The island of Spitsbergen is a dramatic land of huge glaciers, snow-covered mountains and steep-sided fjords, separated from the North Pole by a mere 965 kilometres of frozen ocean. This is the true ‘High Arctic’, an extreme land gripped by ice for over eight months of the year and by darkness for over four. Winter begins to loosen its grasp in May, however, and during the brief Arctic summer Spitsbergen is transformed into a land of perpetual daylight, covered by a flower-filled tundra grazed by herds of Reindeer. Towering sea-cliffs crowded with millions of seabirds guard the land, while offshore lies a crazy paving of pack-ice upon which Polar Bears hunt and Walruses laze.
For our 2017 and 2018 Spitsbergen voyages Naturetrek has exclusively chartered the 116-berth M/V Ortelius to operate a dedicated wildlife cruise. Free from the shackles of having to visit non-wildlife sites, our cruise will only include the very best of Svalbard’s wildlife and scenery. Our holiday is timed for late June/early July when the sun never sets and the pack-ice has usually melted sufficiently to allow our ship to explore the fjords, towering cliffs and tundra of Spitsbergen and Nordaustlandet. We begin, however, with a spectacular flight over the ice-dotted Arctic Ocean to Longyearbyen, the capital of Svalbard. Here we will board our vessel and begin the 9-night voyage through an icy wilderness almost entirely devoid of human life. Birdlife on the other hand is abundant, and even in Longyearbyen itself Snow Buntings fly around the rooftops and Purple Sandpipers pick for insects along the meltwater streams. Blue phase Fulmars wheel around our anchored vessel together with Glaucous Gulls and Arctic Terns, the latter fresh from their ‘other summer’ in the Antarctic. Leaving Longyearbyen we will head north, past groups of Little Auks, Black Guillemots, Puffins and Brünnich’s Guillemots, skitter away across the water’s surface as we steam past, whilst the occasional Bearded or Ringed Seal may pop a head out of the water to watch us motor by; all this to a back-drop of spectacular jagged mountains.
Our voyage will take us into glass-like fjords backed by huge glaciers, such as the Monaco and Hamilton Glacier, and on to polar deserts where only a few lichens and other low-lying plants eke out an existence in the almost waterless environment. One advantage of travelling aboard an ice-strengthened vessel is that we can make our way deep into the pack ice, the summer haunt of the true king of the Arctic, the magnificent Polar Bear. A meeting with a Polar Bear is one of those heart-stopping experiences you never forget, made all the better by seeing them in their own realm wandering around on the ice floes with pack-ice stretching to the horizon. This ice is also home to the huge Walrus which may be seen hauled out on the ice alongside its smaller cousins, the Bearded, Ringed and Harp Seals. Here too we will look for the ghostly white Ivory Gull and, if fortunate, maybe even a Ross’s Gull as these begin to pass through Svalbard in July.
Returning to the coastline we will board inflatable Zodiacs to view the towering cliff faces that are home to thousands of Brünnich’s Guillemots. We will also visit colonies of Little Auks where thousands of these tennis ball-sized auks wheel around the mountain-tops like mosquitoes over a pond. Always on the look-out for a meal, Arctic Foxes patrol the base of these colonies, whilst out on the tundra Brent, Pink-footed and Barnacle Geese all breed alongside King Eider, Grey Phalarope, Red-throated Diver, Long-tailed Duck, Purple Sandpiper, Arctic and Long-tailed Skuas and Ptarmigan. Of these breeding birds, it is only the latter that also braves the harsh Arctic winter.
Although primarily a wildlife voyage, we will have opportunities to learn about Spitsbergen’s fascinating human history, much of which is closely tied to the very animals and birds we have come to view. Abandoned whaling stations such as the 17th century Smeerenburg (Blubber Town) stand testament to the impact of early whalers on the islands, whilst the remains of the camps of early explorers such as the Swedish balloonist André remind us of Svalbard’s appeal to past adventurers.
Once back at Longyearbyen a spectacular flight over huge glaciers, braided river valleys and snow-capped peaks will bring us back to mainland Norway, from where we must continue our journey south away from the roof of the world and back home.
I enjoyed seeing the Polar Bears and other wild animals and birds in their own environment. The fantastic colours and formations of the ice, is wonderful scenery. The 24 hours of daylight is an experience, not to miss a minute of it. This was my second visit to Spitsbergen, I look forward to visiting this magical, spectacular place again.
Good mix of activities and lectures that broadened my knowledge. The combination of Naturetrek and the boat guides worked very well. The boat experts were excellent and I was blown away to be on the same boat as Ian Stirling - THE expert on Polar Bears!
Mr & Mrs B.
The standard of accommodation and service on the MV Ortelius was outstanding, the devotion to searching out wildlife was excellent and the crew, staff and wildlife guides did everything possible to make our trip a success. The sightings were particularly good. One of the unexpected highlights was having the Polar Bear authority Ian Stirling on board. A memorable trip in every way.
It was extremely well organised and both the Naturetrek staff and the expedition staff were excellent. Everyone was well looked after and the way activities and meals ran meant that the entire group gelled really well. The expert knowledge displayed by all the staff was outstanding and really helped us to appreciate all the wildlife and the environment.
The guides and all the staff on board were excellent! The organisation and content of the trip was first rate. The nature we encountered along the way was spectacular, particularly watching four Polar Bears at one site.
The whole tour was well planned. Accommodation in Oslo and Longyearbyen was very good. The ship was well appointed and very comfortable. The standard of food on board the ship could not be faulted. The same said about the staff and crew. The itinerary was well thought out. Flexibility was the key. The wildlife, the scenery and just being there is something that most people will never experience. It will stay with us forever.
The trip was brilliant overall. We got to see a large amount of wildlife thanks to great efforts from the crew. We saw 6 different Polar Bears; 5 on the same day. The tour leaders showed great knowledge of the wildlife and plant life in Spitsbergen. The food was also excellent.
Anyone, especially on a first trip to the polar regions, should be prepared to have their mind blown away with the experience! The stunning scenery, the light, the superb wildlife living at the edge of existence, all fabulous. I especially enjoyed the hours of interaction between the four bears on a seal kill, how they managed to 'share' rather than squabble, one crossing over a mile of pack ice and open leads to join the feast - absolutely fabulous. As a birder, the Phalaropes spinning in the water, the Ivory Gulls taking every opportunity to join in the 'Bear Feast' and the buzz of visiting the two big Auk colonies will live long in my memory.
The leaders, both Naturetrek and Oceanwide, were very professional, knowledgeable and very approachable. Nothing was ever too much trouble. They worked tirelessly to find the animals. The Captain of the ship was so skilled at edging slowly towards the animal which enabled us to watch images of the Polar Bears devouring a Bearded Seal. the Arctic Fox eating a Guillemot, and the stunning scenery will stay with me forever.
This is the second time we have been on this trip which in itself indicates how much we enjoyed it. Once again the Oceanwide Expedition guides were world class and blend perfectly with Naturetrek's own very experienced tour guides. Dr Ian Stirling is a leading expert in Polar Bears and along with Oceanwide's tour leader Rinnie van Meurs, we were treated to a master-class in Polar Bear behaviour. As before, the organisation of the trip was carried out in a professional and efficient manner with Naturetrek staff ensuring thongs ran seamlessly. Well done!
I liked both the Naturetrek guides and the Ocean Adventures team. Special mention goes to Sarah who made a special effort to make sure that everyone was seeing everything. But they were all very helpful and very pleasant people. The Captain of the ship needs a special mention too as he was so passionate about wildlife and also so welcoming on the bridge. I think that we went at the right time of year to see the nesting birds and of course the Polar Bears and the fact that so many travellers seemed to be doing this trip for a second time speaks volumes.
A fantastic trip. It was a real privilege to spend time in such a unique environment. Thanks are due to the tour leaders from both Naturetrek and Oceanwide who organised everything so professionally, were eager to share their knowledge and created a really good atmosphere. A special mention also for the trip report - I don't think I've ever seen one as detailed and comprehensive.
The zodiac trips and walks were particularly enjoyable. We were very lucky with the weather! The lectures about ice formation and glaciation were very interesting.
The Ortelius crew were quite outstanding in every aspect. The meals were excellent. Zodiac trips were expertly managed. Very high level of commitment from all concerned. We particularly appreciated the lecture programmes by the on-board experts.
The leaders from both Naturetrek and Oceanwide Expeditions were well organised, knowledgeable and extremely helpful.
Outings on the zodiacs were brilliant. It had a definite expedition feel about it - isolated from TV, mobile phone signal. Just alone in the Arctic. The Oceanwide expedition leaders were great, and the Naturetrek leaders complemented them by bringing expertise to the plant identification (Martin), bird finding (Peter), and Ed making sure that everyone saw everything that was found.
Enjoyed the whole experience on the boat, the staff were excellent especially the guides. Well organised and very knowledgeable. Great food and service. Wonderful wildlife viewing and scenery.
Everything was very good. Good food, friendly staff, pleasant company, unforgettable scenery, some sunshine, calm seas and excellent wildlife sightings.
Knowledgeable and friendly Naturetrek tour guides and expedition guides. Great to have academic lectures giving real insight into the region.
I think it all worked very well. Particularly enjoyed seeing the Polar Bears and Walrus.
I found the expertise of the guides to be excellent and learned a lot from the lectures on board.
The leader, the guides, and all the staff of the ship worked wonders. The food on board was very good indeed, the cabin much roomier than I expected. Everyone did there utmost to give us a great holiday. Every day was a wonderful adventure, we saw so much and I shall never forget it.
Excellent expedition staff and Naturetrek leaders. Scenery was simply stunning.
Well organised, kept informed of daily activities. Wildlife beyond expectations. Ship excellent, food plentiful and varied.
The amazing wildlife sightings and scenery, very much aided by good weather and the enthusiasm and knowledge of the expedition staff and Naturetrek guides.
For me, the fact that the catering staff made no fuss about providing gluten-free food and in fact knew within 25 hours my name and requirements was such a bonus. All the Naturetrek leaders were approachable and helpful, Ed in particular. He didn't mind a complete novice 'birder' asking very basic questions and always ensured we all saw what was being pointed out. Well done Ed. All the Ortelius guides were also helpful and very knowledgeable. I enjoyed the whole polar experience, but particularly the flowers, glaciers and Polar Bears.
The holiday was well organised and we saw a lot in the time that was available. I enjoyed seeing the mammals the most.
Thoroughly enjoyed this trip from start to finish. Everything was perfect. Enjoyed the scenery, mammals and birds. The Oceanwide Expeditions staff were amazing with their knowledge and great humour. The Naturetrek tour leaders and other members of staff on this cruise had so much knowledge and were great fun. The Ortelius was a very clean and comfortable boat to be on and the food was delicious. Well done and thank you once again Naturetrek for a fantastic experience.
The expedition leader was excellent, and the two teams (ship & Naturetrek) worked well together.
Mr & Mrs W
Just wanted to say many thanks to Jim Andrews for an enjoyable 'Day With Dormice'. Great enthusiasm and knowledge.
The trip was well up to expectations with a bonus of good weather. Animal sightings, plus the help from onboard experts certainly made the holiday - not forgetting the birds. It was also very pleasing to note that all staff seemed genuinely interested in all their clients. We will certainly recommend Naturetrek to our friends.
The whole trip was very well and efficiently organised and the ship's staff were excellent in all respects, as were the three Naturetrek leaders: Nick, Lee and Martin. As with all other Naturetrek holidays we have had, we enjoyed it very much indeed.
Brilliant! Brilliant! Brilliant! Surpassed all expectations. Would do it all again.
Wonderful holiday enjoyed birdlife, scenery and food.
This trip has been one of the great experiences of our lives. Extraordinay wildlife encounters, mind blowing scenery and a full sun barbecue at midnight.
Spitsbergen was never on my list of to do's as I like hot climates. However my friend said it was a life time ambition to go to the Arctic…. I now owe her big time, I loved every minute of the trip, mammals and birds of course but I was bewitched by the scenery, I never dremt that I would be so happy doing nothing just watching the ever changing ice flows. As ever the Naturetrek leaders were first rate.
A truly excellent holiday, beyond all expectations!
The trip was a wonderful experience, which exceeded my expectations in all its aspects - the scenery, the wildlife, the ship, the food - everything. All the naturalists/leaders/guides, both Naturetrek and local, were friendly, helpful and extremely knowledgeable and experienced. The ship's captain and crew and the catering/cabin staff were tremendous. They adapted and responded wonderfully to the constantly changing conditions and we were able to enjoy some fantastic wildlife viewing whilst cruising through magnificent scenery. The ship itself was perfectly suited to the expedition with the restaurant/viewing area allowing everyone to relax and watch the outside world in comfort. An enormous thank you to all concerned.
The change from the planned smaller ship to the Antarctic Dream proved highly successful and very comfortable. The standard of food was exceptional, scrumptious and imaginative. All the ship staff and leaders were courteous and delightful with excellent senses of humour! The trip proved a real advantage to my botanical interests. Birds were also exceptional with some unexpected rarities and photographic opportunities. Thanks to all involved.
…A big thank you to all your staff at Naturetrek for an unforgetable adventure.
This was an excellent trip thanks to the commitment and expertise of Rini, the Expedition Leader and the Captain and crew of the Proff. Molcanov. They worked very hard to make the most of every opportunity enabling us to experience as much as possible. The Naturetrek leader, Paul, was efficient, pleasant and helped everything to run smoothly. We were also very lucky to have Adam, the geologist, with us and Chris the historian - both added greatly to the trip...I cannot fault the trip in anyway - it was one of the best ever.
Trip leader - Chris was admirable...His knowledge and experience is readily shared and he is a great travelling companion. Expedition leaders on the boat were very competent and knowledgeable. They worked hard to offer the best possible itinerary with unexpected ice conditions.
Although it is hyperbole to say so, this has been the best holiday ever. We were blessed with a huge amount of sunshine which enabled us to see almost every species on the Naturetrek list. The fellow travellers were equally keen and of great company. Led by a most knowledgeable Malcolm Scott whose enthusiasm is infectious and whose dancing has to be witnessed! The only downsides were only 3 polar bears and that we must rejoin the civilised world. But thank you Naturetrek for another excellent holiday.
G. & M.P.
Great holiday, well structured, provided exactly what we wanted. Ship first class. Good range of visits.
C & R.S.
Even superlatives cant do justice to this trip. Simple outstanding. Superbly organised, led, executed and serviced. The ships crew were magnificent. For anyone with a sense of adventure and average agility it is hard to imagine a better trip. As for photographic opportunities, they were boundless. A truly memorable experience. Thank you Naturetrek.
A perfectly organised holiday with brilliant guides, as always with Naturetrek.
You promised us a trip of a lifetime and it was!
Seeing Polar Bears in such wonderful surroundings was certainly a magical moment and brought tears to my eyes. A trip of a lifetime.
R.McC. & S.McC.
It was a unique and amazing experience in every way and we both feel privileged to have had the opportunity of exploring this very special part of our planet.