Various dates between June–August 2017
Spitsbergen is a Norwegian Arctic archipelago about 650 kilometres north of the mainland. It is by far the largest wilderness area in Europe, where a number of high Arctic bird species, including Ivory Gull, can be seen on their breeding grounds amidst stunning scenery. Other wildlife may include Beluga, Walrus, Bearded and Ringed Seals, Reindeer and Polar Bear.
Day 1 We will take an overnight flight from London to Longyearbyen via Oslo and Tromsø.
Day 2 Arrival in Longyearbyen, the administrative capital of the Spitsbergen archipelago. Before embarking we will have an opportunity to stroll around this former mining town, whose parish church and Polar Museum are well worth visiting. In addition, around Longyearbyen more than 100 plant species have been recorded and Snow Buntings are common. In the early evening the ship will sail out of Isfjorden and we may see our first skuas and jaegers. During the course of the cruise all four northern species can be seen: Great Skua, Arctic, Pomarine and Long-tailed Jaegers.
Day 3 Heading north along the west coast, by morning we will have arrived in Krossfjorden, where we will take to the Zodiacs for an exhilarating voyage along the sculpted front of the 14th of July Glacier. On the surprisingly green slopes near the glacier, a colourful array of flowers will be in bloom, while large numbers of Black-legged Kittiwakes and Thick-billed Murres will be nesting on the nearby cliffs. There is also a good chance of spotting opportunistic Arctic Foxes, as they patrol the base of the cliffs in case a hapless chick falls from its nest, and Bearded Seals in this scenic fjord. In the afternoon we will sail to Ny Ålesund, the world's most northerly settlement. Once a mining village – served by the world's most northerly railway, which can still be seen – Ny Ålesund is now a research centre. Close to the village are the breeding sites of Barnacle and Pink-footed Geese and Arctic Terns. Visitors interested in the history of Arctic exploration will want to walk to the anchoring mast used by Amundsen and Nobile in the airship Norge in 1926 and by Nobile in the airship Italia in 1928 before their flights to the North Pole.
Day 4 Near the mouth of Liefdefjorden we will go ashore for a walk on the island of Andøya. Long-tailed Ducks, Common Eiders and Pink-footed Geese nest here in some numbers and the much rarer King Eider may also be seen. Red Phalaropes in their stunning breeding plumage can be found alongside Purple Sandpipers and Dunlins. Sailing into Liefdefjorden, we will cruise near the face of the impressive Monaco Glacier. The waters of the glacier front are a favourite feeding spot for thousands of Black-legged Kittiwakes and occasionally Polar Bears are seen on the glacier itself.
Day 5 Today we will reach our northernmost point at Phippsøya in the Seven Islands north of Nordaustlandet. Here we will be at 81° North, just 869 kilometres from the geographic North Pole. Polar Bears inhabit this region, along with Ivory Gulls. We may sit for several hours in the pack ice, taking in our spectacular surroundings, and maybe seeing Ross's Gull, before we turn south again.
Day 6 We will visit Laagöya today, a low island with a large lagoon where a big herd of Walruses tends to congregate. Also, Sabine's Gulls nest on the island. At Sorg Fjord we may find another herd of Walruses not far from the graves of 17th-century whalers. On a nature walk we may encounter families of Rock Ptarmigans.
Day 7 Today we will sail into Hinlopen Strait, home to Bearded and Ringed Seals, Polar Bears and Ivory Gulls. We will navigate the ice floes of Lomfjordshalvøya in our Zodiacs and explore the bird cliffs of Alkefjellet, which are home to thousands of Thick-billed Murres. On the east side of Hinlopen Strait we will attempt a landing at Palanderbukta, on Nordaustlandet, home to Reindeer, Pink-footed Geese, breeding Ivory Gulls and Walruses.
Day 8 Near Torrelneset we will explore the polar desert of Nordaustlandet, next to the world's third-largest ice cap, which meets the sea nearby. We will walk along a beautiful coastline covered in smooth rocks sculpted by the surf over thousands of years. We may encounter Walruses along the way. Sailing south of Nordaustlandet we will have good chance of seeing Greenland (Bowhead) Whale.
Day 9 In Freemansundet we plan to land at Sundneset on the island of Barentsøya to visit an old trappers' hut and then take a brisk walk across the tundra in search of Spitsbergen Reindeer and Barnacle Goose. Later we will cruise south to Diskobukta on the west side of Edgeøya. After a Zodiac cruise through the shallow bay, we will land on a beach littered with whale bones and tree trunks that have drifted here from Siberia. We can also climb to the rim of a narrow gully that is inhabited by thousands of Black-legged Kitttiwakes together with Black Guillemots and piratical Glaucous Gulls. During the breeding season, the base of the cliffs is patrolled by Arctic Foxes and Polar Bears, especially females with young cubs, searching for young birds that have fallen from the nesting ledges.
Day 10 We will start the day quietly cruising the side fjords of the spectacular Hornsund area of southern Spitsbergen, enjoying the scenery of towering mountain peaks. Hornsundtind rises to 1431 metres while Bautaen shows why early Dutch explorers gave the name 'Spitsbergen' – pointed mountains – to the island. There are also 14 magnificent glaciers in the area and very good chances of encounters with seals and Polar Bears. We may visit the Polish research station where the friendly staff will give us an insight into their research projects. Behind the station the mountains are home to thousands of pairs of nesting Dovekies (Little Auks).
Day 11 Today we will land on Ahlstrandhalvøya at the mouth of Van Keulenfjorden. Here, piles of Beluga Whale skeletons, the remains of 19th-century slaughter, are yet another reminder of the consequences of thoughtless exploitation. Fortunately, Belugas were not hunted to the edge of extinction and may still be seen locally. Indeed, there is a good chance that we will come across a pod. Cruising into Recherchefjorden during the afternoon we can explore an area of tundra at the head of the fjord where many Reindeer feed.
Day 12 Return to Longyearbyen and disembarkation for the transfer to the airport and the flight to London via Tromsø and Oslo.
General Information Various levels of accommodation are available on the ship, ranging from a suite to twin berth with shared facilities. Because of the unpredictability of the weather, changes may have to be made to the itinerary at short notice, although every effort will be made to adhere to the itinerary described, within the limits of safety and time. There are no special medical requirements but you should be sufficiently active to be able to climb up and down gangplanks and board Zodiacs, sometimes in a swell. Warm and protective waterproof clothing is essential.
Group Size Minimum group size: 48 with expedition leaders.