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Board the s/v 'Noorderlicht and begin your Arctic cruise immediately as we sail to Svalbard, setting course for Alkhornet, a seabird cliff with a large colony of Kittiwakes. Below the cliffs is a den with Arctic Foxes which scavenge off fallen eggs and chicks. We continue to Trygghamna to visit the remains of a 17th century English whaling station and an 18th century Russian Pomor station. For the next fifteen days our stay will be aboard the s/v 'Noorderlicht', a schooner with a passenger capacity of 20.
Spitsbergen is an Arctic archipelago about 650 kilometers (400 miles) north of Norway. The archipelago ranges from Bear Island (74 degree N) to Rossøya (81 degree N). It is by far the largest wilderness area of Europe. It covers an area of about 62,500 square kilometers, which is roughly the size of Ireland. About 60% of the land is glaciated. As Spitsbergen lies far within the Arctic circle, it experiences the midnight sun from April to August. At this time of year the sun is above the horizon for 24 hours a day!
Since 1925, Norway has sovereignty over Spitsbergen according to the international Spitsbergen Treaty. The Norwegian name for the archipelago is Svalbard. The name Spitsbergen was given by the Dutch explorer Willem Barentsz. The meaning of the name Spitsbergen in the Dutch language is "Jagged Peaks" because of the sharp pointed mountains that Barentsz met in the north-west of Spitsbergen. Spitsbergen, which has a population of about 3000 in 4 settlements, is to this day virtually an unspoilt wilderness. Imagine a place the size of Ireland with only about 50 kilometers (30 miles) of road!
Longyearbyen has approximately 2000 inhabitants and happens to be one of the world's northernmost villages. It is a modern village with a wide range of facilities such as a supermarket, tourist shops, several pubs and hotels, a cinema, a swimming pool, a sports hall and a church. Longyearbyen even has its own university, the UNIS, that offers Arctic studies.
On day two, we leave Tryghamna early in the morning and sail through Forlandsundet. Forlandsundet is an 88 km long seaway separating Prins Karls Forland and Spitsbergen. Its northern limits are Fuglehuken to the west and Kvadehuken to the east. Its southern limits are Salpynten to the west and Daudmannsodden to the east.
If the weather permits we will break our journey on water and stop at Fuglehuken, where the first Western Europeans (the expedition of Willem Barentsz) set foot on Spitsbergen. Here we can see the graves of whalers and visit colonies of Common Guillemots, Brünnich's Guillemots, Little Auks and Kittiwakes. We may also visit a haul-out of Harbour Seals and Walruses.
Today we visit the remains of Smeerenburg, the largest 17th century whaling settlement of Spitsbergen. We also land on Ytre Norskøya where there are many graves dating from the whaling days.
The settlement of Smeerenburg on Amsterdam Island in north-west Svalbard, originated with Danish and Dutch whalers in 1619. It is one of Europe's northernmost outposts. Ytre Norskøya retains the remains of a whaling station that existed on the southern side of the island; possibly rivaling Smeerenburg in size. It was Europe's northernmost outpost ever established until the early 19th century, and the most northerly permanent settlement established of any size until the 1950s.
The station had as many as nine tryworks, some having a single furnace, others having two. To the west of these structures were buildings used by the men working ashore. Further west is found one of the largest grave sites in Spitsbergen, where 165 graves have been found. The station was abandoned in 1670.
Over the next few days we visit several islands. First, we sail either to Sorgfjord at the entrance of Hinlopen Strait, where we have a good chance of seeing Walruses, or to Murchison Bay on the northern side, where an extensive dry tundra is home to many Reindeers. Murchison Bay is also home to a Swedish research station. We continue through Hinlopen Strait. Marvel at the icecaps that encircle you, as you travel along this strait!
Hinlopen Strait is a beautiful sea strait between Nordaustlandet and the main island of Spitsbergen. Hinlopen Strait is sometimes a bottleneck because of the pack-ice which can clog up the strait. On the pack-ice and around the islands in the strait there is a good chance of seeing Polar Bears, Walruses and Whales. Even the elusive Bowhead Whale is sometimes seen here.
Nordaustlandet (North-East Land) is the biggest island in the far north of Spitsbergen. Most of its surface is covered by a huge ice-cap. The ice-front of this ice-cap extends along the coast for about 150 kilometers. Nordaustlandet is completely uninhabited and is a nature reserve. In the coastal regions of Nordaustlandet and its adjoining islands there is a great deal of Arctic wildlife. Here you can experience the real High Arctic, along with catching sight of Ivory Gulls, Arctic Foxes, Bearded Seals, Ringed Seals, Walruses, Polar Bears, Minke Whales and Belugas.
We arrive at Lomfjord, a beautiful fjord surrounded by high mountains. We next visit Augustabukta, a lovely bay close to a glacier. Walking is trouble-free here as the glacier is crevasse-free. On a nearby cliff nests of the rare and beautiful Ivory Gull may be found, together with Black Guillemots, Reindeers, Polar Bears and Walruses!
We next sail towards the spectacular Brasvell glacier. We may take an excursion on Svartknausflya, a desolate polar desert almost devoid of vegetation, or visit Wilhelmøya, which has raised beaches littered with sub fossilised whale skeletons, and where encounters with Polar Bears are likely.
Sailing through the narrow Heleysundet (yet another one of the many seaways) between Spitsbergen and Barentsøya can only be done against the current, which proves to be a highly spectacular journey!
As an alternative, if conditions are not favorable, we will sail through Freemansundet. At Kapp Lee, we walk in to a beautiful valley, Rosenbergdalen, to see Reindeers. For those enthusiastic about walking, experience a great hike from here to Diskobukta! In Diskobukta, catch the large colony of Kittiwakes which nest in a canyon. Arctic Foxes and Polar Bears with young, often roam through the canyon, scavenging on young, flightless birds which fall from the ledges. On the raised beaches there are many sub fossilised whale skeletons.
Kong Ludvigøyane is a breeding place for Walruses. On the islands there are also many remains of the whaling, walrus and polar bear hunting periods. Close encounters with Polar Bears are virtually guaranteed here. Continuing our exploration of southern Spitsbergen, we sail into the labyrinth of side fjords in Hornsund. Hornsund is an Antarctica-like fjord with jagged mountains and huge glacier fronts. One is sure to find the Brunnich's Guillemot, Arctic Fox, Polar Bear and Beluga here.
We next sail behind Brepollen, a large glacial deposit at the head of the fjord. In this route we cruise along a beautiful glacier front. Keep a good look out for Bearded Seals and Polar Bears. The geological formations in this area are magnificent and colorful. We also pay a visit to the Polish research station at Isbjørnhamna, where the friendly crew will discuss their scientific programs with us.
On our way to Longyearbyen we sail into Bell Sund to reach Ahlstrandhalvøya, with its interesting geological formations and the remains of the 20th century Beluga hunting. It is still a good area for observing Belugas. If time permits, we will pay a visit to Barentsburg, the only inhabited Russian settlement in Spitsbergen, or to Colesbukta, an abandoned Russian coal mining settlement.
This is the last day of the journey bringing your Arctic Adventure Tour to and end upon disembarkation.
Please Note: A typical itinerary to the Arctic and North Atlantic Islands could be as above and should be treated as a guide only, not an exact program. Flexibility is the key to all our cruises and our exact route and program will depend on such factors as weather conditions, wildlife encounters, the experience of the expedition leader and the advice of the vessel's captain and crew.
On Spitsbergen voyages: Transfers and baggage handling between the airport, hotels and the vessel are included only for those passengers on the group flights to and from Longyearbyen.
Fitness is vital for this level of activity, as the environment traversed may be remote and challenging. These rugged experiences include long walks, trekking, cycling or rafting in isolated areas through variable weather conditions for up to eight to ten hours a day. These trips are usually 13 to 19 days in duration. Maximum altitude reached will be 4000m and you need to be very fit in order to withstand the weather conditions. Good physical condition is essential and previous hill-walking experience or preparation is advisable.
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