Svalbard – wildlife of the high Arctic
An awe-inspiring week-long arctic cruise, exploring the spectacular land of the ice bear.
The archipelago of Spitsbergen (also known as Svalbard) lies well north of the Arctic Circle, midway between the North Cape (the northernmost point on mainland Europe) and the North Pole. During the summer the sun never sets (although don’t worry, there are good blinds on the windows!).
During our voyage we hope to circumnavigate the whole archipelago, although our exact route will depend on the current extent of the sea ice. Inevitably, the species diversity up here is fairly low; for example, the islands are home to just 165 species of vascular plants and only three species of land mammal, but this is more than made up for with the sheer numbers, especially of the marine life.
Around 850,000 pairs of Brunnich’s Guillemots and over a million pairs of Little Auk nest amongst the islands’ cliffs, with several species of seal and whale abundant in the rich waters. The human population is outnumbered by that of the world’s largest land predator, the Polar Bear.
We will travel aboard the MV Plancius, a former oceanographic research vessel now completely rebuilt and converted to a very comfortable 116-passenger vessel.
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Please note that holidays change, although sometimes only slightly, from year to year and previous trip reports may not reflect the planned itinerary, or other holiday details, for the current trip. Please ask us if you would like to know of any significant differences.
21 – 30 June 2018
Single cabins very limited – ask for details
Single Room Supplement £75 (hotel only)
Return flights: UK to Oslo, and Oslo to Longyearbyen. Local transport as specified in itinerary. NIne nights’ accommodation (two nights in Oslo, seven nights on boat), full board basis, except two dinners (Days 1 and 9) and two lunches (Days 2 and 9).
Two dinners and two lunches. Drinks and refreshments. Entrance fees to optional visitor attractions. Gratuities. Travel insurance.
This holiday is suitable for anyone with a general interest in wildlife: the spectacular scenery, interesting history and wonderful, approachable wildlife makes this a real trip of a lifetime. And if you’ve ever dreamed of seeing a Polar Bear, this is the trip for you!
Day 1 – We make our way to Oslo, where we spend the night in a hotel near the airport. You may prefer to fly out early and spend some time in Oslo, meeting up with the group at Oslo Airport on the morning of Day 2.
Day 2 – Our morning flight takes us from Oslo up across the Arctic Circle to Longyearbyen, the administrative capital of the Spitsbergen archipelago. We have a couple of hours to explore this former mining town, where we will get our first taste of the Arctic flora as well as the option of visiting the Polar Museum. In the afternoon we board the MV Plancius, our home for the holiday, and set sail early evening. As we head out of Isfjorden, the boat will pass over some deeper water, and we will keep our eyes open for our first whales of the trip.
Day 3 – We sail to Raudfjord on the north coast of West Spitsbergen, a beautiful fjord dominated by spectacular glaciers and favoured by Ringed and Bearded seals. The cliffs and shoreline of the fjord also support thriving seabird colonies and a surprisingly rich vegetation, which flourishes in sheltered spots. Polar Bears are often seen here.
Day 4 – Depending on the weather we may now sail into Liefdefjorden, cruising near the 5km long face of the impressive Monaco Glacier. The waters of the glacier front are a favorite feeding spot for thousands of Kittiwake. Polar Bears have been seen on the glacier; providing wonderful opportunities for photography.
Day 5 – Today we will sail into Hinlopen Strait, home to Bearded Seal, Ringed Seal, Polar Bear, and Ivory Gull. At the entrance there is the possibility to see Blue Whale. We’ll navigate the ice floes of Lomfjordshalvøya in our zodiacs and explore the bird cliffs of Alkefjellet with thousands of Brünnich’s Guillemot. On the east side of Hinlopen Strait, we’ll attempt a landing at Palanderbukta on Nordaustlandet, home to reindeer, Pink-footed Goose, breeding Ivory Gull, and Walrus.
Day 6 – We will try 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 Bear inhabit this region, along with Ivory Gull. The ship may sit for several hours in the pack ice, before turning west again.
Day 7 – Retracing our route westwards, our route takes us through and along the pack ice, keeping watch for Polar Bear and the elusive Greenland Whale (Bowhead Whale). About 40 nautical miles west of Spitsbergen we sail along the edge of the continental shelf, where Fin Whale forage in summer in the upwellings along the Spitsbergen banks. At the mouth of the Kongsfjorden we have also good chances to see Minke Whale.
Day 8 – In Forlandsundet at Sarstangen is a haul out place for Walrus. Alternatively we sail into St. Johns Fjord or south to the mouth of Isfjorden and land at Alkhornet. Seabirds nest on its cliffs and Arctic Fox search the cliff base for fallen eggs and chicks, while Svalbard Reindeer graze the relatively luxuriant vegetation. At night-time we arrive in Longyearbyen.
Day 9 – We disembark in Longyearbyen, and will have some time in the morning to explore the town and its surroundings, before our transfer to the airport and the flight back to Oslo and, after another night in the airport hotel, returning to the UK.
The exact itinerary of the cruise will depend very much upon local conditions, in particular the state of the sea ice around Spitsbergen and may change at the discretion of the Oceanwide expedition leader and the boat captain.
We will be travelling aboard the MV Ortelius, a former research vessel now rebuilt as a 116- passenger vessel. More details are available here. Our accommodation is in twin rooms, en-suite, with a port-hole (with a black out blind!). Spaces in four-berth cabins may also be available, at a reduced price. There are very limited single cabins available: speak to us about the options.
All meals are included: special diets can be catered for. Excursions are taken in Zodiacs, small, open, rigid inflatables. Warm rubber boots are provided for the excursions.
In Oslo we will stay at the Gardermoen Airport Hotel, on a bed and breakfast basis.
The group flights are with Scandinavian Airlines from London Heathrow.
18 June SK810 depart London Heathrow 17.30 arrive Oslo 20.40
19 June SK4490 depart Oslo 09.55, arrive Longyearbyen 14.00
26 June SK4425 depart Longyearbyen 14.45, arrive Oslo 18.55
27 June SK805 depart Oslo 13.15, arrive London Heathrow 14.35
Oslo and Svalbard are one hour ahead of UK time.
It is also possible to fly to Oslo with KLM via Amsterdam, from many regional airports, including Manchester, Edinburgh, Norwich and Birmingham. Ask us about the options.
If you hold a British passport, you do not currently need a visa to travel to Norway. If you do not have a UK passport, please check with your local consulate.
There may be some rain or snow flurries and it can be windy, although the weather is generally calm and surprisingly mild, with average summer temperatures between –5° and +5° Celsius.
You will need good water/windproofs and warm weather clothing, including thermals for this trip.
There is 24 hour daylight in the Arctic summer.
We will be walking for at least some of each day, as well as taking excursions by Zodiac. It is necessary to walk on rougher and/or wet ground and up some slopes, and some longer walks may be offered. All excursions are optional.