Every spring, PolarQuest organizes a Guide Seminar so all our fantastic guides can meet and prepare for the upcoming Svalbard season, and during two days about two weeks ago we finally got together once again! The days were both busy and instructive with activities such as CPR and practical exercises to become even better at collaborating in the field.
The Arctic archipelago of Svalbard offers many beautiful seasons, and the autumn is truly one of them! Take a few minutes to watch a short slideshow with a section of images taken during some of our previous autumn expeditions in Svalbard.
The Arctic archipelago of Svalbard offers many beautiful seasons, and the autumn is truly one of them! In late August, the midnight sun is brushing the horizon, preparing for the polar night giving us beautiful sunsets as well as a warm and soft light, perfect for anyone interested in photography.
During this time of year, the landscape is often snow-free and dry and invites to many scenic hikes. If lucky, you encounter the cute and curious Arctic fox during your refreshing hike. In the autumn, the Arctic fox’s beautiful winter fur is lighting up the autumn coloured landscape. Whales are often seen in the water and you also have the chance to see walruses with calves.
An autumn expedition could also offer an even greater expedition experience. The ice in the eastern parts of the archipelago has usually retreated at this time, which offers good opportunities to explore the more seldom visited parts of Svalbard.
The nights at these Northern latitudes are quickly getting longer and already in the middle of September you have some hours of darkness. It’s an extraordinary experience to be in the middle to the Arctic wilderness when the darkness falls!
Enjoy stunning Svalbard images!
Take a few minutes to watch a short slideshow with a section of images taken during some of our previous autumn expeditions in Svalbard.
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.
Disko Bay Exploration - Ice, whales & mountains
Disko Bay, located in Baffin Bay just off the west coast of Greenland, is known for its varied and magnificent nature. Fjords, caves, and huge icebergs surrounds us on our journey, but the landscape also invites us to hike over the tundra and among mountains. A trip here tends to touch you deeply, and it is easy to feel both humbled and amazed by the wonders of nature.
You can admire the world's fastest calving glacier - Jakobshavn Isbrae, or Sermeq Kujalleq as the Innuits call it, in the Ilulissat Fjord which flows out in Disko Bay. The glacier calves an estimated 40 cubic kilometres of icebergs per year, and it is therefore no coincidence that Ilulissat means iceberg. The fjord has also been included on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 2004.
The Innuits are presumed to have settled in the area around Disko Bay after Erik the Red discovered it, but during the 15th century the climate became too cold for the Norsemen who first came here, and the Innuits have lived their lives alone here ever since. The main source of income for the inhabitants of the villages around the bay was trade of bones and furs with Icelanders, Englishmen, Scots, Irish, Welsh and other Europeans, and many villagers mainly live from fishing and hunting even today.
As we head further north we pass more glaciers, for example Eqip Sermia, which is a very active glacier too. It calves often, and it is a powerful sight to see huge pieces of ice coming off the glacier front and falling into the water! The sound is reminiscent of thunder as the air, long time packed inside the ice, finally is released.
Not only will we admire both magnificent and beautiful nature during our time on board - we also have good chances to experience unforgettable encounters with wild animals. In the fjords can we spot seals, walrus, and several whale species such as humpback whales, minke whales and pilot whales, and on land we have the chance to meet reindeer, Arctic hares and Arctic foxes.
Born in Sydney, Australia, Marty Garwood’s love for the ocean lead him to a degree in Marine Science, some extensive Scuba diving qualifications and a very hands-on job with an assortment of marine animals as a Senior Keeper at Sydney Aquarium. This role provided Marty with some very unique experiences such as being foster parent for penguin chicks. He was caught by the polar bug when visiting Antarctica seven years ago, and since then he tries to spend as much time in the ice as possible, working as a polar guide in Antarctica and the Arctic. Here Marty gives us 5 interesting and fun facts about his favorite topic – penguins!
• Most penguins support equality, with male and female sharing the rearing of their chick equally. Both will take turns incubating the egg to keep it warm and both will go out to catch food and return to feed the chick.
• The deepest dive by a bird was an emperor penguin that reached 565m! The longest time a penguin has been recorded holding its breath is 22 minutes.
• King and emperor penguins share a strange physical feature. In bright light, when their pupils contract, they become diamond shaped rather than circular. Some of the only animals on earth with pupil of this shape!
• Penguins and polar bears will never naturally meet because the equator is too warm for them to cross, making it a natural boundary line. Penguins only live in the southern hemisphere: the most northern species live in the Galapagos and are kept cool by the cold Humboldt current.
• In 1936, nine king penguins were introduced to northern Norway to increase their range. The birds survived the move but did not thrive in their new environment and the last sighting of a penguin in Norway was 1949. In 1937 one of the penguins was killed after wandering into a farm and being labelled a ‘freak of nature’ by the farm matron who had never seen a penguin before.
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.
The Global Seed Vault
Svalbard's Global Seed Vault is the world's largest security stock for the variety of agricultural plants stored in the world's gene banks. The seed vault is located just west of Longyearbyen, close to the airport. The only thing that is visible from the outside is its iconic entrance, but inside there is a tunnel about 130 meters straight into the mountain, which leads to three rooms where the seed samples are stored.
The seed vault was completed in 2008, and its purpose is to create an extra level of security for the valuable genetic diversity found in the gene banks. There are more than one million seed samples collected inside the vault, from all corners of the world, and preserved at -18 ° C.
The seed vault is not open for visits, but its characteristic entrance is difficult to miss. If you are one of those who already have visited Svalbard, you most likely have passed the building on your way to and from the airport. At the foot of the mountain, a futuristic concrete corridor rises alone from an otherwise deserted and barren landscape, and an artwork that reflects the rays of the midnight sun in the summertime, and in the winter illuminates the polar night's severe darkness with a light reminiscent of the blue-green shimmer of the Northern Lights, decorates the entrance. For many, it is a unique view, and perhaps it also raises thoughts about our existence. The artwork is called Perpetual Repercussion, award-winning, and has been developed by the artist Dyveke Sanne.
Svalbard is geographically very protected from the unrest and conflicts that are going on in other parts of the world. It is an inaccessible place, and in an interview, seed vault coordinator Åsmund Asdal says that countries that otherwise are in conflict with each other can have their seeds side by side inside the vault. But even if the gene bank at the best never needs to be used, one withdrawn has been done. In 2015, seeds lost in the civil war in Syria, when the gene bank in Aleppo became inaccessible, could be replaced ast he gene bank had sent backup copies of its seeds to Svalbard's Global Seed Vault.
The vault is built to resist almost any damage, even nuclear bombs. The cold climate also means that there is permafrost in Svalbard - something that is grateful to lean on, for example, if a longer power failure that would knock out the vault's cooling system should occur. At -18 ° C, the seeds are safely stored and ready if they ever are needed.
Maria Malmborg, travel consultant at PolarQuest, got the chance to travel to a wintry northern Norway with M/S Quest to explore the fantastic wildlife and magnificent nature of the fjords. Read a blog post written by her below!
I went up a while before breakfast to enjoy the morning and an amazingly beautiful sunrise with a sky that burst into various shades of pink. The view and the fresh air on the deck made me wake up properly. Soon our expedition leader Elke's sweet voice sounded out of the ship's speaker system - breakfast was served!
A couple of cups of coffee later, it was time to get ready for a Zodiac cruise in the fjords. Once out on water we were met by completely magical surroundings, and it was difficult to tear my gaze from the white capped mountains.
We started today's adventure with a landing at Jaegervatnet, and a hike with snowshoes in a calm and quiet pace. The sun shone over the landscape and the snow absorbed all the sounds - all the stress from back home was now gone! Satisfied with our walk, we jumped into the Zodiacs and made our way back to the ship. Just as we had coffee in the lounge, our first wild friends showed up to join us. It was about fifty porpoises! They went around the ship and followed us for a good while before the water got calm again. At least for a little while ... After the show they gave, one of our guides, Magnus, had a talk about just porpoises. However, he could not finish, because soon there was movement both on the ship and in the water as a humpback whale was sighted from the bridge! From deck we could see how three humpback whales blew water and showed us their white tail fins for us. What a fantastic afternoon!
Travelling through the stunning Norwegian coastal landscape on a small expedition cruise ship is simply hard to beat. Lofoten islands welcome with picturesque fishing villages, squeezed between soaring mountains and quiet fjords. In wintertime Tromsø offers magnificent sceneries over dramatic landscapes and great chances to spot both orcas and humpback whales. If we’re lucky we will also see the magical Northern Lights dancing in the sky. Join us on an unforgettable cruise!