There is no doubt that Svalbard offers amazing wildlife and unforgettable nature experiences, but it is not always as easy to imagine what it is like to travel through the untamed wilderness with a small expedition cruise ship. We hope and believe that this film from M/S Sjøveien will give you a good sense of what you might experience during a trip with us!
Since 1999, we have taken travellers on once-in-a-lifetime trips to Svalbard. From May to September our three small expedition ships, carrying only 12 and 53 passengers, explore this magnificent Arctic archipelago. Unpredictability and flexibility are the main keywords when you travel with PolarQuest as the exact route depends on weather, ice conditions and wildlife encounters. Sometimes you might be woken up in the middle of the night if a polar bear has been spotted on the ice.
Antarctica at last!
Blue icebergs floating by, the sun shining and views over huge and snow-covered mountain ranges along the ship. There was no doubt where our travellers found themselves - at last they had reached Antarctica!
Our first morning started with a landing at Mikkelsen harbour where we visited an unmanned Argentine cabin and a Gentoop penguin colony. The site was discovered by Otto Nordenskjöld during his Swedish Antarctic expedition. The harbour was later used as a whaling station and was therefore renamed after the Norwegian captain Klarius Mikkelsen.
When we left Mikkelsen harbour behind us to continue southward, penguins swam along the ship and from the bow we even spotted orcas!
600 miles south of Cape Horn we find the world’s most isolated and remote wilderness – Antarctica. The grand and beautiful Antarctic landscape leaves its visitors in awe. The continent and surrounding islands are home to millions of penguins, seals and whales. Worth mentioning is the subantarctic island of South Georgia, a haven for anyone interested in wildlife and widely regarded as one of the most beautiful places on earth.
Galapagos at its best
The Galapagos Islands are located in the Pacific Ocean, close to 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador and are a true oasis for all nature lovers. Read about our travellers' experiences in a blog post written by PolarQuest's tguide Adam Rheborg.
Waking up on the island of Isabela's coast makes you think you have travelled back to ancient times. Nothing resembles this landscape, with its steep volcanic walls crashing right into the Pacific Ocean. We started the day by having a closer look at the dramatic geology from our Zodiacs and discovered that many animals have found their home here despite the inaccessibility. We were amazed by how high and steep the endemic sea iguanas climbed to spend the night on almost completely vertical walls and further down the cliffs we met Galapagos' unique cormorant - the only cormorant that cannot fly.
Then we jumped into our wetsuits to explore what was hidden beneath the surface. Here we swam among sea turtles and all kinds of colourful fish in large shoals - some of them so compact that you could not see the bottom beneath. The afternoon offered more snorkeling, but along the younger island of Fernandina's lava coast. Here we met the sea iguanas again, busy feeding algae from the underwater cliffs. Galapagos is the only place in the world where you can see iguanas picking up their food in the sea.
When the sun started to set, we made a landing at magical Punta Espinosa. Here everything happened at the same time. Sea lions played in the shallow lagoons, iguanas lay down to catch the last heat of the day, the Galapagos cormorants paid court to each other on the cliffs and out in the sea the blue footed boobies dived for fish. This is Galapagos at its best.
We woke up to a beautiful morning with sunshine and surrounded by snow covered peaks. We had reached the mouth of Isfjorden and the mighty bird cliff Alkhornet. Throughout the morning we devoted ourselves to a long hike and along our way we met several Svalbard reindeer and some Arctic foxes too. The reindeers were currently sweeping their velvety bark from their antlers and they shined bright red. We also saw young male reindeers measureing their power in advance of the upcoming rmating season in October.
After lunch we continued our journey with M/S Stockholm further into Isfjorden for a visit to Ekmanfjorden. The sun was sparkling, the sky was blue and the mountains were beautifully reflected in the calm water. This afternoon's outing to Hemsedal offered a hike along a stream with a waterfall and again we met Arctic foxes and reindeers. When we had reached the height and looked out over the magical landscape and we thought it could not get any better, two of our fellow travellers chose to get engaged - what a wonderful day in Svalbard!
Today we visited the Russian settlement Pyramiden. Our local guide came to the pier to pick us up and showed us all the interesting things to see in this former ghost-town. Pyramiden was once a mining town, before it was abandoned 1998. It was a ghost town for almost ten years before the Russians slowly took up some tourist activities again. There is still a lot to see from that time, when about 1000 people lived there, in what was considered as "the perfect Arctic settlement“. After lunch we went into Petuniabukta where we saw a polar bear mother with her young one walking along the shoreline, swimming in the water and even if we stayed at a good distance, it was an amazing experience!
During the afternoon we enjoyed a Zodiac cruise in front of Nordenskiöldbreen, and it was just marvellous. The ice shined in all different shades of blue. We saw an ivory gull flying by and found a small, protected bay where we could park the Zodiac and walk over the moraine and finally even could set foot on the glacier. What an experience! Back on the ship, the "bravest ones“ among us threw themselves into the ice cold water, surrounded by brash ice and ice floes - a polar plunge! After warming up with an aquavit and a warm shower, it was time for us to move to our next destination, Hemsedalen. We did not get far at all though: short after lifting the anchor and sailing out of the fjord, around 60 belugas showed up in the horizon and soon they were swimming close the ship! What a sight!
Early in the morning, we left Desert Rhino Camp and travelled with our Land Rovers through the fascinating landscape of the Namibdesert. After lunch, we reached Ongava Tented Camp, a true oasis with tents overlooking a waterhole. The lodge is located in the private game reserve Ongava, bordering the renowned Etosha National Park. We were welcomed with a 3-course lunch in the open dining room from where we had excellent view of the lodge's waterhole and could see antelopes and zebras come and go. A truly unique lunch experience!
It was then time for our first game drive! Our guides told us that they should focus on the cats as we most likely would see the larger mammals in Etosha National Park the following day. Excited, we climbed into our open safari jeeps. We travelled on the sandy roads surrounded by bushes and trees, home to lions, black and white rhinos, elephants, giraffe and several species of antelope. Suddenly, the landscape changed and in front us a group of lions, both male and females, were resting from the heat. What a wonderful and close encounter with the king of the savannah! As this wasn't enough, we also encounter a rhino with her adorable calf on our way back.
It should turn out that this was our great lion day. At Ongava Tented Camp you are not allowed to walk to or from your tent in the darkness without a guide. This because of the wild animals that occasionally walk through the lodge. We had just started with our dinner when the guides asked for our attention. They had spotted a big male lion spying in the darkness close to the lodge’s waterhole. They told us that the lion didn’t belonged to Ongava, it had escaped from Etosha Nationalpark. Thrilled, we sat and waited around the dinner table and suddenly we could watch him slowly walk towards the waterhole. In silence we watched him drinking from the waterhole and disappear into the darkness again. This is what we call a true safari adventure!