This weekend, the 15th edition of the New York Times Travel Show was held at Manhattan. During these three intense days, approximately 30,000 visitors were able to meet over 550 tour operators who presented more than 170 destinations worldwide. PolarQuest was one of the exhibitors and the only Swedish operator participating. The interest in Svalbard was great and we were given the opportunity to meet many adventurous travellers who dream of an adventure of a lifetime!
Our guide Olle Carlsson is blogging from our trip on board the ship Academy Sergey Vavilov. Read and allow yourself to daydream about the subantarctic island South Georgia, hosting one of the world's most staggering wildlife shows!
26th October - round to the north coast, Gold Harbour and Royal Bay
A grey sky over Gold Harbour didn't diminish the great impression of a beach crowded with elephant seals side by side with king penguins and their furry chicks. And they were not alone – skuas, kelp gulls, sheathbills and giant petrels were patrolling the beach, looking for something to eat, like a placenta or a dead seal. On the flat behind the beach gentoo penguins were nesting and just above them flew pintails. By the slopes light-mantled albatrosses engaged in courtship displays, and their call for each other were heard close to the landing where we could enjoy the sight of these graceful birds. The clouds parted and the sun shone warm over us when an extraordinary fight between two male elephant seals overwhelmed us, and many were lucky enough to see leopard seal on their way back to the ship too. Amazed by the wildlife and the beauty of the surroundings we arrived just in time for lunch, and the ship sailed on towards Royal Bay. Its ice covered mountain peaks and glistening glaciers were well worth the time we spent there. Sun went down and the light reflecteded in calved ice, mist and clouds amongst the mountains blushed, and so this fantastic day had come to an end.
Sparkling ice formations and pastel coloured skies, snow covered mountains and breathtaking sceneries – it’s an indescribable experience to witness the archipelago of Svalbard spring to life. The polar bear yearlings venture out for the first time, the Arctic foxes and the Svalbard reindeers still wear their winter fur and sometimes both bears and seals can be seen on the fjord ice in front of the glaciers. The little auks and the Brünnich’s guillemots have returned to their summer nests and the bird cliffs are teeming with life. With our sturdy rubber boats we cruise along glaciers and explore the magnificent fjords as we keep a lookout for the Arctic wildlife.
Dawn found Sea Endurance sailing deep in to Kaiser Franz Josefs Fjord. Huge mountains rose on either side of us, lit red by the rising sun. Icebergs dotted the fjord waters as we turned and sailed in to Nordfjord and approached the enormous 11km/ 6nm long Waltershausen Glacier face. After breakfast we stepped into the Zodiacs to explore the icebergs and crevassed glacier, witnessing a few dramatic calvings. There was the chance to land at the lateral moraine and walk up to an overview of glacier, ice studded water, mountains and distant ship.
We were back on board for a late lunch as the ship repositioned to the coast of Strindberg Land and the huts at Laksehytta. We went ashore on the east side of the river valley as we had spotted musk ox on the tundra. Once ashore we were able to walk closer to these fabulous shaggy beasts as they grazed and then mock sparred with one another, banging their heads together with a resounding thud. We split into groups for walks and photographing the landscape. Those who went to the river’s edge discovered that the Arctic char were running up river to spawn. Glaucous gulls and even two Arctic foxes were trying to feast on them. We could see why one of the huts ashore formerly had been used by fishermen harvesting the char. The other hut is now used by the Sirius Sled Patrol. An abandoned Nansen sledge was outside. The day ended with a wonderful sunset, highlighting a superb coned iceberg and against a backdrop of amazing rock. What a wonderful first day exploring the fjords of East Greenland!
Ocean Nova (Greenland)
78 (approx. 20 from PolarQuest)
7 nights on ship
USD 6 395
1 September 2018
The ill-fated North Pole expedition
Get to know some of our most famous polar explorers! In previous newsletters, we have written about Willem Barents, Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld and Fridtjof Nansen. This time, we will tell you more about Salomon August Andrée and his ill-fated North Pole expedition.
On 11th July, 1897, a hydrogen balloon lifted from Danskøya west of Spetsbergen and headed north. The balloon was called Örnen (meaning “the eagle” in Swedish) and carried the three expedition members, Salomon August Andrée, Knut Fraenkel and Nils Strindberg. Their aim was to be the first to set foot on the North Pole.
As a subsequence of the contemporary nationalism during the 19th century and rivalry against Norway, which had quite some advantage in the run for the Polar Regions, Andrée’s expedition received plenty of support from scientists and sponsors back in Sweden. Andrée had participated in the Swedish expedition to Svalbard during the first International Polar year in 1882-1883. Another participant was Nils Ekholm, who was supposed to come with on the journey to the North Pole as a meteorologist, but during the summer before the departure Ekholm came to the conclusion that the balloon wasn’t dense enough and lost too much hydrogen. He demanded Andrée to solve the problem, but Andrée did not agree and as an outcome of their dispute Ekholm quit the expedition. His place was instead given to Knut Fraenkel.
Despite the warning signs Andrée followed his plan, which resulted in a lot of commotion during the first minutes after take-off. The draglines that were supposed to steer the balloon were tangled by friction, causing them to loosen from their mountings and the balloon itself. Weight was also decreased with the purpose to not lose height, but instead the balloon rose 700 meters. The low air pressure resulted in that even more hydrogen was lost and 64 hours after departure the balloon crashed on the pack ice. The expedition members began a difficult and almost three months long journey across the ice and finally set camp at Andréeneset on Kvitøya. Not until 33 years later the crew of the vessel Bratvaag found their remains and a variety of items labelled “Andrée Expedition". What actually happened on the island is still today a mystery…
In the early morning we passed through the narrow straight called Sørgattet with quite bad visibility to start with, but after a while with great views over the mighty mountains and glaciers at the end of the fjord. And all of a sudden, just before breakfast, someone shouted "polar bear!". And there it was, the impressive king of the Arctic, not one but two, close to a whale carcass on the beach. It was a stranded sperm whale that had attracted the bears, and we got very close to one of the bears because of the excellent maneuvering by the captain.
After breakfast we made a landing at Virgohamna and Smeerenburg, two historically very interesting places, when it comes to exploration and whale hunting. We also saw lots of wildlife on these spots; harbour seals and walruses were both laying on the beaches and we could approach both groups of animals very close. We did one final landing at the barren but beautiful Alicehamna, where we split up into different groups to go for a hike on the tundra. Some of us saw the very rare blue Arctic fox on their hike. During recap and dinner we where sailing even further north and crossed the 80 parallel during night. As a perfect ending of a fantastic day we spotted a blue whale in the waves off the northern coast of Spitsbergen. The largest animal in the world, only a few meters away from the boat!