Arctic Adventure in Spitsbergen, Norway
Colette Coleman experiences an epic expedition on board One Ocean Navigator to the ice-breaking seas of sub-Polar Svalbard
We began our exploration of the Svalbard archipelago in the capital city of Longyearbyen. In 1194 Vikings found a “cold edge” or Svalbard, as their language named it. When the Dutch discovered the land they named it Spitsbergen, meaning “pointed mountains”. In 1925 the Norwegians were granted sovereignty and they took the opportunity to introduce the old Viking term Svalbard. It became the official name of the whole archipelago, with the largest island retaining the name Spitsbergen.
Deliciously remote and yet surprisingly accessible, the sub polar archipelago of Svalbard is Europe’s most evocative slice of the polar north and one of the continent’s last great wilderness areas. Shapely peaks, massive ice-fields and heartbreakingly beautiful fjords provide the backdrop for a rich array of Arctic wildlife.
From the moment we glide out of Isfjorden (Ice Fjord) into the ringing silence of the snows we are in the land of the polar bear, the beluga, the walrus and the reindeer. Over the course of the voyage we saw Brunnich’s guillemot, little auk, barnacle and pink-footed geese and the Arctic tern.
The One Ocean Navigator was built in Finland in 1989 for scientific polar research. It has been upgraded to a very high standard by One Ocean Expeditions to accommodate their clients by combining the quiet, stable, manoeuvrability and high ice-class (A1) standards of a polar research ship with extremely comfortable cabins. In addition to highly qualified expedition staff consisting of naturalists, geologists, glaciologists and historians; passengers are allocated an adventure concierge – primarily hospitality professionals with extensive polar experience.
There is expansive deck space with a top deck that enjoys 360-degree views, ideal for wildlife watching. After dining in the restaurant, relax in the bar and lounge or the cosy library. Talks are held regularly in the theatre style presentation room. For additional relaxation there is a fitness and massage room with hot tub, sauna and plunge pool. With a passenger limit below 100 it is the perfect vessel for exploring areas of the polar regions inaccessible to larger ships. The ratio of staff to passengers, and the large zodiac fleet, ensures no waiting around for zodiacs when wildlife is spotted.
We set sail for our Arctic Adventure with welcome drinks and an introduction to the expedition team. Options and choices seemed to be key on this expedition including kayaking, expedition photography hiking and snowshoeing. Passengers were often split into small groups for daily excursions depending on their special interests. The beauty of this voyage is that there are no long sea crossings. We were ready for our first landing on Ny Alesund by our second day. Amundsen set off from here in 1926 for his flight over the North Pole. Today it is a research centre for modern and advanced Arctic science.
Later that day we were just starting a three-course meal when the call came ”belugas off the portside”. Within seconds the dining room emptied. Our whale expert estimated between 40-60 belugas moving across the bay of Blomstrandhalvoya. In true expedition style the scheduled program was changed and the announcement came, “everyone head to the zodiacs”. We were on our way to see the belugas.
This is the land of the midnight sun, so after supper, we took the first of many evening zodiac cruises, floating around the bird cliffs and ice, the kayakers paddling silently alongside. For the evening Happy Hour Ricky, our cheery barman, produced a new cocktail aptly named Beluga Boogie in honour of our day’s adventures. He was delighted with the lump of glacier ice we collected for him during the evening cruise to use in the day’s celebratory drinks.
At Smeerenbeurg, Amsterdam OYA, a 17th century Dutch whaling station, the landing presented some interesting hiking, photography and birding possibilities. The first zodiacs were filled, but word soon came back to the ship that we were sharing our landing with a polar bear. Everyone piled into the zodiacs (with our trusty firearm handlers and at a safe distance on the water) for a view of the polar bear as he took his morning stroll across the island in brilliant sunshine. The Norwegian government manages the Barents Sea polar bear population, and our polar bear expert confirmed that the bear was wearing a tag.
On the bird cliffs of Alkefjellet we saw hundreds of pairs of breeding Brunnich’s guillemots. We spent a couple of hours in the zodiacs sailing along the cliffs. exploring the cliffs. The atmosphere was incredible: huge flocks of birds dive bombing, swooping and feeding their young. Back on board there was time for a sauna followed by a very quick dip in the bracing (Arctic) waters of the plunge pool. Passengers wandered between the spa facilities in their fluffy bathrobes. One of the many extra touches on this expedition voyage.
At Torrellneset we got our first close-up view of walrus. The weather is perfect, blue skies and so warm. The expedition staff managed a series of landings with small groups of passengers approaching the walrus very cautiously – a perfect example of managing people around wildlife. Everyone had plenty of time to take their pictures and quietly move away leaving the walrus undisturbed.
One day was spent in the zodiacs scouring the sea ice of Brennevinsfjorden in search of polar bears. Sadly no luck with the polar bears, but as we cruised the waters we spotted something unusual on the distant sea ice. Our ever- resourceful crew had scoured the area for a safe piece of frozen sea ice and set themselves up an ice-bar! We happily indulged in mugs of hot chocolate with an optional shot of warming liqueur. Just before dinner an announcement came … “everyone to the bow, we’d like to toast an achievement, we are now above 80 degrees north”.
We celebrated with an Arctic BBQ on the aft deck surrounded by an Arctic wonderland; the air completely still, the sky azure blue, the sun shining, the water filled with floating sea ice and the air full of excited talk of walrus, polar bears and ice-bars.
Early next morning, as we approached Liefdefjorden a female bear with two cubs (later estimated to be about 10-years and 19-months old respectively) were spotted. As we had come to expect from the crew, they were quick to ready the zodiacs and get passengers out onto the water. Slowly and silently we followed the mother and her two playful cubs along the coastline of the beautifully calm bay. The mother bear climbed the ridge, whilst her two cubs scrambled up the rocks, trying to keep up. Then she spotted a colony of Arctic terns on a small islet and decided to swim over. One large splash followed by two smaller splashes and all three were in the water. She proceeded to raid their nests for eggs whilst being dive-bombed by the terns.
Later the same day we watched a big male bear amble along the coastline. The evening presentations were from the historian on his dog-sledging trip to Antarctica and from the polar bear expert on pinnipeds.
At Isfjorden, our final port of call, a 30km wide band of sea ice greeted us. Luckily we were on a ship with an ice-strengthened hull and high ice-class. With an open-bridge we were able to watch as the captain and crew expertly navigated safely through the ice and we arrived into Longyearbyen. Ice-breaking in the Arctic, the perfect end to an adventure of a lifetime!
Cruise Line : One Ocean Expeditions
Ship: One Ocean Navigator
Itinerary: Spitsbergen Explorer Longyearbyen to Longyearbyen
Duration: 8 nights/9 days
Guest profile: 96 guests (max.) average age 45-60 yrs. Good spread of nationalities roughly 1/3 North Americans, 1/3 Australians, 1/3 Europe & Rest of World.
Crew and Staff: 63
Accommodation: 48 cabins. The One Ocean suite with opening windows overlooking the bow, 5 luxury suites, superior and standard twins, all with windows and private bathroom facilities. Twin semi-private cabins have bathroom facilities shared between two cabins and triples have shared facilities.
All-inclusive fare: full board, tea & coffee, zodiacs, hiking, educational presentations, spa facilities. Additional charge for kayaking and onboard massage therapist.
- In addition to a team of naturalists, geologists, glaciologists and historians, adventure concierges caring for guests during the voyage
- Small, privately owned company provides flexibility to be innovative.
- Built in Finland for scientific polar research the ship is high ice-class (A1), quiet, stable and highly maneuverable
- Maximum passenger numbers set at 96. High staff to passenger ratio ensures options and choices for activities both onboard and no waiting around for landings and zodiac cruising.
- High emphasis on comfort. Spacious upgraded cabins with memory foam mattress toppers, black out blinds, duvets and crisp linens. Tea & coffee baskets in every cabin and attentive cabin staff.
Cruise Info and Itineraries: http://www.oneoceanexpeditions.com
Airport: Longyearbyen, capital city of the Svalbard archipelago in Norwegian Territory.
Food: All meals included on board. Buffet breakfasts (hot and cold), buffet and/or plated lunches and plated dinners. Dining room seats all passengers in one sitting. 24-hour tea and coffee station. Afternoon tea. Food is of high international standard.
On Board Entertainment: Daily presentations, wellness centre with yoga, massage therapist, fitness trainer, gym, plunge pool, hot tub and sauna, library overlooking bow deck, comfortable bar and lounge for ‘fireside’ relaxing.
What to pack: Dress like an onion. You can always peel layers off if you get too hot! Wind & Waterproof Clothing. Wellingtons are essential for landings (available at no charge), dress is casual on board, sun block/lip balm and sun glasses. Foul Weather gear available at no charge (must be pre-booked to ensure correct sizing).
What to buy: Gift shop on board selling novelty items and clothing (t-shirts, fleeces, windproof jackets)