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Svalbard - Ortelius Basecamp Summer Solstice


kittykat23uk
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kittykat23uk

Yes this is another Svalbard trip report. I know we have been treated to quite a few different Svalbard reports but I think I still have a different perspective to offer. 

 

This was yet another postponed trip from Covid times. I started planning in 2019, with a view to going in 2020. I think it’s fair to say that the version of me that booked the trip is not the version of me who went on the final trip this year and I think I would do things differently if I were to go again. Additionally, the cruise I booked onto was not the cruise I ended up with. 

 

I had originally booked on the “Realm of the Polar Bear” 7 night tour with G Expeditions through Chimu Adventures. It was due to take place between the 19th and  26th June. It was postponed in 2020, and again in 2021. At that point I decided to take a refund on my flights, but kept the cruise booking carried over to 2022. 

 

In feb this year I was told that it was looking likely to run and that I might want to look at flights. So I did. Then in late March I was dealt a massive blow in that Chimu advised that G had cancelled their entire arctic season. This came as a shock to everyone, crew, agents and customers! 

 

I looked at some alternatives, and perhaps should have taken a bit more time over this, but moving flights seemed to be really complicated and there wasn’t a lot of availability, so I quickly settled on the option that Chimu recommended, which was the only sailing they offered that worked with my existing flights (and that was only because I had the forethought to build in a bit of leeway between arrival and the cruise and also had allowed a full day after the cruise). As a result I booked on a similar size sailing to the Expedition, the Ortelius on their Basecamp Summer Solstice Tour. My main concern, which proved justified, was that this was not a specific Polar Bear tour. This sailing was focused on providing “free” activities such as Kayaking, “hiking/photo workshops” and cleaning the shores. I will come onto those later. 

 

I will confess that, in the build up to going, I was being swamped with amazing photos from other safaritalkers’ trips which was making me equally parts anxious and envious, and I kept trying to remind myself that my sailing was absolutely not in the same bracket as most of the other tours that you have been reading about. Nevertheless, I was still hopeful because my TO said that polar bears are always a priority because they know everyone wants to see one. Well there’s definitely a big difference between being on a focused polar bear expedition and these trips, which I’ll come onto. 

 

So anyway, the change cost me an extra £495 (in total £2795 for the new sailing) plus an extra night in a hotel in Longyearbyen. I also came down with Covid less than two weeks before I left for Svalbard and it was touch and go whether I would feel up to going. My main concern was how well I'd cope with the activities considering how tired and breathless I was feeling in the run up.


 

17th June 2022 Travel day

 

Thankfully there are no restrictions now for travel between Svalbard and the UK so I was still able to go. All connections worked fine on the outward trip. I got the coach from Norwich to LHR via London Victoria and then SAS flights via Oslo.

 

18th June 2022 Day 1 Longyearbyen 

 

I arrived in the early hours of the 18th. After collecting my luggage, which unlike for some unfortunate passengers had arrived with my flight, I headed out the door. 

 

There is a bus that takes passengers from LYR airport to the centre of town (cost about £8, paid by card). I got chatting to one of the other passengers who was on my cruise and staying at the same hotel as me. It felt nice to hook up with a fellow passenger at this early stage.

 

I stayed at the quirky, but centrally placed, Mary Ann’s Polarrigg. The room was small and basic but the bed was comfortable. The price per night, including breakfast, was NOK 1495 or about £123 per night, I had 3 nights there. There were shared ablutions. The breakfast was what you’d expect of a decent hotel, with full English buffet options, pastries, fruit, cereal etc.

 

52178032632_c218274269_h.jpgIMG_20220618_175545 by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

We are so far from everywhere! 

52178032702_6648438417_h.jpgIMG_20220618_175530 by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

As the Ortelius departure was one day later than the original cruise I had nearly three full days spare in LYR and I planned to make the most of them. So after catching a few hours sleep I was up at 7 for breakfast before being collected by Oddgeir Sagerup of See & Explore AS

www.seeandexplore.no at 0830. When he’s not guiding some of the arctic cruises, he runs local birding and tours to find Arctic Foxes. These tours aren’t cheap. I went for the larger group tour. At time of writing the cost was NOK 1950, or in UK money that was about £160 for about 5 to 6 hrs guiding. 

 

Our first stop was along the shore where he and others had built a bunch of little islands for nesting birds. Here we found a pair of one of my most sought after birds, the King Eider. The male is a truly spectacular duck with his pastel endowed head and spiky black plumage and I was delighted to have found one so quickly. We were able to approach quite closely as a pair of them were resting on one of the islands. They eventually got up and swam off. 

 

52196549343_426a090224_h.jpgP6180294 King Eider by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52195524637_cb764c1142_h.jpgP6180276 King Eider by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52197021320_d01a6b8a49_h.jpgP6180111 Ringed Plover by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

Purple Saxifrage and other alpine plants clung to bare earth providing jewels of bright colour against the otherwise barren landscape. A few patches of snow clung to the steep slopes and shaded hollows.

 

52196533986_12145916e6_h.jpgP6180347 Purple Saxifrage by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

We carried on, and parked up before hiking up the road along. Arctic Skuas were our constant companions and snow buntings sang from rocky slopes, rarely staying still, always on the move to confound photographers! 

 

52196549038_ae079c643a_h.jpgP6180584 Arctic Skua by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52196531636_9381f15579_h.jpgP6181323 Snow Bunting by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

People call Oddgeir “The Fox Whisperer”, but a better description would be “The Fox Whistler” as he uses whistling to catch the fox’s attention and, being a curious little creature, they seem to respond well to this tactic. As we walk he continues to whistle, scanning the high slopes looking for sign of movement. Then, a flash of white against the grey and brown rocks, way up high! An Arctic Fox! 

 

Our first view was like one of those “where’s Wally” puzzles, the fox barely visible against the scree. But she came closer, and then closer still, weaving her way down the slopes towards the funny looking apes and their guide making that odd whistling sound. 

 

52196533461_e1a258abeb_h.jpgP6180717 Arctic Fox by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

The flash of white turned out to be her bushy tail and ears, the only parts of her still retaining her white winter coat. She was looking a little scruffy as she moulted into her summer clothes.

 

52195523857_71373a1345_h.jpgP6180763 Arctic Fox by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52196548493_c9b2b03ae2_h.jpgP6180954 Arctic Fox by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

Soon she had made her way right up to us but continued to weave around and in between different outcroppings appearing and then vanishing only to appear again either a little closer or a little further away. Eventually she spotted another group of people further down the road and headed off in their direction. It was a brilliant start to the trip and I was so glad that I’d taken the decision to book Oddgeir. 

 

52196548133_7c390c2554_h.jpgP6181013 Arctic Fox by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52195522907_6cee35f7d2_h.jpgP6181049 Arctic Fox by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52195522817_b26edce812_h.jpgP6181069 Arctic Fox by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52196547628_3389fbe07f_h.jpgP6181082 Arctic Fox by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

While we waited to see if the fox would come back we spotted some Svalbard Reindeer feeding on the slopes. It made for a nice photo opportunity as they grazed against the horizon. 

 

52197019200_f4013dc7ce_h.jpgP6181186 Svalbard Reindeer by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52196531736_17a1041dfe_h.jpgP6181257 Svalbard Reindeer by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

After watching for a while, we carried on to try some other areas. We got to a wide valley with a spectacular view. Oddgeir spotted another fox way off in the distance. We tried to get closer,  but the fox got the better of us and we lost sight of it. As we were hiking we did come across a pair of Svalbard Rock Ptarmigan, not quite as fresh as the ones Janzin saw but the male was still mostly white, standing out now against the rocks and alpine plants in the now snow-free landscape. 

 

52178801556_a29b184a24_h.jpgIMG_20220618_103213 Views outside Longyearbyen by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52197018775_1a2beb036b_h.jpgP6181528 Svalbard Rock Ptarmigan by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52196793829_90e9603988_h.jpgP6181573 Svalbard Rock Ptarmigan by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52196546468_6c4987c129_h.jpgP6181599 Svalbard Rock Ptarmigan (female) by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

 

 

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kittykat23uk

Here's a video of Oddgeir giving a bit of info on the Ptarmigan:

 

 

 

 

On the way back we once again caught the attention of the fox who paid us a second visit. 

 

52196530886_7176f29ddf_h.jpgP6181675 Arctic Fox by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52196546128_44659ad159_h.jpgP6181684 Arctic Fox by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52196546028_c9f3c50a1f_h.jpgP6181702 Arctic Fox by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

Oddgeir then offered us a nice snack of hot blackcurrant juice and cookies before suggesting that we try the other side of Longyearbyen to pick up some of the more sought after birds. 

 

52178801556_a29b184a24_h.jpgIMG_20220618_103213 Views outside Longyearbyen by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52178807568_71d0226ed9_h.jpgIMG_20220618_114142 by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52179547810_c7731d0d14_h.jpgIMG_20220618_114648 by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52179309224_1d96be2fbe_h.jpgIMG_20220618_114748 by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

Everyone was keen on this proposal so we piled into the minivan for the drive back. We passed the breeding common eiders by the husky compound and headed out past the town limits to an area of coastal pools, the haunt of divers and phalaropes. 

 

We spotted a pair of red-throated divers early on and got out of the bus to approach.

 

52196545558_778f24cec7_h.jpgP6181767_01_01 Red-throated Diver by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

They were reasonably tolerant but the light was flat and overcast. Still I'm really pleased with how this shot came out, i love the minimalistic look of it. 

 

52195521227_a562125ed1_c.jpgP6181774_03 Red-throated Diver by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52195520637_27a7f04407_h.jpgP6181789_02 Red-throated Diver by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

We scoured the area for phalaropes without success and it was only when we were back in the minibus and driving away that I spotted one out of the rear passenger window. There are two species that breed on Svalbard, the one I spotted was red-necked phalarope. Another two of my highly sought-after birds ticked off on the first day. Not a bad start and a nice end to my time with Oddgeir. 

 

52196545148_7721731f1c_h.jpgP6181880 Red-Necked Phalarope by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 


 

 

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Great start, I was waiting for your report! So glad you got to go out with Oddgeir. Everything looks so different than our trip...where's all the snow, LOL! And of course, you got many more bird species than we did. And the fox...she sure looks scrawny and scruffy though!

 

Looking forward to more...

 

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kittykat23uk

Apparently after your late spring there was a heatwave and it all melted! 

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A great start to your trip with some excellent sightings 

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Beautiful pictures Jo.  Looking forward to hearing about your trip.

 

Alan

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shazdwn

Looking forward to more Jo, can't have too many Svalbard trip reports as I still haven't booked a replacement for our 2020 trip - we are now looking at 2024!

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kittykat23uk
Posted (edited)

In the afternoon I took a walk to the duck pond by the husky compound in the hope of catching another sight of an arctic fox. The eiders nest by the huskies because they feel safe from predators, especially arctic foxes as foxes don’t generally like to get close to dogs. However I had heard that there was at least one enterprising fox that had worked out that the huskies couldn’t get out and so is sometimes seen stealing eggs. Alas no fox appeared whilst I was there and the poor eiders’ strategy didn’t pay off either as some huskies that were being prepared to take a group out road sledding ran rampant and attacked the ducks before being restrained by their handlers. Sadly many nests were damaged and eggs strewn about. 

 

52192954747_12649ae18f_h.jpgP6180054 Eider ducks by Jo Dale, on Flickr
 
I walked as far as the town limits (as far as you can go without a gun up to the bear sign), dunlin and purple sandpiper were new birds but sadly no more phalaropes. A pair of Glaucous gulls argued over an eider corpse. As I began to head back I thought I would double check what time my boat trip was due to leave. Just as well as I’d got the timings wrong. So I picked up the pace to get back into town so that I could have time to grab some dinner before heading out again. 
 

52194453615_7dcb32d43f_h.jpgP6180091 Glaucous Gulls by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52193963541_413c8ff373_h.jpgP6180137 Dunlin by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52193963396_b94fd01207_h.jpgP6180161 Polar bear warning sign by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52193963356_cf8c689a61_h.jpgP6180173 Common Eider by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52193963236_98d3baa95e_h.jpgP6180264 Barnacle goose by Jo Dale, on Flickr


I found a fast food joint in town and ordered a rather tasty burger and fries, definitely a step up from McDonalds! With 15 minutes to spare I was back at the hotel and getting ready for the boat. 
 
I had booked two “Catch of the Day” boat trips with Better Moments for the evenings of the 18th and 19th, reasoning that, whilst the chances of bears was probably remote, there’s always a chance of something special and I should hopefully see whales at this time of year. Again, these are not cheap at NOK 1990 (approx £163 per trip). 
 
Better Moments perhaps overcook their description of these tours, or perhaps mine were just a bit quiet, but they state:
 
"On this trip, we take advantage of the midnight sun and explore the beautiful Isfjord. The fauna in Isfjorden has increased a lot over the last couple of years. The chance to see polar bear cubs out on a walk with their mother, a blue whale showing its fluke or a humpback whale coming up and playing around the boat, is a lot bigger now.
 
Additionally, we can go to the most spectacular glacier fronts found in the northern part of Isfjorden. These enormous amounts of ice are constantly moving and changing shapes by calving, letting go of ice into the fjord. And maybe we will get to watch a seal sunbathing on the ice. From May to August, we will also visit one of the bird cliffs around the fjord, the steep mountain sides provide the perfect nesting spots for Svalbard’s sea birds. Protected from predators, yet easily accessible by boat, we will be able to observe many different species living together.
 
With our closed and heated RIB boats, we are sheltered and can still enjoy our time out, no matter what the weather. When the smaller, open boats must stay home because of hard weather conditions, we can still head out and experience the fjord.
 
Our chefs have prepared a nice bowl of homemade soup for us to enjoy at a scenic place.
 
Please note that we can never guarantee wildlife, however, we will drive in areas that are well known for its wildlife. All animals on Svalbard roam freely and our experienced guides will do their best to spot them during the trip. If you come late in the season, the chances for wildlife are less, because many animals migrate south. Then we focus the trip more on Svalbard’s nature and history as well as the beautiful light conditions in Autumn. "

 
The route chosen for this trip was first to a local bird cliff where mostly Brünnich's guillemot (Uria lomvia) were clinging precariously to the sheer cliffs. You could see clearly where birds had fertilised the surrounding area with their guano as the vegetation was lush and green. 

 

52193980383_4d79c330ec_h.jpgP6180298 Brünnich's guillemot (Uria lomvia) by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52194452795_e74bf4be6e_h.jpgP6180316 Brünnich's guillemot (Uria lomvia) by Jo Dale, on Flickr
 
We sailed into Billefjorden and all the way up to the Nordenskiöldbreen (glacier), named after Finnish geologist Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld. Nordenskiöldbreen has an elevation of 459 metres. This was an impressive first glacier to get a look at, but I think the crew were hoping that there would still be a lot of ice around, which might have hosted seals. Alas there was not much floating ice at all and there was a distinct lack of anything larger than a Kittiwake. 

 

52194452690_e7ceb0b412_h.jpgP6180383 black-legged kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla) by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52194452590_3a17af3999_h.jpgP6180435 Puffin by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52192953377_d4cb356126_h.jpgP6180479 Puffin & Brünnich's guillemot (Uria lomvia) by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52194450650_e75c9ba910_h.jpgP6180555_01 Nordenskiöldbreen (Nordenskiöld Glacier) by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52193962446_505a1fbdb9_h.jpgP6180636 Arctic tern in front of Nordenskiöldbreen (Nordenskiöld Glacier) by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52193979583_1e913eeca0_h.jpgP6180640 Nordenskiöldbreen (Nordenskiöld Glacier) by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52194450495_9aaa848148_h.jpgP6180650_01 Arctic Skua in front of Nordenskiöldbreen (Nordenskiöld Glacier) by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52192953022_57a8a3791b_h.jpgP6180662 Nordenskiöldbreen (Nordenskiöld Glacier) by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52192952917_a73ee61752_h.jpgP6180704 Arctic Tern in front of Nordenskiöldbreen (Nordenskiöld Glacier) by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52193977728_4c312f71a1_h.jpgP6180711_02 Nordenskiöldbreen (Nordenskiöld Glacier) by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52194221589_ad8b8dfa11_h.jpgP6180723  glacial slopes by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52193979093_8c1ce15c87_h.jpgP6180728 Nordenskiöldbreen (Nordenskiöld Glacier) by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52192952657_b70558435b_h.jpgP6180730 Nordenskiöldbreen (Nordenskiöld Glacier) by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52193960436_2821f29cae_h.jpgP6180749_01 Nordenskiöldbreen (Nordenskiöld Glacier) by Jo Dale, on Flickr
 
We stopped for a supper of soup, well it was more like a hearty beef meatball stew than a soup and I was thinking that I needn’t have worried about dinner in town! 
 
On our way back we sailed past Pyramiden. This is an abandoned Soviet coal mining settlement. Founded by Sweden in 1910 and sold to the Soviet Union in 1927, Pyramiden was closed in 1998 and has since remained largely abandoned with most of its infrastructure and buildings still in place, the cold climate preserving much of what has been left behind. It is named after the pyramid-shaped mountain with the same name adjacent to the town.

 

52194221369_570408ae26_h.jpgP6180759 Pyramiden by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52193978733_c4b62e2d1a_h.jpgP6180762 Pyramiden by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52193961471_13bfa29a92_h.jpgP6180767 Pyramiden by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52192952192_9b32d03c20_h.jpgP6180783 Pyramiden by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52193961231_bf8739f7f6_h.jpgP6180791 waterfall by Jo Dale, on Flickr
 
After passing Pyramiden we spotted a pair of walrus huddling on a beach. It was really exciting to see my first walruses of the trip, although I worried that it might take the shine off the dedicated walrus trip that I had booked for the next day! 

 

52194450075_11bdda629d_h.jpgP6180981 Walrus by Jo Dale, on Flickr
 
The boat trip begins at 1800 when they collect you from your hotel and I think I got back around 2330. 

 

52179060571_e5166b2521_h.jpgIMG_20220618_202118 by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52179061501_c72e1a06a0_h.jpgIMG_20220618_205638 by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52179310739_dedfed8cfe_h.jpgIMG_20220618_205624 by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52179549610_3961b05711_h.jpgIMG_20220618_205346 by Jo Dale, on Flickr

Edited by kittykat23uk
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I would have been happy with Atlantic Puffin! We had hoped for one! But I guess you can see them in the UK :) 

 

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kittykat23uk

Yes we get puffins in the UK, to be honest the bird cliffs were not as spectacular as some of the ones we get here and we didnt get as close as you can in the UK. We get regular guillimots which look a lot like the Brunnich's, but of the auks, the one I wanted to see most of all were Little Auks- I've seen one once in the UK off the norfolk coast in winter, but they dont breed here unlike guillimots, puffins and razorbills.

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Interesting report for which thanks. I had not heard of Catch of the Day and it looks interesting as an addition to Oddgeir. If it had to be "one or t'other?" which would it be? As a struggling pensioner I have more time than brass.

How much did you succeed 'solo' walking around town?

 

Looking forward to reading about the 'main event' as your intro piqued my interest.

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kittykat23uk
Posted (edited)

If you are combining with a cruise out of LYR I would definitely recommend doing the fox tour above the Better Moments trips. I think maybe catch of the day might be better either very early in the season, when theres hopefully still a lot of ice or a bit later when the chance of whales is higher- i had hoped for belugas and fins but no joy. I think that week was a bit between the seasons, fin and other whales were late arriving and no ice so bears were not in that area. I mean, obviously some bears don't make it out to the ice but i think you'd have to be super lucky to see one around lyr at that time of year. 

 

Solo walking, you have a chance of fox, but i didn't see one (others did). I saw Arctic skua, glaucous gull, snow buntings, lots of common eider, occasional dunlin and purple sandpiper, black guillemots by the harbour. Phalarope and divers are normally seen beyond the boundaries of town and you need a car and a guide with a gun if you plan to venture out. 

Edited by kittykat23uk
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The_Norwegian

yet another great trip report from Svalbard! Awesome pictures! You got back home just in time to avoid getting caught in the pilot strike, SAS is currently not flying anywhere, and lots of people are stuck on Svalbard, not going anywhere fast ;-) 

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kittykat23uk

Yes I heard, but I understand the pilots have agreed to fly now.. some people have got there today I believe. 

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kittykat23uk

19th June 2022 Day 2  Longyearbyen 
 
Today I had booked another couple of boat trips with Better Moments. My TO couldn’t 100% guarantee that the Ortelius Basecamp would make a landing at a walrus colony (although it was quite possible that they would)  so this was insurance in case we didn’t do that. If I had stuck to my original dates I would probably have held off booking this trip and reserved judgement until after I was on my cruise. Then, if available, I would have used my free day after disembarking to potentially do this if we hadn’t had a good walrus experience on the cruise. Obviously with the cruise fiasco and everything being pushed back a day, this was no longer an option and so with spaces filling up I took the plunge and booked it. 
 
The cost of this trip was NOK 2390 for a full 7 hours. I was collected at 0900. This is what Better Moments says about their trip:
 
"Svalbard’s wildlife is unique and fascinating. Join us on our day trip to experience it from up close! Everyday we use our closed and comfortable RIB boats to go to a well-known walrus colony. Here we do a landing on the beach. Thus, we will then have the opportunity to observe these funny and extraordinary animals in the arctic landscape. 
 
The walrus is one of the most intriguing animals in the Arctic. Most of the summer, they stay in the same area and love to sunbathe on the beach. One of the best known colonies close to Longyearbyen is on Poolepynten on Prince Karl’s Forland. Thanks to our special designed speedboats, we can easily reach this colony on a day trip. Our boat is comfortable, closed, dry and heated, with a panorama view, bar and toilet.
 
We will start our trip crossing the beautiful Isfjord. On the way, we are accompanied by the many different birds that nest on Svalbard. A frequent visitor is the Atlantic puffin. At the northern entrance of the Isfjord, halfway towards the walruses, we get to Trygghamna. Here, the rugged mountains rise 900m above us, making them a perfect home to many of the sea birds we have already seen. Below the cliffs, reindeer and foxes alike are profiting from the fertile tundra. This area has been used by hunters and trappers for centuries and our knowledgeable guides have many stories to share with you.
 
We will leave the Isfjord and head north along the scenic west coast of Spitsbergen. We pass dramatic mountains, rising high above the sea and massive glacier fronts advancing into it. If the weather allows it, we will do a landing on the beach at Poolepynten to stretch our legs. On a regular day, there are around 30 walruses in the colony. Standing on the beach in silence, we will be able to clearly hear the walruses argue about the best sun beds. Don’t forget your camera, you will have many perfect photo opportunities. In case the weather does not allow us to have a landing, we will still be able to see them up close from the aft deck of the boat.
 
Once back on board, we serve a light lunch and start heading back towards Longyearbyen. On the way, we will pass the abandoned mining settlement Grumant, tucked in between the steep mountain sides. The southern side of the Isfjord features an entirely different geology as what we have see so far on this trip.
 
We can never guarantee wildlife, however, this is a well-known hauling-out place for walruses. Better Moments has the right to change the route and destination of the trip due to the weather conditions. The weather forecast is never completely reliable in the areas we are travelling in, therefore like on all other boat trips, we always want to go out and see for ourselves if we can reach our destination. In case the weather prevents us form getting all the way, we will spend the day in the beautiful Isfjorden, visiting glaciers and searching for other wildlife".

 
It was as good as they described! We didn’t see much other than seabirds on the journey out to the walrus colony. We sailed passed the colony to land a little bit away, so that we could approach on foot without disturbing them. Conditions were right for a landing and the crew made short work of ferrying us to the beach. 

 

52195589612_1447720e8d_h.jpgP6190033 Walruses by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52196598151_1658f12af5_h.jpgP6190066  Walruses by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52195589437_c81b26463b_h.jpgP6190083 Walruses by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52197085825_d552b28ab6_h.jpgP6190118 Better Moments enclosed Rib by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

Whilst I waited for others to be brought ashore I took the opportunity to photograph some of the local flora. 

 

52196860269_de640ccf00_h.jpgP6190128 worn wood by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52196597616_97329fc0bd_h.jpgP6190136 flowers by Jo Dale, on Flickr
 
Once we were all present and correct, we were escorted closer to the colony. We could hear them arguing and watched them vying for the best positions to sunbathe. Whilst most of the colony slept, a few individuals were feeding on clams in the shallows. It was awesome to be so close to such impressive beasts. 

 

52196860054_97f9e9fe44_h.jpgP6190155  Walrus by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52196597426_da47441dff_h.jpgP6190200  Walrus by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52196597216_bf70338fbf_h.jpgWalrus by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52196859574_49f91086bd_h.jpgP6190404 Walrus by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52195588107_06dda9a3a5_h.jpgP6190511 Walruses by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52195588017_aa74664c18_h.jpgP6190576 Walruses by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52195587917_326597ac67_h.jpgP6190601 Walruses by Jo Dale, on Flickr
 
We spent maybe an hour watching them and then sadly it was time to head back to the rib. Close to the boat we spotted another of my bird targets, a Red Phalarope! They are usually called Grey Phalaropes in the UK as we normally see them on passage when they are in their winter plumage. But here they are in their stunning breeding colours! Such a treat to see one.

 

52195587722_d04df546c6_h.jpgP6190788 Red Phalerope by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52196611988_3c180f458b_h.jpgP6190853 Red Phalerope by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52196611548_661e712e2c_h.jpgP6191298 Walruses by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52196635508_266cc3e91e_h.jpgP6190094_01 Walruses by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52197083675_8e1fbf2559_h.jpgP6191309 Scenery around Poolepynten by Jo Dale, on Flickr
 
The lunch consisted of a bap with sundried tomato paste, salad and salami, plus some tasty chocolate brownies and a selection of drinks.  Personally I preferred the soup of the previous night, as I found the bap a little dry. 
 
On the way back we passed the abandoned mining settlement Grumant and visited the bird cliffs again. The little auks stick to the top of the cliffs and are usually seen leaving in small flocks. One came a bit closer, but unfortunately I didn’t quite get it in focus! 

 

52195586792_39f2407360_h.jpgP6191347 Outskirts of Longyearbyen by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52196595351_af3654c792_h.jpgP6191360 Outskirts of Longyearbyen by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52195586522_89d7e8c6de_h.jpgP6191363 Outskirts of Longyearbyen by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52196610533_37a6d396c2_h.jpgP6191407  Brünnich's guillemot (Uria lomvia) by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52196618851_c4355c56a4_h.jpgP6190008_01  Little Auk by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52195610487_bbb10d4319_c.jpgP6191317_01 Little Auk by Jo Dale, on Flickr
 
A few black Guillemots were also to be found. We got back ashore in LYR around 1630 ish. 

 

52196635318_0acaa79926_h.jpgP6191343_01 Black Guillemot by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

 

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Thanks for the update. That 'catch of the day' is well named. At that price I will be throwing it back.

I liked your Grey/Red Phalarope pics and would love to see Little Auks.

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kittykat23uk
Posted (edited)

Yes it was a bit of a miss in terms of wildlife, impressive scenery though!  

 

If I had been sensible I should have probably had the evening off to relax. But I wasn’t sensible and I had booked a second Catch of the Day. This one sailed into Ekmanfjorden and Dicksonfjorden and yielded more bird cliffs, more stunning glaciers and icebergs, and a Minkie Whale. Then, not much else as the winds began to pick up making the conditions challenging. The beef meatball stew was a welcome supper.

 

52179088186_57b61c8989_h.jpgIMG_20220619_102359_1 by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52179577410_f8b495a68c_h.jpgIMG_20220619_153449 by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52178061647_00100f4cf0_h.jpgIMG_20220619_153459 by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52179577630_ea8bc5e0cf_h.jpgIMG_20220619_153619 by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52196389762_55803f3a92_h.jpgP6190004_01 Minkie Whale by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52197664329_ad0a90e719_h.jpgP6190020 Iceberg by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52197412708_13497886ee_h.jpgP6190049_01 Iceberg by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52197891595_c9c32084c2_h.jpgP6190085 Glacier by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52197664194_62b057ae43_h.jpgGlacier by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52197664044_4507b680e8_h.jpgP6190116 Brünnich's guillemot (Uria lomvia) by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

 

 

52197398731_b6b48d0483_h.jpgP6190129 First view of Ortelius by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

I was relieved to see my ship was moored at anchor as we came back into Longyearbyen. I collapsed into bed around 2330..although it could have easily been 1130 judging by the light shining through my paper-thin curtains.

 

52179095308_74983b2606_c.jpgIMG_20220619_175441 by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

Edited by kittykat23uk
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pomkiwi

Glad you got there after such a stressful run-up. Lovely pictures and really interesting to see the differences compared with only a little over a month earlier - such a rapid thaw.

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kittykat23uk

Yes I was a bit shocked as seeing your and Janzin's reports I had expect there to still be more ice around. 

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kittykat23uk

20th June 2022 Day 3  Longyearbyen 

 

Today I really should have rested and taken it easy. Instead, after breakfast I first walked down to the harbour to see how far it was on foot. The answer was too far with all my luggage! So I decided to book a taxi for later on. It would be nice if Oceanwide Expeditions could offer transfers from local hotels in addition to the airport, it’s not that big of a town. 

 

In any case after that I walked to the husky compound, photographed a few birds, including purple sandpipers and then had an unenthusiastic wander around town after failing to sight any more foxes. After which I returned to my hotel and basically crashed out in their lounge as everything caught up with me and I started feeling rough. I couldn’t even find the energy to get any lunch.

 

Finally 4pm arrived and it was time to board the Ortelius.

 

52196763527_a503be1a27_h.jpgP6200067 Eider on a nest by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52197784653_38223b4774_h.jpgP6200136 Purple Sandpiper by Jo Dale, on Flickr

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kittykat23uk

Ortelius Day 1: Embarkation, Longyearbyen

Date:    20.06.2022

Position:    78°14.1‘N, 015°37.8‘E

Wind:    SE5

Weather:    cloudy

Air Temperature:    +4

 

The Ortelius lay at anchor in the middle of the bay, so upon arriving at the harbour we were issued lifejackets and assisted onto the fleet of zodiacs ready to ferry us to the ship that would be our home for the next week. The wind had started to pick up and it was a choppy ride to the Ortelius. 

 

The welcoming Hotel Team was waiting for us and our luggage was ferried to our cabins.  I'd booked a quad cabin and was pleased to note that I was only sharing with one other lady and we ended up getting along really well. We both made use of the top bunks to store our luggage. The ensuite room was a little small but came equipped with a small desk and TV showing a few movies, and details of the day's programme. 

 

After settling in I made my way to the bar, humorously named "Krill 'em All" after Metallica graced it with their presence whilst filming in the Antarctic. The bar was well provisioned with a coffee machine, offering a selection of coffe and hot chocolate drinks, a selection of teas and cupasoups and at times tasty cakes and biscuits. I was also encouraged to see that the bar prices were actually very reasonable. Sadly as is often the case, cider drinkers were not catered for but at least there was rum! 

 

52179101366_b63d267a31_c.jpgIMG_20220626_103704 by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

There were around 80-90 passengers on board, so Ortelius wasn't full, but the ship certainly had a buzzing atmosphere. The concept of this trip had definitely attracted a younger crowd than your typical Realm of the Polar Bear tour would. As a result there were some considerably rowdy groups and a party vibe in the bar most nights, at times I found it a little overwhelming.  There were a few large groups of guests, a big group from the US, a bunch of Italians as well as a tour group of "Young Pioneers", whose previous destinations had included such delights as North Korea and Chernobyl. I couldn't help but comment that an activity holiday in the arctic seemed a little mundane in comparison!    

 

After everyone had boarded we gathered in the lecture room for the mandatory safety briefings quickly followed by the safety drill.

 

52179090546_02c03e8304_c.jpgIMG_20220620_182455 practicing the evacuation drill by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

At 18.30 we came together for an introduction of the Expedition Team, and a glass of champagne and welcome toast with our Captain Mika Appel. The energy was high and the excitement for the upcoming voyage was palpable.

 

Afterwards it was time for dinner. Nearly all meals were served in the restaurant, the first meal being a buffet style with plenty of choice. The food was of a very good quality. For most of the cruise we were offered a buffet lunch and for dinner a choice of starters, mains and dessert. The catering staff were very attentive throughout.  

We were slightly late leaving port after waiting for luggage of some guests to arrive. With fatigue getting the better of me I got a fairly early night.

 

Some initial observations: 

 

We were issued lifevests and muck boots for shore landings. We also got given a free water bottle to keep. 

Whilst it was advertised as “free kayaking” they only had a few Kayaks. As a result anyone who wanted to have a go had to form a group and then each group was drawn on the day and you then decided if you were in that group whether to kayak or not. If not, your space was offered to someone else. I was not fussed, thinking I might not feel up to it,  but I put my name down anyway. Better to decide on the day I thought.

 

The crew advised that there would be an announcement during the night were they to sight something special. However, I got the impression that when we were at sea we didn't sail close enough to the shore to see much at all, and unsurprisingly our sleep was never interrupted. 

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kittykat23uk

Day 2: Camp Zoe, Fanciullipynten - Lilliehöökbreen
Date:    21.06.2022
Position:    79°08.3’N, 011°41.08’E
Wind:    ESE 5
Weather:    Overcast
Air Temperature:    +13

 

We awoke to our expedition Leader Rinie’s cheery “Good morning, good morning” that was to be a feature of the trip. It was a very windy morning, with low, brooding clouds hanging over the mountains. Following breakfast, as we entered the magnificent Krossfjord, we assembled for a mandatory briefing. 

 

The landscape of Krossfjord is dominated by middle Proterozoic metamorphic rocks which date to over one billion years old. Although our first landing this afternoon was scheduled in this area, the crew had to reassess in true expedition style, as very strong wind gusts prevented them from lowering the zodiacs and disembarking the ship. From the ship we enjoyed a beautiful view on Tinayrebreen and after lunch, Juan, our photography guide, gave an introductory lecture on photography (mostly stuff I was pretty familiar with but OK for a novice).

 

52196784257_d89ece55e9_h.jpgP6210358  Camp Zoe Tinnayrebukta in Krossfjorden by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52198059314_271da5db89_h.jpgP6210363  Camp Zoe Tinnayrebukta in Krossfjorden hikers by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52198059464_32fa380eab_h.jpgP6210345 Camp Zoe Tinnayrebukta in Krossfjorden by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52198297175_17c16864b2_h.jpgP6210342 Camp Zoe Tinnayrebukta in Krossfjorden by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52197817373_eca27242fa_h.jpgP6210049 Map of day 1 by Jo Dale, on Flickr


We headed for our new, more sheltered landing site. The crew attempted to board the zodiacs according to the hiking groups. Those wanting to do the strenuous hike were advised to board first, so they could get off quickly to make the most of the time ashore. Those wanting a less strenuous hike or a pootle around were advised to hold back, but it was rarely as efficient as that. 

 

Those wanting a more strenuous hike headed straight up to the ridge and followed it around. Here they encountered Reindeer with calves, and lots of flowers as it is the best time of the year to find purple saxifrage and many more.


The second group, which I joined, went for a less strenuous hike although we still followed closely behind the hikers. We did have a bit more time to take in the scenery and appreciate the more intimate details of the flora and the many mosses and lichens. 

 

52197802616_7d01fb3ffd_h.jpgP6210066 Purple Saxifrage by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52196795782_fdc06b299f_h.jpgmeltwater by Jo Dale, on Flickr


We were able to watch a few reindeer crossing some remaining snow fields and skidding around on the slippery ice. 

 

52197816938_da5c11b711_h.jpgP6210325 Svalbard Reindeer by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52197816998_3c15b2567c_h.jpgP6210259 Svalbard Reindeer by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52197817513_4ec24a05a2_h.jpgP6210010 Lillihookbreen Glacier by Jo Dale, on Flickr


The third group took a stroll along the scenic shoreline adjacent to the hut and dipped into the rugged terrain at the upper part of the coastline with views of Krossfjord and the steep mountains in the background.


I regretted doing the medium hike as I quickly developed a blister and found it quite hard going after that, plus I was still coughing a lot and my chest was still very tight.
After dinner we had a scenic ship cruise of Lilliehöökfjorden and the spectacular Lilliehöökbreen, the glacier at the end of the fjord. This large glacier is a beautiful sight, with its 11km wide semi-circular glacier front (5.5km in a straight line across the fjord). It is estimated that over 40% of the total ice volume of the glacier has been lost within a century, which means the water in which we sailed is uncharted. After this dramatic and scenic highlight, we turned around, headed out of Krossfjord and continued our voyage North.
 

52198297935_2a7b60e8cd_h.jpgP6210002 Lillihookbreen Glacier by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52197804683_f663afab30_c.jpgP6210715 Map of day 1 by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52198058699_8dee31e9d2_h.jpgP6210702 Lillihookbreen Glacier by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52197790486_914ae1fc85_h.jpgP6210689 me by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52198284745_a875f6f98e_h.jpgP6210631 Lillihookbreen Glacier by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52197790621_313207343b_h.jpgP6210627 Lillihookbreen Glacier by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52198058934_7d4c9f0e47_h.jpgP6210606 Lillihookbreen Glacier by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52198058994_1ff987a8cb_h.jpgP6210590 Lillihookbreen Glacier by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52197790816_3c15c45217_h.jpgP6210560 by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52198059139_20e9b94bf3_h.jpgP6210490 Lillihookbreen Glacier by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52198285205_4ddcd9a96b_h.jpgP6210468 Lillihookbreen Glacier by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52198059254_3513fc7f8c_h.jpgP6210414 Lillihookbreen Glacier by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

 

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kittykat23uk
Posted (edited)

Day 3: Virgohamna & Smeerenburg - Indre Norskoya

Virgohamna & Smeerenburg - Indre Norskoya

Date: 22.06.2022

Position: 79°43.8‘N, 010°51.3‘E

Wind: N 1

Weather: overcast

Air Temperature: +9.8

 

This morning as we had breakfast, we entered Virgohamna. Low lying clouds reside above the bay giving it an eery, quiet feel. Another ship was anchored in the Bay. This really shouldn’t happen as there is supposedly a system which the larger ships have to use to plan their routes and avoid clashes like this. However, every year there are more and more operators so clashes are inevitable. This delays the start of our day as the crew work with them to sort something out. 

 

Our intention was to land at a walrus haul out but that was their plan too, so first of all we piled into the zodiacs at 0930, and headed over to a local population of Harbour Seals. Harbour Seals are typically not seen this far North, but the west coast of Spitsbergen is home to a separate population of the species. A rare opportunity therefore to see this seal species away from its usual environment in North Norfolk! The water was beautiful and glassy as we motored over to the colony of seals. They were lying on rocks in the water, a behaviour mainly seen in this species. Seal pups played in the water and near the zodiacs.

 

52198333453_c0926b71de_h.jpgP6220175 Harbour (common) seal by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52198333343_b62a3aafd8_h.jpgP6220261 Harbour (common) seal by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52197315527_f16eb65aa5_h.jpgP6220310 Harbour (common) seal by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52198317406_863a2a0273_h.jpgP6220424 Harbour (common) seal by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52197315237_fefbe606b2_h.jpgP6220427 Harbour (common) seal by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52198816770_a7d16d32c6_h.jpgP6220432 Harbour (common) seal by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52198317066_37f2235540_h.jpgP6220479 Harbour (common) seal by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52198332658_3bd07d7076_h.jpgP6220493 Common Eider by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

 

 

We encountered a Walrus in the water feeding on clams in the sandy bottom, occasionally surfacing for air and then going back down.

 

52198585934_343dd69667_h.jpgP6221087  Walrus by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52198331703_e05fc4d40a_h.jpgP6221123  Walrus by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

We spent the next two hours following the coast observing Arctic Terns and the Harbour Seals. As we motored around some floating ice I spotted a bird in the distance. I Immediately recognised it as the rarely seen Great Northern Diver! I quickly alerted our skipper and asked him if we could make a closer approach. He also  got on the radio to say that one of his passengers had found “some sort of diver” . I rolled my eyes a bit and repeated that it was a Great Northern Diver. My ID was confirmed by the resident birder of the expedition team soon afterwards.  

 

52198316661_4ae732f4a6_h.jpgP6220673 Great Northern Diver by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52197313097_fdb4f2bbca_h.jpgP6220783_01 Great Northern Diver by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52198314861_82c2cb88f8_h.jpgP6220953_01 Great Northern Diver by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

The dramatic landscape echoes in the background with great mountains plummeting up from the sea and glaciers oozing out from between the mountains.

 

52198332453_32ec4dedea_h.jpgP6220519 Virgohamna by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

Edited by kittykat23uk
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kittykat23uk

We managed to land at Smeerenburg, also known as the most famous whaling station in Spitsbergen. 200 men worked at this station up until the late 17th Century. There were 250 whaling ships operating in Spitsbergen 1630s which processed 25-750 whales per year.

As we walked along the beach we observed 10 male Walruses all huddled together, while 4-5 were in the water feeding in the shallows. At 1250 it was time to head back to the vessel for lunch. What a great morning!

 

52198315971_c775925b5b_h.jpgP6221153  Walrus by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52198331488_eacd5ba06c_h.jpgP6221196 Eiders against scenic backdrop by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52197313802_0d5a782f64_h.jpgP6221216  Walrus by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52198331338_580cf8dc87_h.jpgP6221261  Walrus by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52198585364_e226bed2ae_h.jpgP6221284  Walrus by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52197313427_6fe1ed54be_h.jpgP6221291  Walrus by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52198331023_98accb0def_h.jpgP6221305  Walrus by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52198585014_cb7a616e9d_h.jpgP6221356 Walrus by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52198814305_c7f4084bbf_h.jpgP6221367 Virgohamna by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52198368786_b05e424917_h.jpgP6220031 Virgohamna by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

52198868830_b26f24c02c_h.jpgP6220057 Virgohamna by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

After lunch, word got around  as we were waiting for the briefing that the kayaking group had declined to go out that afternoon and so the planned excursion had been cancelled. The reason... apparently there was a "high risk" of polar bears at our next landing site. I could "bearly " contain my excitement and neither could anyone else!! :D What was going through my mind was, if the crew are convinced that there was a high chance of bears, and it would be a while before we arrived, it couldn't just be a passing individual. So then it must mean that there was something luring the bears to that area, I was thinking there must be a carcass.. 

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You can't leave us there. Did you or didn't you??

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