Summary : The Norwegian territory of Svalbard and the islands that make up the archipelago offer a tremendous wildlife and birdlife experience, as well as a fascinating lesson in glaciology. The islands were first used as a whaling base in the 17th and 18th centuries and are now celebrated as a breeding ground for many seabirds, along with marine mammals and the elusive polar bear. This voyage focuses on the western and northern coast of Spitsbergen, and as far north as the permanent pack ice. Your expedition vessel is perfectly suited for remote polar exploration. With her high ice classification, she can push further to the north along the edge of the ice pack. It is here you may encounter the icon of the Arctic—the polar bear—hunting for seals and other protein sources to sustain them through the Arctic summer. Throughout the journey, enjoy a comprehensive series of presentations by polar specialists, providing an excellent background to the expedition. Days are busy with shore excursions to places of historic interest, visits to wildlife colonies, viewing native flora, and soaking in the stunning landscapes. Short or long hikes onshore are another feature along with regular cruising in Zodiacs. Sea kayaking is another popular option.
Activities : Birding, Child-Friendly, Hiking, Kayaking, Photography, Triple/Quad Cabins
$8,095 to $15,495
Embark your expedition ship, Akademik Sergey Vavilov, in Longyearbyen and sail through Adventfjorden and into Isfjorden then out into the Greenland Sea. So begins your Arctic cruise, 24 hours of daylight and hopefully some great photographic opportunities and memories.
Arrive at Bourbonhamna, known for the beluga whales that transit the narrow sound. Head out in Zodiacs for the first time in search of belugas. Adult belugas are pure white and the younger calves a mottled grey color. It is estimated there are approximately five to ten thousand belugas in the Svalbard population. The beluga has no dorsal fin - a diagnostic feature of whale species that live in the high Arctic such as the narwhal and bowhead - and it has been postulated the lack of dorsal fin is an adaptation to living in waters that are frequently covered by ice. At Bourbonhamna, hike to Ingebrigstenbukta stopping to view the old hunting cabin and other artifacts along with piles of beluga whale bones, a reminder of Svalbard's hunting past. This is also a great place to see reindeer.
Coming around the most southerly point of Spitsbergen, the ship will push into the broad expanse of Storfjorden. Exploring Dolerittneset near Kapp Lee, the lush vegetation of this region is remarkable given the latitude at 70° North. This area has a large scattering of reindeer antlers; however, it is the plethora of ancient whale bones that makes the excursion so memorable. Some 400 years ago, whales were hunted almost to extinction in the waters surrounding Svalbard. Now nature has turned the decaying old bones into items of beauty. Time and the elements have altered their original shape and sculpted them into works of art, covered in blankets of green moss and grasses, black and orange lichen, and framed with purple saxifrage, yellow cinquefoil, and white sandwort flowers. They are fascinating photographic subjects. Now, even after death, the noble whale supports life by robustly protecting the delicate flora from the harsh winds and providing nutrients to ensure their survival.
Returning to the west coast, explore the glacier-filled bay leading into Hornsund. The entire archipelago of Svalbard is a lesson in glaciology and your onboard guides will explain the formation of this fantastic landscape during hikes and Zodiac excursions. Hornsund is home to the Polish Polar research station and a good place to see reindeer and Arctic foxes.
The rocky shores of Krossfjorden are home to numerous bird colonies and a range of species. The ship will anchor in a protected harbor. Board a Zodiac and cruise along the bird cliffs near the 14th of July Glacier. Bearded and ringed seals are known to frequent the waters here—watch out for them in the dark waters of the fjord. Lilliehook Glacier, at the northwestern head of Krossfjorden, is an incredible sight. The glacier face stretches just over four miles and has a height of around 262-feet. Viewed from the Zodiac, you come to appreciate the enormous scale of your surroundings. Large colonies of birds including kittiwakes and ivory gulls can be seen diving at the front of the glacier when chunks calve off, stirring up the nutrients in the water. Polar bears can often be seen patrolling here because of the number of seals on ice.
Sailing out of Krossfjorden and Kongsfjorden, you may be fortunate enough to see the historic airship anchor pylon near the scientific community of Ny Ålesund. This remote outpost earned its place in aviation pioneering history as a starting point for North Pole aviation exploration. Notable pioneer aviators including Zeppelin, Amundsen, Ellsworth, Byrd and Nobile all passed through Ny Ålesund. Nearby Smeerenburgfjorden has a four-hundred-year history of whaling and is a favorite spot as the expedition rounds the northwestern tip of Spitsbergen. Spend time wandering the beach looking at the blubber cookers or spend an hour behind a tripod shooting landscapes on your camera, all while looking for wildlife that can appear anywhere in Svalbard.
Continue north and east up into the ice, hoping to cross the 80° north parallel. Approaching the ice-edge the ship slows down and all hands are either on the bridge or out on the outer decks scanning for wildlife. Bearded seals, ringed seals, and walrus may be found hauled out on the edges of the ice. Harp seals swim in herds of 10 to 20 through the open water channels in the ice. A buttery-colored lump miles away on the ice metamorphoses into a polar bear as the ship slowly works its way through the ice toward it. The ship is perfectly designed for a near silent approach and the captain takes great pride in bringing you in as close as possible to the wildlife without disturbing it for some great photographic opportunities.
At 81° degrees north latitude, Phippsoya—one of the Seven Islands—is only 540 nautical miles from the North Pole. Because of its proximity to the permanent pack ice, Phippsoya offers the potential for great polar bear viewings. Be sure to visit the bridge and take a picture of the ship's GPS showing this incredibly high polar latitude near the top of the world.
Trivia: The archipelago of seven islands is the northernmost land in Svalbard. Named in the 1780s by an English sailing party. The smallest and least significant island being named Nelsonøya, after the lowly midshipman, who was promoted over the years to the rank and title of Vice Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson.
From the ice edge, turn south into the main strait separating Svalbard's two main islands: Spitsbergen and Nordaustlandet. In Hinlopen Strait, the bird cliffs at Alkefjellet are home to more than a hundred thousand breeding Brunnich's guillemots, as well as thousands of kittiwakes and black guillemots. The huge basalt cliffs and skies are thick with birds as they hurl themselves off the rockface. Polar bears are common in the Hinlopen area and there are a few different walrus haul-outs nearby. Murchison Fjord is a wonderful place to kayak or cruise as the ship navigates the waterways between the islands. There are some excellent hiking routes here up to high points with spectacular views and further opportunities to encounter Arctic wildlife.
Enter Leifdefjorden and slowly cruise towards the Monaco Glacier. This vast sweep of ice more than four miles wide provides a fabulous backdrop for a Zodiac cruise. Ice caves and tumbling seracs are an impressive sight as are the thousands of black-legged kittiwakes feeding on the upwelling of rich nutrients found near the sub-glacial outflow. A morning of cruising in the ice is best followed by a hike on the tundra. Red phalaropes, purple sandpipers, and vibrant tundra provide plenty of viewing and photo opportunities. The geology is fascinating, and this is a great chance to see reindeer and Arctic foxes.
Alkehornet, at the mouth of Isfjord, offers breath-taking views and an incredible tundra walk. Arctic fox can often be seen here, as well as reindeer. Towering above the site is a horn-shaped mount covered in guillemots and kittiwakes. This evening, celebrate the journey with a special dinner attended by the ship's captain. It's a great time to reflect on a wonderful voyage in this wild and remote place.
Arrive back in Longyearbyen this morning and disembark after breakfast. Transfer back into town with a chance to visit the museums and buy a few last-minute souvenirs before transferring to the airport for your return flights.
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.
All guests are required to have comprehensive travel insurance. The travel insurance must cover accidents, injury, illness and death, medical expenses, including any related to pre-existing medical conditions, emergency repatriation (including helicopter), luggage and personal effects, and personal liability. It is strongly recommended that you purchase cancellation and curtailment insurance. You must carry proof of insurance with you and produce it if requested by expedition staff. The expedition team reserves the right to cancel or suspend your participation on a trip or in certain activities that comprise part of a trip, at any time, including after the commencement of your tour, with no right of refund, if you are unable to provide proof of insurance when requested. Other conditions may apply based on pre-existing conditions. ExpeditionTrips can assist U.S. residents with travel protection options.
Once you have booked your voyage to the Polar Regions, you will be required to complete a Medical Information Form. This form must be completed, signed and returned no later than 90 days prior to departure.
Important Voyage Logistics:
This trip starts in Longyearbyen, the principal town in the Svalbard archipelago. It is recommended that you arrive in Longyearbyen at least one day prior to the scheduled voyage departure date to provide a buffer in the event of any unexpected travel delays between home and trip departure time. An airport transfer shuttle to your hotel is provided upon arrival. At the conclusion of the trip, a transfer to the airport for your onward flight is provided, or to your local hotel if staying in Longyearbyen.
The photographer-in-residence provides presentations, critiques, informal instruction, and a photographer Zodiac to assist with each passenger's photographic goals.
A range of guided hiking options are available for passengers, from contemplative, relaxing shore walks to two- to three-hour treks with challenging terrain.
Sea Kayaking: pre-booking required
Limited to 16 participants. Kayakers will be accompanied by highly experienced kayak guides. This optional activity requires previous experience and must be booked in advanced. Please contact ExpeditionTrips for details.
Transfers to the ship on embarkation day and from the ship to the airport or local hotel on disembarkation; shipboard accommodations; experienced expedition leader and professional team of marine biologists, naturalists, historians, adventure guides, and photographers; resident photography guide available to assist all guests; emergency-trained medical physician onboard every voyage; daily off-ship excursions and guided hikes ashore; visits to wildlife colonies, historic sites, places of outstanding natural beauty, and community visits; educational presentations and talks onboard or ashore; use of library, sauna, plunge pool, Jacuzzi, and fitness center; access to computers in the multimedia lab for image downloads, file back up, and management; end of voyage video, photos, and take-home USB; gear on loan (waterproof/windproof jacket, bib pants, insulated rubber boots, binoculars, and trekking poles); all meals onboard the ship; daily housekeeping; daily afternoon tea; 24-hour tea, coffee, and hot chocolate in the lounge and in all cabins (replenished daily); port fees and permits to access visited areas. Inclusions subject to change without notice.
Any international or local airfare unless otherwise specified in the itinerary; visa and passport expenses; pre- or post-cruise hotel accommodation and transfers unless otherwise specified in the itinerary (or pre-arranged); optional paid activities such as sea kayaking; personal expenses onboard such as alcoholic beverages, bar charges, massage, spa treatments or laundry charges; telecommunication charges (i.e. email, satellite phone); baggage, cancellation or medical travel insurance related expenses; a voluntary gratuity at the end of the voyage for expedition staff and ship crew; fuel surcharge may apply.