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Today, we arrive in Longyearbyen, the administrative capital of the Spitsbergen archipelago, of which West Spitsbergen is the largest island. Before embarking on this spectacular journey, you can take a stroll around this former mining town, whose parish church and Polar Museum are well worth a visit. Early evening, the ship will sail out of Isfjorden. For the next nine days our stay will be aboard M/v "Antarctic Dream", a vessel that can accommodate 84 passengers in 42 twin cabins.
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.
Isfjord, with its vast tundra and abundant reindeer population, Longyearbyen and the Russian mining settlement, Barentsburg, gives one a very good opportunity to see Atlantic Puffins, Geese, Skuas, Svalbard Reindeers, Arctic Foxes and Belugas.
Heading north along the west coast, we arrive by morning in Krossfjorden, where we go on the zodiacs (small inflatable boats that have a capacity of around ten to eleven passengers) for a cruise along the sculpted front of the 14th July Glacier. On the green slopes near the glacier, a wide colorful variety of flowers bloom, while large numbers of Kittiwakes and Brünnich’s Guillemots nest on the nearby cliffs. Look out for Arctic Foxes, patrolling the base of the cliffs, and Bearded Seals, cruising this fjord!
In the afternoon we sail to Ny Ålesund, the world’s northernmost settlement. Once a mining village, Ny Ålesund was served by the world’s northernmost railway, which can still be seen. Ny Ålesund is now a research centre. Barnacle Geese, Pink-footed Geese and Arctic Terns breed close to this village. Visitors interested in the history of Arctic exploration would want to walk to the anchoring mast used by Amundsen and Nobile in the airship Norge in 1926 and Nobile in the airship Italia in 1928 before their flights to the North Pole.
In the beautiful Kongsfjord the northernmost of the four settlements on Spitsbergen can be found Ny-Ålesund. This village even boasts of being the northernmost settlement in the world at latitude 78° 55′ N. Originally a mining settlement it is now a privately owned village that sells services to scientists—in short, an Arctic laboratory, it is a village for scientists. Ny-Ålesund is inhabited by a permanent population of approximately 35 persons. In summer up to 120 international scientists work here. Their research includes environmental studies, for instance climate change, geology, biology, oceanography, zoology and much more.
On reaching the mouth of Liefdefjorden, we will go ashore for a walk on the tundra island of Andøya. Many common Eiders and Pink-footed Geese nest here, and the rarer King Eider may also be seen. Sailing into Liefdefjorden, we will cruise near the face of the impressive Monaco Glacier. The waters of the glacier front are a favorite feeding spot for thousands of Kittiwakes and occasionally Polar Bears are also seen on the glacier.
Liefdefjord, a deep fjord in the far north-west, is appropriately named after a Dutch whaling ship with the name \"Love\". This is because this particular fjord has a remarkable red color due to red sedimentary sandstones. You get to witness great scenery and large glacier fronts, in addition to seeing lots of bird life, Bearded Seals, Polar Bears, Minke Whales and Belugas here!
On day four, we will reach our northernmost point at Phippsøya, in the Seven Islands north of Nordaustlandet. Here we will be at 81 degrees north, just 540 miles from the geographic North Pole. Polar Bears inhabit this region, along with Ivory Gulls. We may sit for several hours in the pack-ice, absorbing the spectacular landscape surrounding us and, even, catching sight of a Ross Gull, before we turn south again.
We will visit Laagøya today, a low island with a big lagoon where a big herd of Walruses tends to congregate. Sabine’s Gulls nest on the island as well. 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 Ptarmigans.
Today, we will sail into Hinlopen Strait, home to Bearded Seals, Ringed Seals, Polar Bears, and Ivory Gulls. We’ll navigate the ice floes of Lomfjordshalvøya in our Zodiacs and explore the bird cliffs of Alkefjellet with thousands of Brünnich’s Guillemots. On the east side of Hinlopen Strait, we’ll attempt a landing at Augustabukta on Nordaustlandet, home to Reindeer, Pink-footed Geese, breeding Ivory Gulls, and Walruses.
Near Torrelneset, we will explore the polar desert of Nordaustlandet, next to the world’s third largest ice cap, which meets the nearby sea. We will walk along the beautiful coastline covered in smooth rocks, sculpted by the surf over thousands of years. We may encounter Walruses along the way.
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.
On day seven, in Freemansundet, we plan to land at Sundneset on the island of Barentsøya to visit an old trapper's hut. After this, we take a brisk walk across the tundra in search of Spitsbergen Reindeer and Barnacle Geese. Later, we cruise south to Diskobukta on the west side of Edgeøya. After a zodiac cruise through the shallow bay, we land on a beach littered with whale bones and tree trunks, which have drifted here from Siberia. We can also climb to the rim of a narrow gully, which is inhabited by thousands of Kitttiwakes, together with Black Guillemots and 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.
Barentsøya was named after the Dutch navigator Willem Barentsz. The island is situated south-east of the main island. Barentsøya is separated from the mainland by a couple of narrow seaways, including the spectacular Heleysundet. About 100 kilometers (60 miles) to the east of Barentsøya are the Kong Karls Islands. These islands, which are closed off for visitors, are main denning areas for Polar Bears. The pack-ice delivers large numbers of bears from the Kong Karls Islands to Barentsøya and also to Edgeøya. That is why these islands are particularly good for spotting Polar Bears. Besides Polar Bears one may spot many species of birds, as well as Arctic Foxes, Reindeers and Belugas.
Edgeøya is the third largest island of Spitsbergen. Large varieties of landscapes make Edgeøya a very interesting place to visit. Canyons full of birds, whalebones dating back to thousands of years ago on beaches, green tundra with herds of Svalbard Reindeer, remains of Russian settlements and beaches where Walruses haul out, may be found here. As a result, one has a fairly good chance of seeing Arctic Foxes, Polar Bears, Walruses, Belugas and Fin Whales here!
We start day eight quietly cruising the side fjords of the spectacular Hornsund area of southern Spitsbergen, enjoying the scenery of towering mountain peaks. 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. Hornsundtind rises to 1,431meters, while Bautaen exemplifies why early Dutch explorers gave the name ‘Spitsbergen’ (meaning pointed mountains) to the island. There are also 14 magnificent glaciers in the area and very good chances of encountering Seals and Polar Bears.
Today we land on Ahlstrandhalvøya at the mouth of Van Keulenfjorden. Here piles of Beluga skeletons (the Beluga is a small white whale) may be seen, the remains of 19th century slaughter. Fortunately, Belugas were not hunted to the point of extinction and may still be seen locally. In fact, there is a good chance that we will come across a pod of Belugas. In the afternoon, we will cruise into Recherchefjorden and explore an area of tundra at the head of the fjord where many Reindeers feed.
Today is the last day of your arctic adventure tour and we return to Longyearbyen. We disembark, leave for the airport, catch the flight to Oslo and later head homeward.
Requires a spirit of adventure and some degree of fitness, as the trip might consist of many activities or long journeys. These adventures involve walking, trekking, hiking, cycling, rafting, sea kayaking, or driving for long hours, at times for up to six to eight hours a day at a steady pace. The maximum altitude is 3000m, so it requires you to be reasonably physically fit because you may be travelling in extreme weather conditions. The trips are usually 6 to 12 days in duration.
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