marveled at the untouched beauty that surrounded us. Finally, we set foot on the island's edge, standing at the precipice of the ice cap. Jakub, our expedition’s iceman, served as our guide, answering our questions about the nature and state of the ice cap. It was a humbling experience, as we stood in awe of the vastness before us.

As we returned to our ship, a sense of joy and happiness swept over us. We had accomplished what few had the opportunity to do - we were the first ship to land on Kvitoya this year. It was a moment that would forever be etched in our memories. In the evening, as we gathered for the daily recap presentations by the expedition team, we couldn't help but beam with pride. We had overcome the obstacles thrown our way and emerged victorious.

Our day ended with a delicious dinner, shared amongst newfound friends. We laughed and toasted to the wonders of the Arctic, reveling in the triumph of conquering Kvitoya. It was a day filled with a rollercoaster of emotions, a day that reminded us of the unpredictable nature of the Arctic, and a day that strengthened the bonds between us.

Day 6: Austfonna

Date: 15.08.2023
Position: 79°20.8’N / 025°43.1’E
Wind: NE 2
Weather: Sunny
Air Temperature: +2

Another day of the expedition cruise started when Marcels voice woke us at 07:15 am. During the night, the ship had be repositioned towards Isispynten which is a part of the Isisøyane or the Isis islands. They were covered by the icecap of Austfonna which covers a large part of Nordaustlandet. Austfonna is the third largest glacier by area and volume with the ice being almost 600 meters thick at the thickest point. However, with the retreat of Austfonna, Isisøyane appeared and it was evident that the Isisøyane were actually island. They were named in 2009. The plan for the morning was to undertake a zodiac cruise in the area. However, thick fog called for plan B.

While the ship was moving south, Rico invited everybody to a lecture about his overwintering in a trapper’s cabin at the West coast of Svalbard. He took us with him on journey which started by getting the idea of staying overwinter in cabin away from civilisation through the planning and actually stay together with his family and dogs. Not being able to resupply, they needed to bring all food, spare parts and fuel with them – a total of 2-3 tons of equipment. Staying in a trapper’s cabin meant that they also were hunting reindeers and trapping foxes. By reading up on how to store food, they also managed to have apples and other fresh supplies for a few months in addition to pea and radish sprouts.

Just after Rico was finished, Marcel announced that conditions had improved sufficiently for us to go on the planned Zodiac cruise along glacier front of Austfonna – a bit further south than planned. Austfonna has been very active lately moving the glacier front a few kilometres into the ocean. The results of this activity could clearly be seen: ice blocks and small icebergs in all sizes and colours in addition to the glacier front which presented itself as very rugged and split up. When moving close to such an active glacier front, it is important to keep a safe distance, because the glacier can calve at any time leading to ice blocks flying to the air as dangerous projectiles and flood waves that can overturn a Zodiac. Cruising through the ice, we could observe the impact of the amount of air bubbles in the ice: Many air bubbles mean that light cannot penetrate deeply into the ice and, hence, the light is reflected almost immediately. Since light is white, the reflected light also appears as white. Less air bubbles mean that light can penetrate further into the ice and – very much as in water – only blue wavelengths are reflected back and the ice appears blue. With even fewer air bubbles, light will penetrate through the ice and the ice appears clear. A bonus during this Zodiac cruise was Marcel serving us hot chocolate with some fixings. What else could we ask for: blue sky, sunshine, a magnificent glacier front, small icebergs and hot chocolate, Lunch was delayed a bit so that we could enjoy the experience at its fullest – that is what an expedition is about.

It seemed that fog was returning, but we enjoyed lunch under sunny conditions with Austfonna looming in the background. After lunch and a short break, Jakub invited us to the lounge for a presentation on the future of glaciers and ice with the reference to climate change – something which is extremely relevant on Svalbard where temperature increase occurs four times faster than in the rest of the world. Just in time – at the end of Jakubs lecture – a few humpback whales were spotted in front of the ship. We could observed them feeding as we slowly sailed past them.

Soon we could see how the character of the glacier front changed from a rugged and crevassed terminus to a more smooth front without crevasses. We had reached Bråsvellbreen – a more slowly moving part of Austfonna. The lack of crevasses means that meltwater can reach the glacier front without disappearing in crevasses forming some magnificent water falls when falling into the sea. Bråsvellbreen marks the end of the long glacier front of Austfonna and soon the barren land characterizing the polar desert of Nordaustlandet could be seen in Vibebukta.

The eventful day was not ever, yet. After the recap, we all were invited for a BBQ on the aft deck. The chef and his crew had prepared a wide range of delicacies. Benches and tables invited us to enjoy both the food with the glacier front in the background. Soon the dancing shoes came on … no wait, still the same rubber boots we use for going ashore were worn and dancing music was filling the aft deck. The are rumours that some souls continued the party into the early morning hours.

Day 7: Palanderbukta and Alkefjellet

Palanderbukta and Alkefjellet
Date: 16.08.2023
Position: 79°34.3’N / 020°43.0’E
Wind: NW 3
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +4

As we went down to breakfast this morning, we sailed into the bay looking towards Palanderbukta, our target landing site. We headed out in the Zodiacs in our chosen hiking groups; the long hikers went first for a strong, fast, three-hour trek, followed by the main group of people looking to tackle the medium effort walk. Finally, the remaining guests landed for the easy walk. After a safety briefing from our guides, we set out into the ‘polar desert’ – now a barren, stony terrain, covered by snow and ice in winter which shatter the rocks into ever smaller pieces. Many of us trekked far enough to walk on the edge of the glacier before returning back to the beach. When we arrived, the wind was blowing much stronger and we quickly had to board the zodiacs before a wet ride back to Hondius.

We had a long transit to our afternoon activity so, after lunch, Martin entertained us with a lecture on Auks (not Orcs), which we were going to see during the afternoon. With the wind still blustery we headed out towards the impressive cliffs of Alkefjellet for a Zodiac cruise. The cliffs are the nesting site for thousands, upon thousands, of Brunnich’s Guillemots and what an impact they had on us. The noise, the smell and the giddying sight of countless birds flying to and fro from the ledges that they cling too in almost overwhelming numbers amazed us. In the water below we were able to spot the occasional newly fledged chick with a concerned parent, anxious to keep their precious offspring safe from the marauding Glaucous Gulls patrolling the cliff face on the wing. On the ground we saw several Arctic Fox, quartering the slopes in the hope of catching a meal amongst the seething mass, to take back to their cubs in nearby dens or to stash it for survival in the harsh winter ahead. Add in the incredible geology of the cliffs themselves, including waterfalls, we set off back to Hondius, wide-eyed and breathless from our experience. Wow!

After recap, we went down to dinner and as we came towards the end of another delicious meal, Marcel announced that Polar Bears have been sighted ashore at Wahlberg øya. Quickly leaving for the outer decks or the Bridge, our guides help us to spot four different bears – all quite distant and requiring binoculars or telescopes to view satisfactorily. Two were swimming together in the sea, the other two were lying down sleeping. All of them were in the area to feed on a whale carcass, washed up on the shore. Our guides explained that these more distant views are a more typical polar bear encounter around Svalbard, and we realised just how lucky we were earlier in the trip. But still, four bears in one area! A great way to finish a great day!

Day 8: Kapp Lee and Kapp Waldburg

Kapp Lee and Kapp Waldburg
Date: 17.08.2023
Position: 78°10.1’N / 021°03.1’E
Wind: W 3
Weather: Cloudy
Air Temperature: +10

The morning started with mixed feelings. The weather was clear and mild, and we had arrived at a beautiful area, our landing site for the morning, Kapp Lee. But the Expedition team had found a Polar Bear. It was asleep on the slope above the landing site and, whilst everybody got to see the bear, it meant we could not land.

Despite the news, everybody was in good spirits as they enjoyed another great breakfast. The reason being that we could still disembark the ship and head out for a Zodiac cruise to see the numerous Walrus on the beach.

There are three huts at Kapp Lee. The first, an octagonal cabin called Karosaelen or “the carousel,” was built in 1904 by trappers. The other two huts were built in the 1960s connected to oil exploration. The green vegetation was a welcome sight after several days of monochrome landscapes.

Out on the Zodiacs, we went towards the shore and some spectacular views of Walrus. On more than one occasion, these curious animals popped up out of the water only meters away from us. It was a very special wildlife encounter with these huge charismatic animals. On shore three Reindeer were grazing around the huts, and some were lucky enough to see an Arctic Fox on the beach. After a cruise along the coastline, and more Walrus, it was time to head back past the loafing Kittiwakes on the rocks and the whale bones, to Hondius.

Many people ventured onto the outside decks into the glorious sunshine. It was a struggle to drag ourselves inside away from the beautiful weather for lunch.

Over lunch we sailed to another wonderful spot called Kapp Waldburg, a wide sweeping coastal area leading to two gullies in the otherwise sloping cliffs. Great news, no bears, which meant, of course, that we could land and stretch our legs.

On landing we were greeted by the expedition team, lifejackets were removed, and we walked across the tundra to the gullies, passing Reindeer as we did. On arrival at the mouth of the gulley, the noise really hit us. The calls and squabbling of hundreds, if not thousands, of nesting Kittiwakes. These white and grey gulls nest on the sheer cliff edges, building their nests on tiny rock ledges. Most of the nests contained one or two half-grown, gorgeous, chicks begging for food, adding to the substantial noise.

Where there are seabirds in Svalbard there are often Arctic Foxes, and this was no exception. The difference here was that the four or five foxes in the area were really not fazed by us and were running around between and around us to get to where they wanted to be. Which was at the base of the cliffs waiting for any birds that fell from the nests. For the foxes there was also time for play and we were delighted to watch them tumbling together in the sunshine from time to time, or basking in the sun meters from us with eyes closed. Such a huge privilege to see these beautiful animals at close quarters.

Many agreed that we didn’t have enough time with so many photos to take! Nevertheless, it was time to leave. Back to the ship we went and to an interesting and entertaining recap from Marcel, Martin and Sasha.

It was then time for a very tasty evening meal, maybe a couple of drinks and to reflect with friends on a fantastic day in this very special environment.

Day 9: Burgerbukta and Gnålodden

Burgerbukta and Gnålodden
Date: 18.08.2023
Position: 79°04.0’N / 015°50.9’E
Wind: NW 2
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +11

Our long transit from Kapp Waldberg meant a relaxed morning with some time to try to sort through all our photos. It was not nearly enough time, but it was certainly fun to look back at all the foxes.

As we worked, Hondius cruised into Hornsund, a large fiord in the south of Spitsbergen. This area is noted as a miniature version of Svalbard as it holds all the major features of the archipelago. We anchored deep inside the dramatic valley of Burgerbukta. With steep, rugged mountains on both sides, we began our Zodiac cruise. The peaks were draped in hanging glaciers generating numerous long cascades and waterfalls splashing into the sea. Some of these were truly remarkable as they were springs that “sprang” directly from the rocks just above the waterline. A torrent of water and foam suddenly appeared out of nowhere. The end of the valley was filled with the now familiar sight of the blue-white face of a large glacier calving into the sea. The popping of the brash ice and the iceberg sculptures delighted us. It seems that the Hotel Team just can’t stop trying to feed us, and Marcel and Ralf arrived delivering cinnamon buns and hot apple cider.

Over lunch Hondius shifted to the mouth of the bay and we were off to make our landing at Gnålodden. We have become accustomed to Svalbard’s beautiful landscapes, but this place was at the top of the list. It had everything: the huge, towering rock of mountain above; the flocks of whirling birds; more adorable Arctic Fox kits playing on the slopes; the rocky coastline with plenty of outcrops to climb; the meadow-like tundra with some remaining wildflowers; and the sunlight glistening off the sea. We were free to wander over the whole area finding hidden gems to suit our own tastes.

The constant calls from the birds help us understand the name Gnålodden, means “mumuring” in Norwegian. At the base of the rock strand, one of the huts occupied by Wanny Woldstad. At the age of 39 she moved her family, including two school-age sons, to Hornsund. There they spent five years – summer and winter – hunting and trapping. During this time, they shot 77 Polar Bears. Killing Polar Bears for their fur seems unthinkable today, but we must remember that those were different times and admire her spirit and toughness.

The bittersweet fact that this was the last activity of our expedition gave us some sad moments, but soon we were popping the cork on bubbles for the Captain’s Farewell cocktail party, saying our big Thank Yous to all the staff, and talking about all our memories over drinks and dinner. Somehow every day is long and full, but the expedition is over in a flash. How does this happen?

Day 10: Longyearbyen - Disembarkation Day

Longyearbyen - Disembarkation Day
Date: 19.08.2023
Position: 78°13.8’N / 015°36.1’E
Wind: NW 2
Weather: Cloudy
Air Temperature: +5

Well, the final day is here. Our bags are packed and left outside our doors for the staff to collect. After breakfast at 0900, we disembark the ship and say goodbye to Marcel and all his team. What a team! We can’t thank them enough for all their knowledge and guidance on this trip.


Tripcode: HDS11x23
Dates: 10 Aug - 19 Aug, 2023
Duration: 9 nights
Ship: m/v Hondius
Embark: Longyearbyen
Disembark: Longyearbyen

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Aboard m/v Hondius

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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