A travellers diary: Exploring the Arctic with M/S Stockholm
In May 2019, I had the privilege of travelling to the Arctic and Svalbard for the first time. During that trip, I boarded the 50-passenger ship M/S Quest. This year, in September, I had the opportunity to revisit Svalbard, embarking on an expedition on board the 12-passenger ship M/S Stockholm. Similar to my previous adventure, PolarQuest left nothing to be desired and the onboard service was exceptional.
The weather in September was a bit different from my previous trip in May. The first part of the trip was characterised by snowfall and fog, while the second half provided us with splendid weather and an extraordinary encounter with Arctic foxes.
On my first trip in May, we unfortunately couldn't head north because of the wind. This time however we had the opportynity to explore the Northern regions and and with an extra three days at our disposal, we ventured as far as Bråsvellbreen. The north has a lot to offer. There are large colonies of walruses here and the landscape is more varied than in the south. Nevertheless, travelling in May has another advantage. It is the time when the birds arrive in Svalbard, filling up the steep bird cliffs.
M/S Stockholm is a 70-year-old ship, designed for only 12 passengers, in excellent condition. Magnus, the owner and captain, as well as his crew made our stay very pleasant. M/S Stockholm not only benefits from its compact size, allowing access to places other ships can't reach, but also has exclusive nautical charts. Additionally, the guides and captain consistently found solutions that prioritized both safety and the opportunity to see wild animals. Whenever possible, the ship was manoeuvred into a position that allowed the best photographic perspective.
The Arctic remains a worthwhile destination in September. Following the initial snowfall, the landscape becomes exceptionally beautiful and serene, with light that is undeniably exceptional – a delicate balance between the stark and the soft. While we had to be patient for animal sightings, the second day in Smeerenburg brought us our first glimpse of walruses. After that, we were blessed with everything one could hope for: seals, whales, dolphins, and, not least of all, polar bears.
Although the majority of birds had already migrated away from Svalbard, we still had the opportunity to encounter a few species. My newfound favorite is the petite sandpiper, an incredibly unshy bird. You can approach it from as close as about 2 meters, which allows for capturing stunning photographs. Moreover, there were a variety of gull species, including the Arctic tern.
Finally, on the last day of our trip, we had an incredibly beautiful encounter with young Arctic foxes at Alkhornet. The guides were aware that foxes in this area give birth during the summer, increasing the likelihood of encountering them. However, in the wilderness, outcomes can be unpredictable. After approximately 20 minutes, we observed an Arctic fox feeding on a deceased bird. We approached cautiously, and as it noticed us, it grew curious and came closer. It snatched our guide's glove that was lying nearby, buried it, and playfully inspected us. But the excitement didn't end there. Shortly thereafter, a second Arctic fox joined our company. We spent approximately 1.5 hours with both of them before they decided to depart.
The encounters with polar bears and Arctic foxes will remain in my memory forever, not to mention the incredible light. Each season has its unique charm. In spring, the first bird colonies populate the cliffs, while in September, the first fresh snow provides an opportunity to search for tracks.
Text and photos: Michael Guthmann
Please note: We always follow strict wildlife guidelines to ensure that we do not cause any disturbance.
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.