Day 1 Reykjavik, embark Greg Mortimer
After making your own way to Reykjavik pier, embark the Greg Mortimer in the late afternoon from 4.00 pm. You’ll have time to settle into your cabin before our important briefings.
Day 2 Denmark Strait
In the Denmark Strait, we cruise towards Greenland. We will be on the lookout for whale blows and the many seabirds that trail our ship in the constant winds. In our lecture theatre, enjoy informative and entertaining presentations from our experts on topics such as seabirds, wildlife, and ice, or catch up on some rest after busy days of travel.
Days 3-9 East Greenland
As we approach East Greenland, we may encounter more pack ice where we may see seals and a variety of seabirds, including northern fulmar and migratory Brunnichs guillemots. 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.
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. We will generally make up to two landings or Zodiac excursions per day; cruising along spectacular ice cliffs, following whales that are feeding near the surface.
Over the coming days, be prepared to experience ice, lots of it. East Greenland contains some of the Arctic's most impressive scenery. Deep fjords and narrow channels, flanked by sharp ice-clad peaks up to 2,000 m / 6,562 ft high. Glaciers create gigantic icebergs that drift throughout the fjord system creating breath-taking scenes. The landscape is filled with multi-coloured tundra home to musk oxen and Arctic hare.
Throughout the area are ancient Thule archaeological sites, historical trappers' huts, and modern Inuit hunters' cabins. A highlight is a visit to the Inuit village of Ittoqqortoormiit, the most isolated and northernmost permanent settlement in the region, with approximately 450 inhabitants. The community boasts an excellent museum, gift shop, an abundance of Greenlandic sled dogs, and the opportunity to meet Inuit people.
Explore Scoresbysund, the largest fjord system in the world – a spectacular place that simply needs to be seen to be believed. North of Scoresbysund are, Kong Oscar and Kaizer Franz Josef fjords, two of the most significant fjord systems in all of Greenland, each one encompassing several smaller fjords and sounds. Thanks to the fertile volcanic soil mountains that protects areas from the strong winds, the area is rich in wildlife. You may spot everything from muskox and arctic foxes to mountain hares and even reindeer near the fjord. Look skyward and you could catch a glimpse of birds including glaucous gull, black-legged kittiwake, northern fulmar, common raven and common eider.
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. 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 biggest 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 plan 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 Eskimos. This area provides excellent opportunities for sea kayaking in its maze of calm, interconnecting waterways. We may see musk oxen, arctic hare and seals, and maybe if we are extremely lucky even a polar bear or narwhal, although due to the local hunting traditions, these sightings are often very rare.
Places we may land along the east coast include:
Cape Humboldt is a beautiful bay on Ymer Island. There is a good chance to take a tundra walk and see musk oxen graze. We will also keep a lookout for Arctic fox and ptarmigan. A lone trapper's hut looks over the bay and magnificent icebergs.
Sefstrom Glacier adorns the narrow-peaked waterway in Alpefjord. Enjoy Zodiac cruising and kayaking in this pretty area, where colourful Arctic flora adorns the tundra ground.
Ittoqqortoormiit is Scoresbysund’s colourful Inuit community of approximately 500 people. Here you can explore the village, the fascinating museum or sit in the beautiful Lutheran Church. The locals are friendly and from underneath their Arctic fox-fur jackets, the shy young children are keen to say hello and practice their English.
Sydkap in Scoresbysund offers good walking and delightful views across the sound. Kayakers will have good opportunities to explore the lonely beaches. We may explore the ancient gravesites on the island, or the lakes with green tunnels and giant icebergs offer hours of enjoyment for kayak and Zodiac rides.
Rømer Fjord with its narrow channels and towering peaks is simply stunning, and lies roughly 167 km / 104 mi south of Scoresbysund. There are great hiking options in the fjord where flowering tundra plants, scattered bones of whales and muskox from centuries of hunting by the Inuit, and fumaroles can be found. These are areas where heated groundwater boil to the surface creating bubbling pools and mineral formations as the water reacts with the atmosphere.
Rode Ø Island is a glorious place for Zodiac cruising, hiking and kayaking, with its rich red Devonian sandstone geology. Discover the impressive mafic dyke that runs through the east side of Rode Ø. Glaucous gulls find perfect perches and nesting sites along the top of the basalt extrusions. Kayak along the maze of icebergs - pillars and arches, caves and peaks that look as though an artist had sculpted them.
The scenery here is breathtaking. Walk across the tundra alongside a ravine or Zodiac cruise where you might find musk ox, along with flitting shore birds, seals and a variety of colours in the lush Arctic tundra. Kayakers can enjoy sublime paddling in one of the most remote fjords in the world. Nearby is the spectacular and impressive Ø Fjord, a perfect place for small ship cruising.
If mountains rising 1,200 m / 3,937 ft straight out of the water wasn’t enough, how about the fjord itself, descending to 1,500 metres? There are also countless icebergs pouring out of the Daugård-Gensen Glacier. A great place for kayaking and Zodiac cruising with plenty of gorgeous bergs while the glacier itself, seemingly small from a distance, proved to be a formidable river of ice snaking down the valley.
No one can state the exact age of the neo-Eskimo site at Eskimobugt, but it may only be a few hundred years old. Subterranean winter houses designed with a tunnel that faces the sea where occupants would crawl through to the stand-up living chamber; at the opposite end is the sleeping platform. The walls were erected with carefully laid stones while the roof structure would be built from whatever material was available - driftwood, walrus bone, and available skin covering. Fire hearths were created by laying rocks in a circle with a bed of white quartzite stones. Learn from our historian about the incredible resourcefulness of the Inuit people whose men travelled formidable distances by kayak to hunt, and whose women crafted sophisticated garments from animal skins and fur – a people for whom survival in such extremes was paramount. Hiking here offers panoramic views, sightings musk ox and, occasionally Arctic hare.
See some of the most striking sedimentary sandstone, shale and siltstone formations imaginable. The alternating colours and patterns in the layers of rocks defied belief, and the layers of sediment here are estimated to have taken about 4,000 years to be laid down. You can also find the remains of a simple but highly effective wooden fox trap in use by Norwegian trappers in both Greenland and Svalbard from the early 1900s to 1960s. Skippendalen is also a marvellous place to hike and paddle in kayaks.
Other possible landing points in the area include:
• Nordenskjöld glacier & Blomsterbugten
• Bjorn Oya
• Milne Land
• Hekla Havn
• Denmark Island
Days 10-11 Greenland Sea
We head out to sea bound for Spitsbergen. As we cruise northeast across the Greenland Sea – the main outlet of the Arctic Ocean – we may encounter pack ice, and if we’re lucky we will see polar bears hunting on the ice. The strong icy sea currents have isolated East Greenland from the rest of the world for millennia. These currents carry nutrients 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 talks on plants, animals and early explorers like Nansen, Andree and Scoresby.
Days 12-22 Svalbard Archipelago
Svalbard offers unspoiled, raw Arctic wilderness at its best. With majestic mountains, iridescent sea ice, countless glaciers and superb wildlife-viewing opportunities. Our experienced expedition team, who have made countless journeys to this area, will use their expertise to design our voyage from day to day, choosing the best options based on the prevailing weather, ice conditions and wildlife opportunities.
We generally make landings or Zodiac excursions twice a day. You’ll want to rug up before joining Zodiac cruises to witness walrus colonies hauled-outs on sea ice or on beaches, under towering cliffs of nesting sea birds or glide past glistening icebergs in your kayak.
Without a doubt, our goal is to encounter the majestic polar bear on the pack ice, and the expedition team are just as keen as you to find them. Ship cruise along spectacular fjords, hike upon colourful tundra, perhaps tasting wild blueberries along the way.
Some of the places where we may enjoy landings for deeper exploration or view spectacular wildlife and scenery follows:
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, the largest concentration of protected buildings, cultural monuments and various remains in Svalbard can be found, making the area an important cultural heritage site. Ny-Ålesund is the largest Norwegian settlement in Svalbard that was spared from being burned down during World War II. The settlement is well preserved 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. 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 are teeming with seabirds. At the head of the fjord, mighty glaciers calve into the sea. All of this is framed by majestic mountain formations. 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.
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.
Magdalenefjorden is 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 built a land station on the headland and named the area Trinity Harbour.
The spectacular alpine scenery is lined with jagged mountain peaks, to which Spitsbergen (‘pointed mountains’, in Norwegian) owes its name. At 1,115 metres / 3,658 feet, Hornemanntoppen is the highest mountain in the area, and is located east of Magdalenefjorden. The topography of the area is mostly rocky, shorelines are covered with stones and hiking here can be challenging. Little auks breed here in large numbers, and a few reindeer can still be seen roaming around on mossy slopes. Very occasionally, polar bears and walrus are 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, when whaling was still occuring 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 whaling station history are the large cement-like remains of blubber from ovens where the blubber was boiled.
Virgohamna is most famous for being the starting place of many expeditions that attempted to reach the North Pole. On the beach, are the remains of blubber ovens and a Dutch whaling station. Written permission from the Governor of Svalbard is required in order to land here.
Ytre Norskøya is situated in the middle of what used to be hub of the Dutch whaling area, 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. Containing around 165 graves, 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. Near Reinsdyrflya lies a great fjord system that stretches towards several mountain ridges including; alpine summits of ancient 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. Hike in the mountains on the tundra where brightly-coloured wildflowers and lichen grow, and where reindeer graze. We may visit trapper huts of yesteryear where Russian Pomors would hunt and survive the cold harsh winters, all while remaining alert for wandering polar bears and their cubs.
Nordaust-Svalbard Nature Reserve
Nordaust-Svalbard Nature Reserve is the most high-Arctic part of Svalbard. The fjords are covered in ice, and drift ice floats around the islands for most of the year. Glaciers cover large areas of the terrain. This is the kingdom of the polar bear and walrus. It has been protected as a nature reserve since 1973.
The second largest island in Svalbard, with an area of 14,443 km². It is part of Nordaust-Svalbard Nature Reserve. The two large ice sheets of Austfonna and Vestfonna cover large areas of the island. The landscape is open and majestic with different types of landscapes, from the prominent fjords in the west and north to the massive glacier front facing east and south. From a distance, Nordaustlandet appears cold, unfriendly and unproductive. However, many places are unexpectedly lush, especially close to the bird cliffs.
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 conservation role and helped to re-establish the population here, a process which continues today. Large numbers of walrus can be found hauled out at the southern tip of the island and in summer, vessels must remain at least 500 m / 1,640 ft away.
In ocean north of Nordaustlandet lies the little archipelago of Sjuøyane (the seven islands), with its characteristically hat-shaped mountains. The hard granite mountains have 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).
Polar bears can be spotted anywhere on Sjuøyane. Polar bear distribution is strongly related to the distribution of sea ice. Drift ice around the islands offers increased chances of polar bears sightings. Reindeer and Arctic fox are also commonly encountered on Sjuøyane.
When the ice breaks up around Sjuøyane and the first seabirds return from April–May, the islands wake from a long winter slumber. Huge bird cliffs can be found here. Little auks migrate in the largest numbers, followed closely by Atlantic puffins and guillemots. Near-threatened species of ivory gulls can be found on Phippsøya along with several walrus haul-out sites, where hundreds of the marine giants can be found in the shallow bay.
Along the northeast coast of Spitsbergen we enter a different world – a polar desert. Ice conditions permitting, we pass through the narrow Hinlopen Strait, flanked by creamy coloured slabs of rock that are rich in fossils, where Polar bears are often sighted on the islands or around the bird cliffs.
Alkefjellet to the south of Lomfjorden is the largest bird cliff in the area with several hundred thousand black-legged kittiwakes and as many Brünnick’s guillemots. There are also several colonies of northern fulmar in the area, and little auks nest scattered in Hinlopen Strait. Brünnich’s guillemots nest in many colonies, including on the island of Wahlbergøya. Black-legged kittiwakes and black guillemots also breed in several of the colonies, most of them west of Hinlopen Strait, but also around Wahlenbergfjorden. One of the colonies is on Selanderneset. Common eiders also nest in many places, but the locations have been very poorly mapped. However, there is known to be a large colony on the island of Lemströmøya, north of Wahlbergøya.
Several of the most famous and most visited haul-out sites for walrus can be found in Hinlopen Strait. Worth mentioning are Augustabukta/Torellneset and Vibebukta. White whales, ringed seals and bearded seals also occur in the area.
The abundance of reindeer in the area varies greatly. The density is highest where the vegetation is most pronounced, such as the inner parts of Lomfjorden, at the bottom of Wahlenbergfjorden, in Palanderdalen and on Scaniahalvøya. A smaller number of reindeer are also scattered around the islands in Hinlopen Strait, and the Arctic fox can be seen on both sides of the strait. There is no doubt that the easiest place to observe foxes is around the bird cliffs. This is often also where dens can be found so we avoid entering these areas.
Barentsøya and Edgeøya
East of Spitsbergen are two large islands called Barentsøya and Edgeøya. The area has a rich array of wildlife, especially polar bears, reindeer, walrus, seabirds and geese. West of Edgeøya, cultural remains from the time of European whaling can be found, mainly Russian and Norwegian.
Alkhornet, at the northern entrance of Isfjorden, is a striking landmark. The landscape around this large bird cliff is lush and beautiful. Alkhornet and Trygghamna offer an interesting combination of cultural history and nature. The name Trygghamna refers to the West European whaling activity was carried out around Svalbard in the 17th century when whales would swim into the fjords and hunted.
At Alkhornet, reindeer are often sighted, along with Arctic fox, geese nesting on rocks and higher up on the cliffs, where Brünnich’s guillemots breed in enormous quantities. The cliffs at Alkhornet are also home to large colonies of breeding kittiwake and Arctic skuas. Glaucous gulls often patrol the air around the cliffs, hunting vulnerable prey.
Hornsund is the southernmost fjord in Svalbard located in Sør-Spitsbergen National Park, where majestic peaks and dramatic fjords are the defining features. The highest summits are often shrouded in mist, but if you’re lucky you might get a glimpse of Hornsundtind, peaking at 1,431 m / 4,695 ft. Traces of human activity spanning 400 years can be found almost anywhere where there are possible landing sites.
Little auks are found here in huge numbers, drawn to the large scree slopes – their typical nesting habitat. With abundant plankton and crustaceans, Hornsund and the areas off the west coast are a giant food reservoir for the little auk. The West Spitsbergen Current – a branch of the Gulf Stream – brings temperate waters north along the western Spitsbergen coast and provides favourable conditions for biological production in the area.
Northern fulmar can be seen in several colonies in Hornsund. Brünnich’s guillemot and kittiwake nest at the same locations. Dunøyane and Isøyane, islands that gained protection status as bird sanctuaries back in 1973, are important nesting areas for barnacle geese, pink-footed geese and brent geese. Pink-footed geese nest in large numbers on Dunøyane and on scree slopes and hillsides close to the sea, including in Hyttevika north of Hornsund and Gnålodden.
A huge colony of little auks is situated at Ariekammen (100,000 to one million) – possibly the largest in Svalbard. If you’ve ever been close to such a large colony of swarming little auks, you’ll never forget it.
Bellsund cuts into Spitsbergen south of Isfjorden and splits into two branches at Van Mijenfjorden and Van Keulenfjorden fjords. The area features large bird cliffs, where fertilization by seabird droppings accounts for the surprisingly lush vegetation in some areas.
Other places we may visit around the Svalbard Archipelago include:
• Kapp Lee
Day 23 Disembark Longyearbyen
During the early morning we cruise back into Longyearbyen. Farewell your expedition team and enjoy a town tour, where you will visit Svalbard Museum and Galleri Svalbard, and take in the main sights of Longyearbyen including Office of the Governor, Svalbard Church, Nybyen (new town), a few of the town’s mines such as Santa Claus Mine, and a quick photo stop at the famous beware of polar bear street sign. Afterwards, transfer to the airport for your onward journeys.
NOTE: At the conclusion of the voyage, we do not recommend booking flights departing prior to 12.00 pm on the day of disembarkation in case there are delays.