i n t e r n a t i o n a l !



27 June - 6 July 2002

Professor Multanovskiy - Oceanwide Expeditions

Leaders:  Ian Rowlands, Sally Dowden, Mark Newell, Dave Pullan and Chas Anderson

Guests:     Ken & Jill Gray, Colin & Jean Woodley, Brian & Rita Mutter, Joan & Tony Langford, Helen & Rod Barker, Hugh Williams, Sandy Robertson, Pauline Pothecary, Jeanette Seaman, David & Jan Timmins, Alan & Linda Battersby, Sue Story, John & Odette Booth, Janey McEwan, Geoff Atkinson, Wendy Ap Rees, Joe Portelli, Colin Hughes, Anne Shearcroft, June Hargreaves, Elizabeth Anderson, Glenn Overington, David Lunney, Ros Gallop, Val & John Hole, Joan Hodgson, Maggie Brookman, Paul & Janet Baker, Bob & Duncan Green

Day 1

Setting out on what is by far and away the biggest Speyside trip ever – we’ve got over 40 people to meet in Heathrow’s Terminal 3 – we are all here nice and early and complete our check-in very smoothly.  Marvellous!  After negotiating our way through departures we are soon on our Oslo flight, touching down through a rather grey sky to a rolling green landscape.  Once in the airport, there is a little time for some local exploration, and while some elect to remain in the airport and wander around shopping and getting some food, the rest of us get the train into Oslo itself.  It’s a very pleasant, warm summer’s afternoon and those who manage not to be tempted by the shops pick up a couple of birds such as Fieldfare, Pied Flycatcher and White Wagtail. 

Back at the airport we make our way to the departure point, full of anticipation, and through the windows see the late afternoon sunshine glinting off our aircraft.  We’re eager to be off and a smooth and easy journey begins to enliven as we pass the dramatic peaks below us of the Lofoten Islands.  Gradually we edge nearer to Spitsbergen and glimpse the south-east corner of the land.  It’s a wild and dramatic landscape, with frozen icy seas, snow and glaciers, and the south-east corner remains a lot colder than other parts of Svalbard, the proper name for the collection of the islands of which Spitsbergen is the main island.  We land on Spitsbergen itself where the capital, Longyearbyen, on the western coast catches some of the warmer currents, leaving it free of ice –  but jagged mountains capped with snow are all around us as we drop down through a layer of cloud and down to the grey tarmac of the airport.  There are Svalbard Reindeer wandering alongside the runway, we already hear our first Snow Bunting singing and there are Arctic Terns – it’s all terribly exciting!  Below the low grey cloud, a narrow window of clear sky to our west like a long landscape photograph reveals bright sunlight glinting off distant glaciers and mountains.  We negotiate the baggage collection, where we see our first Polar Bear (OK it is a stuffed one in a glass cage but it does look enormous) before we leave the terminal building (a rather grand name for a rather small building!).

Arctic Fox - Glenn Overington

Soon we are boarding our coach and our very entertaining (and let’s be honest, eccentric) coach driver takes us on the short 15-20 minute journey to our hotel in Longyearbyen itself.  Occupied by an entertaining history lecture, we glance out the window and some even see an Arctic Fox stalking some Eider.  A scattering of colourful wooden buildings huddle in the valley, there is very little vegetation but what there is appears to be sparse, arctic flowering plants, and high above us jagged, black and sand-coloured cliffs rear up.  The coal mining areas are sparse and unobtrusive, but high on the mountainside abandoned wooden towers, the remains of the cables and buckets, and a dusting of black coal dust are all of them historical monuments.  We reach our hostel hotel, a collection of two and three storey timber buildings – it’s very eventful getting the right bags into the right huts and it’s very early in morning!  Though it’s 1.30am some of us still can’t resist setting up telescopes to look at the Little Auks wheeling high above and the Snow Buntings singing around the buildings, but really we must get our heads down, and so we grab some sleep.

Day 2

Most people are up bright and early scanning the cliffs again.  In the bright sunlight this morning the landscape looks rather more uplifting and up at the head of the valley there is a glacier looming in the distance, with sharp snowy peaks.  Distant clouds of Little Auks wheel around, some can be picked out perched with the telescope and Glaucous Gulls flap by like ghostly white predators along the cliffs.  There are even one or two Barnacle Geese sat up there and Svalbard Reindeer (a shorter legged local race) run around lower down. 

After breakfast, and a bit of postcard buying, we leave our luggage and walk down into the town.  There are wooden buildings, hotels and shops, sparse and maybe slightly incongruous-looking but colourful nonetheless and we make our way down to the water’s edge, where the river has washed out large banks of gravel. Below us, the Adventfjorden is where we’re heading for but on our way we pass through areas where Arctic Tern nest on the gravel, there are sparse Arctic plants, very colourful Svalbard poppies, Moss Campion and Purple Saxifage in flower.  Glaucous Gulls are on the water and while scanning the sea we see Eider and Black Guillemot.  Some people elect to visit the local museum with its fine displays of natural history, cultural history and some artefacts from early Polar exploration.  There is a rather quaint little church and the remains of the old graveyard looks rather like a stunted forest with its timber headstones.  As we work our way back up the little track some see Purple Sandpiper with a chick and there are some close Reindeer nearby, tempting the photographers.  We make our way to the Nybyen Guest House which has lots of colourful history and a very entertaining Australian manager who came for a summer, married a local girl and stayed!  We dine in surprising style (surprising for this remote location in the north) on Arctic Char and a good selection of vegetables.  Relaxed and surprisingly warm in the sunshine (we wonder how long this is going to last!) we are still marvelling at the scenery as we wander back down to head for our ship.

While the coach transports our luggage we stroll to the shore where the MV Professor Multanovskiy is waiting for us.  We loiter on the quayside, while they prepare the ship and load on our baggage, before walking aboard.  We are swiftly allocated our cabins before we meet for an early briefing of what our plans are and are introduced to our crew.  Friendly Russians – the waitress and waiter, engineers and skipper – far outnumber the others, although most of them remain below decks.  The people we will have most contact with are Alwyn and Jenny, the ship steward and general factotum respectively.  Martin from Orkney is the ship’s expedition leader, Ian the historian and Rolf the geologist.  The ship is surprisingly spacious, offering lots of deck space and we find that we can make our way up onto the bridge, where large glass windows give a panoramic view.

As we at last set sail, some of us make our way onto the bow where we watch the waves and dusky northern-race blue-phase Fulmars riding along with us.  Others go by up to the ‘monkey deck’, the highest vantage point, which sits above the bridge.  It is perhaps the best view of all but my goodness it exacerbates the cold temperatures and the wind!  We set sail and work our way westwards through the largest of the fjords, the Isfjorden.  After being dragged down for an amazingly sumptuous first dinner, those who can’t resist it go back up on deck, seeing Gannet and Puffin (the local Puffins seem to be a little bit bigger and blacker with a larger bill). We know we are going to sail through the night heading northwards, and in all the excitement some people remain up on deck seeing more Fulmars, our first Brünnich’s Guillemot on the water and more Glaucous Gulls.  Some diligent leaders spot a few Skuas including Pomerine, Great and Arctic.  Finally we go to sleep, excited about waking up to a new and exciting landscape!

Day 3

Dawn reveals the most dramatic scenery we could have imagined and the first of our regular PA system wake up calls – the rather soothing voice of Alwyn coaxes us down to breakfast and out to see the scenery.  We’re cruising into Kongsfjorden, heading for the most northerly, permanently inhabited settlement in the world, Ny Ålesund.  It’s an especially dramatic view looking south and east, where mighty glaciers – normally capped with cloud – have carved up the landscape.  Dramatic pyramid-shaped mountain peaks sculpted by the rock – nunataks – gleam in the distance and we are very lucky indeed to have such fine weather.  The settlement and rather grey looking drab buildings of Ny Ålesund creep along to our right – the last civilisation we are going to see for the rest of the holiday so we’d better make the most of it!  As we come into anchor in the calm water, with glaciers glinting all around us, we see our first Long-tailed Skuas and on the water there are Eider and Kittiwake and some lucky people glimpse their first Bearded Seal. 

After running through our first zodiac drill, with a strict set of instructions about checking off from the ship with a tag system, we don our lifejackets and gather ourselves to board the zodiacs, all carefully managed by the staff who make us feel very safe.  Adding to the safety is the fact that we’re not allowed ashore unless we stay in close proximity of someone with a gun!  This is going to be a factor for the next few days as there is always the risk of a wandering Polar Bear.  It’s hard to imagine, but we’re given enough facts and figures to appreciate that it’s a very real possibility and so, grouped up, we land on the quayside and each stay with our respective crew member.  Our three groups set off, one with an emphasis on history, one on birds and one of geology led by Ian, Martin and Rolf respectively.  Along the shoreline are the remains of the most northerly train in the world and also the most northerly post box where we put our first and last postcards in the box! 

The history group set off towards Amundson’s airship mooring tower, part of an early attempt to cross the pole.  There are many historical monuments here including a very impressive bronze bust of the great man himself. 

The weedy pool of Solvatn is perhaps one of the birdiest spots we’re likely to see all holiday and those of us in the bird group really do make the most of it.  Ian (Speyside) manages to pick out a Pectoral Sandpiper, a rare American vagrant to these shores and only the 7th record.  Ian and Mark also manage to pick out a Meadow Pipit, which is perhaps even rarer if less exciting.  More regular are the Barnacle Geese grazing on the weed, Purple Sandpipers scurrying around and Snow Buntings singing as they gather nest material.  There is a Red-throated Diver on a nest, two Ringed Plover call and Arctic Terns line the sides of the paths, very tame, very approachable but roped off the path so we don’t disturb them.

We are warned to stay in the town because of the risk of bears, but work out way to the outskirts because
Dave and our lead party have found Ivory Gulls!  We work our way along the stream out to where traditionally seals are hung out to dry and fed to the Huskies within their pound.  Here two immaculate, gleaming Ivory Gulls offer unbelievable views, photographers go crazy, most can’t take their eyes of the gulls, but Jeanette has struck gold with Huskies to pet!  There are a delightful pair of Long-tailed Duck on a smaller pool nearby, Teal, Barnacle Geese again, and an Arctic Skua goes over whilst everywhere the dramatic landscape of scree slopes, high mountain peaks dominates.

We are soon taken swiftly back to the boat on the zodiacs where we have lunch (and how delicious the meals are here!) as we sail across to the northern side of the Kongsfjorden, where we reach the dramatic walls of ice that is the 14 July Glacier.  Before we reach the ice itself, we come to anchor, and the zodiacs are taken along the shoreline and low cliffs.  Grassy slopes, enriched with bird droppings and full of fabulous arctic alpine plants, sweep along the shoreline and walls of ice, maybe 40 feet high stand ahead of us.  On the low cliff, our only Razorbill of the trip is huddled amongst the Brünnich’s Guillemots and Puffins, and there are one or two Barnacle Geese here including a few with young which take to the shore.  Whilst bobbing around in our four zodiacs, we see an Arctic Fox running along and with much use of the radios, we all spot it, albeit it’s not an easy view. 

Two of the boat loads land, while two go off to explore the periphery of the glacier.  The landing groups enjoy some fine arctic alpine plants as we wander on the mossy slopes, looking here and there.  In a little grassy cove, Snow Buntings have a nest and are very approachable as they come hither and thither to feed their young, and then suddenly the Arctic Fox reappears, running around.  In fact most dramatic of all, it appears carrying two dead goslings – although we can’t work out if they belong to the angry Pink-footed Geese with no goslings, or the Barnacle Geese taking goslings down to the sanctuary of the water.  We watch the Arctic Fox – looking so striking, with a lot of white still on its tail and dramatic lines of dark brown and rather yellow brown running along its body – scurry off with the goslings on narrow paths through the rocks, high up onto the cliff face and around the corner.  What a great start!

Those who were out at the glacier come back and land and we set off.  The glacier is very dramatic with small sections of ice calving off and large blue sections bobbing around in the water.  It’s very cold sitting in the zodiacs and some of us begin to stiffen up a little bit, however it is very spectacular nonetheless and as we head back to the boat we can’t believe the place that we’re in.

Over dinner the ship raises anchor and sails up into Krossfjorden.  This long and narrow fjord reaches north,
deep up into the land, with dramatic views all around, particularly of the Lilliehöökbreen Glacier.  It’s our
closest encounter with the ice so far, sweeping around us in a big arc, and the water is glassy and tranquil.  Another large ship is there too and in the distance, looking to the west and the east, larger lumps of blue ice like icebergs, float around us.  Perched on the rocks there are Glaucous Gull and Kittiwake, emphasising the creamy nature of their plumage.  Edging nearer to the ice front, it’s a sobering thought that as we come to a rest, a year ago the ship would have been ½ kilometre inside the glacier!  It’s hard not to speculate on the cause and effects of global warming.

It’s hard to sleep with all these wonders around us but bed beckons, and as we set sail northwards most of us dream once more of what we’re going to wake up to.

Day 4

We are woken gently by Alwyn and as we get up on deck we can’t believe the weather, the sea is like glass, the sun is shining down on us and every mountain is visible.  Spitsbergen, meaning “pointed mountains” in Dutch, really lives up to it’s name, with dramatic peaks rearing up in front of us.  We’re in amongst the little offshore islands off the far north-west corner of Spitsbergen and closest to us is Fugelsongen.  These large rounded islands, where the high peaks drop sheer into the deep and glassy water, blue and mysterious around us, would be dramatic enough on their own, but here we are going to have a close encounter with one of the Little Auk colonies. 

As we set out on calm, sunny, glassy waters, there are one or two Reindeer grazing on the island and we wonder how on earth they got out here.  Landing amongst the boulders on the beach, we dump our lifejackets and shed layers, as we have far too many clothes on for these warm temperatures, and we are soon amongst the boulder scree, where large flocks of Little Auks are breeding.  As the Glaucous Gulls patrol, spooking them, the auks are all around us, swirling in great flocks.  The sound of them chattering is overwhelming, quite mesmerising and since we’re in no hurry to go anywhere in particular we dump our gear and rucksacks.  Everywhere people wander off into the rocks, hypnotised by these tiny birds no more than 20 centimetres high.  The photographers use endless rolls of film, camcorders seem to roll permanently, capturing them preening, winking, blinking, stretching, calling, flying, you name it, whatever a Little Auk does is recorded for posterity!  Some people doze in the rocks, some people gaze at them hypnotised, some people turn and face out to sea.  Hugh and Chas speculate on the direction of the wheeling flocks and all in all it’s an enormously relaxing and amazingly stimulating wildlife encounter, something most of us will remember for years.

Reluctantly we leave, although some of us will be glad to get rid of the many layers of clothes we’ve got on, and we get back on the boat.  When leaving the boat, each person has a numbered tag which they should turn over to suggest that they’ve left the ship and turn it back around the other way when we’re back on back – the system isn’t working too well at the moment, but all are safe and well! 

We sail whilst having lunch but come to anchor once more at Hamilton Bukta, which is in Raudfjorden. 
Once again the landscape really is dramatic, with a mist descending over the mountains and close by,
distant Ringed Seals are hauled out on ice formed in one of the sheltered bays.  We launch the zodiacs
and the Russian crew keep us informed over the radios of the World Cup Final Score – Brazil are now one
up on Germany!  

What is more exciting as we come closer to the shoreline and some of the snowfields, are the Polar Bear footprints we can see, as well as a snow slide made by a bear!  Unbelievable!  All on high alert we scan the shoreline and work out way across some shallows and rapids, where on the edge of the ice, little clusters of Black Guillemots are grouped.  Incredibly tame, they allow us a close approach.  We would enjoy watching the Ringed Seals a little more, it’s a perfect hunting ground for Polar Bears, but the mist descends and soon we can’t see anything!  Very disappointing.  It comes over the radio that Brazil are now 2 up against Germany and we leave this misty area, with no chance of Polar Bear now as we can’t see much, and clamber ashore.  Some people cheer themselves up with a slide along the snow or by throwing snowballs – yes, I’m talking about you Sally and Mark!  In the meantime, Rolf tries to give us a more serious geology lesson and some people pay attention, whilst others notice a Bearded Seal which bobs up in the water very close to us.

Leg stretch over, it’s back into the zodiacs.  We can’t see the ship and we’re navigated back by ship’s radar
and radios telling us which direction to sail in.  It’s cold, damp, misty and we’re glad to get back on board for a hot shower.

We sail out east and some of us up on deck see as we clear the mist on relatively calm seas.  It’s bright, sunny and warm but we can’t work out what we are looking at.  Way out on the horizon we see a white rippling in the heat haze – could it be ice?  We are pondering it, realising it must be a line of ice, when we are called down to dinner.  Some of us eat our dinner quickly and get back up on deck as a Great Skua, which is quite unusual, pale Arctic Skuas and even an Ivory Gull go over – the latter, a powerful looking bird, as it beats out across the ocean.  We realise that we are near the ice and now everyone is up on deck as we near the edge of the field ice.  The ship nudges its way in, as large chunks and flat plates of ice bounce off the bows of the boat.  On the horizon is ice as far as the eye can see.  It’s an amazing landscape and I’ve never seen a group of 45 people so quiet, standing in the sunlight and gazing as we bounce our way through ever denser ice.  Some of it is white, some of it gleams blue through the water, the water looks dark and mysterious beneath the ice and in the distance there are a few Bearded Seals hauled out. 

It’s an utterly amazing landscape and most amazing of all, we suddenly notice a bigger animal holed out. 
Through the telescopes we can work out that it is a Walrus!  We’re told to all be quiet as we nudge the ship
ever closer, nobody makes a sound and then the Walrus raises it’s head so we can see two gleaming ivory tusks.  It looks ever more curious about this large object intruding into it’s domain, but soon nestles back down to sleep, before waking up again and finally slipping into the water.  We watch it swimming, see it’s tusks and eventually it dives and disappears. 

We try to head towards Moffen Island, a doughnut shaped ring of shingle but it seems to be way out, still encased in winter ice that hasn’t broken up, so instead we nudge northwards.  In fact we reach 80° 04.4 north – recognised by the fact that we all get a certificate to say we have! – and celebrate it with a toast up on deck in amazing, sunny, calm weather.  It’s unbelievable.  Small numbers of Little Auks buzz around and there are one or two Brünnich’s Guillemot, we can’t go any further east at the moment, so we drift south in amazing evening light.  Sadly we work our way out of the ice but it still forms a great barrier to the north of us and there are lots of people still up on deck even though it’s past midnight.  Ian imagines he sees a Polar Bear, which turns out to be a block of ice, and we work our way into Woodfjorden.  Eventually we come into anchor at about 2.00am and as we cruise in there is a vast area of low tundra, shingle and gravel – the Reinsdyflya.  We scan relentlessly for bears, but eventually tiredness gets the better of us and, with red mountains ahead of us, icebergs in the distance and calm blue water, we go to sleep.

Day 5

We wake up anchored at Mushamna, on the eastern shore of the Woodfjorden and there are low areas of shingle stretching out to a point in the north, backed by higher mountains, rolling tundra and lots of driftwood which seems to gather on these shores. 

Once again we split into 3 groups – one who will do a short walk on the shore, one a medium range walk and the last one a longer hike up into the high tundra.  The group on the longer walk get marvellous views of two Arctic Foxes as they dash up the mountainside scurrying away from us, still mainly in their white fur this far north.  There are a group of 17 Pale-bellied Brent Geese on a large wide marshy area, while Purple Sandpipers display and call around us, and we reach a tremendous vista out over a valley beyond.  There are no signs of Polar Bear but there are interesting sunken hollows where plants take advantage of the micro climate, with fragments of Reindeer antler enriching the soil.  Dave hears a Ptarmigan but unfortunately we can’t see it.

The lower group have managed to find a Red-throated Diver on the nest which is close to an old trappers cabin.  There are Purple Sandpipers, Arctic Terns, Eider and geese flying over, but perhaps most interesting of all, we are shown where the cabin was damaged by a Polar Bear breaking in.  In fact (now this can’t be a tall story!) there is a nose print still on the window from where a Polar Bear broke in, ate some flour and left it’s print on the glass!  It’s an amazing thought and keeps us ever hoping and looking to see if there is a bear in sight. 

We are also shown a traditional Arctic Fox trap made of simple bits of wood, rock and has a sharp point which would have been baited.

We work our way back along the broad shingle beach, dotted with driftwood and lumps of ice – there might even be a bit of paddling going on.  Purple Sandpipers scurry along the beach as we work our way back to the Multanovskiy for lunch.

After lunch, we sail across the fjord to a low cluster of islands, the main one of which is Andøyane.  We anchor with plans to land on the island, an interesting birding spot, and we are alerted that we are in Polar Bear country.  We don our lifejackets back in our cabins and then Ian, the first one back down on deck, sets up the telescope for a cursory scan and can’t believe it, the first thing he sees is a Polar Bear wandering along the shoreline at Morsleynesset.  Dave is the next to arrive and then a cluster of guests, before the bear, which is rather distant, leaves the land.  Some people see it and from the monkey deck there is a slightly better view but it is still far away.  Martin arrives with the zodiacs and we decide to whiz off and see if we can find it on this low peninsular of land.  It’s a fast, bumpy and long zodiac ride to get there and by the time we arrive, those of us who are last aboard the zodiac have seen the bear get up on land and wander away. 

There is some compensation as Alan spots a drake King Eider amongst the ice and as we bob around we
manage to get reasonable views of this, as well as a Great Northern Diver in winter plumage.  We work our
way back, slightly disappointed, to Andøyane Island.  Traditionally we would make a circuit of the island to check for bears before landing, but well armed, we land nevertheless and send scouting parties ahead to look.  As we walk across the island, there is a wonderful selection of interesting arctic alpine plants – notably ‘Spider Plant’ or Polar Stoloniferous Saxifrage – and a terrain of dark enriched mud, areas of lichen and a small, broad, mossy edged lake.  Photographers really take advantage of this, because here there are about four to five pairs of Grey Phalarope – “Grey” because they are usually grey when we see them in winter in Britain, but here they are bright red!  Ian picks out a male brooding down on a nest, although it may just have eggs, and there is a splendid selection of Long-tailed Ducks in a pool.  A summer plumaged Sanderling scurries around in the rocks proving difficult to follow, and this absorbs much of our time.  People are lying down in the bog photographing the Phalaropes and others just enjoy the vistas.  We walk back across the island and see what we missed before, which is a wonderful selection of Polar Bear footprints left in the mud.  We marvel at these prints and rue the fact that we haven’t seen a bear properly yet and then return to the boat for dinner. 

We weigh anchor and sail, tucked into the land, travelling westwards up the Liefdefjorden.  We have dinner whilst we sail and eventually reach the mile wide Monaco glacier.  It is an amazing sight in itself with quite a lot of birds, but most interesting of all, Martin points out a Polar Bear asleep on the hillside!  Sadly it is a fair distance away and not very active, although we do see a yawn and a stretch!  What a strange place to want to sleep, up on the slope, and a shame it’s not closer but it is our first Polar Bear nevertheless.  We see a Ringed Seal in the water and watch Arctic Skuas harassing the local Kittiwakes while Glaucous Gulls perch up on the ice, unconcerned.  A little bit of the glacier carves off and in overcast weather and cloud, with the Polar Bear on the slop intermittently disappearing in the mist, we turn around and sail out. 

Day 6

We awake, having made a journey northwards, to the sound of ice banging off the hull of the ship, a low booming sound.  We are on the approach to Moffen Island from a different angle.  It is an amazing sight as ice stretches to the north in a great arc as far as the eye can see.  It’s almost as if you can see the curve of the earth, a wonderful wild place.  Moffen is the only landmark amongst it and although it’s hard to discern at first, it is actually a ring of shingle with a low frozen lake in the middle of this doughnut of rock and lumpy, icy landscape stretching east, west and north.  Moffen is marked by a triangular orange buoy (famously mistaken by one guest who shan’t be named, as a wind surfer – that would be a hardy wind surfer indeed!).  Protection laws prevent us from approaching too closely which is a pity as there is a Polar Bear asleep on the ice in the middle of the island!  It is not terribly active but we can see it stretch occasionally and we get a reasonable view in the telescope.  We get reasonable views too of the large numbers of Walrus hauled on the shingle, it is hard to calculate the numbers, but they are huddled together, some with tusks protruding into the air.  It is mostly males that we see in this area, the females having their calves much further east.  There are birds too and with a judicious use of the telescope we are able to pick out a number of Sabine’s Gulls, at least 15 Grey Phalaropes buzzing around, as well as Brent Geese, Glaucous Gulls and Red-throated Diver, they are all distant but quite a haven of wildlife in this amazing landscape.  We loiter hoping the bear is going to get up and do something, which sure enough it does, but only by the time that we have turned the ship around and are heading out westwards leaving the area.  The bear pads on the ice towards the Walrus and we watch it until we can hardly see it anymore as the ship sails away.  An Ivory Gull flies over us as we make our way, banging slowly through the ice.  It is a powerful looking bird with a deep barrel chested appearance and a powerful flight, beating out across the ice.  There is something about the sight of the Ivory Gull and seeing the Polar Bear in this wild domain that is really inspiring. 

Walrus - Glenn Overington

We see Little Auk, Brünnich’s Guillemot, Arctic Skua and our first black and white Harp Seal.  A Ringed Seal is also seen in the water and regular but distant Bearded Seals are hauled out on the ice.  As we watch ice bounce off the bows of the ship, most people go down for lunch, however the guides stay up on deck relentlessly scanning and pick out a cluster of brown blobs that can only be Walrus.  We are hoping to get a close encounter with Walrus and this looks like it might be the perfect place, with a break in the ice.  Ian scurries below to get Martin and we make the decision to anchor the ship and launch the zodiacs. 

Loaded up into the zodiacs, wrapped up against the cold, it is a different perspective being low down in amongst the ice on the water.  We can imagine how a seal might feel in the realm of a predator such as a Polar Bear. 

We have strict instructions to remain silent and the lead party get reasonable views of a Bearded Seal on the ice and we weave our way through until there before us are the Walrus.  There are six animals here, huge brown blobs they are too with deeply wrinkled flesh, looking rather raw and pink beneath the wrinkles.  They have tiny, disproportionately small heads and long gleaming ivory tusks.  We cut the engines and watch them for a while as we bob silently on the absolutely still water.  Gradually the sun creeps up, the clouds part and blue skies illuminate these mighty beasts in front of us.  Occasionally they wake up, growling and squabbling amongst themselves, as a rogue tusk here and there inadvertently pokes into another one causing irritability.  We edge closer using the paddles, close enough to hear their diet of polar clams causing a few gaseous exchanges.  First time we have ever heard a farting Walrus! 

Amazingly they occasionally notice we are there – it’s like they have forgotten we exist – waking up with a start and then forget why they were so alarmed and lean back against one another enjoying the close contact and fall back to sleep.  At one stage we get within about 10 metres of them before paddling gently away, leaving them in peace, and getting to a safe distance.  Grins covering our faces and overheating badly from the warm sunny skies above us, we slip away and startthe engines up.  Martin fancies a race through the ice for a different perspective on the Multanovskiy and on our “Boy’s Own” adventure we whiz across the water, darting through the icebergs.  Soon we are back on board celebrating what has been the most amazing wildlife encounter.  We sail west again in tranquil seas through the ice, scanning for Polar Bear and also enjoying, courtesy of our wonderful cooks, a cream tea up on deck!  There are more Bearded Seals and it is calm and sunny as we have dinner, although there is no sign of more bears.  Sadly the ice begins to peter out and as we head westwards, disappears behind us.  The weather turns more grey and there is no denying that there is a tinge of sadness amongst the group to be leaving this amazing environment.  Most people slip off to bed, apart from Chas who, having studied the charts, is sure that as we cross the deeper water there might be a chance of seeing a whale or two and getting up at 2.00am he is rewarded with 2 Minke Whales.  There’s nothing like an expert and a bit of determination is there!

Day 7

We wake up in an ice free environment and sailing onwards and southwards some of us pick up clusters of Harp Seals swimming by, amazing looking animals porpoising through the water more like a school of dolphins.  We make our way to Fuglehuken, the northern point of Prins Karls Forland island which lies just offshore of Spitsbergen itself.  The northern tip here is a noted point for Common Seal, in fact Dave picks some out along the shoreline, and we land on the low shingle shore.  It’s a low broad tundra along the shoreline, sweeping up to high cliffs and although it’s a landscape we are familiar with, it is particularly colourful with enriched grassland and a lichen encrusted tundra. 

We have the most amazing encounter with two Arctic Foxes here.  They are not quite as white as the ones we see further east, but are incredibly tame.  They play amongst the tundra and one animal trots, completely unconcerned, over towards us.  We freeze, quite silent, thinking we might spook it, but it is obviously well aware that we are there and plays cute with us, nestling down amongst the rocks, looking up at us.  It then trots around in a big circle, coming very close, inspects some rucksacks that have been left behind – a marvellous photo opportunity for Speyside Wildlife luggage labels! – and the photos portray just what a wonderful close encounter it is with this animal.  Dark brown legs, a few white guard hairs still speckling the back and the belly, a sparse white tail, big prominent ears filled with white fur and a very inquisitive and intrigued face.  There are Snow Bunting, Glaucous Gull, Purple Sandpiper and two very beautiful pale Arctic Skua which have fun mobbing the fox as it trots around looking for things to eat. 

We leave the fox behind and go to stalk some Common Seals along the shore.  They are smaller and perhaps more speckled than the Common Seals we see in Scotland, and we get some close encounters before walking over towards the northern tip and the big cliffs.  There is a very large Brünnich’s Guillemot colony and we pick out a Common Guillemot amongst them, the only one of the trip.  There are whaler’s graves here and a few bones scattering the ground, as well as gravestones of wood and many interesting historical artefacts.  We scan out to sea, relax on the grass relishing our amazing fox encounter and then work our way back to the boat for lunch.

We set sail once more and head back to Kongsfjorden close to Ny-Alesund almost where we were on our first day out.  This time however, we take the north shore of Kongsfjorden, just around the corner from the 14th July Glacier.  We are in fact at Blomstrandhalvøya, the local name for the peninsular, and anchor just offshore from New London where an enterprise here to extract marble failed rather spectacularly.  We land the zodiacs on an easy accessible sheltered cove and shingle beach and walk across to the cabins, buildings and little huts that remain from the mining activity.  Most amazing, amongst the buildings and the colourful tundra – awash with flowering Mountain Avens and Arctic Bell Heather – are a pair of Long-tailed Skua, one of them perhaps the same bird that we saw on our first day out.  The skuas are beautiful as they shuffle around on the ground and take to the wing with immaculate tail streamers.  There are Arctic Terns and Barnacle Geese, a Turnstone flies off and there are Purple Sandpipers – an amazing spot.

The lower group explore the shoreline, finding geese and more plants, while the upper group work their way relentlessly across the rocks and the tundra, gaining more height.  It’s a spectacular vantage point from up here, with views right across the Kongsfjorden.  We are searching for Ptarmigan and Hugh and Sandy think they see one fly off, but eventually it is Ian that finds a little white male Ptarmigan high up on the hillside.  It is quite far away, but with the use of the radios we are able to direct the lower shoreline group where to look through their telescopes and they do see a white blob – worth working hard for! 

We have a special night in store as a barbecue has been set up on deck.  The Russian crew have brought out their fine disco music, it is a cold and clear night and with wine and beer inside us there is a real party atmosphere on deck.  What a marvellous end to the few days of excursion we have had in the north.  The barbecue packed away and the party over the ship weighs anchor and sets sail southwards.
Day 8

Overnight we sail south of Longyearbyen, past the Isfjorden and into Bellsund.  We make our way into one of the southern fjords, the Van Keulenfjorden.  Martin has promised us that this fjord is one of the better places to see Beluga Whale, but it’s a bit of a naughty promise because as we land we realise that it is an old whaling station.

It is a rather sad and atmospheric place with piles of Beluga bones around and a clear reminder of the exploitation Spitsbergen suffered years ago.  We wander the shoreline photographing the bones, hoping to see a remnant of the recovering population of these white whales offshore, but to no avail.  It is a beautiful area of tundra and we wander up over hill slopes to an area of wide sandy beach.  It is an unexpected landscape, the shoreline dotted with ice and one little pool hosting Grey Phalarope.  There is a big problem of litter at sea and this is a chance for us all to do our little bit for conservation with a bit of a beach clearance.  A huge sack is brought forward and we set off in small groups to gather rubbish in sacks and bring it back.  There are gun cartridges from Newfoundland washed up, tins from Portugal, toy soldiers, flip flops, sundry bits of plastic, it is fascinating but depressing and good to be doing our bit as we load up the bag which will later be lifted off by helicopter.  As we work our way back off the beach via the Grey Phalaropes, an Arctic Fox scurries across and hides amongst the rocks peering back at us.  There are some Barnacle Geese, Pink-footed Geese, some people inspect a dead Glaucous Gull and we work our way back to the boat.  

We have lunch while our crew members practise their Polar Bear alert drill with guns and rockets before, all aboard, we set sail once more.

We land on the low shoreline of the Ingeborgfjellet which is Reindeer city!  Everywhere we can see Svalbard Reindeer – youngsters, adults, some heavily in moult, some charging around, some plodding.  The low, broad, grassy foreground gives way to high sweeping cliffs which resound to the noise of Little Auks swirling in great flocks.  There are apparently 16 million Little Auks on Svalbard and it is not hard to imagine in these high and distant cliffs.  There are some Brünnich’s Guillemots up there too and, as we reach another trapper’s hut, we find a Snow Bunting nesting in a old Bowhead Whale vertebra.  There is another hut that has been wrecked by Polar Bear breaking in looking for food and nearby, a landscape of bog and the odd gold mine here and there with little railway trucks, it is absolutely fascinating.  We wander along the beach where there are adult Glaucous Gulls to greet us when we land.  We work our way around big lumps of ice and out at sea there are a flock of Eider with King Eider amongst them which most of us manage to see.  We scan out for Beluga Whale on the water but there is no sign, so we make our way back to the ship where we see a Harp Seal in the water and then sail our way back to Longyearbyen.  We have our last dinner aboard and delicious it is too, there is Ostrich for those that are meat eaters, and most of us head to bed without realising that at 3.00am the ship is anchored at Longyearbyen once more.

Day 9

Breakfast on board the boat is a slightly sombre occasion as we are sad to leave, but we land, say farewell to the crew and then everybody has some free time to wander the shops before meeting at the Huset Café for lunch.  It is disappointing to report that while a number of us are having coffee in a local bar (yes, you can get café latte in Longyearbyen!) 30 or 40 Beluga Whale are spotted in the fjord just offshore.  We don’t find this out until later and meanwhile, oblivious, we enjoy coffee and a bit of shopping.  We meet a group of familiar friends who will be boarding the outward cruise and we wish we were going with them.  We look at the Arctic Tern colony, enjoy the Purple Sandpipers with young and the Snow Bunting which have much bigger chicks here.  In the afternoon, a coach arrives for us and our guide tells us a little bit more about the history of the place.  We tell her we have heard about the Beluga Whales and that we are keen to scan offshore, so we drive along the shoreline to a little peninsula where we see more Grey Phalarope and some King Eider.   

We work our way back to the hotel, and freshened up, we stroll down to a delightful local restaurant with wonderful views out over the fjord.  It’s a lovely sunny evening and a splendid buffet lunch with wine, although nobody is tempted by the whale meat on the table, and gazing once more at the cliffs, the Little Auks and the Reindeer, we head for bed.

Day 10          

Sad to say we have to be up bright and early today for our departure and we awake to thick cloud and fog. We’re rather anxious, will our flight actually go?  All is well and we fly off to Oslo.  Some uneventful time spent at the airport in Oslo soon sees us back on our plane to London.  We make our sad farewells, and they really are. It has been a great trip with much laughter and fun amongst all of us.  Memories of Arctic Fox, Polar Bears, incredible encounters with Walrus, and everywhere the delicate Arctic plants and beautiful soaring crags and glaciers of this amazing place.  We can’t wait to return – one day we will.


Polar Bear - Oceanwide Expeditions


Red-throated Diver
Great Northern Diver
Pink-footed Goose
Barnacle Goose
Pale-bellied Brent Goose
Common Eider
King Eider
Long-tailed Duck
Svalbard Ptarmigan
Ringed Plover
Purple Sandpiper
Pectoral Sandpiper
Grey Phalarope
Pomarine Skua
Arctic Skua
Long-tailed Skua
Great Skua
Sabine’s Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Glaucous Gull
Ivory Gull
Arctic Tern
Common Guillemot
Brünnich’s Guillemot
Black Guillemot
Little Auk
Meadow Pipit
Snow Bunting


Bearded Seal
Ringed Seal
Harp Seal
Common Seal 
Minke Whale 
Polar Bear
Arctic Fox
Svalbard Reindeer