After a wonderful few days in Paris, Cassia and I flew into Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen in the Svalbard archipelago, Arctic, via Oslo (where we overnighted in a hotel close to the airport). We were then taken by bus into the small (and only) town of Longyearbyen and to our small but very accommodating Hotel, the Svalbard Hotell.
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Longyearbyen was founded in 1906 by the American entrepeneur John Munro Longyear and was originally called Longyear City. Longyearbyen is usually where all tourists arrive and the base for all tourist activities. In town, it is customary to take off your shoes before entering buildings. After checking in we took a walk around town and did some birding on the road to the sledging dog kennels.
Dinner that evening was booked by Francine and Judith – a Nordic tasting menu, paired with wine/beer at the famous Huset restaurant in an old building in the valley out of my main town area of Longyearbyen.
The next morning we were able to wander around the village (I also managed to get in a short tour of the well appointed little museum) and do some birding along the shoreline before we boarded our ship for the cruise, the Akademik Ioffe, via zodiaks in the afternoon.
The green map (below) was supposed to be our approximate itinerary (depending on conditions) but because of the the current pack ice situation (see red map below) our proposed route around the northern part of the archipegalo was blocked and so a decision was made to head south, cruise around the bottom end of Spitsbergen and then head north up to the pack ice.
The next morning we were in Brepollen (“Glacier Bay”), a wide bay with an almost completely glacial coastline in innermost Hornsund. The whole of Hornsund is part of the South Spitsbergen National Park. After breakfast we embarked on our first Zodiac trip of the cruise.
Over lunch, the ship then moved to Isbjørnhamna , which is the site of the permanently staffed Polish research station and is thus the southernmost permanently inhabited place in Spitsbergen. The lower slopes of the mountains near the station are covered with a coarse scree which is home to large colonies of Little Auks (tens of thousands of breeding pairs). A dense colourful carpet of mainly mosses and lichens but also some Purple saxifrage has been laid down on the well fertilised tundra near the bird colonies. It was a bit of a trudge from the Zodiacs on the shoreline to the Little Auk colonies on the mountain slopes but very much worth it, not only for the Little Auks, but also our first sightings of the Rock Ptarmigan and a distant Arctic fox in his summer fur coat.
By early the next morning, we had rounded the southern tip of Spitsbergen and we were heading north again into dense drift ice. We spent the whole day at sea mainly in dense fog looking for polar bears and seals on the drift ice. The highlight of the morning was a sighting of a female polar bear with 2 cubs swimming through the drift ice (albeit in the foggy distance) and in late afternoon, a bearded seal. Also late in the afternoon we had hot chocolate laced with Kahlua and treats on deck with music.
Work in progress……