A Travellerspoint blog

15: 80'26"

overcast -2 °C

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Early morning again as we needed to get up and go out via zodiac to a peninsular to see an old research station that was used back in the early 30s. The research station was used in one of the “polar years” to allow for increased research into arctic environments. The peninsular is predominantly these small “shale-like” shards of rock. The rocks are extremely weather beaten and quite frail when you put your weight on them.

We were fortunate because it snowed with no wind for nearly the whole time we were on the pensinsular. Really nice! Saw some seals and reindeer! The first reindeer I’ve seen on this trip! This was also the time when people who wanted to swim in the arctic jumped in the ocean to do their arctic swim! Considering the snow- myself, conductor and bookie all opted out of the arctic swim—yep big chickens r us!!

We spent the arvo steaming up to the top of the island and to the North Pole’s pack ice! We went as far as we can possibly go today—we effectively made it to the North Pole! As far as we could go North was 80 degrees and 26 minutes North! To make it to 90 degrees and the North Pole you have to be on board an ice breaker ship. Our ship is ice rated but isn’t a breaker.. it means we miss the pole by about 700kms. Close enough for me!

We drove alongside the ice pack all afternoon which meant we were able to see heaps of polar animals; seals, truck loads of sea birds and some whales. We also saw an animal called a Narwhal. A Narwhal is a type of whale, is extremely rare (to be seen by ships) and we were lucky enough to see a pod of them! Narwhal’s have a huge tusk that comes out like a unicorn’s horn they can be anywhere up to 11 ft long!!!! The Narwhal’s tusk is actually one of it’s canine teeth and spiral’s out from its head! They aren’t sure what the tusk is for but surmise it is probably to indicate dominance amongst males (the female’s don’t have the tusk) it isn’t used for skewering food (which is what I thought it was for!!).

The day was capped off by seeing a huge pack of Walruses’ asleep on the beach! They were all piled on top of each other sleeping off their hard day’s work! I think that seals and the seal family are probably my favourite (esp after my encounter in NZ and now seeing them here!)

Posted by weary_feet 07:01 Archived in Svalbard Comments (0)

14: 40 Knot Winds

storm -2 °C

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A very slow start for weary as I was still suffering with a migraine headache. Spent the entire morning in bed asleep. The rest of the team were supposed to go out in the zodiacs to get a “bird’s eye” view of a bird nesting habitat on the side of a cliff here on the north of Spitsbergen. Unfortunately the weather has been really poor with high winds and therefore extremely cold air.

The winds were gusting above 30 knots this morning so the call was made to not deploy the zodiacs. Apparently the morning was spent viewing the bird rookery from the main ship, which by all accounts was an amazing site.. thousands of birds nesting in this one cliff face!

I finally got going (although fairly slowly) after lunch where we were supposed to be deploying the zodiacs to go on shore and see a colony of walruses. By now the winds were gusting above 40 knots so the zodiacs were definitely not being deployed! The wind was that strong that the boat (which was at anchor) was being moved around quite significantly!! Not only was the weather pretty poor (at least it isn’t raining) but the walruses weren’t at home on the shore so the call was made to not bother deploying the zodiacs and for us to continue on to see the Svalbard ice pack!

Therefore the afternoon was spent listening to the most boring lecture on the race for the North pole by aeroplane. This was chapter 3 of the story (and I had missed chapter 2) so it was a fairly slow arvo. I’ve decided though that the ship’s historian tells his stories like Days of our Lives.. it doesn’t matter if you miss an episode, you can still follow the story! (that should give you an idea of the style of story this historian tells…..)

Finished the day by seeing the Spitsbergen Ice Pack incredible to see 25m of ice towering over you for as far as the eye can see! Absolutely amazing! We were fortunate too because the sun had just started to peak through the clouds so the colours on the ice pack and through the clouds were just glorious. Lovely ending to a pretty miserably cold day!!!

Posted by weary_feet 06:56 Archived in Svalbard Comments (0)

13: Polar Bears!!

overcast 1 °C

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Awesome start to the morning with us getting a wakeup call to go see Polar Bears!! By this time I’ve worked out that when you get your first signal from the bridge you’ve got a good 15min before they are in close enough range to see them well with binoculars and sort of see them by eye, so I decided to stay in the room and have my shower!

By the time I made it out on deck the polar bear was still well within range and I could see it quite clearly with the naked eye (although my photos only really show a white blob on a background of grey!) The bear moved away so we all had brekky.

Straight after brekky we again boarded the zodiacs and took off to go ashore to see some old graves of whalers and trappers. The boat was parked in this amazing fjord. We were fortunate that there was very little wind (although it was very overcast) and so the reflections off the sea were amazing! The fjord was surrounded by huge craggy mountains, with two glaciers at the end of the fjord. The graves themselves were cairns of rock surrounded by pools of melted ice! Really very picturesque.

The graves were guarded by a “Sicilman’s Hut”. The Sicilman is the police and park rangers who abide here on Spitsbergen to protect the national parks and ensure tourists are abiding by Norwegian Laws. Spitsbergen is unique in that it is a part of Norway, and the Norwegian government have quite tight controls on tourism in the area. For example, tourists are unable to approach the wildlife (ie if we see a polar bear we are not able to get close to it in a zodiac or something), we are unable to remove anything from Spitsbergen (rocks, plants, bones etc).

Point in fact occurred just after we returned back to the boat for lunch. We were back on the boat and we had the call that there was a large polar bear off the port side. We all ran outside and saw the bear. The boat started to cruise alongside the bear. About 20min later the expedition leader called off the “chase”. This was because the captain was unable to get us any closer in the boat (rocks etc in the way). Many people on the boat questioned why we wouldn’t deploy the zodiacs to go and have a look at the bear (it was on shore with a cub and would have been quite easy to get to via zodiac). Before the expedition leader addressed us all, I had assumed that we did not go in zodiacs because of our own safety (in regards to the bear--- get too close and it might eat us) but actually it was because we are unable to chase polar bears by Norwegian law. We are allowed to let them approach us but we are not able to go and chase them or lure them in any way. It made for interesting lunch and “bar time” discussion that day. Many people on the ship weren’t happy about the stance that the expedition leader and the ship’s captain had taken. Most people (myself included) assumed that when we see a polar bear we will do everything possible to get up as close as we can to have a good look at them. Every other bear we have sited has been in a location where it is clear we are unable to get close (too much ice between us and the bear). But this particular bear and cub were right on the shore line with no ice barring our way to the shore, so we, the passengers, all assumed that we would all jump in the zodiacs and zoom out to the bear and her cub to get a close look.. Not so! Let me tell you, there were some very unhappy passengers on the ship! Some were very vocal with the expedition leader telling him exactly what they thought of his policies!! I would have hated to have been in his shoes!

The afternoon’s activity was a zodiac cruise on another glacier. Unfortunately, I had contracted a migraine headache (it had been building for a day or so) so I spent the afternoon sleeping in the cabin. From all accounts it was another trip out to a beautiful glacier that resulted in most of the passengers being completely drenched and cold (because the weather had turned ugly during the day). Sounds like I didn’t miss a thing!

Finished off the evening (albeit early) with a soft drink in the polar bear bar (no alcohol for this little sore headed duck!)

Posted by weary_feet 06:31 Archived in Svalbard Comments (0)

12: Saxifrage

sunny 5 °C

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Had to get going early this morning as we were in our zodiacs at 8.30am for a long walk along a beach to see plenty of tundra plants and incredible scenery. The weather today is just perfect, almost no wind and nice and sunny! Perfect weather to be tripping around the place.

We landed at this cove south of Longyearbyen on the western side of Spitsbergen. The cove itself was once home to some whalers so you could see remnants of old whaling boats and some piles of old bleached whale bones. It’s quite surprising how well some of these old relics have been preserved considering how harsh the climate must get up here!

The walk took us about 2.5 miles around the cove to an old whaling hut. The walk itself was very spectacular, sheer cliffs on either side, still flat water in front.. Indescribable! Conductor and I went on the slow walk which meant we had plenty of time to enjoy the scenery and observe plenty of plant life! Our guide is an arctic plant expert so he spent the whole of the journey telling us about each of the plants we were seeing on the way.. Purple Saxifrage is the main type of plant up here in the arctic, it’s a small purple flowered ground cover which is actually very pretty when it covers the whole side of a hill.. Only problem is that our guide gets super excited at every plant we see so it is almost the going joke on the boat of whether we will find another saxifrage!!

After lunch we again boarded the zodiacs and this time went on a cruise in front of a huge glacier. It is really incredible to get so close to a glacier and just spend time slowly cruising up and down near it. Really quite beautiful. We were very fortunate to see a small part of the glacier break off in front of us and plunge down on to the waiting ice pack below! (Unfortunately I wasn’t fast enough with the camera to catch the glacier in full flight but still incredible to see)

All in all a really beautiful day out and about on Spitsbergen!

Posted by weary_feet 03:07 Archived in Svalbard Comments (0)

11: Ice Bound

overcast 1 °C

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We received our early morning wake up call to find ourselves moving slowly towards a very large amount of pack ice. During the previous evening we had rounded the southern tip of Spitsbergen and made our way up the east coast between the main island, Spitsbergen and Edgeoya (another of the Svalbard islands on the RHS of Spitsbergen).

The ice was rated as 9:10 ice to water ratio, which means it was impassable for our ship—our ship is only rated for 4:10 ice to water so we had to turn our boat back and start back up the LHS of Spitsbergen (which we had just passed). The day was therefore spent with us sitting around listening to lectures and stories about Spitsbergen! I have to admit that I spent the majority of the time snoozing!!

Watching ice flow passed the boat is pretty surreal. Iceberg after berg floated passed our boat, and you can pick when we hit a big one because you can really feel the shudder and jarring go right through the boat!

Another great dinner and then Conductor and I spent the evening at the back deck bar; chatting and playing darts.

Great way to end a fairly slow day. Tomorrow we are back in the zodiacs wandering part of the tundra and checking out a specky glacier!

Posted by weary_feet 02:54 Archived in Svalbard Comments (0)

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