Our guides are blogging from our expedition cruises on board Sea Endurace.
2 July 2015
In the afternoon we learned about sea ice and tiny creatures depending on it, just as we reached the ice edge itself. With reduced visibility we sailed along the edge until after dinner, when a polar bear was spotted in the mist. By getting closer we soon counted several bears. In the vicinity glaucous gulls and ivory gulls were resting. All bears were very fat and lazy laying on the ice. They must have had a proper feast just before we found them. There was no time to go to bed. Every once in a while we were called out on the decks by Adam, our expedition leader, as some of the bears came closer to the ship. A wonderful day in the Arctic!
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.
Clean Seas - turn the tide on plastics
PolarQuest is one of the eight companies that founded the Association of Arctic Expeditions Cruise Operators (AECO) in 2003, to regulate tourism in Svalbard and promote sustainable, environmentally friendly and safe tourism in the area. The organization strives to conduct expeditions with the utmost respect for nature and wildlife. In 2017, AECO and its members were invited by the UNEP to partake in the project ”Clean Seas – turn the tide on plastic”. As part of the work to combat marine plastic pollution, AECO’s members will drastically cut back on single-use plastics on Arctic expedition cruise vessels.
Already as a child, Niklas Nilsson, travel consultant and photographer at PolarQuest, was dreaming of visiting Antarctica and its magnificent nature. At a travel show in Gothenburg, he came in contact with PolarQuest and shortly after he booked his most extraordinary adventure so far – an expedition cruise to the world's most remote and pristine continent with the ship Ocean Nova. Read his words about this unforgettable trip, and watch a short slideshow below.
In early November, I packed my bag for the long journey to the southern tip of Argentina and the city of Ushuaia. Located in the Tierra del fuego region, which directly translated into English means the land of fire, the city's surroundings offer beautiful nature and interesting wildlife and is a fantastic place itself, but after one night in a hotel and a day trip in the national park, it was time to get on board the ship and leave the port of Ushuaia to slowly make our way through the beautiful Beagle channel. Now a 21-day expedition to the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and Antarctica was waiting. The first stop for the trip was the windswept archipelago of the Falkland Islands and already there we met our first penguins, the charming Magellanic penguins that nest in earth holes, and the slightly brasher rockhopper penguins who move smoothly and easily between steep cliffs and tall tussock grass. The Falkland Islands are a real hub for bird enthusiasts, and in addition to endemic bird species and penguins, we got to visit rookeries of the beautiful black-browed albatross. Being able to sit just a few meters away from these birds is a fantastic experience few are blessed with.
We left the Falkland Islands after two intense days, aiming towards the Subantarctic island South Georgia, known as a wildlife haven with Although watching documentaries with Sir David Attenborough had given me a glimpse of what to expect, our first landing is something I will never forget. In fact it was overwhelming. Stepping ashore on a beach with thousands of king penguins and hundreds of colossal elephant seals in the first streak of dawn light is, to say the least, an unforgettable experience, and the amazing scenery was framed by majestic mountains and glaciers. Even though it is many years ago, I always get goosebumps from the thought of South Georgia's beaches.
During our days on the small island, we visited several amazing places and were able to tick off several different penguin species and albatrosses. In addition, we earned some historical knowledge about the polar adventurers and whalers that came here in the past. Eventually, it was time to say farewell to South Georgia and we finished our visit with a cruise in the magical Drygalski fjord. Magnificent albatrosses and elegant snow petrels followed the ship as we continued our journey towards Antarctica.
Approximately two days later, the first icebergs that travels with streams from the large Antarctic ice cap started to appear. Some were quite small, but others were real giants. Shortly after we finally reached the Antarctic peninsula, we prepared ourselves for our first excursion – a landing close to an Adélie penguin rookery. It was out first encounter with this species, as it only breeds on the Antarctic continent.
The next morning, we got up early and left the ship for a challenging hike to the top of a minor mountain. During the hike we were accompanied by diligent chinstrap penguins, and once at the top, we were rewarded for sweating as we found their nest here, and the view from their home was really amazing.
Sometimes, Antarctica's huge glaciers even covers the high mountain peaks that decorates the landscape. A Zodiac cruise here can be compared to a vernissage, with nature as its artist. The icebergs with blue and white shades appears in astonishing shapes, and on the ice floes seals such as Weddell seal, crabeater seal as well as the top predator, the leopard seal, can be spotted. After just over two and a half weeks onboard the ship, the amount of impressions to digest were almost too many, just in time to say goodbye and start our journey back to the main land.
Below, please watch a slideshow that Niklas himself has put together.
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.
Penguins - some of the world's most fascinating animals!
Gun von Krusenstierna has a great love for both animals and nature, but perhaps, it is especially the penguins that are kept closest to her heart. Her fascination with these charming birds has brought her on several expeditions to the southern hemisphere, and below can you read a text about some of her penguin adventures, written by herself.
That I first travelled to the Arctic and then Antarctica was a stroke of luck. I like polar bears, but then it is a matter of one, two or a few and at a proper distance. But when you come down to Antarctica, the conditions are completely different. On South Georgia in particular, there are huge numbers of penguins, and now we are not talking about ten or twenty, but as many as three colonies with over a quarter of a million penguins in each of them. Absolutely overwhelming, and thanks to the long landings, it might feel like you are almost sitting in their lap and are able to just enjoy. Especially when watching to the woolly, cute, brown king penguin chicks, I just wanted to hug them all.
We are told to keep a distance of five meters, but it is difficult! Nor do these rules of conduct seem to have been translated into Penguini, for there are always some tough ones among these woolly tufts who whistle, wave their wing pads and come very close to you. At one point, one of the crew lay down on the ground and within five minutes he had five brown woolen tufts on his back - he later said that it had tickled him enormously and that he had to fight not to move. Back on the ship, we received strict orders from the expedition leader that he did not want to see a single passenger lying flat on the ground during the next landing! We made the last disembarkation in South Georgia in Gold Bay - the first Zodiac left at 04:10, and I managed to catch the second. On a very narrow strip of beach we met lots of penguins, mainly king penguins.
To just sit and watch these penguins is absolutely fascinating. From behind, they really all look rather silly as they rock their way forward. But never underestimate a penguin, they are incredibly smart! When they build their nests of stones, where they eventuallt will lie and incubate, they are not unlikely to steal from their neighbour when tirelessly collecting stones - they normally only carry one stone in their beak each time. On this trip we also had the incredible luck to experience the so-called "penguin march" on Cuverville Island, Antarctic Peninsula, which takes place once a year and only for a couple of hours. One of PolarQuest's most experienced guides who has travelled in the Arctic and Antarctica for 25 years experienced this now for the first time while I managed to ecperience it during my very first trip down here - no wonder I became so fascinated by these birds. We sat for about an hour and a half while the penguins rounded us up in their hunt for a place where they could build their nests. Five to six in width but sometimes there were some who got tired and ran off. A powerful and completely unforgettable experience.
But the crowning achievement of my penguin adventures was probably when I got the opportunity to camp with the emperor penguins with their woolly, grey chicks in Gould Bay on the Antarctic continent. There are 18 different species of penguins and I have ticked 13 or 14 of them by now (the Humboldt penguin is perhaps a bit cheating - I saw it at a zoo in Ålesund, Norway), of which three or four endemic species originate from my recent trip among the sub-Antarctic islands last year. This was a pick but I will continue my quest to see more of these amazing animals!
Personal Christmas greetings from the PolarQuest-office
Christmas is just around the corner, and we hope these personal greetings from all of us at the PolarQuest-office will spread some warmth. Here you can also read about where we hope our own travel dreams will take us next year. We hope to see you on new adventures in 2021! We wish you a Merry Christmas & Happy New Year
Warm Christmas greetings - I wish you all a wonderful 2021!
I long for exploration – Svalbard, Svalbard, Svalbard, I always want to go back! I encourage my children to practice horse riding since I also dream of exploring Mongolia together with them when they get a bit older.
Heidi Lähteenmäki Sander
Expedition planner & Travel consultant
Christmas carols, gingerbread and Christmas lights are bringing joy, soon Christmas will be here. Wishing you a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year 2021!
For the coming year I’m hoping to be able to travel both somewhere warm and cold, to have a nice balance. A dream of mine is to bring a loved one to Svalbard and together experience the rare beauty that the archipelago has to offer. The other destination for me is across the globe, which is New Zealand with its beautiful nature and wildlife.
Expedition planner & Travel consultant
This strange year with limited contacts and non-existent travels, one has had to discover other values in life, such as reading those books that never got rid of and having Skype conversations with loved ones when it is not possible to meet. I would like to recommend a book for Christmas reading: The Expedition by Bea Uusma. It is about the Polar Expedition that departed from Svalbard with a hot air balloon in 1897 and never returned... Order the book here.
My wish for next year is that we will once again be able to travel and discover the world. Personally, I long to return to Svalbard and the ice in the north, but also to make a trip in the opposite direction, to Africa and the fantastic savannahs there.
I wish everyone a Merry Christmas with a lot of compassion!
"You better watch out You better not cry Better not pout I'm telling you why Santa Claus is coming to town”
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all of you!
During these cold and dark days in here in the Northern part of the world I dream about a trip to the incredible Galapagos Islands. To snorkelling and experiencing the rich marine life under the surface would be wonderful!
Expedition planner & Travel consultant
Wishing you a wonderful Christmas 2020, this year when things went upside down. Hope we are all able to visit and hug our loved ones again very soon.
I'm certainly not the only one with a "need" and dream of packing my suitcase soon again. Highest on my wishing list is Nepal, which has been a dream come true for almost 30 years. That dream is shared with once again explore the breath-taking wilderness of Antarctica!
Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!
Yet another year has passed, and Christmas is finally here again. I would like to take the opportunity to wish you all a peaceful Christmas and a great adventurous year ahead!
Next year I would love to visit my best friend who moved to Australia shortly before the pandemic started. It would be lovely to take my family there to explore the great natural wonders of the country.
Travel consultant & photographer
We look back on a very different year, where many travel dreams were put on hold. But times like these also give birth to new travel dreams and perhaps also new perspectives? In 2020, I became a father which of course was a highlight during this year and on my life path, but also a kickstart of a new journey.
Our nature and its diversity has always been close to my heart. Now, I look forward to exploring nature again with my son, such as Svalbard's glaciers and wildlife, Scandinavia's northern part or why not snorkelling amongst cobs and skerries at the Swedish west coast.
During the summer and autumn, I have been hiking many miles in nearby nature reserves with my son. Along the paths I have met many hikers of all ages and I’m pleased to see that more people have chosen to visit nature during the year. My hope is that this increases the understanding and importance of nature in the future, regardless if its nearby or wilderness far away.
Wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New nature year
This year, we will all have a different Christmas that we will remember for many years. It might not be the Christmas that we had planned or wished for, but I still hope we can make it to a peaceful holiday. Let us try to make it a beautiful memory! We might not be able to meet all family members and friends, but instead we get more time to spend with some very close ones.
My wish is that we soon can travel and meet as usual again. My dream trip is to head out on a longer sailing with the family’s boat, to Gotland on the Swedish east coast or along the spectacular Norwegian coast. While I’m waiting for this, I will go skiing in our beautiful mountains up north!
I wish you a Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!
This Christmas, I really look forward to spend a lot of time outdoors with my family, and lighting many wonderful fires! Maybe, I even dare to throw myself into the ocean, even though it is a bit cold - it would be a nice restart, for a new, healthier and above all, more fun year!
Like many others, I also dream of travelling again soon. A trip to Portuguese Ericeira, French Biarritz or to sail along the coast of Norway with my favourite ship M/S Stockholm would be a real treat!
A stormy year will soon come to an end, a year of reflection and time to appreciate the small things. Now 2021 waits around the corner and everyone is longing – longing to be able to see each other instead of talking on the phone, longing for a hug, for adventures and exploration. Let’s hope we’ll all be able to fulfil all those dreams that just remained dreams during 2020. I wish you all a happy new prosperous year!
Next year I’d love to go to a snow crowned Northern Norway to meet some beautiful orcas. Suitably, they are supposed to be one of the world’s most social animals. But my most important travel destination next year will be just a few hours away to visit my parents for some catching up.
Guide Manager (on parental leave)
As I am writing this we are putting up the Christmas tree in our house, and once it is decorated, I feel like Christmas is here for real. I would like to spread some of that Christmas spirit to all of you and hope that you will have an extra cosy Christmas this year. Merry Christmas & hopes for a bright start to 2021.
The desire for travelling has accumulated during this year, and if it was up to me, I would use the remaining time of my parental leave to travel around the world to see friends and family who are spread out over the globe. First and foremost to Australia where a large part of the family lives. When it comes to the Polar regions I dream about experiencing Greenland onboard our new ship Balto. Greenland is one of the most magical places I have ever set my foot on!
After a turbulent year like this, Christmas may be even more important for us. A time when all the beautiful candles and lamps lighten up our world. A time when we have time for relaxation, reflection and each other. Even if we are not able to meet as we are used to, we can always meet and spread love in other ways – through cards, digital messages, calls or videos.
I wish you a Merry Christmas and a New adventurous and healthy year!
Next year I would love to explore beautiful Norway during summertime, to see all the famous locations that I have always dreamed of. I want to experience the incredible nature and the magnificent sceneries, visit the stunning fjords, small islands and picturesque fishing villages.
During an expedition cruise to Svalbard, one of our last untouched wildernesses, you have the chance to experience unforgettable wildlife encounters. Svalbard's unique fauna includes several species of seals, and below can you read some brief facts about five of them.
The ringed seal belongs to the polar bear's favourite food. It is the most common seal species in the Arctic Ocean and is recognised by its grey fur with dark spots that sometimes can be taken for rings, hence the name ringed seal. The ringed seal is the only species in the earless seal family that continues to grow thruoghout life and can reach between 120 and 195 cm in length during a lifetime. Despite this, it is still slightly smaller than the harbour seal.
The harbour seal not only lives along the Swedish west coast, in the North Sea, the North Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean, but a small population has also ventured as far north as Svalbard. It is black or grey in its coat with dark spots, like the ringed seal, but is thus slightly larger in comparison. A more distinctive feature is its V-shaped nostrils. It can dive up to 200 meters, after which its heart rate is lowered by about 20 beats per minute, from normal 150 beats per minute to about 130.
The bearded seal is one of the larger members of the earless seal family. It occurs only in the Arctic Ocean and is well adapted to life in a harsh and cold climate. It stores large amounts of fat during the winter months and can then reach a weight of an impressive 400 kg, which makes its head during the same period look disproportionately small. During the summer, it has thinned slightly but is still easy to recognize thanks to its characteristic moustache. If you are quiet, you can hear how the male seals, like whales, sing under the water. It is not entirely known why they do so, but it is probably to impress females nearby and to mark their own territory.
The harp seal is approximately 200 cm long and weighs 140 kg. The males are slightly larger than the females, have a black head and a black spot extending from the shoulders, along the sides back to the tail. It is thanks to the shape of that spot the seal is named harp seal, as the spot is reminiscent of a harp. The female's spot is paler but can also be split. They can dive as deep as over 200 meters when hunting fish, molluscs and crustaceans. Its young ones are completely white and lack a warming layer of fat, but the white coat instead conducts the sun's heat directly to the skin.
It may not be completely obvious, but the walrus is also included in the group of seals, even though it is classified as the only living species in its own family of walruses. Its size and characteristic tusks create a powerful impression and suggest that it is in the cold and distant waters of the Arctic that the walrus belongs. It eats large numbers of small animals such as mussels and molluscs that it grazes on the seabed, but it also happens that it eats fish and that males feed on other seals or even whales. They have almost no natural enemies and are therefore very curious animals. In the past, however, they were hunted extensive by humans, but thankfully the species has started to recover and on Svalbard you have good chances to have great encounters with these charming and fascinating animals!