Summary : Zodiac cruise into grottos, narrow channels and beneath vertical cliffs. Take a clifftop walk to view nesting birds such as puffins, guillemots and fulmars in the Faroe Islands. Discover the rich history in Kirkwall including a visit to Skara Brae, a unique and well-preserved 5,000-year-old semi-subterranean village. Join a group of the rare few to visit remote Jan Mayen Island, home to Mount Beerenberg, the world’s northernmost active volcano. Photograph walrus and reindeer while keeping an eye out for the Arctic’s top predator, the beguiling polar bear, hunting for seals in the pack ice. Kayak along some of the many glaciers streaming into the deep fjords in the northwest coast of Spitsbergen (additional cost). Combining the North Atlantic Ocean’s wildest outliers, this voyage takes you from historic Orkneys to the lush and craggy Faroe Islands, its cliffs teeming with seabirds, to the ice-covered slopes of Mount Beerenberg - the northernmost active volcano in the world on Jan Mayen Island, before venturing in search of enigmatic polar bears hunting on pack ice in Svalbard.
Activities : Birding, Hiking, Kayaking, Photography, Triple/Quad Cabins
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Make your own way to Aberdeen pier.
Discover the rich history in Kirkwall, capital of the Orkney Islands. Initial impressions are misleading, as the harbor area looks modern, but the narrow winding streets and lanes of the old town, which have remained relatively unchanged over the centuries are appealing. Explore magnificent St Magnus Cathedral built from red and white sandstone and considered the finest medieval building in the north of Scotland before popping across the road to Tankerness House and Gardens, a restored 16th century former manse, now housing the Orkney Museum featuring archaeological artefacts from Neolithic times to the Vikings. The exhibition is a great way to whet your appetite for the archaeological gems you will find on the mainland including the unique and well-preserved 5,000-year-old semi-subterranean village of Skara Brae.
Everything west of Kirkwall is known as West Mainland, an area of rich farmland, rolling hills and moorland, with dramatic cliffs along the Atlantic coastline. Some of the main archaeological attractions you may see include the standing Stones of Stenness, the Ring of Brodgar, and the chambered tombs of Maes Howes that to this day still have unresolved mysteries. One of the mainland’s main attractions is Skara Brae, the best-preserved Stone Age village in northern Europe, located in the spectacular white sands of the Bay of Skaill. Revealed in 1850 after a storm blew away the dunes, the site dates from approximately 5,000 years ago and was occupied for about 600 years, showing a unique picture of the lifestyle of the original inhabitants.
In the middle of the North Atlantic, barely visible on most world maps, you will find the Faroe Islands, an archipelago consisting of 18 islands with a population of only 50,000. The Faroe Islands are built up of layers of volcanic basalt, and are tilted with the eastern shores sloping into the sea and the western coasts rising up in soaring and spectacular cliffs. With their breathtaking beauty, steep mountains covered in soft green grass, deep fjords, long summer nights, unique culture, and a humble, friendly and welcoming people, the islands are the perfect destination for travelers wanting something dramatically different from the mainstream.
Discover a few of the gems of the Faroe Islands including Tórshavn, Kirkjubour, Mykines and Vestmanner. In Torshavn, possibly the smallest capital in the world, wander the narrow streets of this windswept town, built on a hillside with colorful contemporary houses and old traditional timber dwellings all painted red and with characteristic grass roofs, white-framed windows and black wood. You may see the oddest array of sheep lining the steep hillsides - black ones, brown ones and even piebald ones! Perhaps catch a glimpse of Faroese ponies with their spectacular flaxen manes and coats varying from a palomino colour to rich chestnut. The town’s history can be traced back to around 900 AD when the first Viking settlers arrived here by longboat from Norway.
Landing at Mykines can be tricky. The cliffs are sheer and there are steps to climb once you are out of the Zodiac, but the views are impressive. Geographically, Mykines is the Faroe’s most westerly outpost, and the island dubbed the “paradise of birds” featuring gannets, kittiwakes, fulmars, guillemots and puffins. You are able to get quite close to the birds by sailing under the majestic bird cliffs or on a hike. In addition to the seabirds, the Faroe Islands’ remote location functions virtually as a magnet for birds that migrate over the North Atlantic Ocean. Around 300 bird species have been recorded in the Faroe Islands, but only around 100 species are regular migrants or breeding birds. This means that about 200 species are rare migrants and new birds are added to the national list every year.
One of the highlights in the Faroe Islands is Vestmanna Birdcliffs, where in kayaks and Zodiacs you can explore caves, arches, waterfalls and sea stacks below majestic cliffs towering hundreds of metres above. You may see kittiwakes and fulmars overhead, with razorbills and guillemots sitting on nests high above us and puffins bobbing in the sea.
Enjoy sailing to Jan Mayen Island accompanied by sea birds while keeping a look out for whales. Enjoy a presentation from your team of experts, get to know your fellow expeditioners, stay fit at the gym or treat yourself to a massage in the wellness center.
The approach to Jan Mayen is spectacular. The huge Beerenberg volcano (7,470 feet altitude) is the world’s northernmost active volcano, and last erupted in 1985. The northern part of the island is a great place to look for whales and dolphins, and contains impressive glaciers, some of which reach the sea. If the weather is friendly, the crew will try to help you land at Kvalrossbukta, a relatively sheltered bay on the island’s west coast. This is one of the landings used to supply the weather station Olonkinbyen, situated on the eastern side of the island. The hope is to land on front of the Norwegian station at Olonkinbyen, stop to visit the weather station before embarking on a three-hour hike (weather permitting) to the other side of the island where the Greg Mortimer will be waiting for you in Kvalrossbukta, and your trusty Zodiacs will transport you back to the ship.
The sea around Jan Mayen offers excellent whale-watching opportunities (bottlenose, fin, and perhaps bowhead whales in the pack ice). Sail towards Svalbard, searching for the ice edge as the ship continues north, retracing the route of Dutch explorer Willem Barents who discovered Spitsbergen and the Barents Sea, named after him. You may see harp seal pups on the pack ice growing quickly, while their mothers hunt for food. As you approach Svalbard, all eyes will be focused on spotting polar bears in the pack ice.
Over the next three days, the Svalbard Archipelago is yours to explore. Your experienced expedition team, who have made countless journeys to this area, will use their expertise to design your voyage from day to day. This allows them to make best use of the prevailing weather, ice conditions and wildlife opportunities. Because you are so far north you will experience nearly 24 hours of daylight and the days can be as busy as you wish. You will generally make landings or Zodiac excursions a few times a day; cruising along spectacular ice cliffs, following whales that are feeding near the surface, making landings for hikes.
There are many exciting places you may visit; a sample of some of the places where your expedition leader may choose to land, hike, photograph or view spectacular wildlife and scenery include:
At the northern entrance of Isfjorden, is a striking landmark - the landscape around this large bird cliff is lush and beautiful. East of Alkhornet you can find a deep, long bay with an exciting and diverse history. Here you will find important and vulnerable cultural remains dating from several of Svalbard’s historical periods. Alkhornet and Trygghamna offer visitors an interesting combination of cultural history and natural environment. The name Trygghamna is derived from the old Dutch name Behouden Haven and the English Safe Harbor or Safe Haven, all with the same meaning. The name reflects on the West European whaling that was carried out around Svalbard in the 17th century when whales would swim into the fjords and subsequently be caught. Trygghamna was, and still is, the perfect harbor with good anchorage. Because of its favorable geographical position, this harbor was early known and continuously in use.
At Alkhornet, reindeer observations are common, there are several fox dens, geese nest on rocks and higher up, and the bird cliff is loaded with Brünnich’s guillemots in hundreds of thousands. The cliff also houses a large colony of kittiwakes. Often seen is the glaucous gull patrolling the air around the cliff for potential prey. Arctic skuas nest here as well. The moss tundra below the cliffs bear witness of constant influx of fertilizers and some areas are extraordinarily lush for this reason.
Kongsfjorden (Kings Bay)
Kongsfjorden and the surrounding country are known to be one of the most beautiful fjord areas in Svalbard. The fjord is headed by two giant glaciers, Kronebreen and Kongsvegen. Hike on the lush tundra among the summer flowers and observe the remarkable bird cliffs near the 14th July Glacier, where even a few puffins nest between the cracks in the cliffs.
Situated at 78º 55’ N, Ny-Ålesund is one of the world’s northern-most year-round communities. The settlement of Ny-Ålesund is strongly linked to coal mining operations, scientific expeditions and recently also to various international research efforts. It is one of the northernmost settlements in the world. In and around Ny-Ålesund is found the largest concentration of protected buildings, cultural monuments and various remains in Svalbard, rendering the place an important cultural heritage site. The cultural history is represented by the town itself, including 30 listed buildings (out of 60 in total), industrial monuments related to the coal mining operations, Roald Amundsen’s airship mooring mast and hangar foundation and some remains of research activities. Ny-Ålesund is the largest Norwegian settlement in Svalbard that was not set fire to during World War II. The settlement is well preserved and worth experiencing, and serves as a valuable historical source. Ny-Ålesund has also been the starting point of several historical attempts to reach the North Pole. Names like Amundsen, Ellsworth and Nobile are strongly linked to Ny-Ålesund. The place has been a centre for tourist operations, with several hotels located in town. Today, approximately 20,000 travelers visit Ny-Ålesund on a yearly basis. Since 1964, Ny-Ålesund has also been a center for international Arctic research and environmental monitoring. A number of countries run their own national research stations here, and research activity is high in the summer.
The islands and islets in the inner part of Kongsfjorden teem with birds. At the head of the fjord, mighty glaciers calve into the sea. All of this is framed by characteristic mountain formations. Situated at the north side of the fjord, London is a monument to past optimistic expectations for big money from the supply of marble to the world market. Further northwest lies Krossfjorden, with its cultural remains from the whaling period, Russian and Norwegian overwinterings and World War II. Large bird cliffs are also found here.
Nordvesthjørnet and Raudfjorden
It was here, in the far north-west, that Willem Barentsz and his crew discovered new land on 17 June, 1596. They described the land as being “rugged for the most part, and steep, mostly mountains and jagged peaks, from which we gave it the name of Spitsbergen”. In the centuries that followed, the large number of bowhead whales found here attracted whalers from the Netherlands and various other countries, and the area became a place of high activity, both on the shore and in the surrounding sea. This is why Nordvesthjørnet offers the largest concentration of graves, blubber ovens and other cultural treasures on Spitsbergen, all dating back to this first era of the exploitation of Svalbard’s natural resources.
Cruise northwards along the west coast of Spitsbergen, visiting intriguing places like Magdalenefjorden, located inside the Northwest Spitsbergen National Park. According to historical sources, Magdalenefjorden was first used by the English in the early days of the whaling era. They erected a land station on the headland and named the area Trinity Harbour. The station was closed in 1623, but the cemetery remained in use. More tourists are visiting Gravneset than any other site in Svalbard outside the settlements, but since 2015, ships carrying heavy fuel on board are no longer permitted to enter the large national parks and nature reserves in Svalbard. The spectacular alpine scenery is lined with jagged mountain peaks, to which Spitsbergen (‘pointed mountains’) owes its name. At 3,658 feet, Hornemanntoppen is the highest mountain in the area is, located east of Magdalenefjorden. The topography of the area is mostly rocky, shorelines are covered with stones and walking here can be challenging. The topography also does not allow for much vegetation, which is limited to mosses and lichens near bird colonies. Little auks are breeding in large numbers in scree slopes everywhere around Magdalenefjorden. Amazingly, a few reindeer occasionally roam around on mossy slopes and polar bears as well as walrus are regularly seen here.
The name “Smeerenburg” means “Blubber Town”. Its whaling station served as the main base for Dutch whaling in the first half of the 17th century, which was the period when whale hunting was still happening along the coastline and in the fjords of Svalbard. Smeerenburg is situated on the island of Amsterdamøya, surrounded by fjords, tall glacier fronts and steep, rugged mountains. The most obvious sign of its days as a whaling station are the large cement-like remains of blubber from ovens where the blubber was boiled. The rest of the old Smeerenburg has largely disappeared under layers of sand.
Virgohamna is one of Svalbard’s most important cultural heritage sites. On the beach are remains of blubber ovens and a Dutch whaling station. There are also graves from the whaling period. But Virgohamna is most famous for being the starting place of many an expedition attempting to reach the North Pole. Both Andrée (1896, 1897) and Wellman (1906, 1907, 1909) built bases here, consisting of a balloon shed, airship hangars and gas production works. The place was named after Andrée’s steamship and transport vessel, the Virgo. All the areas with cultural remains in Virgohamna are protected. To disembark here, one must have written permission from the Governor of Svalbard.
Ytre Norskøya is situated in the middle of what used to be the Dutch whaling area in the early 1600s, when it all revolved around land-based stations for boiling the whale blubber. The station is situated by the sound Norskøysundet, between the islands of Ytre Norskøya and Indre Norskøya. A sheltered bay offers protection against the weather and a broad beach facilitates landings. Today, the remains of nine blubber ovens lie in a line along the beach in the bay. The area with 165 graves on the island is one of the largest burial grounds in Svalbard.
Woodfjorden, Liefdefjorden and Bockfjorden
Located along the north coast, Woodfjorden, Liefdefjorden and Bockfjorden are rarely-visited places. This is the land of contrasts. By the large, flat Reinsdyrflya there is a great fjord system that stretches towards several mountain ridges of varying shapes and ages, including alpine summits of very old granite, majestic red mountains of Devonian sandstone, cone-shaped remnants of three volcanoes and even hot springs. Large glacier fronts calve in the sea, while polar bears are busy hunting for ringed seals and sweeping the islets for birds’ eggs. Walk on smooth raised beach terraces to a superb viewpoint or hike in the mountains on the tundra where pretty brightly colored wildflowers and lichen grow and where reindeer graze. You may visit trapper huts of yesteryear where Russians Pomors would hunt and survive the cold harsh winters, all while remaining alert for wandering polar bears and their cubs.
Moffen Island is situated directly north of 80°N. After the near-extinction of walrus in Svalbard in the middle of the 20th century, Moffen Island played an important role in re-establishing the species here, a process which is still going on. Today, there are often larger numbers of walrus hauled out at the southern tip of the island. This is the reason why Moffen is protected. Approach during the summer (15th May to 15th September) is limited to a minimum distance of 1,640 feet.
Sjuøyane (Seven Islands)
In the very north of Svalbard, in the ocean north of Nordaustlandet, is the little archipelago of Sjuøyane (the seven islands), with its characteristically hat-shaped mountains. The hard granite mountains have acquired a green covering of moss due to thousands of breeding seabirds. Walrus dive for clams in the waters between the islands and in the bays. Most of the islands have been named after the English North Pole expeditions led by Phipps (1773) and Parry (1827). Sjuøyane are located at about 80°45?N. The mountains, of gneiss and granites, are tied together by plains created by deposits, which have given the islands their large, semi-circular bays. In general the sparse vegetation belongs to the Arctic polar desert zone. However, fertilization by bird droppings provide a breeding ground for mosses and scurvygrass (Cochlearia groenlandica), which give some of the mountains their characteristic greenish color.
When the ice breaks up around Sjuøyane and the first seabirds return in April–May, the islands wake again after a long winter, during which the only wildlife is the odd polar bear, arctic fox, reindeer and walrus. There is a large number of bird cliffs in Sjuøyane, scattered around most of the islands. Little auks come in the largest numbers, but there are also several smaller colonies of puffins and Brünnich’s guillemots. Common guillemots nest scattered around the islands. One of the few known colonies of ivory gulls can be found on Phippsøya. Ivory gulls are categorized as listed as a Near Threatened Species.
There are also several haul-out sites for walrus on Sjuøyane. The most reliable place to encounter them is Isflakbukta on the island of Phippsøya. Up to 100 animals can be seen on the beach, and normally walrus are very active in the shallow bay.
Polar bears can be seen anywhere on Sjuøyane. The polar bear distribution is strongly related to the distribution of sea ice. If there is drift ice around the islands it is more likely that there will be polar bears on the islands. Usually there are also a few polar bears remaining in the area over the summer. Reindeer and arctic fox are also found on Sjuøyane.
During the early morning cruise into Longyearbyen. Farewell your expedition team and fellow expeditioners as you continue onwards. Enjoy a town tour of before a transfer to the airport in the afternoon.
Read this itinerary as a guide only; the exact route and program varies according to ice and weather conditions—and the wildlife you encounter. Flexibility is the key to the success of this expedition. ExpeditionTrips is not responsible for itinerary changes.
Mandatory Travel Insurance:
As a requirement of participation on this expedition, all passengers must purchase emergency evacuation/repatriation insurance at a minimum coverage of $250,000. Other conditions may apply based on pre-existing conditions. Insurance should cover personal accident and medical expenses, evacuation and repatriation, baggage loss, and cancellation or curtailment of holiday. ExpeditionTrips can assist U.S. residents with travel protection options.
Exploration by kayak is an ideal way to surround yourself in the sights and sounds of the Arctic - paddling among icebergs and brash ice, observing wildlife in an unobtrusive manner. Some kayak excursions may be long in duration and on choppy water, so a reasonable level of kayaking experience is required to participate in this activity. Fee required to participate. Please contact ExpeditionTrips to book.
Half day tour of Longyearbyen on disembarkation Day 15 followed by a transfer to the airport; shipboard accommodations; printed photo book from your voyage (post voyage, one per booking); gear to keep (expedition jacket); gear on loan (boots); all meals onboard ship; house wines, beers, and soft drinks with dinner onboard ship. Subject to change without notice.
Airfare; passport and visa expenses; optional activity supplements; alcohol and beverages not mentioned as included; items of a personal nature such as Wi-Fi, laundry service, spa charges, medical expenses; required travel insurance; excess baggage charges; airport arrival or departure taxes; gratuities (NOTE: Gratuities for crew will automatically be added to your bill. Please advise at the time of settlement if you would like this to be removed); fuel surcharge may apply.
Photos ©: Michael Baynes (group kayaking, puffin, Zodiac cruising); Desire De Vries (feather); Lenka Gondova (fox); Carole O'Neill (polar bear, walrus); Geoff Perraton (solo kayaker); Dirk Selderyk (polar bear with cubs)