This year the sea north of Svalbard has been free from ice. This means that the vast pack ice has required some patience to reach, but once you have reached it awaits exciting wildlife and amazing views.
Today our target was to reach the pack ice. Most years the ice streches all the way down to the northern shores of Svalbard, but this year is different, and after more than seven hours cruise northward we finally reached the first ice. Northern fulmar, little auks and brünnich’s guillemots were all flying around the ship as we slowly were making our way through the ice. We were also delighted to see several bearded seals resting on the ice as well. Just before lunch, we spotted another huge group of seals resting on the ice far away in the horizon. As we got closer we could see that many of them had a black and white fur - harp seals! This charismatic Arctic seal is tied to the pack ice and rarely seen in large numbers. Now we had more than one thousand seals resting on the ice in front of the ship! After lunch, we were eager to get a closer look at the seals and therefore we put our Zodiacs into the water as quickly as we could. By carefully approaching the seals with paddles we spent two hours watching the seals before heading back to the ship after another spectacular day in the Arctic.
In August, Roxana Cremer, a PhD Student in Atmospheric Science at Stockholm University, travelled with us on board M/S Quest. Once back on Stockholm’s busy streets in front of an empty page, thinking about what she actually would like to tell about her trip to the Arctic this last summer, she wrote this text for our blog. Please read it below!
The words that most sum up my feelings and experiences are by Birgit Lutz, a German polar adventurer (freely translated from her book: Eine Frau erobert die Arktis):
Who only sees the cold dessert in the ArcticiIce, to whom this world will never open up.
It is so true, who only thinks about the cold, the polar bears and the ice will miss a lot up in the far North of our planet. But when you get bitten by the Arctic bug you see the most beautiful nature you can ever imagen and this far distant place will become a second home for you.
When I went to Svalbard this year in the early morning of August a new Arctic world just opened up for me; before Svalbard was a place to work, doing research, but never for holidays. On first sight, everything was weird. All the mountains, I only knew in white, were in a brownish colour. The feeling vanished quickly during our visit to Barentsburg the first evening, this Russian coal mining town with its special character, I fell in love again with this other face of the Arctic: A darker one, colour wise, but the beauty was just as astonishing as in its white winter dress.
Our first morning was spend in rainy weather at Recherchefjord with a Zodiac lesson, a little cruising along the glacier front and later that day we landed at Bamsebu. The old whaling town is already gone and just left behind hills of bones and a trapper hut. This winter, two women are staying there recording data for science and reaching out globally from a very special place of to classrooms to communicate climate. The whole project is called Hearts in the ice.
Normally wake up time was around 8 am with a great breakfast, but sometimes it could happen that you got a call a little Earlier. That one morning it was 5 am, message: Whale! More precisely Bowhead whale. I jumped out of the bed, grabbed my cloth pulled them on, grabbed my camera, got in my shoes and ran upstairs and outside. That sounds like it is done in a minute, and sure it was Arctic summer but standing on deck is still cold and windy. The putting your cloth on quickly in the Arctic takes a little longer then normally, you got at least two layers under your jacket and then you look and move more like a barrel than someone who wants to run upstairs for whale watching and the whole time you hope to be quick enough. I was and so I saw my first whale in an Arctic sunrise.
The excitement for that day was far from over, I went back to bed for another hour of sleep and after the breakfast we went for a walk at Kap Lee with walruses, kittiwakes and reindeers. After lunch we headed out in the Zodiacs because of a polar bear spotting. It was the third bear on our trip but the first one we came really close to. He was sitting at the beach looking at us. After some time, he left the beach to continue his travel. We headed to the other side of the fjord because there was another polar bear sighting: a mother with two cubs. Cubs isn’t really painting the right picture; teenagers fit a little better. It was their last summer with their mother and they just had a feast. At the beach was a massive walrus cadaver, on top of the cliff the three bears took a little after lunch nap. Down on the beach the walrus left-overs were eaten by some foxes and one gull. I cannot remember how much time we spent there going back and forth to see the bears and the foxes. At one point one of the teenager bears came down the cliff, scared away the foxes and checked out the food again, only to climb up a few minutes later. The commitment to slide down the cliff was such a clumsy and cute move and you could really see how well fed they were from the walrus they had shared. Back on top of the cliff the mother bear slowly begun to make its way and the three left to the inland.
I will leave it here, dreaming back to my vacation while going through a few more of my photos and leaving you with another quote from the book:
Marco Polo described Sri Lanka as one of the most beautiful islands in the world and we agree! This tropical island is known for its varied, beautiful scenery which includes lush mountain slopes, tea plantations, deep blue seas with vast beaches as well as national parks that host exciting wildlife. Read about our guests' experiences in one of the parks below!
We left a cold Sweden behind and were welcomed by Sri Lanka's greenery and warmth. It is a nice contrast to stay a few days in the wilderness camp at Wilpattu National Park - crickets play while the frogs quiver calmly outside the tent during the evenings. Today's jeep tour offered many exotic birds: blue-tailed bee-eaters, painted stork, white-bellied sea eagle, Indian crested hawk-eagle and Sri Lankan junglefowl, which is also Sri Lanka's national bird.
In addition to the endemic toque macaque, which curiously peeked back at us, we also saw grey languras, crocodiles, trionychidae and a number of different deer. All guests had fantastic meetings with two different leopards and several in the group also saw a lip bear strolling around the vegetation. Tomorrow, the journey continues towards Sigiriya and UNESCO's World Heritage site, the impressive "Lion Cliff".
The spectacular, isolated and rarely visited sub-Antarctic islands south of New Zealand and Australia are recognised as some of the world’s great “biodiversity hotspots” and enlisted as a World Heritage Sites. Here, almost half of all the world's penguin and albatross species nest and it is a real oasis for anyone interested in wildlife and wildlife. Below you can read about our travellers' visits to MacQuarie Island.
Today we made a landing in Australian territory, on the most remote island imaginable. At the very bottom right corner of the world map you can see a small line sticking out of the depth of the sea - MacQuarie Island. This is home to about 80,000 elephant seals and hundreds of thousands of penguins and other seabirds.
The most special is the royal penguin which nests only on this remote island. In other words, you have to visit Macquarie Island if you want to have seen every penguin species in the world. When you are here you can also take the opportunity to tick off three other species: king penguin, gentoo penguin and rockhopper penguin. And we didn't have to search very long to find the animals. At the ascent of Sandy Bay, it was rather difficult to find a vacancy on the beach to go ashore. The elephant seals were literally in piles and between the piles of blubber, the penguins tried to get up to reach their nesting sites higher up.
We gently wandered between seals and penguins who barely took any notice of the two-legged visitors, and it was difficult to know where to look and photograph. The animals' daily lives took place before our eyes and everything happened at the same time. Few places on the planet can exhibit such a concentration of wildlife, where one can also be in the midst of them.
It is barely 5:00 AM, but I am already up, awake and fully dressed. Two pairs of socks, three pairs of trousers and three layers of sweaters. It's for best when a chilly adventure in South Georgia is what awaits!
Moving smooth and freely is not the easiest, but one by one we descend into the inflatable Zodiac that will take us all the way ashore. Our Zodiac makes a so-called surf-landing, which means the guides stand and receive us at the beach while the waves roll in. With waterproof clothing from top to toe, it is really fun to have to put your feet in the water before you can step up on the beach.
The sound of the waves drowns in the humming of the elephant seals, the delightful whine of the king penguins and the groaning of the fur seals - it is a way for them to show where the boundary of their territory goes. Once the ears get used to all the sounds, the eyes start to work too. Wherever I look, there are hundreds of king penguins standing in large clusters or strolling around. The elephant seals are like little lumps everywhere and are looking for eye contact with their big, round eyes. Suddenly we hear a thundering noise and the ground vibrates slightly. Right next to us are two elephant seals who are about to challenge each other in a harem fight!
I look out over this gigantic sea of fantastic animals, and there I stand, trying to capture everything from the surroundings - what a fantastic way start to the day!
Halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole lies Svalbard – one of the world’s most magnificent wildernesses. From the airplane windows you get a first glimpse of the Arctic landscapes, but the real adventure starts when we leave the civilisation behind with one of our small expedition ships. We set out into the untamed wilderness, surrounded by ice blue glaciers, dramatic mountains and mirror-like fjords. No two days are alike - sometimes you might be woken up in the middle of the bright night if a polar bear has been spotted on the ice. In this short film some of fantastic travellers and guides tell us about their great experiences in the Arctic wilderness.