Day 1 – Embark Longyearbyen
Arrive in Longyearbyen, Norway and join a pre-arranged half day excursion or activity prior to boarding the Greg Mortimer late afternoon. You’ll have time to settle into your cabin before our important briefings.
Please note: GRN36G Arrive in Kirkenes, on the northern coast of Norway. Late afternoon sees us warmly welcomed on board the Greg Mortimer.
Days 2 to 4 – Svalbard Archipelago
Over the next three days, the Svalbard Archipelago is ours to explore. Our experienced expedition team, who have made countless journeys to this area, will use their expertise to design our voyage from day to day. This allows us to make best use of the prevailing weather, ice conditions and wildlife opportunities. Because we are so far north we will experience nearly 24 hours of daylight and the days can be as busy as you wish. We will generally make landings or Zodiac excursions a few times a day; cruising along spectacular ice cliffs, following whales that are feeding near the surface, making landings for hikes.There are many exciting places we can choose to visit; a sample of some of the places where your expedition leader may choose to land, hike, photograph or view spectacular wildlife and scenery include:
Alkhornet, at the northern entrance of Isfjorden, is a striking landmark. The landscape around this large bird cliff is lush and beautiful. East of Alkhornet you can find a deep and several kilometre long bay with an exciting and diverse history. Here you will find important and vulnerable cultural remains dating from several of Svalbard’s historical periods. Alkhornet and Trygghamna offer visitors an interesting combination of cultural history and natural environment. The name Trygghamna is derived from the old Dutch name Behouden Haven and the English Safe Harbour or Safe Haven, all with the same meaning. The name reflects on the West European whaling that was carried out around Svalbard in the 17th century when whales would swim into the fjords and subsequently be caught. Trygghamna was, and still is, the perfect harbour with good anchorage. Because of its favourable geographical position, this harbour was early known and continuously in use.
At Alkhornet, reindeer observations are common, there are several fox dens, geese nest on rocks and higher up, and the bird cliff is loaded with Brünnich’s guillemots in hundreds of thousands. The cliff also houses a large colony of kittiwakes. Often seen is the glaucous gull patrolling the air around the cliff for potential prey. Arctic skuas nest here as well. The moss tundra below the cliffs bear witness of constant influx of fertilizers and some areas are extraordinary lush for this reason.
Kongsfjorden (Kings Bay)
Kongsfjorden and the surrounding country are known to be one of the most beautiful fjord areas in Svalbard. The fjord is headed by two giant glaciers, Kronebreen and Kongsvegen. Hike on the lush tundra amongst the summer flowers and observe the remarkable bird cliffs near the 14th July Glacier, where even a few puffins nest between the cracks in the cliffs.
In this area we find the former mining settlement of Ny-Ålesund. Situated at 78º 55’ N, Ny-Ålesund is one of the world’s northern-most year-round communities. The settlement of Ny-Ålesund is strongly linked to coal mining operations, scientific expeditions and recently also to various international research efforts. It is located more than 100 km north of Longyearbyen and is one of the northernmost settlements in the world. In and around Ny-Ålesund is found the largest concentration of protected buildings, cultural monuments and various remains in Svalbard, rendering the place an important cultural heritage site. The cultural history is represented by the town itself, including 30 listed buildings (out of 60 in total), industrial monuments related to the coal mining operations, Roald Amundsen’s airship mooring mast and hangar foundation and some remains of research activities. Ny-Ålesund is the largest Norwegian settlement in Svalbard that was not set fire to during World War II. The settlement is well preserved and worth experiencing, and serves as a valuable historical source.
Ny-Ålesund has also been the starting point of several historical attempts to reach the North Pole. Names like Amundsen, Ellsworth and Nobile are strongly linked to Ny-Ålesund. The place has been a centre for tourist operations, with several hotels located in town. Today, approximately 20, 000 travellers visit Ny-Ålesund on a yearly basis. Since 1964, Ny-Ålesund has also been a centre for international Arctic research and environmental monitoring. A number of countries run their own national research stations here, and research activity is high in the summer.
The islands and islets in the inner part of Kongsfjorden teem with birds. At the head of the fjord, mighty glaciers calve into the sea. All of this is framed by characteristic mountain formations. Situated at the north side of the fjord, London is a monument to past optimistic expectations for big money from the supply of marble to the world market. Further north-west lies Krossfjorden, with its cultural remains from the whaling period, Russian and Norwegian overwinterings and World War II. Large bird cliffs are also found here.
Nordvesthjørnet and Raudfjorden
It was here, in the far north-west, that Willem Barentsz and his crew discovered new land on 17 June, 1596. They described the land as being “rugged for the most part, and steep, mostly mountains and jagged peaks, from which we gave it the name of Spitsbergen”. In the centuries that followed, the large number of bowhead whales found here attracted whalers from the Netherlands and various other countries, and the area became a place of high activity, both on the shore and in the surrounding sea. This is why Nordvesthjørnet offers the largest concentration of graves, blubber ovens and other cultural treasures on Spitsbergen, all dating back to this first era of the exploitation of Svalbard’s natural resources.
Cruise northwards along the west coast of Spitsbergen, visiting intriguing places like Magdalenefjorden, located inside the Northwest Spitsbergen National Park. According to historical sources, Magdalenefjorden was first used by the English in the early days of the whaling era. They erected a land station on the headland and named the area Trinity Harbour. The station was closed in 1623, but the cemetery remained in use. More tourists are visiting Gravneset than any other site in Svalbard outside the settlements, but since 2015, ships carrying heavy fuel on board are no longer permitted to enter the large national parks and nature reserves in Svalbard.
The spectacular alpine scenery is lined with jagged mountain peaks, to which Spitsbergen (‘pointed mountains’) owes its name. At 1,115 metres / 3,658 feet, Hornemanntoppen is the highest mountain in the area is, located east of Magdalenefjorden. The topography of the area is mostly rocky, shorelines are covered with stones and walking here can be challenging. The topography also does not allow for much vegetation, which is limited to mosses and lichens near bird colonies. Little auks are breeding in large numbers in scree slopes everywhere around Magdalenefjorden. Amazingly, a few reindeer occasionally roam around on mossy slopes and polar bears as well as walrus are regularly seen here.
The name “Smeerenburg” means “Blubber Town”. Its whaling station served as the main base for Dutch whaling in the first half of the 17th century, which was the period when whale hunting was still happening along the coastline and in the fjords of Svalbard. Smeerenburg is situated on the island of Amsterdamøya, surrounded by fjords, tall glacier fronts and steep, rugged mountains. The most obvious sign of its days as a whaling station are the large cement-like remains of blubber from ovens where the blubber was boiled. The rest of the old Smeerenburg has largely disappeared under layers of sand.
Virgohamna is one of Svalbard’s most important cultural heritage sites. On the beach are remains of blubber ovens and a Dutch whaling station. There are also graves from the whaling period. But Virgohamna is most famous for being the starting place of many an expedition attempting to reach the North Pole. Both Andrée (1896, 1897) and Wellman (1906, 1907, 1909) built bases here, consisting of a balloon shed, airship hangars and gas production works. The place was named after Andrée’s steamship and transport vessel, the Virgo. All the areas with cultural remains in Virgohamna are protected. To disembark here, one must have written permission from the Governor of Svalbard.
Ytre Norskøya is situated in the middle of what used to be the Dutch whaling area in the early 1600s, when it all revolved around land-based stations for boiling the whale blubber. The station is situated by the sound Norskøysundet, between the islands of Ytre Norskøya and Indre Norskøya. A sheltered bay offers protection against the weather and a broad beach facilitates landings. Today, the remains of nine blubber ovens lie in a line along the beach in the bay. The area with 165 graves on the island is one of the largest burial grounds in Svalbard.
Woodfjorden, Liefdefjorden and Bockfjorden
Located along the north coast, Woodfjorden, Liefdefjorden and Bockfjorden are rarely-visited places. This is the land of contrasts. By the large, flat Reinsdyrflya there is a great fjord system that stretches towards several mountain ridges of varying shapes and ages, including alpine summits of very old granite, majestic red mountains of Devonian sandstone, cone-shaped remnants of three volcanoes and even hot springs. Large glacier fronts calve in the sea, while polar bears are busy hunting for ringed seals and sweeping the islets for birds’ eggs. Walk on smooth raised beach terraces to a superb viewpoint or hike in the mountains on the tundra where pretty brightly coloured wildflowers and lichen grow and where reindeer graze. We may visit trapper huts of yesteryear where Russians Pomors would hunt and survive the cold harsh winters, all while remaining alert for wandering polar bears and their cubs.
Moffen Island is situated directly north of 80°N. After the near-exctinction of walrus in Svalbard in the middle of the 20th century, Moffen Island played an important role in re-establishing the species here, a process which is still going on. Today, there are often larger numbers of walrus hauled out at the southern tip of the island. This is the reason why Moffen is protected. Approach during the summer (15th May to 15th September) is limited to a minimum distance of 500 metres / 1,640 feet.
Sjuøyane (Seven Islands)
In the very north of Svalbard, in the ocean north of Nordaustlandet, is the little archipelago of Sjuøyane (the seven islands), with its characteristically hat-shaped mountains. The hard granite mountains have acquired a green covering of moss due to thousands of breeding seabirds. Walrus dive for clams in the waters between the islands and in the bays. Most of the islands have been named after the English North Pole expeditions led by Phipps (1773) and Parry (1827).
Sjuøyane are located at about 80°45′N. The mountains, of gneiss and granites, are tied together by plains created by deposits, which have given the islands their large, semi-circular bays. In general the sparse vegetation belongs to the Arctic polar desert zone. However, fertilisation by bird droppings provide a breeding ground for mosses and scurvygrass (Cochlearia groenlandica), which give some of the mountains their characteristic greenish colour.
When the ice breaks up around Sjuøyane and the first seabirds return in April–May, the islands wake again after a long winter, during which the only wildlife is the odd polar bear, Arctic fox, reindeer and walrus. There is a large number of bird cliffs in Sjuøyane, scattered around most of the islands. Little auks come in the largest numbers, but there are also several smaller colonies of Atlantic puffins and Brünnich’s guillemots. Common guillemots nest scattered around the islands. One of the few known colonies of ivory gulls can be found on Phippsøya. Ivory gulls are categorized as listed as a Near Threatened Species.
There are also several haul-out sites for walrus on Sjuøyane. The most reliable place to encounter them is Isflakbukta on the island of Phippsøya. Up to 100 animals can be seen on the beach, and normally walrus are very active in the shallow bay.
Polar bears can be seen anywhere on Sjuøyane. The polar bear distribution is strongly related to the distribution of sea ice. If there is drift ice around the islands it is more likely that there will be polar bears on the islands. Usually there are also a few polar bears remaining in the area over the summer. Reindeer and Arctic fox are also found on Sjuøyane.
Days 5 to 6 – Greenland Sea
As we cruise west across the Greenland Sea – the main outlet of the Arctic Ocean – we may encounter whales feeding in the productive waters of the north. Sightings of fin whales are common and blue whales have been seen in more recent years. As we begin to approach Greenland we will likely encounter the East Greenland pack ice, and if we are lucky we will see polar bears hunting for prey. The strong icy currents have isolated East Greenland from the Polar Basin, attracting large numbers of fish, seals and whales. Climatic conditions and the concentration of ice in the vicinity often create thick morning fog that vanishes with the onset of the midday sun. Our experts will inform and entertain us with fascinating discussions on plants, animals, ice, and early explorers like Nansen, Andree and Scoresby.
Conditions permitting, there may be a chance for kayakers to launch their sea kayaks and the rest of us to cruise in the sea ice with Zodiacs. Perhaps if we have had a good crossing, we may even have the opportunity to make our first landing on the Greenland coast, weather permitting. This stretch of coastline is ripe for exploration, with its many secrets locked in place by drift ice for up to eight months each year. Home to polar bear, snowy owl and musk ox, it’s the world’s largest national park, covering 972,000 square kilometres; most of which is inland ice and the rest a composite fjord landscape.
Days 7 to 11 – East Coast of Greenland including Kaiser Franz Josef Fjord and Scoresbysund
We will attempt to enter Kaiser Franz Josef Fjord, a remote and rarely visited fjord system with countless opportunities for exploration within the Northeast Greenland National Park. Cruising through Kong Oskar Fjord we will marvel at the geological beauty of the mountains and land in a few places to explore the landscape and wildlife of Greenland. We will then head south along the coast of Liverpool Land, with our passage dependent on ice conditions. We aim to reach Scoresbysund, the world’s largest fjord and a favourite hunting ground of the local Inuit. Massive glaciers dump into this fjord, the birthplace of the famous big Greenland icebergs. We hope to visit the remote Inuit community of Ittoqqortoormiit (Scoresby Town) and to hike across the tundra in search of ancient graveyards and summer villages occupied 3,000 years ago by Paleo-Eskimos. This area provides excellent opportunities for sea kayaking in its maze of calm, interconnecting waterways. We will keep a sharp eye out for musk oxen, Arctic hare and seals, and maybe if we are very lucky even a polar bear or narwhal. Scoresbysund offers many opportunities for walking cruising and kayaking so we will spend our days exploring the land, the ice and the sea.
Day 12 – Denmark Strait
In the Denmark Strait, we sail towards Iceland. Keep a lookout for whale blows and the many seabirds that trail our ship in the ever present Arctic winds. Enjoy the time to reflect on your recent adventures, share and exchange photos, and soak in the fresh ocean air. As we near Iceland, you will find we are returning to the rest of the world as we encounter fishing vessels working the coastal waters
Day 13 – Disembark Akureyri, transfer to Reykjavik
During the early morning we arrive into the northern Icelandic town of Akureyri. Disembark and enjoy a scenic transfer to Reykjavik downtown or airport. Farewell your expedition team and fellow expeditioners as we all continue our onward journeys.
- Due to departure flight schedules out of Reykjavik, we recommend that passengers stay overnight in Reykjavik before continuing with your onward international travel arrangements.
- GRN36G is a 15-day journey, from Kirkenes to Reykjavik.