• Home
  • Triplogs
  • OTL04-24, trip log, North Spitsbergen, Basecamp, Free kayaking, Hiking, Photo Workshop, Cleaning the Shores

OTL04-24, trip log, North Spitsbergen, Basecamp, Free kayaking, Hiking, Photo Workshop, Cleaning the Shores

by Oceanwide Expeditions


Day 1: Embarkation – Longyearbyen, Svalbard

Embarkation – Longyearbyen, Svalbard
Date: 25.06.2024
Position: 78°14.6’ N - 015°32.5’ E
Wind: NW 4
Weather: Partly Cloudy
Air Temperature: +6

The day had finally come, it was time to board the good ship Ortelius for our expedition exploring North Spitsbergen! It was a calm, partly clouded day as we arrived at the port in Longyearbyen with still, glassy waters. Some of us had only arrived in Longyearbyen a few hours before, and now we were about to start our adventure onboard M/V Ortelius. The Expedition Team and Hotel Staff had helpfully brought our luggage aboard and taken it to our cabins earlier in the day. All that remained was for us to snap some shots of Ortelius while we made our way up the gangway. What a beautiful and impressive ship she is.

We were warmly welcomed by all the crew and staff who assisted us in finding our cabins. We had some time to explore the ship, get our bearings and grab a tea or coffee in the bar. Once everyone was on board it was time for the mandatory ship safety video and briefing presented by Expedition Leader Claudio and Chief Officer Romanas. We were provided all the information we needed such as moving safely around the ship, the things we could and could not do, and how to put on our emergency life jackets. Following this, it was time for an abandon ship drill. So, after hearing the seven short and one long blast of the ship’s horn we went to our cabins, retrieved our lifejackets, and found our muster station in the bar. We were then led to our lifeboats so we would know where to go in the event of a real emergency.

After the drill, we headed to the bar where Hotel Manager Vova and Expedition Leader Claudio gave a welcome briefing, explaining how life would be on the ship in the coming days. With briefing formalities concluded, it was time to join Captain Per in the bar to raise a glass in celebration of the voyage. Cheers everyone! Soon after, it was time for our first evening meal, with a delicious buffet selection provided by Chef Heinz and his galley team, and served by our friendly dining room staff. After dinner we were given our muck boots, which we would use for going ashore; comfortable but also, very importantly, waterproof! This would be key for our wet Zodiac landings!

After a long, but exciting day of travel for most of us, it was time for bed to get some much-needed rest before the first full day of our trip began in the morning.

Day 2: Smeerenburg & Raudfjorden

Smeerenburg & Raudfjorden
Date: 26.06.2024
Position: 79°43.8’ N - 010°52.6’ E
Wind: N 4
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +3

It was time for the first operations of the week! The day started with two mandatory briefings about AECO (Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators) and how to stay safe in the Zodiacs. While Claudio was explaining what the day’s plan A was going to be, it had already changed to plan B due to a polar bear sighting on our landing site! So, instead of landing at the historical site of Smeerenburg, an old Dutch whaling settlement, we took a Zodiac cruise to get a glimpse of the bear.

While we were watching the bear sleeping on a snow patch, we suddenly saw another bear walking along the shore! After some time watching both two bears, the bear walking on shore walked further inland once again, and we took our leave. We proceeded around Smeerenburg to see the walruses. Luckily the water was quite calm close by, so we had a good opportunity to see the smelly blubbery boys. Not bad for the first operation: two polar bears, walruses, and some Arctic history!

Our initial plan for the afternoon was cancelled due to fog and strong winds. Beyond a certain windspeed we can no longer safely operate. In this case, a search begins to find alternatives.

While looking for a late afternoon activity site, Koen kicked off his Photo Workshop with a lecture on improving your wildlife photography. It was reassuring to discover the kind of budgets some documentary makers and photographers work with in addition to being able to spend months out in the field waiting for that one special moment. Koen also reassured us that we had many expedition days left and that it is always possible to see something unique. So, fingers crossed for a little bit of luck.

Afterward, Claudio announced a late afternoon activity, a Zodiac cruise in Raudfjord. Raudfjord means “Red Fjord”, being named after the red-colored mountains surrounding the fjord.

In no time, we were Zodiac cruising around the fjord with beautiful glaciers calving into the fjord or terminating on land. We also saw fantastic birds; Kittiwakes, Brünnich’s and Black Guillemots, nesting Glaucous Gulls, Common Eider Ducks and even three King Eiders!

With the wind picking up and the fog setting in, we headed back to the ship to warm up again with another delicious dinner. What an incredible first day, with very typical Arctic conditions!

Day 3: Texas Bar & Monacobreen

Texas Bar & Monacobreen
Date: 27.06.2024
Position: 79°31.3’ N - 012°24.5’ E
Wind: SW 5
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +5

We woke up this morning in front of Monacobreen, a glacier named after Prince Albert the first of Monaco, who visited this region on oceanographic expeditions. The weather was cloudy, which only elevated the intensity of the blue hues coloring its vast bulk.

The glacier – impressive at 5 km wide - stretched out before us, neighbored by the almost equally impressive Seligerbreen.

After a quick breakfast, we embarked on our first full-length Zodiac cruise, edging closer to those vast columns of blue and white. We sailed among the ice, admiring icebergs, and listening in awe to the crackling of the escaping air bubbles from the melting ice all around us.

At some point, having photographed Kittiwakes resting on icebergs, we were graced by the arrival of several beluga whales close to the shoreline. Yellowish white in color, these canaries of the seas do not show too much of themselves, but their graceful and scarred backs could be seen emerging above the water line for a couple of seconds. Simply being in the presence of these animals, knowing they live in the landscape around us was cause for amazement for staff and passengers alike. After a simply amazing morning, we returned to the ship cold but exhilarated and helped ourselves ravenously to the once-again delicious buffet. 

In the afternoon, we undertook a landing and enjoyed some hiking at Texas Bar. This location, having no relation to either Texas or a bar, features a small trapper hut filled with (empty!) bottles of alcohol, in which one can start to understand the harsh life of Arctic hunters. The passengers were divided into different groups based on their fitness, hiking proficiency and determination. Texas bar is famed as being a great place to see many of the small vascular plant species that are found in Svalbard.

Indeed, plants such as Woolly Lousewort, Moss Campion, Purple Saxifrage and Mountain Avens carpeted the landscape with purple, yellow, and rose. These tiny plants are resilient, and are adapted for survival in this harsh environment. They utilize any opportunity given to them to the full!

Those in the longer hiking group ascended the first ridge and set off to get some distance between them and the ship. Their route took them all the way to the next valley where they had a beautiful view of Erikbreen, a truly majestic glacier. Small ridges can be seen as lines running through it, and some tiny blue lakes could even be seen on top. After a polar silence, the group returned to the landing site, to indulge in the polar plunge with everyone else.

Although conditions had been smooth for polar plunging at the beginning of the afternoon, right before the polar plunge a cold strong wind had suddenly picked up.

But this bitingly cold wind did not stop the determined polar plungers. Some didn’t seem to feel the cold much at all, and instead just seemed to be walking into warm tropical waters. Others, however, had a truly cold experience! It was clear from the expressions on their faces that this water was truly cold! Hats (and other warm clothes) off to these brave souls!

Back on the ship, the polar plungers were in need of some warming up. Alas, the hot water from the showers at one point ran out and turned lukewarm.

Despite this overly refreshing end to our activities, it was another great day!

Day 4: Phippsøya & Parryøya

Phippsøya & Parryøya
Date: 28.06.2024
Position: 80°40.5’ N - 020°54.4’ E
Wind: Light Air
Weather: Partly Cloudy
Air Temperature: +3

Today was a remarkable day on our expedition cruise aboard the M/V Ortelius in the breathtaking Svalbard archipelago.

Our morning began with an amazing breakfast. The dining area buzzed with excitement as we fueled up for the day's adventures, enjoying the delicious array of food and the company of our fellow guests.

After breakfast, we boarded the Zodiacs and headed ashore to Phippsøya, an island in the northern reaches of Svalbard. The air was crisp and clear as we embarked on long hikes across the rugged terrain. Our adventure started next to a historic trapper's hut; a fascinating relic of the past nestled on the shore. As we headed onward, we were delighted to spot barnacle geese and arctic skuas, their presence adding to the serene beauty of the landscape around us.

Returning to the ship, we enjoyed a hearty lunch, sharing stories of our morning explorations. The camaraderie among the group was palpable as we reflected on the incredible sights we had all seen.

In the afternoon, after a cautious scout for polar bears on and around Parryøya, we ventured ashore for a perimeter landing. The area was teeming with natural beauty, from resilient flora to the striking permafrost features that dotted the ground.

A sober yet fascinating discovery was a polar bear carcass, with its teeth and claws still visible. This was a stark reminder of the harsh realities of life in the Arctic.

We also took part in a massive beach cleanup, collecting plastic and trash that had washed ashore. It was a rewarding effort, knowing we were helping to preserve the pristine environment of this remote region.

Back on the ship, we gathered for the daily recap. Expedition leader Claudio provided an overview of the days achievements and outlined the exciting plans for tomorrow. Dinner was yet another highlight, with an exquisite meal that perfectly capped off our adventurous day.

Day 5: Ice Day

Ice Day
Date: 29.06.2024
Position: 80°50.0’ N - 015°06.6’ E
Wind: SW 4
Weather: Partly Cloudy
Air Temperature: +1

Good morning, Ortelius!

We had a special day ahead of us. Today, we planned to spend all of our time in the heart of the Arctic, in the pack ice, scanning for wildlife and enjoying the seemingly infinite ice flows that reach the North Pole.

After a daily wake-up call from expedition leader Claudio, the day started as usual with a delicious breakfast. Then it was time to venture out onto the outer decks and the bridge to enjoy the beauty of the Arctic andas admire the wildflife of this polar region.

It was great seeing so many of us on the bridge helping the expedition team in their search for a polar bear. The visibility was excellent and with little to no wind, conditions outside were very good..

As always, the first to greet us in the morning were the birds of the Arctic: Northern fulmar, black-legged kittiwake, Brünnich’s guillemot, black guillemot, Arctic skua and Atlantic puffin, but the main highlight, to the delight of bird lovers, was a chance meeting with an ivory gull.

We also saw harp popping their heads out of the water in curiosity of our presence in their vicinity.

Although it was still morning, the weather was too good to be true, so the hotel department treated us to hot chocolate with rum and whipped cream. As the saying goes - it’s always 5 Oclock somewhere on the planet!

At 15.00, expedition guide Koen gave a presentation about photography. Koen discussed the philosophy of photography and composition, but also about taking more time when you take a photo and about storytelling. It was an extremely interesting and useful lecture.

At 6.15 p.m., Claudio summed up the day, and we also learned about our plans for tomorrow.

After the recap, we had a great barbecue dinner outdoors with stunning views of the Arctic Ocean, where we were lucky to see a walrus floating on an ice floe. Towards the end, we found ourselves surrounded by blue, fin, and humpback whales, which was absolutely stunning. After a full day of scouting the ice, this was a well-deserved treat!

An amazing end to a great day.

Good night, Ortelius.

Day 6: Signehamna & Tinayrebukta

Signehamna & Tinayrebukta
Date: 30.06.2024
Position: 79°16.2’ N - 011°34.4’ E
Wind: SW 5
Weather: Clear Sky
Air Temperature: +10

When we woke up this morning, we were not in the location we were initially planning to land. Instead, we woke up in Signehamna. Overnight the ship had made good progress which allowed us to have a full day of activities. The weather looked great, it was sunny and there was hardly any wind. Great conditions for a day out in Svalbard.

We landed in Signehamna bay, located on the west side of the fjord of Lilliehöökfjorden, where we visited the remains of a German weather station that had been established by Hans-Robert “Knöspe” Knoespel during World War II. Being able to control or predict weather was a strategically important aspect of warfare. After several German weather ships and airplanes were sunk or shot down, the Germans decided to build a land-based weather station in a more sheltered and hidden area to protect their location, and by doing so, gain a tactical advantage. Part of the weather station was automated, and the other part was manned. Six men were stationed in the station from mid-October 1941, with it being operational over winter also.

As usual, the hiking groups were divided into two medium hikes and one short one that stayed closer to the beach. The medium hikes visited the remains of the weather station and then followed a route around a lake to look at several different bird species while enjoying the amazing landscape. The lake was still half frozen, and you could hear the ice singing in the wind. Aside from beautiful flowers and plants, as well as different bird species, we were treated with the sight of impressive reindeer as well. Together with exceptional weather, the morning was simply stunning.

We had worked up quite an appetite by this point, so when lunch was announced, we quickly made our way to the dining room. It was delicious as usual!

After lunch, we landed close to another beautiful glacier. Tinayrebreen is a hanging glacier that has a length of 10 km until it debouches into Tinayrebukta. The weather in the morning had been beautiful, but in the afternoon, it was even better. No wind at all and an almost cloudless sky. No need for many layers, it almost felt like summer!

We landed at a beautiful beach where we were offered a long hike intended to cover some ground and reach significant heights. The medium hikers went in two different directions. One group went to a higher viewpoint, whereas the other walked onto the barren rocky grounds, towards a beach where at least nine harbor seals were sunbathing on the rocks. At first glance, the seals looked like bananas on the rocks. This is a position they only take when they feel safe and relaxed. This shape with their flippers in the air also helps them to keep their extremities dry when close to the water surface.

The landscape looked like a real Arctic desert with many small dunes comprised of debris from the glacier. But despite the ‘empty’ barren landscape, it is amazing to see how much vegetation still manages to grow here during the short summer period. Lots of flowers were in fool bloom, coloring the tundra purple, yellow and orange from the lichen.

The guests that were looking to have a more relaxed afternoon experienced a Zodiac cruise in the fjord in conditions that was absolutely perfect.

We tried to maximize our time off the ship this afternoon, so that meant our daily recap was instead scheduled for after dinner. This was also the time to fire all kinds of ship- related questions to our captain. Initially there were few questions, but once the ice was broken (no pun intended), the captain Was inundated with eager waving hands.

What a special day it has been!

Day 7: Gaffelbreen & Poolypinten

Gaffelbreen & Poolypinten
Date: 01.07.2024
Position: 78°31.0’ N - 012°52.3’ E
Wind: SSE 4
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +4

Good morning, once more!

Time flies when you’re having fun, and unfortunately, today would be our last activity day. But, not for the first time this expedition, our plans had changed. Instead of visiting the beautiful location of Poolypinten, we had decided to maximize our time by instead visiting Gaffelbreen first and then spending the afternoon viewing walruses.

Gaffelbreen is a much shorter ship transfer, and this enabled us to spent more time at this glacier. The expedition team had tentatively promised we would be able to touch a glacier and they kept their word! It was a beautiful, relaxed morning where we could walk from guide to guide at our own pacing, which also made for a nice change! At the higher viewpoints we could see the entirety of the glacier. Many of us took this moment to reflect upon the trip and the amazing places we had seen in the last seven days.

A fast Zodiac shuttle brought us back to the ship for an early lunch. In the meantime, the ship had made its way to Poolypinten, and soon we could see huge walruses hauling themselves up onto the beach.

Poolypinten is a special place as the land consists mostly of sand. Currents and tidal changes have created this triangular shaped peninsula and contrary to, for example, our landings yesterday, the land underfoot here was quite soft and mushy. It is a large, stretched area and in the distance, we could see many reindeer. Closer to the beach, driftwood was scattered around. Trees can’t grow in Svalbard, so where did this wood originate from? Well, surprisingly, this wood has made its way all the way from Siberia. The trees were cut in the Taiga and were then sent to the factories along rivers such as the Liv. These factories scoop up or catch the trunks, but they don’t manage to catch them all. These trees end up in the ocean, and thanks to currents they wash up ashore in places such as Svalbard. It is estimated that this journey can sometimes take three years! Some of the wood we saw is likely to have been dozens, if not hundreds of years old.

The walruses were home today, and it was lovely seeing them all lying together. Some seemed to be in a deep sleep whereas others were trying to find a relaxed sleeping position. The walrus is the second largest seal species after the elephant seal, and males can reach a maximum weight of approximately 1500kg.

We spent significant time with the walruses before we slowly headed back to the landing site. We covered some ground directly behind the beach where we could see various flower and plant species, but we also saw different bird species such as the beautiful Arctic skua, Arctic Tern and snow buntings.

Our last day had been full of action, and it was the perfect ending to our time in Svalbard. During the expedition recap, our captain spoke some inspirational farewell words and Claudio summarized the route of our expedition. Then, it was time to enjoy a fantastic slide show. Guide Juan had been working late hours every day to make this beautiful and moving memory which we enjoyed very much. What a great gift to take home!

Time for our last ‘gala’ diner on board. To the surprise of nobody, dinner was exquisite, and before dessert was served, hotel manager Volodimir thanked his entire hotel crew. Behind the scenes, all of the crew members work very hard to contribute to a successful trip, and they deserved our appreciation, thanks and applause! There was just enough time for for one last after dinner drink and maybe some more photos.

See you tomorrow!

Day 8: Longyearbyen - Disembarkation

Longyearbyen - Disembarkation
Date: 02.07.2024
Position: 78°14.6’ N - 015°32.5’ E
Wind: N1
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +7

After seven superb days, our Svalbard expedition was over. However, the memories we had made will live with us forever. With our luggage left outside our cabins ready for the staff and crew to take down the gangway, we headed to breakfast. After saying goodbye to the dining room crew, we took our remaining belongings and disembarked onto the coal pier. There was just enough time to say farewell to the expedition team before we boarded the buses and left for our onward travel.

Thank you all for such a memorable voyage, for your company, good humor, enthusiasm, and patience when the weather decided we should do something different.

We hope to see you again in the future, wherever that might be!

Total distance sailed on our voyage: 830 nautical miles

Furthest North: 80°51.144’ N

On behalf of Oceanwide Expeditions, Captain Per Andersson, Expedition Leader Claudio Ghiglione, Hotel Manager Volodymyr ‘Vova’ Cherednychenko and all the crew and expedition staff, it has been a pleasure traveling with you! We look forward to seeing you again on one of our ships for another exciting adventure.


Tripcode: OTL04-24
Dates: 25 Jun - 2 Jul, 2024
Duration: 7 nights
Ship: m/v Ortelius
Embark: Longyearbyen
Disembark: Longyearbyen

Have you been on this voyage?

Aboard m/v Ortelius

The ice-strengthened Ortelius is thoroughly outfitted for polar exploration and, when necessary, helicopter flights.

More about the m/v Ortelius »