Previous week, some of us crossed the Atlantic Ocean to participate in the New York Times Travel Show! You can read a short post about it below.
This weekend, you could meet some of us at New York Times Travel Show, the ultimate show for anyone who loves travelling. This was the second time we visited the show and it seems as Svalbard and Northern Norway are on the top of many travellers’ dream destinations, especially watching polar bears and the magical Northern Lights. Thank you for all great meeting and talks, we look forward to take you the world’s most spectacular places!
In January, our little expedition ship M/S Quest headed out in the fjords outside Tromsø and Alta in Northern Norway, an area offering unforgettable winter adventures. Since 2010, huge shoals of herring have overwintered in the fjords, which has attracted many orcas and humpback whales. Below, please read about orcas, humpback whales and the magical Northern Lights in a blog post written by our guide Andreas.
Two days ago, we left Tromsø behind and steered east, towards the herring and where its companions gather nowadays. Last night we moored along the quay in Valanhamna. Although there are some houses on the island, there is only one person living here and he came to greet us on board, get himself a beer and to have some conversation - something he may not be too spoiled with. Mooring along the quay means excellent opportunities to both see and photograph the Northern Lights, so we took turns to keep a lookout, and it was worth it! At midnight, the sky exploded in all shades of green, white and purple. Magically, beautifully dancing over the sky and our ship.
The next day we woke up early in the morning to be ready to see the sun rise. Perhaps even whales would come forth? The mighty mountains that surrounded us on our way north in the fjord Kvaenangen were coloured pink, blue and purple. Suddenly there was a group of humpback whales and orcas in front of us. We followed them carefully with the ship but soon realised that in the calm water and the beautiful light it would be perfect to launch the Zodiacs and try to get even closer. It was an unforgettable and very powerful moment. Eventually we had to get back on board, let the whales carry on with their business, and begin our journey towards Alta and Kautokeino to explore the inland and learn more about the Sami culture.
The atmosphere on the foredeck is silently focused. Not far from the ship, just above the surface of the water, a small cloud of condensation is spotted, followed by a snorting noise. There, straight ahead, a beautiful tail fin disappears into the deep. Humpback whales!
Mid-January this far north of the Arctic Circle is a very special time of the year. The sun hardly appears above the horizon, but that doesn’t mean there is no daylight. Instead, the sky and the landscape glow in ever changing shades of blue. Steep mountains in white, gray, blue and black rise from the sea. It’s as if our journey takes place in a painting come alive.
The humpback whales stay close to the ship. Expedition leader Christian, who speaks five languages fluently and works full-time as a guide in the Arctic and Antarctica, decides we should take a closer look. After a cup of hot chocolate it’s time to get ready for a zodiac cruise. Outside temperatures are not impressively low but the humid air adds to the cold. We all dress in layers and laugh at everybody’s wobbly, penguin-like walk.
I don't know the names of all fellow passengers, but we are one big family. The meals are an event in itself. The chef on M/S Quest brings the concept of "locally produced" to a new level by purchasing 40 kilos of freshly caught cod from a passing fishing boat. Just a few hours later this day-fresh catch has been transformed into a delicious dinner.
The mountain sides appear even steeper from a zodiac perspective. The humpbacks, in several different groups, appear and disappear in the gray-blue water around us. Yesterday we had orcas. Several sea eagles hover over us. Christian switches off the engine for a while and only the clicking cameras break the silence. Watching the magnificent northern lights the other night we experienced how cameras are more sensitive to light and therefore “see” more of the weak northern lights than the eye. Here and now it is the other way round. No images will ever be able to capture the feeling in seeing four magnificent tail fins gracefully bend over the water surface before disappearing into the deep. My eyes fill with tears, and it is not only because of the wind.
Dream away to some of the world's most spectacular places, from Svalbard's glistening pack to the Namib Desert's red sand dunes, by wathcing a slideshow with a selection of snapshots that sum up the exciting PolarQuest-year 2018!
Svalbard offers several thrilling stories, and to imagine what life once looked like here, without electricity or any other modern technique is fascinating. Below can you read about Svenskhuset, a place where dramatic and significant events have occurred.
The so-called Svenskhuset is a wooden house located on Cape Thordsen in Isfjorden on Svalbard. It was built in 1872 on the initiative of Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld, since he wanted to extract the minerals that were discovered here during his expedition in the area in 1864. However, the project never really took off, but remains of the house and the small rail that were built are still visible today.
Probably, the house is most known for the series of events often referred to as the tragedy of Svenskhuset. During the autumn of 1872, a seal hunters’ ship got stuck in the ice at Gråhuken in northern Svalbard. The crew was rescued by the members of the Nordenskiöld expedition, who were overwintering in Mosselbukta, but 17 of the hunters, those without families at home, were sent to row 200 miles south in order to reach Svenskhuset, where Nordenskiöld knew they could find victuals stay until spring. A few months later, a rescue expedition from the mainland was sent to retrieve the men but made the horrendous discovery that they were all dead. Some in their beds, some buried outside the house. Not until 2008, after extensive investigations that even included opening the grave where several of the men had been buried, it was concluded that the men had died of lead poisoning, probably because of poorly soldered preserves.
The house was also used during the Swedish physio-meteorological expedition to Svalbard between 1882 and 1883 - Sweden's contribution to the first international polar year. Meteorologist Nils Ekholm and engineer Salomon August Andrée conducted research projects here along with several other researchers, doctors and assistants.
The house is now taken care of by the Sysselman and its surroundings are part of the Isfjorden National Park. Here are all traces of human activity protected as cultural heritage, which also applies to Svenskhuset.
Whales, northern lights and towering mountain peaks in Tromsø
Sara, one of the team members of PolarQuest’s ever busy and creative Marketing department, travelled with M/S Stockholm through the magnificent fjords of Tromsø during five days in early November. Below can you read about an adventure that made her sure of what paradise on Earth looks like.
I will probably never forget how my expedition in Tromsø started. As I stepped out of my cabin, I met one of our guides Andreas who eagerly asked me "have you seen them?". I replied "who?" but the very same moment I understood it was a silly question to ask. I wasn't properly awake yet. Andreas was fully dressed in his warmest clothes - he obviously meant the orcas! We ran out on deck, I did not have time to put on my warm clothes, even less to lace my boots, so I had to settle with my sneakers. But that was alright. It was warm enough outside and to see these fantastic animals up close, just next to the ship, made everything else fade away.
Orcas were not the only ones to circulate the ship in their search for herring. Among them there were a few humpback whales too, and during our trip we would experience several thrilling encounters with these impressive giants of the sea.
I had seen northern lights one time before, and even if it did not last long or was particularly strong, it felt magical to see the green light dance across the night sky, and since then I have dreamed of seeing it again. Knowing that Tromsø with its unique location on 70 degrees north and straight beneath the auroral zone is one of the sites where northern lights occur most frequently in the whole world, I cannot state anything else than I sincerely had hoped for a night clear enough to unveil this beautiful phenomenon for me once again. And I got lucky! One starry night, at approximately eleven o' clock, we went back onboard to wake up the guests who already had went to bed since we had promised them the same day not to let them miss any of it. Even though it was quite late and a bit chilly outside I do not think anyone who went up that night have, or ever will, regret it.
Some of those who have seen the northern lights witness about a crackling and whining sound, almost like fire, and perhaps then it is not too difficult to imagine that once upon a time the Earth which was considered flat also was considered to be surrounded by oceans and fire, and that it was when the light from these fires became so strong that they were reflected in the sky that northern lights occurred. Another theory was that glaciers were able to absorb and collect so much energy that they eventually became illuminating. Surely, however, the northern lights have been marveled and admired by humans through all times.
If you are not fond of mountains Tromsø might not be for you. But if you love them it is the perfect destination! Just to fly in over the dramatic landscape with towering peaks so high they reach above the clouds is an event to always remember for an enthusiast like myself, and when I think of the trip it is like they are framing every memory of it. Like that morning when we got up a bit earlier to explore the tiny settlement and the beautiful beach of a small, secluded island called Loppa. When we saw the sun slowly rise above the mountain peaks as we were aiming for the highest point on the island, hiking up a trail with hearts beating and even some sweat dripping from our foreheads. We never made it to the top, but the view was strikingly beautiful - in a paradise like this it does not matter where you turn.