Text: Sonja L. Birch-Olsen
Excited and full of anticipation the passengers run to the gunnel and look over the calm, clear water which is mirroring snow-capped jagged peaks.
And there; a tiny yellowish shape on the horizon.
- Take care of this moment, you might not see another polar bear ever. Although there are approximately 3,000 polar bears inhabiting Spitsbergen, you are not guaranteed to see one. They love playing hide and seek with us, says Leif.
Binoculars set, cameras ready and, right on cue, the lazy giant rises to his feet. For many this is their first glimpse of what they have come in search of - a polar bear.
Marcin Górzyński from Poland is ecstatic:
- Amazing! I have seen a polar bear. This is what I've been dreaming of for a long, long time, it's unbelievable.
The 28-year-old is travelling with his girlfriend Edyta Majak on the four-day Spitsbergen Adventure Cruise with Hurtigruten/Spitsbergen Travel.
The voyage follows the west coast of Spitsbergen, the largest island in the Svalbard archipelago which is located in the Arctic Ocean, halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole.
Starting in the small town of Logyearbyen, the cruise navigates northwards to the remote Moffen Island, taking in fjords, glaciers and arctic settlements along the way.
Cruising under the midnight sun
Edyta is particularly taken in by the spectacular scenery and the midnight sun.
- The glaciers are fascinating. They have these beautiful shades of blue and turquoise. It’s a good thing that the sun is shining all day and all night, I don’t need so much sleep and can spend more time marvelling at the glaciers.
The land of the cold coasts
Known as the land of the cold coasts, the Svalbard Islands are rich in wildlife and dramatic scenery. Nearly 65 percent of the surface of Svalbard consists of protected areas, including 3 nature reserves, 6 national parks, 15 bird sanctuaries and 1 geotopical protected area.
Polar bears, wild reindeer, arctic foxes, walruses, whales, seals and many species of migratory birds live in this arctic wonderland. And if you are lucky, you might encounter them all during your cruise.
A cruise is a perfect way of getting to know this arctic wilderness. Included in the cruise program are Zodiac boat trips gs which allow you close encounters with the facintaing and calving glaciers, guided tours ashore and a visit to the award-winning Svalbard Museum.
Sightseeing in Longyearbyen, the capital of Svalbard. The small colourful community of approximately 1,800 inhabitants has developed from being a typical mining company town into a modern community. In general, the population of Longyearbyen is rather young.
Embarkation and departure in the afternoon. In the late evening you arrive in the Russian mining town of Barentsburg with around 400 inhabitants. Many buildings here are not inhabited, and some are left to decay. Combined with a truly stunning view across the Isfjord, and the black smoke from the old coal power plant, the visit will leave a strong impression.
At night time you sail out of the Isfjord, then along the coast of Prins Karls Forland passing the Kongsfjord heading north.
At night/early morning you pass the seven glaciers named Sjubreflaket, before reaching Spitsbergen's northwest corner. Arrival in the Magdalenefjord where you go shore to learn about Svalbard's whaling history and to admire the grand Gullybreen Glacier.
In the afternoon you cruise further north along the northwest coast of Spitsbergen making Zodiac landings at interesting sites, arriving in the Raudfjord late evening.
Depending on the weather and ice conditions you sail to the Woodfjord area. In the Liefdefjord you board a Zodiac and go for a boat ride, giving you astonishing views of the Monaco Glacier. The glacier is named after Prince Albert II of Monacco's expedition to Spitsbergen in the 1980s, and is quite impressing beeing 6 kilometres wide and 30 - 60 metres high.
On board the ship again, you continue northwards making a landing at Worsleyhamna where you learn about the trapping history of Svalbard.
When having good ice-conditions the ship crosses the 80th degree parallel and sails up to Moffen Island. This small island is protected nature reserve known for heaps of walruses chilling out on the beach. Having reached its goal, the ship turns and sails southbound at night.
You arrive in Ny-Ålesund, the world's northernmost community, where you go on a guided walk. Ny-Ålesund is a former mining village which now is an important international research centre.
After departing from Ny-Ålesund, we cross Kongsfjorden to Blomstrand. In the afternoon we continue southbound along the coast of Prins Karls Forland and return to Isfjorden. Disembarkation in Longyearbyen at night.
Please note: The itinerary may change from sailing to sailing, depending on weather and ice conditions.
How demanding is the cruise?
The tour is suitable for most people. Shore excursions are not long and exhausting, although the terrain is uneven and very stony. You will be assisted to board the vessel and make landings from the Zodiacs, but you need to be fairly steady on your feet.
June – September
What to bring
- Windproof and warm outer jacket and trousers
- Windproof and warm mittens/gloves
- Solid and warm boots/shoes
- Warm socks
- Fleece jumper
- Long johns, preferably in wool
- Long sleeved vest, preferably in wool
The average summer temperature is about 42.8° F. Weather conditions can change very quickly.
General safety information for visitors to Svalbard