Today is the International Women’s Day and therefore we would like to highlight one of our brave female polar explorers – Louise Boyd.
Louise Boyd was an American explorer and researcher born in California in 1887. It was in 1924, when she travelled with a Norwegian ship, that she fell in love with the Arctic – she saw the pack ice and wanted to learn more. She was born in a wealthy family and used her inherited wealth to finance several expeditions to the Arctic and Greenland during the 30’s. She conducted expeditions to investigate the Polar Regions magnetic fields and their impact on radio communication on behalf of the U.S Army and was rewarded with the U.S Army Certificate of Appreciation for her work. She also mapped the coast of Greenland using sonar systems, and in 1928 she conducted the rescue expedition searching for the missing Roald Amundsen, but without finding as much as a trace of him. Nevertheless, she was still rewarded with a medal of honor by the Norwegian government and has had a crater on Venus as well as a glacier on South Georgia named after her. In 1955 she became the first woman to fly over the North Pole.
On our 9-day Svalbard trips, we always include one hotel night in Longyearbyen and you will usually have some time to explore this Arctic village on your own. Longyearbyen is not only Svalbard's administrative centre, there are also restaurants, cafes and museums to discover here. Mia Lundqvist works as Staff Manager at the PolarQuest office, but also as guide on our Svalbard expeditions and has spent a lot of time in the village. Here she shares her best tips on things to do on site!
Looking for fine dining? Visit Longyearbyen's best restaurants, Huset and Gruvelaget.
– Huset mixes local products and Nordic flavours with an impressive collection of wines. It is said that the restaurant’s wine cellar store more than 20,000 bottles, making it one of Scandinavia's largest.
Gruvelagret is to be found in an old mining storage and the interior reflects early mining history in Longyearbyen. Here you can enjoy a unique and cosy dining in the outskirts of the village.
Taste Svalbard's own beer! Since 2015 there is a brewery on Svalbard. Why not make a visit and try their five different beers?
– The beer is also served at several other bars and restaurants in the village like Kroa, Svalbar and Huset.
Have a fika at the cafe Fruene.
– Order a bun or buy some locally made chocolate - of course shaped like the king of Svalbard; the polar bear!
Learn more about Svalbard in the village’s museums.
– I recommend both the classic Svalbard Museum and the somewhat more recessed North Pole Expedition Museum.
Take a walk to Nybyen.
– After a 30-minute walk into the valley, you reach a range of houses that were built as accommodation for the miners, named Nybyen. Today, in addition to the restaurant Gruvelagret, you find a small art gallery and a nice bar called Coalminers Cabin here.
Get 300 meters into the mountain during an exciting visit to Gruve 3.
– The process of mapping the coal resources of the valley started as early as 1928, with mining in Gruve 1 and Gruve 2. In 1971, mining also started in Gruve 3 and continued until 1996 when it was closed. Today it is open for public visitations and well worth one!
Admire the entrance to the global seed vault.
– You are not allowed to visit the actual vault, but you can still imagine it, situated 125 meters deep into the mountain. Preserved by the permafrost, over 900,000 different seeds from all over the world are stored here.
July 4th 2017 - Bjoernfjorden, Virgohamna & Smeerenburg
What a day! Our morning began as we sailed in to Bjoernfjorden and dropped anchor in front of the Smeerenburg glacier. After breakfast we headed out in the Zodiacs for a closer look at the ice and the wildlife associated with it. The glacier is very active and we witnessed several calvings. Eider ducks, black guillemot, glaucous gulls, kittiwakes, Arctic and great skuas were seen and photographed.
We went back on board to warm ourselves up and enjoy a fascinating talk from David about Andrée and his doomed balloon flight that set off from Virgohamna in 1897, before we got the chance to set foot at the same site in the afternoon. We combined landing on Danskøya with a landing at Smeerenburg on Amsterdamøya, a Dutch whaling station in the 17th Century. So the afternoon was filled with history and walruses, as we found a snorting, scratching heap of these fantastic animals at Smeerenburg. It was wonderful to find the wildlife reclaiming the site of exploitation; the walruses were hauled out right next to a blubber oven.
We had one final treat after dinner. As we cruised between the islands in the North West corner of Svalbard and visited the Svitjod glacier in Fuglefjord and we were just about to go to bed when the call we had all hoped for came - polar bears! Mother and cub! Quickly the Zodiacs were in the water and we watched as if we were enchanted when the mother nursed the first year cub who played and became bold whilst the mother tried to go back to sleep. What a day!
July 7th 2017 - Hornsund, Burgerbukta & Gnålodden
This morning found Sea Endurance in the South West fjord of Hornsund, famous for its glaciers and towering mountain peaks. We began our exploration with an extended Zodiac cruise in East Burgerbukta and found a bearded seal lying on an ice floe. Some saw puffins, an Ivory gull and long-tailed duck, and we all came close to black guillemots and kittiwakes resting on icebergs as we approached the dramatic glacier. The crackle of ice and the occasional sound of a rifle shot from the calving glacier broke the silence.
We ventured further in to Hornsund and had a magical meeting with a large pod of Beluga whales. Their white backs were breaking the surface as they kept themselves close to the coast line. The marine mammal extravaganza continued with a humpback whale right in front of us, showing its white and black patterned tail.
We then landed at Gnålodden – a spectacular setting for a small trappers hut, once used by Wanny Wolstad. The high cliff is home to countless of kittiwakes and Brünnich’s guillemots, and their noise gives the place its name. There was a chance to walk up the slope to have a closer look at the birds and a lucky sighting of a blue Arctic fox, or stay near the shore to see the Pomore remains and whaler’s grave.
We all woke up excited this morning as David announced a blue whale sighting from the bridge! Everyone was up before breakfast to catch a glimpse of the largest animal to ever live on this planet. We were lucky to get a very close meeting with two different blue whales as they swam next to the ship.
After breakfast we took a trip to the northernmost society on earth, the scientific research town of Ny-Ålesund. An opportunity for some retail therapy and to learn some history in one place was given as we strolled through the village. Mia and David told the story of Roald Amundsen’s journey to the North Pole with the airship Norge, and we also visited the anchorage point for the airship. The cold winds were blowing quite fiercely this morning so we all appreciated a chance to buy a warm waffle from the ladies at the waffle stand in town.
The afternoon brought us to Krossfjorden and the 14th of July Glacier where we had a spectacular meeting with the Atlantic puffin. A small colony has started to congregate at the entrance of the bay and we got to witness courtship behavior and boding between pairs. With the Zodiac engines turned off could we listen to the snaps and crackles of the ice around us and saw a few large chunks fall off the glacier. Then we went ashore for a walk underneath a busy bird cliff and to watch some reindeers navigate the steep cliffs to graze on the plentiful vegetation that had grown under the cliff, fertilized by the bird colony.
As we finish the day we sail further north, and when we wake up there will be ice in all directions!
We flew across a snowy, mountainous landscape before landing at the airport outside Longyearbyen. Many of us spent the evening having dinner at the restaurant Kroa.
After a good night’s sleep and breakfast there was time to get familiar with the village. We also had lunch and made a visit at the museum before we embarked our little blue ship Sea Endurance. Security reviews and presentations of the guide team were followed by our first dinner on board.
The weather could not have been better, and just before we left Isfjorden behind us, we saw a group of humpback whales swim next to the ship. Then we sailed through the beautiful Forlandssundet in the beautiful midnight sun. A perfect start of our Arctic adventure!
On many twenty-year-old Swedes’ bucket lists you will find a backpacking trip to Southeast Asia. Erik Edvardsson had something completely different on his list. He dreamed of an island in the middle of the Southern Ocean, and island that is believed to have more wildlife per square metre than any other place on the planet – South Georgia. In 2008, his dream came true and already two years later he returned. Here he shares his experiences of this paradise for wildlife lovers.
I've probably dreamed of South Georgia since I saw BBC's "Life in the Freezer" for the first time, but I never thought I'd get there. This cold, windy island, located far out in the ocean and days from nearest country. A place where you find unique and fascinating wildlife, surrounded by dramatic mountains and magnificent views. When I started to think of a trip to Antarctica, I wanted to find a trip that also included South Georgia and the Falkland Islands.
You visited South Georgia twice in two years, why did you choose to go back?
During my first trip, South Georgia definitely became a favourite, actually more than Antarctica, and I didn’t feel that I was done with this island. I wanted to see more of it and stay longer at some sites. As a photographer, a second visit means that you have better chances to take great pictures as you know the sites, the animals and have plenty of time. We were also able to make landings at dawn, take walks and really immerse ourselves in the nature of the island and its unique history. I hope I will be able to make a third visit sometime.
What is your best memory from South Georgia?
Oh, it is difficult to choose just one, but I will never forget the first time we went ashore. How incredibly many animals there were, how curious they were, the unbelievable size of the elephant seals and the beautiful surroundings. But the strongest memory is probably when I sat in the middle of the huge penguin colony at St. Andrews Bay, alone in light snowfall, and just enjoyed the wildlife show around me.
Below, Erik shows some of his best pictures from South Georgia and tells you more about the amazing wildlife.
The king penguin is the most numerous penguin species on the beaches of South Georgia as many of the other species breed in the grass further up the hills. The largest colonies exceed 100,000 birds and daytime the brown chicks dominate the scenery, but every chick has two parents who, by listening to their call, succeed to find their chick in the swarm.
The key to the impressive wildlife in South Georgia is the rich ocean surrounding the island. It is cold, nutritious, ice-free all year and produces food for millions of seals, birds and whales. The picture shows a group of king penguins on their way out of the water, probably full of food for their chicks.
There are many extreme facts about the southern elephant seal, the world's largest seal. Amongst other things, they have the largest size difference between the sexes of all mammals. A male can weigh over 4 tons, which is about 10 times as much as a female, and the biggest males can have harems consisting of up to 200 females!
The amount of animals on the beaches of Gold Harbour is amazing. It is quite jam-packed with fur seals, elephant seals, penguins and other birds. The concentration of animals per square meter is greater on the beaches of South Georgia than on the African savannah!
The wandering albatross is one of the world's largest flying birds and the one with the largest wingspan, measuring up to 3.5 meters. They fly huge distances in the Southern Ocean and can stay at sea for several years, but always return to land to breed. It takes more than a year in the nest to make an albatross chick fully fledged. This means that it must be strong enough to sit and wait for food even in the coldest winter storms.
A bit up the mountain slopes, above the shore, it is fairly calmer. But there is plenty of life here too. The majority of the island's seabirds breed in the tussock grass. The gray-headed albatross is one of four albatross species on the island, and probably the most beautiful of them all. They mate for life, but are still keen about the courtship for each mating season.
The high concentration of animals results in plenty of carcasses. South Georgia's vulture is the giant petrel. They are big, powerful birds capable of killing smaller prey, but mainly live on eating dead animals.