Today embark your expedition ship in Longyearbyen. Sail out of Adventfjorden and into Isfjorden during the early evening. With almost 24 hours of daylight this time of year, enjoy the view from the outer decks. Meet your expedition team during an introductory briefing and then enjoy a welcome dinner in the ship's comfortable dining room. Entering the vast expanse of the Greenland Sea, your ship heads south, hugging the main island of Spitsbergen to port.
Arrive at the southerly port of Bourbonhamna - well known for the beluga whales that transit the narrow sound. Adults are pure white and the younger calves are a mottled grey color. It is estimated that there are approximately five to ten thousand belugas in the Svalbard population. The beluga has no dorsal fin, a feature of high Arctic whale species 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 frequently ice-covered waters.
Search for belugas from the ship and by zodiac. The disembark for your first shore excursion in Bourbonhamna. An old hunting cabin and other artifacts are points of interest during your hike to Ingebrigstenbukta. However, it is the massive piles of beluga whale bones 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, you can hope to catch a glimpse of dozens of reindeer that inhabit the area.
Coming around the most southerly point of Spitsbergen, the ship pushes into the broad expanse of Storfjorden. Landing at Dolerittneset near Kapp Lee, the lush vegetation of this region is remarkable given the fact that you are at 70 degrees North Latitude. This landing site has a large scattering of reindeer antlers, however it is the plethora of ancient whale bones that makes it so memorable. Some 400 years ago whales were hunted almost to extinction in the waters around Svalbard. Nature has since 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 flower. 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.
Returning to the west coast, glacier-filled bays surround your ship as your sail into Hornsund. With good ice conditions, your captain is able to navigate close to the glaciers, which dominate the area. The entire archipelago of Svalbard is a giant lesson in glacieology and your onboard guides explain the formations of this fantastic landscape on your hikes and zodiac cruises.
The rocky shores of Krossfjorden are home to numerous bird colonies and a variety of different species. Anchor the ship in a small harbor, launch the zodiacs and cruise beneath towering bird cliffs near the 14th of July Glacier. While cruising the dark waters here, be on the lookout for bearded and ringed seals, as both species are known to frequent this fjord.
At the northwestern head of Krossfjorden, Lilliehook Glacier is an incredible sight. The glacier face stretches almost 7 kilometers and has a height of around 80 meters. Viewed from the ship or on a zodiac cruise, you can appreciate the enormous scale of your surroundings.
Later in the day, as you sail out of Krossfjorden and Kongsfjorden, you may be fortunate enough to see the historic airship anchor pylon near the scientific community of Ny Alesund. 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 though Ny Alesund.
Nearby, Smeerenburgfjord 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.
Continue north and east, moving up into the ice and hoping to cross the 80 degree north parallel. As your ship approaches the ice edge, it slows down and all hands are either on the bridge or out on the outer decks 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 colored lump miles away on the ice metamorphoses into a polar bear as you slowly work your way through the ice toward it. Your ship is perfectly designed for near-silent approach and your Captain takes great pride in bringing you 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 ice pack, Phippsoya offers the potential for great polar bear viewing. The crew has enjoyed excellent encounters here with the bears in recent seasons. Be sure to get up to the bridge and take a picture of the ship's GPS as it shows this incredibly high polar latitude - welcome to the top of the world!
From the ice edge, 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 the zodiacs as the tidal currents roar through Hinlopen Strait. Nearby Murchison Fjord is a wonderful place to kayak or cruise as the ship navigates the waterways between the islands. There are some excellent hiking routes here as well, which take you up to high points that offer staggering views and further opportunities to encounter Arctic wildlife.
Entering Leifdefjorden, the ship slowly cruises toward 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 upswelling 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 you explore the landscape on foot, the remains of fox traps and sun-bleached seal bones speak of both human interaction and wildlife predation.
Alkehornet, at the mouth of Isfjord, offers breathtaking views and an incredible tundra walk as you near the end of your adventure in Svalbard. Arctic fox can often be seen here, as well as reindeer. Towering above the landing site, listen for a chorus of thousands of birds - all singing at the same time. This evening, celebrate your journey with a special dinner attended by the ship's Captain. It is a great time to reflect on a wonderful voyage in this wild and remote place.
Arrive in Longyearbyen this morning. Disembark after breakfast and say farewell to your expedition team and fellow passengers. A transfer into town is provided for those choosing to stay a few days. If you are departing today, you have a few hours this morning to explore the town before transferring to the airport for your onward flights.