svalbard and beyond
Svalbard, the archipelago Spitsbergen is part of, truly is Europe's last great wilderness, home to more polar bears than people, land of snow-covered mountains and glaciers. Further east you will discover previously inaccessible lands such as Franz Josef Land, Novaya Zemlya and other islands of the Russian Arctic. As you sail these frigid waters you are sure to encounter polar bear, walrus, bearded seal, minke whales and beluga, a myriad of wildlife such as Arctic fox and reindeer, as well as countless birds. The land is dotted by remains of centuries-old human intrusions, people that, like you, explored the outer limits of our earth.
best time to travel
The best time to visit Svalbard for wildlife is between June and August. Late July to mid-August is a good time to circumnavigate Spitsbergen and maximize your polar bear sightings. It is also a good time to traverse the north-east passage. North Pole journeys take place in July and August.
places to go
A note about polar cruises
When cruising in the polar regions, one can never be sure which places one will visit. A sudden change in weather conditions may necessitate a reroute. Or you may find a pod of whales to follow, or an iceberg to circumnavigate. And that is the beauty of polar cruises - you never know what is around the corner; you just know it will be yet another highlight.
Bourbonhamna is a well-known spot to see beluga whales. During a hike here you will come across an old hunting cabin massive piles of beluga whale bones.
Kapp Lee is an area of lush vegetation and hosts many old whale bones, dating back to the years of whale hunting. Covered in blankets of green moss and grass, spattered with blotches of orange lichen, and framed with flowers they make for great photography.
The rocky shores of Krossfjorden are home to plenty of bird cliffs and colonies. The sculpted front of the 14th of July Glacier is a great place for a zodiac cruise. On the green slopes near the glacier, a colourful variety of flowers bloom, while large numbers of birds nest on the nearby cliffs, the base patrolled by Arctic fox.
With a height of 80 metres, the front of Lilliehook Glacier is a spectacular sight. In the area are a large dovekie colony and historic spots such as the whaling station at Smeerenburg and Ny Ålesund.
The ice edge
Depending on the season and weather, the ice edge may be found around 80 degrees north. Bearded seals, ringed and harp seals as well as walrus and polar bear can be seen here. Because of its proximity to the permanent pack ice, Phippsøya offers the potential for great polar bear viewing.
Tidal currents roar through Hinlopen Strait separating Spitsbergen and Nordaustlandet. It is home to bearded seal, ringed seal, polar bear, and ivory gull. The bird cliffs at Alkefjellet are home to massive numbers of Brunnich’s guillemots, kittiwakes and black guillemots. The area has some spectacular hiking routes
The broken-up, seven kilometre wide face of Monaco Glacier is a great place for a zodiac cruise, while the surrounding tundra makes for a great place to hike.
At the mouth of Isfjord, Alkehornet offers bird cliffs and a beautiful tundra walk, during which you may see Arctic fox and reindeer.
North East Passage
Inaccessible until the modern age, a journey through the North East passage will take you into the realm of polar bears and walrus, see scientific stations and into the home of Arctic fox, lemming and a variety of birds. Zodiacs and helicopters will be deployed during landings and you may attempt to visit a camp of nomadic peoples. This is an epic expedition through pack ice and remote islands.
Few people can say they have stood at the top of the world. Helicopter excursions will add to the excitement of a journey crushing through ice, admiring soaring seabirds and visiting Franz Josef Land. This is one voyage you will not soon forget.
See unusual wildlife
Svalbard is a prime spot to see polar bears. The waters and mountains harbour plenty of other wildlife too and you may encounter Svalbard reindeer, walrus, Arctic fox, ringed, harp, bearded and harbour seals, beluga, minke, fin and bowhead whales.
Visit old whaling stations
Whaling was an important industry in Svalbard and many ruins of whaling stations line the shore, testament to men's greed and unsustainable lifestyle.
Cliffs such as those at Cape Fanshawe, in Krossfjorden, at Alkefjellet and in Isfjord are locations where where breeding birds find a safe haven from predators such as polar bear and fox. Birds such as murres and fulmars breed here by the hundreds of thousands, soaring overhead as you cruise in zodiacs along the base of high cliffs.
Hike the mountains
There is no experience quite like hiking up a pristine mountain in Svalbard, walking through tundra flora and enjoying the spectacular panorama of icebergs, sea and glaciers.
Kayak the seas
Hear the swish of water passing your hull, glide across a still bay with mountains and glaciers reflected in the water, get up close to whales and other wildlife. Experience the serenity of the Arctic to its fullest.
Cruise by zodiac
Zodiacs are sturdy inflatable boats used to explore hidden coves and inlets, always on the lookout for wildlife. Cruise through the ice, land at a historic whaling station, or float at the bottom of a bird cliff.
Have a BBQ
As you enjoy the camaraderie and great food served on deck, the captain will make sure the ship turns slowly a full 360 degrees, giving you a fantastic view of the panorama around you.
Be out on deck
With the long daylight of polar summer nights you may find yourself waking up at unusual hours. Take the opportunity to go out on deck alone and watch the scenery and wildlife drift by. Deck-side is where it all happens!
Learn from the experts
Polar cruises all bring expert lecturers along, teaching you about such subjects as history, wildlife, photography and exploration.
Long days & short nights
As you get close to the Arctic Circle, the days lengthen and nights shorten. In June and July, above the Arctic Circle, the sun will not set at all and this a great time to come out on deck at "night" and see what nature has on offer.
Follow in the wake of explorers
Before the search for the North West Passage around the top of North America, explorers sought to find a route around the top of Asia to the fabled lands of Cathay, the so-called north-east passage. Throughout the 16th century several explorers, including Willoughby and Barentsz attempted to sail the route, the latter discovering Spitsbergen and overwintering in Novaya Zemlya in the process.
Stand on top of the world
Few people can say they have stood at the North Pole and there is no feeling quite like it!