Arctic Cruise Adventure Trip Log: June 30–July 14, 2022
July 1, 2022 | Landing in Longyearbyen
We began our day early, as staff and guests progressed in groups to depart on the two charter flights to Longyearbyen. Rather overcast weather restricted the views as we flew over Spitsbergen to land at Longyearbyen where we encountered our first polar bear, albeit one stuffed and standing next to the baggage carousel.
As our luggage was conveniently delivered to the ship, guests and guides enjoyed a nice lunch where A&K’s “Longyearbyen team” checked us in for our upcoming cruise. We had a chance to visit the Arctic Museum which recounts the history of Svalbard dating back to the late 1500s and features artifacts representing the history, flora and fauna of the archipelago. Following some free time in town, we had a wonderful orientation driving tour before arriving to the pier to embark in tenders to board ‘L’Austral,’ lying at anchor in the harbor. We were welcomed with excellent pastries and Champagne before settling into our cabins and attending briefings on tomorrow’s activities, making a visit to the scientific community of Ny Alesund and setting out on a Zodiac cruise in Krossfjorden.
July 2, 2022 | Ny Alesund & Kongsfjord
We arrived at Ny Alesund this morning and went ashore in the ship’s tenders. We had the opportunity to go on a serendipitous walk, during which Nellie Nilsen, our botanist, passed on her enthusiasm for all things botanical. Also on offer was the opportunity to walk out to the airship mooring mast and hear a little from John about early attempts to reach the North Pole by air, some of which ended better than others. Some of us were with A&K’s “resident” astronaut and former space shuttle commander Susan Kilrain as she explained the NASA Arctic Laser-ranging station — part of a global network of space geodetic stations that measures and monitors the size and shape of Earth, its orientation in space, the exact location of points on its surface and how these locations change over time. Wildlife spotting included an Arctic tern with a chick and reindeer wandering among the buildings of the various research stations.
Upon return to the ship, we received the mandatory AECO and polar bear briefings from Expedition Leader Susan Adie. During lunchtime, the ship repositioned to the head of Kongsfjord, where we embarked on Zodiacs and had the opportunity to listen to the first lecture on polar bears presented by John Kernan. During the Zodiac cruise we saw bearded seals and red-legged guillemots and discussed subjects ranging from ice, climate change and geomorphology to ornithology.
July 3, 2022 | Wanlbergoya & Alkefjellet
We went ashore at Wanlbergoya in groups today to walk to a walrus haul out, where briefings were given by John Kernan and Rich Pagan. The area was secured by our bear guards who defined the perimeter of the area where it was safe for us to walk. Bare gravel covers the ground, but small plants somehow manage to establish themselves and Nellie was on hand to explain how. As we walked back to the landing site, the fog rolled in reducing visibility and confirming that it was time to return to the ship.
After lunch, Michelle gave a great presentation on photo composition. Having repositioned the ship we took a Zodiac excursion to the spectacular cliffs of Alkefjellet, where the bird life which included Brunnich’s guillemots and glaucous gulls was truly spectacular. The dolerite intrusion into the limestone “country” rock kept the geologically inclined happy and the sighting of a pair of Arctic foxes scavenging below the cliffs provided a fitting finale to a great afternoon.
July 4, 2022 | Makeoyane
Early this morning a bear was spotted during a staff reconnaissance on the island of Makeoyane, but it was difficult to see, so we proceeded with the day’s activities as planned. We landed near Muhammad and walked across the tundra to the trappers’ hut which is now owned by the government of Svalbard and is in the charge of the Sysselmannen (Governor). Hunting has ceased, but John Wright was able to give some historical perspective while Tor spoke of her time living in this very hut. She was the last person to stay here before it became unavailable for general public use.
After lunch, we moved the ship across the fjord and sent out a Zodiac to look for the polar bear spotted earlier this morning. It had moved around the island and the ship was repositioned to get a good view. Although some distance away and appearing only as “a blob of mayonnaise,” the bear became more active and we were able to observe it with binoculars or spotting scopes. The bear watching was interrupted by a talk from astronaut Susan Kilrain after which we started to reposition for tomorrows’ activities. During the recap, the Fourth of July was celebrated with “Botanical Fireworks” from botanist Nellie Nilsen.
Our passage was interrupted when we spotted three polar bears on a snow patch in Raud Fjord. They were most likely a mother with two cubs from last year. The Captain displayed great seamanship by bringing ‘L’Austral’s’ bow within about 500 feet of the shore, making for some great viewing and photo opportunities.
July 5, 2022 | Magdalenefjord, Gravneset, Gullybutka & Fjortende Julibutka
We awoke to a glorious morning in Magdalenefjord, with plans to go ashore at the 17th-century English whaling settlement of Gravneset. However, true Arctic expedition flexibility was shown when walruses were sighted in Gullybukta and the decision was taken to quickly pull the landing and reposition. It was a great decision and we spent the morning being entertained by walruses in their natural environment, the sea. The great lumbering beasts we had seen on land were transformed into graceful swimmers once they left the beach.
On return to the ship John Wright presented a lecture on the history of Svalbard with assistance on contemporary questions provided by Anna Lena. Lunch was followed by our botanist, Nellie Nielsen presenting her lecture on “Being a plant in the Arctic.”
Later in the afternoon we landed at Fourteenth July Glacier, where the guides commented on how quickly the glacier has retreated in recent years. The weather was wonderful, and we walked, examined the amazing botany of the “hanging gardens” with Nellie and the bird life with Rich Pagan. It was simply a brilliant afternoon to enjoy the Arctic.
July 6, 2022 | Isfjorden & Longyearbyen
This morning, we awoke to find the ship approaching the anchorage at Skansbukta in Isfjorden. Our morning was split between a short Zodiac excursion to watch puffins and a landing at the old trappers’ hut, where we were also able to observe the remnants of gypsum mining that was conducted by the Dalen Portland Cement Works in 1918. The mine was not a commercial success and was quickly abandoned. During our Zodiac excursion, some of the groups were able to observe a blue fox scavenging below the cliffs.
During the late morning, we sailed to Longyearbyen where we dropped off Patrick, one of our bear guards; took on provisions; and sailed for Jan Mayen. It wasn’t long before what was expected to be a quiet passage was interrupted by several whale sightings. These grew in number till we were in a virtual whale soup! There was great excitement and cameras became hot to the touch as we observed fin whales, humpback whales and white beak dolphins. The captain maneuvered the ship with his usual panache and we enjoyed a wonderful spectacle before resuming our course.
During the day we enjoyed lectures by ornithologist Rich Pagan and astronaut Susan Kilrain.
A truly special day and a great end to the Svalbard section of our journey.
July 7, 2022 | Greenland Sea
Our quiet day at sea was punctuated by an insightful series of lectures. Photo coach Michelle Valberg shared some timely tips, naturalist John Kernan shed light on the secret lives of polar bears, historian Anna Lena Ekeblad gave a local perspective on life in Svalbard, and ornithologist Rich Pagan prepped us on the birdlife we should look out for.
We were briefed on tomorrow’s planned landing at Jan Mayen during our recap session. After Cruise Director Paul Carter’s fun quiz in the lounge, we retired to our cabins, hopeful for good weather tomorrow.
July 8, 2022 | Jan Mayen
As we approached Jan Mayen, a thick fog cast its shadow on our planned landing. To keep us optimistic and inspired, naturalist John Wright shared the history of the 1968-69 British Trans Arctic Expedition, and botanist Nellie Nilsen presented “Being a Flower in the Arctic.”
We anchored amid the fog off Jan Mayen, catching occasional glimpses of the island. Owing to the visibility, the captain decided to change our planned landing on the island’s southern shore, opting instead to approach from the north. This quick thinking allowed us to land at Puppebu. Once safely ashore, we hiked a rough road leading to the Norwegian outpost of Meteorology Station on the other side of the island. We paused to take in the view along the way, the fog lifting to reveal the 7,470-foot cone of Mount Beerenberg.
In addition to history and geology lectures, the evening recaps briefed us on the latest sea ice reports. We learned that the ice might prevent us from reaching the Greenland coast, but that it would also likely harbor an abundance of polar bears and seals to photograph.
July 9, 2022 | Greenland Sea
We continued along the ice belt’s edge, hoping that the mist would lift and reveal a safe passage to Scoresby Sound. The morning mist cleared to reveal a polar bear on the ice. It was probably a young male, likely under five years old and definitely curious. The captain skillfully nudged the ship’s bow onto the edge of the ice, allowing the bear to move in closer for some remarkable photo opportunities.
The mist hung around all day, forcing the captain to stay in position and play it safe till conditions improved. The Expedition Team’s lectures kept us entertained, covering topics ranging from the future of space flight to Salomon August Andrée’s Arctic balloon expedition of 1897.
As the day went on, the sun started to break through the mist, giving us hope that tomorrow would bring clear views of the Greenland coast and perhaps more polar bear spottings.
July 10, 2022 | Greenland Sea
We awoke to a slight breeze with peeks of sunlight and much better visibility by breakfast time. The pack ice opened, clearing a path toward Cape Brewster. It wasn’t long before we spotted a polar bear with a cub on the ice. While the pair kept their distance, we were able to watch as they swam between ice floes.
The weather continued to improve, setting the stage for an afternoon Zodiac excursion through loose ice floes and towering icebergs. We observed kittiwakes and little auks along the base of the cliffs. The Zodiacs idled amid these spectacular surroundings as we enjoyed a sublime Champagne toast.
Back aboard, the evening recaps included a presentation on conflict in the Arctic from naturalist Russ Manning. After dinner, the ship’s dancers and singers set a lively, festive mood. Then, DJ Paul Carter took over for a spirited evening of dancing that lasted till the early hours of the morning.
July 11, 2022 | Greenland Sea
We awoke to a misty morning as we cruised from the Greenland coast toward Iceland. The Captain slowly and skillfully threaded a course through the pack ice as we took in more lectures from the Expedition Team. After clearing the pack ice, we made good speed towards Iceland.
July 12, 2022 | Husavik, Iceland
After taking the harbor pilot on board in pouring rain, we docked in Husavik. Once ashore, we boarded coaches for tours of Iceland’s north country. We took in the stunning beauty of Godafoss waterfall, Lake Myvatn and the lava fields of Dimmuborgir. We capped off our tour with a visit to the whaling museum in Husavik, a project supported by A&K Philanthropy.
We boarded the ship and embarked Husavik in the early evening. En route to the Westfjords region, we enjoyed the Captain’s farewell gala dinner despite the building seas. We met the crew and thanked them for all their hard work throughout our journey. The seas moderated later in the evening, making for a smoother passage to the Westfjords.
July 13, 2022 | Westfjords
A beautiful day greeted us as the Westfjords came into view. We shuttled ashore in the Zodiacs for our visit to Arnarfjorour fjord and the Dynjandi, one of the most stunning waterfalls in Iceland. We were able to choose the length of our walk, with some guests opting to view the falls from the shore, and others hiking to the terrace below the falls for a close-up view and complimentary shower.
Back aboard, the evening recapped our expedition with numerous pictures and videos, some hilarious and some educational. Some of us placed bids in an auction supporting A&K Philanthropy. At the end of the night, we were thrilled to learn we had raised about $33,000. We reflected on our incredible journey as we prepared for tomorrow morning’s disembarkation in Reykjavik.
July 14, 2022 | Reykjavik
This morning, we disembarked in Reykjavik with a greater appreciation for this unique corner of the world. We had been rewarded with spectacular polar bear, walrus, seal and seabird sightings in magnificent settings, accented by a stunning bouquet of Arctic flora. The Expedition Team had truly wowed us with their knowledge, passion and flexibility, a skillset that elevated our journey despite the challenges of weather and pack ice. We headed homeward, each traveller eager to share their journey’s stories with friends and family.
Wildlife Sightings on This Journey
- Red-throated Diver
- Northern Fulmar
- Whooper Swan
- Pink-footed Goose
- Greylag Goose
- Barnacle Goose
- (Greater) Scaup
- Tufted Duck
- Common Eider
- Long-tailed Duck
- Eurasian Oystercatcher
- Ringed Plover
- (European) Golden-plover
- Purple Sandpiper
- Black-tailed Godwit
- (Common) Snipe
- Red Phalarope
- Great Skua
- Arctic Skua
- Black-headed Gull
- Common Gull
- Lesser Black-backed Gull
- Great Black-backed Gull
- Black-legged Kittiwake
- Glaucous Gull
- Ivory Gull
- Arctic Tern
- Little Auk
- Atlantic Puffin
- Black Guillemot
- Common Guillemot
- Brünnich's Guillemot
- White Wagtail
- Common Raven
- Snow Bunting
- White-beaked Dolphin
- Northern Minke Whale
- Sei Whale
- Fin Whale
- Humpback Whale
- Common Seal
- Harp Seal
- Bearded Seal
- Polar Bear
- Arctic Fox (White morph)
- Arctic Fox (Blue morph)
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