Ittoqqortoormiit – one of the world's most remote villages
At the entrance to the world’s largest fjord system, Scoresbysund, lies the small village with the long name Ittoqqortoormiit.
Its approximately 450 inhabitants mainly live of fishing and hunting and have 800 km between them and their closest neighbours. But it’s not only the local pub, the supermarket with freeze-dried food or the little souvenir shop that make the village well worth a visit – it’s the impressively grand nature, the small and colorful houses and the feeling of being very, very far away that affects you. A huge ice cap surrounds Ittoqqortoormiit for nine months, but for a short period of time expedition ships can stop by, and we plan to make a visit during our trip to northeast Greenland with the expedition ship Ocean Nova in September! Join us!
Saturday June 24th - Fuglefjorden, Raudfjorden & the pack ice
What a wonderful day we had! It contained almost all the fine treats Svalbard has to offer. Already during breakfast we were able to enjoy amazing views as we sailed through Sørgattet; the narrow strait that make the entrance to Spetsbergen's north wester corner. At Svitjodbreen we put the Zodiac in the water and made a cruise, passing by several glaciers. We spotted the king eider, and some of us even managed to get caught in the ice, and M/S Stockholm had to make some rescue work.
Just after our wonderful midsummer lunch with herring and Swedish "nubbe" we drove into the pack ice. The sun was still shining and there was barely no wind at all as we ventured further and further into the ice sheet. Here we saw several fascinating animals; minke whale, walrus and last but not least - the king of the Arctic. A polar bear, who just had caught a seal which it protectively looked after between its naps. A lovely sight! After a while, we turned off the engine and drifted peacefully amongst the ice durin night time.
Sunday 25 June - The pack ice, Virgohamna & Smeerenburg
The sun was still shining radiant as we woke up amongst the pack ice, and we took the chance to make a brief excursion with our Zodiac. We even managed to step ashore on an ice floe where we conducted a ”democratic” snowball war in true PolarQuest spirit. The ones who felt brave enough threw themselves into the freezing water – the polar plunge was on! After lunch we took another last turn amongst the ice, before leaving it behind for good. The evening landing took place at the exciting site of Virgohamna, known as the starting point for Swedish balloonist Andrée’s fatal attempt to reach the North Pole. In the warm light of the evening sun we also went to Smeerenurg, a place with lots of historical remains from the early days of whale hunt, and a group of charismatic walruses. While some in the group chose to stay with the walruses, the rest of the group went for a walk and got to have a really close look at the birds nesting this far northward; red throated-loons, aggressive Arctic terns (maybe a bit too close?) and brünnich’s guillemots. During night time we headed south after have passes the narrow Sørgattet once more.
We woke up early because a group of belugas had been spotted near the ship that lay in the ice far into Van Mijenfjorden. It was a nice encounter with these little white whales who doesn't have a fin as they always swim close to the ice and underneath it. A walrus also appeared nearby, and we were able to enjoy how it showed its long tusks for us.
Everyone helped to look for more animals from the bridge, more specifically after polar bears, since Expedition Leader David had announced a contest called the first one who finds a bear also gets a prize. We saw many reindeers along the coast of Bellsund, but sadly no bears.
After lunch, we made an excursion with our Zodiac in Recherchefjorden, and during the night, on our way north, we were awakened by David who had seen whales in front of us. It turned out to be both fin whales and blue whales, and it was an incredible experience to see these huge animals that come to Svalbard to eat the krill living in the waters here. What an ending of a amazing day!
1st of June 2017 - Kongsfjorden
In the morning we docked at the quay side of one of the world's northernmost societies, Ny-Ålesund. There are approximately 150 people living here during summer, and about 40 people all year around. They are researchers from all over the world who are running scientific projects here, and many of them examine the climate and the changes of it. Several of us took the opportunity to buy some souvenirs in the little shop before we walked through the village, earning some more knowledge about the coal mining and all the early expeditions that have started here. Adventurers like Roald Amundsen and Umberto Nobile used Ny-Ålesund as a base for their journeys northward, in their search for honor and fame.
We sailed further into the fjord to admire the magnificent Kongsbreen from the ship. And luck was still with us; we saw a powerful calving of the great ice wall, and the ice created huge waves that made the entire M/S Stockholm rock properly.
As we look out of our ger tents in the morning, we see impressive cliffs and Mongolia's immense blue sky!
We eat a hearty breakfast that is hard to understand how they have been able to make in such a remote place. As we eat, rubber floats are loaded onto an old Soviet truck that will take us to the starting point for today's adventure. We float, row and sometimes have to steer through fast currents. On both sides of us there are steep rock formations and the water surrounding us is as clear as crystal. In several places can we see the taimen, a trout species that can be up to 1.5 meters long. After a couple of hours, we step ashore at the river bank and sit down to have luch.
After a few more hours we are back in the camp where the staff shows us how to put up a ger and how they make horhorg, a traditional Mongolian dish made of lamb, potatoes, carrots and salt, cooked with hot stones. The ingredients were not so many but still the food tasted absolutely amazing.
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 - Bjørnfjorden, Virgohamna & Smeerenburg
What a day! Our morning began as we sailed in to Bjørnfjorden 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!
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.