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PLA04-23, trip log, North Spitsbergen, In search of polar bear & birds - Summer Solstice

by Oceanwide Expeditions


Day 1: Longyearbyen, embarkation day

Longyearbyen, embarkation day
Date: 15.06.2023
Position: 78°13.8’N / 014°38.1’E
Wind: W 3
Weather: Cloudy
Air Temperature: +4

Many of the guests arrived at Longyearbyen on the day of embarkation. Throughout the afternoon the luggage was shuttled from the key out to Plancius on anchor in the bay. By 4pm there was an eager line of guests waiting to embark on the Zodiac journey! Luckily our first zodiac trip stayed dry, but we are prepared for any weather that might come!

Once on board the evening went by quickly as we were busy with familiarisations, safety briefings, cocktails with the Captain and of course a lovely first dinner. As we set off out of Isfjord in the evening, and northward towards our first scheduled activity of the trip, there was time to enjoy the views of the flat table-topped mountains in the late evening light.

Day 2: St. Jonsfjorden and Poolepynten

St. Jonsfjorden and Poolepynten
Date: 16.06.2023
Position: 78°31.2’N / 012°50.7’E
Wind: S 3
Weather: Clear
Air Temperature: +3

Our first day of landings! We woke up with beautiful sunny weather, with almost no wind. The sea was almost like a mirror. Arriving at St Jonsfjord, we split up into several hiking groups. The long hike went all the way up to the mountain to get a good view over the bay of the St Jonsfjord. The reflections were amazing! The medium hikers went all the way up the moraine, a nice ridge with beautiful viewpoints as well. The leasurly hikers and the birding group spend some extra time watching birds and reindeer. Some of the reindeer we saw were quite relaxed, and we could get extra close without disturbing them. The svalbard reindeer is a species apart from the normal reindeer, spectaculair to see them up so close! During our hikes, we saw several artic terns, species of geese, a purple sandpiper, and arctic skua.

In the afternoon, we cruised to Poolepynten, which is situated at Prins Karls Forland. A beautiful flat trundra with a almost tropical like sandy beach. We went for a small stroll around the area, spotted some birds and reindeer, but the main highlight was: the walrus! Poolepynten is a common haul out site for these friendly blubber giants and we were lucky that they were at home today. We could get quite close without disturbing them, around 30 meters. Some of them came just out of the water and it was quite a spectular site how much effort it costed them to roll up to the group...

After this amazing day, Philip presented us the plans for tommorow. Annelou told a little bit about permafrost and why there are no graveyards in Longyearbyen, and Emily finished the recap for today with a beautiful presentation and lots of information about the walruses we saw today. What a wonderful day!

Day 3: Lilliehookbreen and Signehamna

Lilliehookbreen and Signehamna
Date: 17.06.2023
Position: 79°20.4’N / 011°41.4’E
Wind: WSW 7
Weather: Partly cloudy
Air Temperature: +3

Another beautiful day in Svalbard, after breakfast all of the zodiacs were lowered as the expedition team prepared for a morning zodiac cruise. We spent over two hours exploring the bay, getting a sense of the sheer size of the Lillehookbreen glacier, photographing the varying shades of colour and the different ice formations. The sun was shining, and we could hear the loud thunder like sounds as we witnessed a few calving’s from the glacier front.

There was plenty of wildlife around with a number of bird species spotted, including, common eider ducks, arctic terns, arctic skua, kittiwakes, brunnichs guillemot and even a brief glimpse for some, of a king eider and long tailed skua in flight. In the water we observed a few different species of seal, the inquisitive common seal, appearing in the water every so often looking in our direction, and the smaller ringed seal moving around in the water.

Many of us experienced true Arctic silence as the zodiac engines were turned off. We could hear the crackle and popping of the ice as the air escaped, and really enjoy the stillness and the reflections of the surrounding peaks.

Following a very short transit, we spent the afternoon anchored near Signehamna, a short zodiac ride away from the shore. We all gathered on the landing site, before dividing up into smaller groups. Those wanting a little more exercise and a slighter more elevated view embarked on a longer and faster paced hike. Other options included the medium hike, the leisurely group, and the birding group. A variety of wildlife was observed during the afternoon including Svalbard reindeer, arctic turns, many kittiwakes including dozens gathered on a few of the lakes at a slightly higher elevation. The birders and leisurely groups enjoyed a nice view of some king eider ducks on the water; and in some areas remains from the German marine weather station ‘Knospe’ could be seen too.

The kayakers enjoyed exceptionally calm paddling conditions during both the morning and the afternoon, taking in similar sights and surroundings from the comfort of their kayaks.

After another great day, we all headed back to the ship for our evening recap with the plans for the following day, followed by another delicious evening meal.

Day 4: Fuglesongen and Raudfjorden

Fuglesongen and Raudfjorden
Date: 18.06.2023
Position: 79°50.5’N / 011°24.0’E
Wind: S 6
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +4

In the morning Philipp woke us up as usual and after breakfast we went ashore at the little island Fuglesangen. Fuglesangen is Norwegian and means "the bird song" it is a very suitable name, since the island is home to a large Little auk colony. However, it might be up to discussion if little auks really sing. They for sure make a lot of noise.

The weather was nice and the landing spot quite challenging with slippery boulders on the beach and even more boulders and snow higher up. After a quite difficult 300m walk we arrived in the colony. Here we all found our favourite spot to watch the birds. There were many options between big boulders or on in the snowfield. Most of us will have quite some photos to sort and edit tonight.

After the longest little auk landing the expedition team had ever experienced it was time to get back on the ship and have lunch. In the afternoon we approached Raudfjorden where there still was a lot of fast ice. Far far away on the ice we spotted our first polar bear, quite soon it became clear that she was not alone. It was a female with two cubs walking on the ice. After watching her for a while we decided to go for a zodiac cruise. Out on the water in a small boat we could experience the fast ice up close. We had really nice encounters with bearded seals, and we saw arctic skuas, black legged kittiwakes and black guillemots. The polar bears slowly moved towards us but still really far away when we got the call from the bridge that there was Belugas close to the ice on the other side of the bay. We turned our boats around and went closer, waiting by the ice in the direction they were swimming. They came closer and it was amazing to see and hear these beautiful animals. While the belugas were diving the Polar bear mother and her two cubs came closer and now most of us could see them quite good with binoculars.

In the recap Matthias told us about Little auks and Philipp about the plans for tomorrow. And then the hotel department invited us all to an arctic barbecue on the aft deck. We had a delicious meal and then the dancing started. As the barbecue came to an end we set course for the pack ice.

Day 5: One day in the Arctic pack ice

One day in the Arctic pack ice
Date: 19.06.2023
Position: 80°09.7’N / 011°55.1’E
Wind: SE 2
Weather: Fog
Air Temperature: +1

We spent the night in the open ocean right north of Spitzbergen. The day was announced as a day in the Pack Ice. Right after the wakeup call by our Expedition leader Philipp we entered that special area belonging to the high arctic. It was an amazing feeling to be surrounded by quite big solid ice floes which were about 1 meter thick. All of us enjoyed that on the outer decks from various levels. Our well ice strengthened PLANCIUS was navigating north. The light was mystic in the beginning, with a little bit of fog. After lunch the fog cleared up and with that we had the possibility to look till the horizon. We all tried hard to spot wildlife till the late evening. It was successful for the birders with, amongst others, Ivory Gull sightings but bears were not spotted. Annelou gave a very interesting lecture about ICE. It was an absolute amazing day which we will never forget.

Day 6: Ny-London and Ny-Alesund

Ny-London and Ny-Alesund
Date: 20.06.2023
Position: 78°57.2’N / 012°03.3’E
Wind: S 4
Weather: Partially clouded
Air Temperature: +7

Today we woke to the stunning scenery of Kongsfjorden and we were anchored just offshore from Blomstrandhalvoya. After a delicious breakfast in the dining room, we eagerly dressed and got ready for our landing at “Ny-London”.

We boarded the zodiacs and were whisked ashore across the beautiful glassy calm surface of the ocean. We have been so lucky this trip with the weather and have hardly seen a single wave or breath of wind!

Once ashore we dropped our lifejackets at the beach and made our way up to the small huts at “Campo Mansfield, the location of the failed marble mine. Here we looked at the two historic wooden huts, the remains of the steam engines that drove the railway carts, and some remains of what could be recognised as a marble mine of sorts.

We all set off in different directions for our easy, medium and hard hikes and the birders set off to see every bird in the area. Most to note we managed to spot some arctic foxes, geese, the long tailed skua and the long tailed duck along with a few other species of birds here and there.

Just before lunch we loaded the zodiacs and were shortly enjoying lunch back on Plancius.

After lunch we ships cruised along the glaciers of Kongsfjorden before pulling up outside the research settlement of Ny-Alesund. This would be the focus of our afternoon! The zodiacs dropped us in the small boat harbour, and we unloaded onto a floating pontoon, very different to the beaches that we usually land on. We walked up into the settlement and were met by sites of houses painted red, green, blue, purple, and green. This small settlement is home to up to 300 people and has been converted to a research settlement from the original purpose as a coal mine.

Some of us joined Karin for a short hike out to the tower that Roald Amundsen used to anchor the zeppelin that he flew over the north pole in 1926. Then we headed to the gift shop, museum, dog kennels, and eventually back to our good ship Plancius for some well-earned dinner!

Day 7: Trygghamna and Alkhornet

Trygghamna and Alkhornet
Date: 21.06.2023
Position: 78°14.5’N / 013°56.7’E
Wind: N 2
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +11

Another day, another beautiful landing in the Arctic! This morning the sun was shining just like in the past days and our first goal of the day was to explore Trygghamna. The water was crystal clear, and we got dropped by zodiac at the landing site and as always we divided into different hiking groups.

We had an amazing view into the bay and the water surface was mirroring the whole scenery. The relatively flat hills on this landing site were still mostly covered with snow and here and there we could see the meltwater rivers finding their way through the ice and into the sea close to the landing site. We were lucky to observe long tailed skuas (even a juvenile with darker feather coloration) and reindeer (plus young juveniles). To top off this amazing morning landing we even went for a polar plunge! The water had about 3 degrees Celsius but with the sunshine and absolutely no wind it almost felt like a normal day at the beach! Quite a lot of people went swimming and some even went a couple of times! What a great way to start the day with!

After a short lunch break and a chance to get a warm tea after this eventful morning we landed in Alkhornet. A stunning scenery opened up in front of us as we got shuttled towards the landing site by zodiac again. The beautiful brown, green tundra covered almost all landscape and here and there we could see little white dots from the distance: reindeers – everywhere! Not too long after arrival we all spotted a little Arctic Fox den up the hill quite in the distance. As we had a closer look, we even saw that around 11 pups were actively exploring the surrounding area of the den! Everyone was overwhelmed with the sheer amount of cuteness watching the little ones play in the grass under strong supervision of their mum. What a special place to finish this incredible journey.

Day 8: Arrival back into Longyearbyen

Arrival back into Longyearbyen
Date: 22.06.2023
Position: 78°14.5’ N, 015°32.6’E
Wind: S 4
Weather: Sunny
Air Temperature: +8

Early this morning, we arrived in Longyearbyen. While we enjoyed a last breakfast on board, our suitcases were taken off the ship. It is a sad moment to disembark from the Plancius, which has been a comfortable and cosy home during this unforgettable journey. We have shared many unique moments, seen a range of rarely sighted wildlife, and made new friends. Loaded with fond memories we now must head home.

Thank you all for travelling with us on this voyage, for your enthusiasm, support, and good company. We very much hope to see you again in the future, wherever that might be!


Tripcode: PLA04-23
Dates: 15 Jun - 22 Jun, 2023
Duration: 7 nights
Ship: m/v Plancius
Embark: Longyearbyen
Disembark: Longyearbyen

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