Suddenly the fog cleared giving us a magnificent sight of snow capped mountains, beautiful clear blue waters and many glaciers.
A traveller boards a cruise ship destined for Norway to spot polar bears and blue whales.
… cruising west, we were very fortunate to have a rare sighting of the magnificent blue whales.
This year, my love of animals took me to a region which was a total contrast to our amazing adventure in the deserts of Africa. I had read many stories about the beautiful polar bears, ‘The Queen of the Arctic’, in Svalbard and thought, ‘why not go and see them’. A large family gathering had been planned for the end of July so whilst in the region, I arranged a cruise around Svalbard which is a Norwegian group of islands located 1050 km from the North Pole. It is the northernmost year-round settlement on Earth with a population of about 2,200.
After a restful day in a hotel near Oslo airport we flew to Longyearbyen in the early evening, flying over the cloud covered mountains with the icy covered peaks peeping through the clouds to land in a valley to a cool 7 degrees. Next morning we were given a tour of the township stopping at the Art Gallery and beautifully displayed museum which provided an insight into Svalbard’s history and nature.
Whilst we waited for our lunch, we toured the ship then met fellow passengers during a briefing session given by the cheerful young guides who arranged our off-shore trips and entertainment. Later in the afternoon we docked at Barentsburg, a Russian mining settlement with around 550 inhabitants. We were given a very informative tour which provided an insight into the people’s lives and culture in such a desolate place. After sampling the local brew we were invited to a concert in a very modern theatre where we enjoyed watching colourful dancing and singing.
Back on board the ship, cruising west, we were very fortunate to have a rare sighting of the magnificent blue whales.
Next morning the fog had rolled in which caused the cancellation of our boat trip ashore. Instead, one of our young guides gave us an excellent talk on whales while standing on the very chilly forward deck. Suddenly the fog cleared giving us a magnificent sight of snow capped mountains, beautiful clear blue waters and many glaciers.
Later in the afternoon small boats were lowered into the water for a short trip ashore to explore the area around a Trappers cabin. Whilst there, we were fortunate to see the helicopter arrive with the trapper in it. A trapper’s life in Svalbard was described as hard and exhausting, both physically and mentally.
Our sailing route took us along many beautiful fjords, islands and a large number of glaciers. In the evening the weather permitted us to cross the 80 degrees north which we celebrated with a glass of champagne. Being so cold on deck I did not stay long. Cruising further north we anchored near Moffen Island which is home to a very large walrus colony. Some passengers sighted a polar bear in the distance, but as we were unable to anchor close to the island, being a breeding ground for the Arctic Tern, unfortunately it was too far away to see it clearly.
The next morning we cruised around the coast of Spitsbergen and into the beautiful Magdelene fjord through large chunks of icebergs to see the wonderous sight of the massive Lilliehookbreen glacier which is 22 kilometres long and one of the largest in the area. If you felt like rugging up with all your warm weather gear you could board the small boats for a closer view of the glacier. Rather than get rugged up we decided to stay on board and watch the calving of the iceberg from a very safe distance.
Our last trip ashore was to visit the world’s northernmost community of Ny-Alesund which is nearly 79 degrees north and 1230 kilometres from the North Pole. It is more commonly known as a research station with countries such as China, India, South Korea, the Netherlands, Germany and Norway working on various projects mostly in natural sciences. These include – monitoring glacier changes, migratory birds, geology, insects and much more. Polar researcher Roald Amundsen started from there aboard the airship Norge.
Next morning, before disembarking, the Norwegian captain gave a lovely farewell speech, followed by a member of the delightful expedition crew who made our trip aboard the Nordstjernen such a wonderful experience. We had some wonderful, tasty meals on board the ship, including the king crab, smoked salmon, plenty of local fresh fish and NZ lamb chops.
After a farewell dinner with our fellow passengers we were ready to embark on the next stage of our holiday to Ireland. Having cruised on the huge Royal Caribbean ship, I much preferred this smaller cruise as you our fellow passengers were very friendly and were from such countries as Germany, France, Norway and a small number from other countries. I enjoyed many chats with fellow passengers standing against the ship’s rail watching the beautiful landscape pass by.
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