Spitsbergen and the Svalbard archipelago offer a tremendous wildlife and birdlife experience, as well as a fascinating lesson in glaciology. The islands are the northernmost inhabited places on the planet and would be permanently locked in ice if not for the moderating influence of the Atlantic Gulf Stream current. First used as a whaling base in the 17th and 18th centuries, the islands are now celebrated as a breeding ground for many seabirds, along with marine mammals and the elusive polar bear. Our expedition ship is the renowned Akademik Ioffe, perfectly suited for remote exploration.
We commence in Longyearbyen, the principal community of this frosty Norwegian territory. Our 11-night itinerary allows for a thorough exploration of the archipelago and we first head south, then northwest and then along the northern coastline of the main island of Spitsbergen. If ice conditions permit, we cruise deep into the Hinlopen Strait - which separates the island of Spitsbergen from the more easterly island of Nordaustlandet.
As we explore the waterways of Svalbard, we enjoy frequent stops at well known wildlife sites, places of historic interest and witness glaciers, ice filled bays, fascinating plant life, all the while soaking up the stunning beauty that surrounds us. Our expedition ship is uniquely capable of working in and among the sea ice and our Captain and crew are among the most experienced ice navigators in the world. Off the northern coastline of Svalbard, the vast Arctic ice cap stretches as far as the eye can see and we maximize our time exploring along the edges of the pack ice.
This area is full of wildlife including seals, walrus, birds - and the iconic polar bear. As we return south to the main island group we continually encounter a great diversity of wildlife including beluga whales, walrus, reindeer, Arctic fox and copious birdlife. Our days are filled with guided shore excursions offering excellent hiking opportunities, cruising in the zodiac boats and exploring on the ship. Throughout our journey we enjoy a comprehensive programme of presentations, these will provide an excellent background to our expedition.
As with all our expeditions, safety is our top priority. For that reason weather, ice or other conditions may require us to change our itinerary and shore excursions as we go but that is half the fun of Polar exploring. Predictability is a word that has no relevance in this environment.
Day 1 – Longyearbyen, Svalbard Today we embark our expedition ship, the Akademik Ioffe in Longyearbyen and, as we throw the lines, we sail out of Adventfjorden and into Isfjorden during the early evening. With 24 hours of daylight at this time of the year, we enjoy the views from the outer decks of the ship as we depart. We meet our expedition team during an introductory briefing and then enjoy a welcome dinner in the ships comfortable dining room. Entering the vast expanse of the Greenland Sea, our ship heads south, hugging the main island of Spitsbergen to our port side (left). Day 2 – Bourbonhamna We arrive at the southerly Bourbonhamna – well known for the beluga whales that transit the narrow sound. Adults are pure white and the younger calves a mottled grey colour. It is estimated there are approximately five to ten thousand belugas in the Svalbard population. The beluga has no dorsal fin; a diagnostic feature of whale species that live in the high Arctic such as the narwhal and bowhead. Since a dorsal fin could be damaged when the animal surfaces in areas with ice, it has been postulated the lack of dorsal fin is an adaptation to living in waters that are frequently covered by ice. We search for belugas from the ship and while zodiac cruising and then plan our first shore excursion at Bourbonhamna. An old hunting cabin and other artefacts are points of interest during our hike to Ingebrigstenbukta. However, it is the massive piles of beluga whalebones that catch everybody’s attention. The bones and all artifacts are protected by the Svalbard Government and cannot be removed. While wandering amongst these relics we hope to catch a glimpse of dozens of reindeer that inhabit the area. Day 3 – Kapp Lee Coming around the most southerly point of Spitsbergen, we push into the broad expanse of Storfjorden. Exploring Dolerittneset near Kapp Lee, the lush vegetation of this region is remarkable given the fact we are at 70° North in latitude. This area has a large scattering of reindeer antlers; however, it is the plethora of ancient whalebones that makes the excursion so memorable. Some 400 years ago, whales were hunted almost to extinction in the waters surrounding Svalbard. Now nature has turned the decaying old bones into items of beauty. Time and the elements have altered their original shape and sculpted them into works of art. They are covered in blankets of green mosses and grasses, spattered with blotches of black and orange lichen, and framed with purple saxifrage, yellow cinquefoil and white sandwort flowers. They are fascinating photographic subjects. Now, even after death, the noble whale supports life by robustly protecting the delicate flora from the harsh winds and providing nutrients to ensure their survival. Day 4 – Hornsund Returning to the west coast, glacier-filled bays surround us as we sail the ship into Hornsund. With good ice conditions, we are able to navigate close to the glaciers that are a feature of the area. The entire archipelago of Svalbard is a giant lesson in glaciology and our onboard guides will use our hikes and zodiac cruises to explain the formation of this fantastic landscape. Days 5-6 – Krossfjorden and Northwestern Spitsbergen The rocky shores of Krossfjorden are home to numerous bird colonies and a range of species. We anchor the ship in a protected harbour, launch the zodiacs and cruise along the bird cliffs near the 14th of July Glacier. Bearded and ringed seals are known to frequent the waters here and we watch out for them in the dark waters of the fjord. Lilliehook Glacier, at the northwestern head of Krossfjorden, is an incredible sight. The glacier face stretches almost seven kilometres and has a height of around 80-meters. Viewed from the ship or on a zodiac cruise you come to appreciate the enormous scale of our surroundings. Later in the day as we sail out of Krossfjorden and Kongsfjorden, we may be fortunate enough to see the historic airship anchor pylon near the scientific community of Ny Ålesund. This remote outpost earned its place in aviation pioneering history as a starting point for North Pole aviation exploration. Notable pioneer aviators including Zeppelin, Amundsen, Ellsworth, Byrd and Nobile all passed through Ny Ålesund. Nearby, Smeerenburgfjorden has a four-hundred-year history of whaling and is a favorite spot as we round the northwestern tip of Spitsbergen. A wander along the beach looking at the blubber cookers, or an hour behind a tripod shooting landscapes on your camera might be on the schedule, all the while looking for wildlife that can appear anywhere in Svalbard. Days 7-8 – Polar Pack Ice, Phippsoya and the Seven Islands We continue north and east up into the ice, hoping to cross the 80° north parallel. As we approach the ice edge the ship slows down and all hands are either on the bridge or out on the outer decks as we start scanning for wildlife. Bearded seals, ringed seals and walrus may be found hauled out on the edges of the ice. Harp seals swim in herds of 10 to 20 through the open water channels in the ice. A buttery coloured lump miles away on the ice metamorphoses into a polar bear as we slowly work our way through the ice toward it. Our ship is perfectly designed for near silent approach and our Captain takes great pride in bringing us in close enough to experience the wildlife without disturbing it. At 81° degrees north latitude, Phippsoya - one of the Seven Islands - is only 540 nautical miles from the North Pole. Because of its proximity to the permanent pack ice, Phippsoya offers the potential for great polar bear viewings. We have enjoyed excellent encounters with them in recent seasons in this area. Be sure to get up to the bridge and take a picture of the ship’s GPS showing this incredibly high polar latitude as we’re near the top of the world. Day 9 – Hinlopen Strait and Nordaustlandet From the ice edge we turn south into the main strait separating Svalbard’s two main islands: Spitsbergen and Nordaustlandet. In Hinlopen Strait, the bird cliffs at Alkefjellet are home to more than a hundred thousand breeding Brunnich’s guillemots, as well as thousands of kittiwakes and black guillemots. It is a spectacular site and a challenging one for our zodiacs as the tidal currents roar through Hinlopen Strait. Nearby Murchison Fjord is a wonderful place to kayak or cruise as we navigate the waterways between the islands. There are some excellent hiking routes here which take us up to high points affording staggering views and further opportunities to encounter Arctic wildlife. Day 10 – Leifdefjorden and Monacobreen (Monaco Glacier) Entering Leifdefjorden we slowly cruise towards the Monaco Glacier. This vast sweep of ice more than seven kilometers wide provides a fabulous backdrop for a zodiac cruise. Miles of ice face broken up by ice caves and tumbling seracs are a sight to behold as are the thousands of black-legged kittiwakes feeding on the upwelling of rich nutrients found near the sub-glacial outflow. A morning of cruising in the ice is best followed by a hike on the tundra. Red phalaropes, purple sandpipers and vibrant tundra provide plenty of viewing and photography opportunities. As we explore the landscape on foot, the remains of fox traps and sun bleached seal bones speak of both human interaction and wildlife predation. Day 11 – Alkehornet Alkehornet, at the mouth of Isfjord, offers breathtaking views and an incredible tundra walk as we near the end of our adventure in Svalbard. Arctic fox can often be seen here, as well as reindeer. Towering above the site is a horn-shaped mount covered in guillemots and kittiwakes. Only as we approach and stop to listen will we hear the chorus of thousands of birds, all singing at the same time. This evening we celebrate our journey with a special dinner attended by the ship’s Captain. It's a great time to reflect on a wonderful voyage in this wild and remote place. Day 12 – Longyearbyen, Svalbard Arriving back into Longyearbyen this morning, we disembark after breakfast and say farewell to our expedition team and fellow passengers. A transfer into town is provided for those choosing to stay a few days. If you are departing today, we have a few hours this morning to explore the town, before transferring to the airport for your onward flight to Tromso or Oslo. About our itinerary – Polar exploration can be unpredictable. Specific sites visited will depend on prevailing weather and ice conditions at the time of sailing. The above itinerary should be read as a 'guide only' and may change. The ship's Captain in conjunction with the Expedition Leader continually review the sailing plan throughout the voyage, making adjustments to the itinerary along the way to take advantage of optimal weather and ice conditions or to maximise our encounters with wildlife. Decades of experience spent exploring these waterways mean we have a large number of outstanding landing sites and zodiac cruising locations to consider, even when the weather conditions may not be ideal or when heavy ice may block out planned route. A flexible approach is something we encourage you to bring to the ship.
Designed for polar research, the Akademik Ioffe, also known as the One Ocean Navigator is modern, comfortable, safe and ice-strengthened. From small group sessions to briefings for all passengers, the public spaces onboard the ship are ideally suited for each and every need. A separate bar and lounge, as well as a library provide ideal places to sit and relax or catch up on some reading. A selection of movies and documentaries can also be watched in the lounge. Enjoy the sumptuous meals prepared for you by the culinary team in our dining room, which can host all clients in a single seating with ample room. Other facilities include the theatre style presentation room, gift-shop, fitness room, massage room, sauna and plunge pool.