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Expedition Journal I Natural Wonders I 6th - 15th July 2023

Expedition Journal I Natural Wonders of Svalbard Micro Cruise I 6th – 15th July 2023

Voyage

Natural Wonders of Svalbard Micro Cruise

Date

6th – 15th July 2023

Ship

MV Freya

Expedition Team

Ida Olsson & Rayann Elzein

Group photo in front of Idunbreen in Svalbard

6th July 2023

Welcome on board!

We board our expedition ship, Freya, at 16:00 in Longyearbyen. The crew warmly welcomes us, making us feel at home right away. At 17:00, after introductions and safety briefings, our adventure begins. We head west along the Isfjord, then turn north, taking in the stunning landscapes between Prins Karls Forland and Spitsbergen island. The sun bathes everything in beautiful golden light, and we can hardly believe it’s already 23:00 when we finally retire for the night.

Let the Arctic adventure begin.

7th July 2023

We wake up at the entrance of Magdalena Fjord under a gorgeous sun. “Do mornings get much better than this?” we think to ourselves, captivated by the crystal-clear sky. Eager to enjoy the moment, we brew coffee and step outside. We witness the midnight sunlight casting a golden glow over the turquoise water. If it weren’t for the snow-patterned mountains, one could easily mistake this for a scene from the Caribbean. Equipped with boots, jackets, cameras, life jackets, and sun cream, we set off on the Zodiacs. The sea is calm, and there’s no wind—perfect conditions to explore Svalbard. Along the way to our first shore landing at the Gullybukta walrus colony, we encounter several black guillemots. We approach the sunbathing walruses on the beach slowly and silently, and they seem undisturbed by our presence. We carefully make our way around the haul out towards the beach. The swimming walruses in the area show great activity and give us curious glances. Some of them rest upside down, bellies exposed to the sky, sprawled across the sandy beach. Others rumble and grumble while fidgeting among themselves. Contrary to the sun-seeking students we saw in Longyearbyen, tanning on wooden decks, these sea lions don’t suffer from sunburn. They possess the ability to regulate their body temperature, and we notice their pink hue under the sun’s rays. The more restless ones venture into the water and approach us with mutual curiosity. Meanwhile, Arctic terns surround us, and a group of Barnacle geese pass right in front of us.

After our fascinating walrus encounter, we eagerly head back for food. Reflecting on this morning’s question, “Do mornings get better than this?” we find our answer. A polar bear and her cub come into view, swimming toward the very beach we had just left. The mother steps ashore, and the cub follows, lagging behind a little, distracted by the curiosities around. Navigating their way along the coastline, they wisely avoid the nearby male walruses. The cub, boisterous and clumsy compared to its mother, showcases excellent climbing skills aided by the suction on the bottom of their paws as they navigate the barren steep edge.

Glittering reflections on the ocean’s silky surface create a spectacular scene, illuminating the bears in the background. It’s as if nature, at that very moment, is creating its own lighting and stage for these creatures. It highlights, in its brilliance, just how special this moment is.

During lunch, our ship brings us further north to Virgohamna, where after a short shuttle by zodiac we land at the eponymous site. Ida our expedition leader walks us prudently through the ruins, and with a lot of passion tells us stories of whalers, a rich Norwegian settler, and of course Andrée’s expedition to the north pole.

After such a rich day, it is time to go back to our ship for dinner and a well deserved rest while we continue our journey!

8th July 2023

Each day brings a new location and with it a new view. Today, we wake up in Hamilton Bay, after a peaceful night of sailing east, ready to embark on another captivating adventure.

We find ourselves in the stunning Raudfjorden, also known as the “red fjord.” Our morning activity is dedicated to exploring the Hamiltonbreen glacier up close. Sea ice is in view for the first time, floating close to the cliff edge where the birds are beginning to nest.

It’s truly an expedition for the eyes and ears.

From a distance you can’t tell but as we approach is the zodiacs the cliff is full of life. Gazing overhead, we realise the black marks etched into the sheer cliff face is not rock, but Bruunich guillemots. This orchestra echos throughout the bay, accompanied by the melody of brash ice which crackles and pops as the bubbles expand and pop entering the atmosphere. Water runs off glaciers as if a tap were left on and colossal bangs repeat throughout the fjord as parts of the glacier break away. Sitting in this fjord, with the sun on our backs, we are captivated by the sounds and immersed in the moment. If only we could bottle this feeling, we’d undoubtedly be rich. One particularly memorable highlight occurs when a small iceberg splits in half right before our eyes. Just as we are about to return to the Freya, we come across polar bear tracks followed by the tracks of an arctic fox. Though not recent, it adds an air of excitement to our adventure.

During lunch, we waste no time as Freya takes us towards Breibogen, where we disembark for a landing. Some members of our group join Ida, our guide, on a hike to a breathtaking viewpoint, while others wander along the shore, capturing photos of feeding Arctic terns.

In the afternoon, we embark on a hike to gain a better view of the Breibogen lagoon. The terrain changes from stone to peat underfoot, and we experience walking on snow for the first time during the trip. Marching one by one, we passed polar bear hair but no polar bears to be seen. Nevertheless, the panoramic view of Breibogen, known as the wide valley, makes the hike entirely worthwhile. The name given to Svalbard, the Arctic desert, begins to make perfect sense as we experience the summer weather, with 24-hour sunshine, and admire the barren and imposing mountain range.

hike Svalbard

And to top off an already incredible day, at 22:20, we reach 80 degrees north!

9th July 2023

As morning breaks, we find ourselves much further east, at the entrance of Wahlenbergfjorden on Nordaustlandet. This morning, we embark on a memorable adventure, walking to the top of Idunbreen glacier, granting us a breathtaking 360- degree view of Idunneset. We are standing right above the glacier, and we can see it in all its glory! While we’re watching the view, a large iceberg calves off the glacier, producing beautiful waves that we watch slowly move towards the shore. This calls for our first Arctic “moment of silence”, during which we all sit quietly, take it all in and immerse ourselves in the sounds of nature.

After lunch, we head directly to one of the most spectacular places that Svalbard has to offer: the Alkefjellet bird cliff, also known as Racer Bill Mountain, hosts an astonishing number of breeding pairs—60,000 brünnich’s guillemots and 40,000 kittiwakes—due to the perfect nesting conditions provided by the basalt columns. No photos or videos can capture the sheer magnitude and cacophony of this spectacle. It’s an experience that will forever be etched in our memory. The birds keep swooping in to and from their nests in a never-ending ballet of wings. Brünnich’s guillemots, kittiwakes, glaucous gulls waiting for a meal, and the tail of an Arctic fox running far up one of the hills are our afternoon’s show. Not counting the powerful waterfalls on the south end of the cliffs.

With our eyes, ears and head full of memories, we head back to Freya to continue our route south into Hinlopen Strait. After dinner, we slow down and sail quite slowly near Torellneset, where we observe dozens of walruses resting on the beach, before continuing our journey further south.

10th July 2023

As vibrations pulse through the ship, we awaken to the realization that we must be nearing Austfonna, the ice cap, as we break through the ice. Ice is everywhere: large floes of ice all around the ship, and the impressive ice wall of Bråsvellbreen, the glacier flowing out of the Austfonna ice cap. Not a breath of wind and again sunshine and fog take turns to mix up the vibe. In moments it’s as though we’re floating through the sky and the icebergs are clouds. Everyone is on the bridge or outside on the deck, admiring the scenery unfold right in front of their eyes. A fog bow also follows us for a while, adding to the uniqueness of the moment.

The weather is just perfect for a polar plunge! One after the other, we jump into the icy waters of the high Arctic, while the others cheer on the deck. Anna, our stewardess, offers some warming shots for those who braved the icy waters.

But nothing could prepare us for what we would witness next. We spend almost all day in this ice, and after exiting the fog we keep looking for wildlife on the floes. For a second we get excited when we see in the distance what looks like a beautiful polar bear… As the ship gets closer we realise that the bear is lying, dead, on an ice floe. The emotion is high and we wonder what happened to this poor bear. Though it’s not clear what this bear died of, it illustrates the fragility of this ecosystem and just how hard life is here. Finding the words hard to put together, we can only say it was a truly heartbreaking experience.

Though the day is far from over, after dinner we are further west reaching a small group of islands, Bastianøyane, where the potential for bears is high according to Ida. And it doesn’t disappoint! In a short moment, we manage to observe not less than 6 polar bears!

It’s well after midnight, and time to go to bed and continue our journey: we just found out from Ida that we will attempt the full circumnavigation of Svalbard.

11th July 2023

Yesterday was an emotional rollercoaster, with intense highs and heart-wrenching lows. However, it is a journey we are grateful to be on. During the morning, we navigate through the channel between the islands of Barentsøya and Edgeøya, keeping a lookout for wildlife along the shores. Our eyes catch a few reindeer peacefully grazing on the lush slopes of the islands before we reach our destination at Kapp Lee. Ida enlightens us with a fascinating history lesson about the Pomors and the whaling activities that once thrived in this area.

At first glance, Kapp Lee appears to be a bone yard, with scattered remains of whales, reindeer, and foxes adorning the shoreline. Some bones are weathered by time, while others are more recent. Despite the visible signs of death, life flourishes abundantly here. Although whaling activities have ceased, the walruses have reclaimed their ancient haulout spot on the beach. We are captivated by the sight of a large group of over 300 walruses huddled together in front of the remnants of the whaling era. Surprisingly, a few curious reindeer approach us, stealing the spotlight from the walruses with their endearing presence.

Walrus Haulout in Svalbard

After this awe-inspiring encounter with the walruses, we continue our journey further south to another landing site, Diskobukta. Along the east coast of Edgeøya, Disko Bay stretches out as a vast and barren expanse, far from quiet. Kittiwakes flock to the cliffs, creating a breeding frenzy, but it is a haven for the Arctic fox. Camouflaged in its summer coat, the fox stealthily maneuvers along the edges of the cliffs, undetected, seizing eggs and snatching birds from the sky whenever an opportunity presents itself. Enthralled by its focused hunting prowess, we have front-row seats to witness its underground operation. After observing the fox for a while, we make our way back to the zodiacs, taking a moment to examine the whale bones scattered on the beach before returning to the ship.

12th July 2023

During the night, we sail past the southern tip of Spitsbergen and begin our journey back north, with our first destination being Hornsund. As we approach, we are greeted by a symphony of bird songs emanating from the majestic mountains towering overhead. In the morning, our first landing takes us to Gnålodden, where we have the opportunity to visit the cabin of Wanny Woldstad, one of the first women hunters of Svalbard. However, our visit is interrupted by an aggressive Arctic skua, warning us to keep our distance from its nest. Respecting the nesting birds, we swiftly retreat from the area.

Our walk continues along the coastline, passing under another bird cliff, offering breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape. As we explore further, a delightful surprise awaits us on our way back to the ship – a family of Arctic foxes! These graceful creatures move swiftly and silently amidst the rocks and mossy hillsides, captivating our attention. Mesmerized by their presence, we are careful not to disturb them and eventually tear ourselves away, filled with a sense of wonder.

After reboarding the ship for lunch, we embark on a short journey to our next activity in Isbjørnhamna. At this point, we decide to split the group. The hikers join Ida for a spectacular hike on the Hansbreen glacier, while the others accompany Rayann on a zodiac cruise along the glacier’s front. The terrain proves challenging, and despite covering only a total distance of 5 kilometers, we feel a true sense of accomplishment as we savor our dessert that evening. The glacier crunches underfoot, and a network of rivers crisscross the area. Water accumulates where the rivers join causing a vortex and eventually pertrudes a hole deep into the glacier – not something you want to fall down. We can see each other from where we all stand, and after another very successful day we head back to the Freya for dinner and the night. Our expedition has been incredibly fortunate, providing us with diverse wildlife encounters, and now we can add a whale to our list. There is no time to waste, as another whale has been spotted on the port deck, and rumors suggest it may be a humpback.

Hike on Hansbreen in Svalbard

13th July 2023

Today we kick off with a glacier zodiac cruise to an area hardly visited due to the lengthy sail and in fact we think we might be the first people to visit this location this season. We make our way up to the end of Van Mijenfjorden in front of the surging glacier Scheelebreen, where we embark our zodiacs for a cruise in front of the glacier. It’s phenomenal. (Rindersbukta – right at the end of the fjord) Not long after we are on the water, the glacier starts calving. Colossal shears break free from the glacier edge, diving deep into the water below causing a wave to wash throughout the fjord. The discarded ice leaves new patterns, colours and textures behind. The face of the glacier is constantly changing its identity. It was an honour to bask in the glory of a surging glacier and feel the energy and power it holds. We navigate along the entire glacier front, alternating between open water and brash ice with lots of icebergs, before letting ourselves drift in silence for another arctic “moment of silence”, while an Ivory gull circles our zodiac. It was a really hard place to leave.

In the afternoon, we have to change our original landing plan because the wind became stronger. So we decide to explore Fleur de Lyshamna where Ida gives us a fascinating geology lesson and shows us some fossils. We continue exploring the area, where we are met by some inquisitive reindeer. Further up, we attend to another of nature’s drama unfolding: an Arctic skua trying to attack some snow buntings nests, and the buntings parents trying to distract the predator, successfully from what we saw!

Reindeer in Svalbard

14th July 2023

We are so lucky with the weather, and wake up again under a gorgeous sun in front of the high peaks of Alkhornet, at the entrance of Isfjord. We walk by what looks like the entrance of a fox den so we quickly clear the area and go sit at a respectable distance. Unfortunately this time the fox don’t come out, but we enjoy sunbathing in the late morning Svalbard sun! During lunch, Freya brings us further east in Isfjord to the beautiful Skansbukta for what’s our very last shore landing on this trip and yes this is still the Arctic! We’re calling it, ‘Puffin Desert’ as this is one of the best spots to see puffins! Though getting a good shot of one is no easy task. However, we do believe all succeeded in at least one shot in focus. The nesting birds high on the cliff welcome us with their usual ballet and closer to the ground, the snow buntings adults are very busy collecting food to bring it to their chicks in their nests.

Hike in

This is another site of historical importance for Svalbard and Ida tells us the story of many failed mining attempts in Svalbard, gypsum specifically for this site. Before heading back to Freya, we enjoy the sunny beach and nature at our own pace in the safe perimeter set under the vigilant eyes of our guides Ida and Rayann. Our last day couldn’t be more perfect. Back on the Freya, it is time for our last dinner together, joined by the Captain. And time to reminisce all our adventures and memories from this fantastic time all together.

15th July 2023

Our expedition is over and it’s time to say farewell to the new friends we have made. Together we will forever keep the memories of this expedition in our hearts and use this experience to maintain our alterend perspectives and respect our planet, our home.

Wildlife Report

July 07, 2023

Gullybukta, Magdalena Fjord
Walrus colony on the beach, Black Guillemots, Barnacle Geese, a mother Polar Bear and her cub

July 08, 2023

Hamilton Bay
Bird cliff, Brünnich’s Guillemots, Polar Bear tracks followed by the tracks of an Arctic Fox

Breibogen
Feeding Arctic Terns, Polar Bear hair but no Bears to be seen

July 09, 2023

Alkefjellet
60,000 breeding Brünnich’s Guillemots, 40,000 Kittiwakes, Glaucous Gulls, Arctic Fox

Torellneset
Dozens of Walruses resting on the beach

July 10, 2023

Bråsvellbreen
A Bear motionless, amongst the ice floes

Bastianøyane
6 Polar Bears

July 11, 2023

Barentsøya and Edgeøya
Few Reindeer peacefully grazing on the lush slopes of the islands

Kapp Lee
A large group of over 300 Walruses huddled together, few curious Reindeer

Diskobukta
Kittiwakes on cliffs, Arctic Fox

July 12, 2023

Gnålodden
Arctic Skua, warning us to keep our distance from its nest, bird cliff, a family of Arctic Foxes

Isbjørnhamna
Humpback Whale

July 13, 2023

Scheelebreen
Ivory Gull

Fleur de Lyshamna
Inquisitive Reindeer, an Arctic Skua trying to attack some Snow Bunting nests

July 14, 2023

Alkhornet
Fox den

Skansbukta
Nesting Puffins and Snow Buntings

Itinerary

July 06, 2023

Longyearbyen (Isfjord)

July 07, 2023

Crossfjord, Lilliehöökbreen, Signehamna, Tinayrebreen

July 08, 2023

Hamiltonbreen (Raudfjorden), Breibogen

July 09, 2023

Idunbreen, Alkefjellet, Torellneset

July 10, 2023

Bråsvelbreen / Austfonna, Bastianøyane

July 11, 2023

Kapp Lee, Diskobukta

July 12, 2023

Gnålodden, Isbjørnhamna (for the walkers) & Hansbreen (for the zodiac)

July 13, 2023

Scheelebreen, Fleur de Lyshamna

July 14, 2023

Alkhornet, Skansbukta

July 15, 2023

Longyearbyen (Isfjord)

Sea Ice Charts

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