A day at the Seven Islands
We woke up to a frantic knocking on the cabin door and a call of; ‘there’s a bear outside!’. Emerging into a sunny morning without a breath of wind, there was indeed a spec of a bear, highlighted against the grey sand on the beach. This was on the approach to Phippsoya, and the Captain was just about to drop the anchor.
Phippsoya is in a group of islands called Sjuoyane or Seven Islands, a small archipelago north of Nordaustland, in the very northernmost part of Svalbard and therefore, Europe. Due to the happy discovery of our first bear, we decided to jump into the zodiacs before breakfast and try to get a better look, in case it disappeared over the hill not to be seen again. But as luck would have it, when we approached the beach (called Isflakbukta), there was not only one but two bears. We enjoyed these bears at a respectful distance, before heading back to the ship for a late breakfast, the galley team had been very patient with us!
We reconvened for a second outing later that morning, keen to see if the bears were still there. We drove over towards the cabin on the beach, this one having been built in 1936 by representatives of the Norwegian government to be used as an emergency shelter, it is in fact the northernmost cabin in Svalbard. The two bears were still there, basking in the sun and walking around over the rocks. We spoke a bit about bear behaviour, feeding habits and their adaptations which allows them to keep warm in a usually cold environment. Cruising around the coast line, we were able to see some walruses on the beach and playing about in the water. A great observation was made by a guest that for the walruses, it seems as though their food is so abundant that they have all of this spare time and energy for play and socialising, which very much seems to be the case.
After a delicious lunch, the ship was repositioned next to the most northerly islands, Vesle Tavleoya and the rocky outcrop of Rossoya. Here we were just 1,018km from the North Pole! We cruised around and through the narrow gap between the two islands, where we were met by a bright green hillside, a lot of lush vegetation that had been fertilised by bird cliffs. We couldn’t believe it when we saw yet another polar bear, sitting up on the hillside amongst the grass and moss. This time it was a female and seemed to have a tracking collar around her neck. We watched her wandering around and smelling the terrain for a while before circumnavigating the most northerly island, enjoying the kittiwakes and guillemots and returning to the ship.
The crew had lit the woodfire in order to heat up the hot tub, so we took advantage of the sun beating down on us, the lack of wind, and celebrated a fantastic day by jumping off the ship into the sea at out northernmost point of the trip!
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 50 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.