Join this thrilling trip to experience the majesty of the Arctic, one of the last great wildernesses on Earth, where nothing can prepare you for your first sighting of a polar bear on sea ice, a key highlight of this unforgettable adventure.
Our voyage gives us excellent chances of seeing many exciting mammals and birds, harp seals, beluga and minke whales and, of course, the undisputed king of the Arctic – the polar bear. We visit in late spring, taking advantage of long daylight hours when temperatures are not severe. This adventure of a lifetime also coincides with the beginning of the breeding season for most birds. You will never forget the wonderful wildlife of this harsh, beautiful landscape.
WATCH ‘AROUND SPITSBERGEN IN 90 SECONDS
Be sure at the end of the day to spend time outside on deck and marvel at the low sun lighting the mountains as the sea turns a vivid orange-pink. We cruise with experienced wildlife travel company Heatherlea to see Arctic foxes and walruses, and to enjoy the culture and history of this unique environment in the frozen far north.
As we travel, BBC Wildlife Magazine and Heatherlea team members will join expedition staff and popular natural history TV presenter Nick Baker to offer fascinating wildlife talks.
Sail through the sea ice in sight of the spectacular cliffs of the largest island, Spitsbergen, only 800 miles from the North Pole. It’s a land where glaciers mirror the sunset, seemingly setting fire to the mountaintops, and walruses haul themselves out to doze, while countless seabirds swoop down from an endless sky and whales blow amongst the ice floes.
BBC Wildlife columnist, TV presenter, naturalist and author Nick Baker will be joining this voyage. Nick is probably best well-known for inspiring children with a love of animals on BBC1’s The Really Wild Show, for hosting Springwatch and Autumnwatch Unsprung, and for presenting a number of National Geographic, Channel 5/Discovery series such as Weird Creatures and Nick’s Quest in Search of the Polar Bear.
The trip is organised by Heatherlea, one of Britain’s leading wildlife holiday operators. Set up in 1991, the company operates from Nethy Bridge in Scotland and offers a wide variety of wildlife watching holidays around the world.
Outline of the itinerary
DAY 1: Sun 26 May
We fly to Oslo from Gatwick, you can also join from Heathrow, Stansted, Manchester, Belfast, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Cardiff, Bristol, Newcastle, Birmingham, Glasgow or Leeds/Bradford, please contact us for details. We take dinner and overnight at the comfortable Radisson Blu Hotel adjacent to the airport.
DAY 2: Mon 27 May
After breakfast we transfer to the airport for our flight to Longyearbyen. Longyearbyen is a former mining and scientific centre, named after an American mining engineer. We arrive mid-afternoon, and may have some time to acclimatise in this fascinating and picturesque northern settlement of around 2000 people.
Birds include glaucous gull, purple sandpiper, ‘Svalbard’ ptarmigan, an Arctic tern colony, snow bunting, barnacle goose, northern (‘Borealis’) eider, and also short-legged Svalbard reindeer, little auk, Arctic fox and perhaps flowering Svalbard poppy close to the town. Grey phalarope may also be seen.
There should be an opportunity to do some sightseeing, visit the Museum or go shopping. We join M/V Plancius late this afternoon, and after our safety drill and briefing, sail north up the west coast in early evening. ‘Blue’ fulmar, little Auk, puffin, and Brünnich’s guillemot can be expected.
Your ship: MV Plancius
This former oceanic research vessel, built for the Royal Dutch Navy but now adapted to provide comfortable passenger accommodation, is ice-strengthened and ideal for this voyage.
It accommodates 116 passengers in 53 passenger cabins with private toilet and shower, either windows or portholes, flatscreen TV, telephone and internet connection, hair dryer and ample storage space.
There is a restaurant/lecture room and a spacious observation lounge with bar, which has large windows offering a full panorama view. The ship also has large open deck spaces giving excellent opportunities to enjoy the scenery and wildlife.
DAY 3: Tues 28 May
We sail to Raudfjord on the north coast of West Spitsbergen, a beautiful fjord dominated by spectacular glaciers and favoured by ringed and bearded seal. The cliffs and shoreline of the fjord also support thriving seabird colonies and a surprisingly rich vegetation, which flourishes in sheltered spots. Polar bear are frequently seen here.
DAY 4: Wed 29 May
Depending on the weather we may sail to the mouth of Liefdefjorden and possibly go ashore for a walk on the tundra island of Andøya. Many common eider and pink-footed goose nest here, and rarer king eider may also be seen.
We hope to sail into Liefdefjorden, cruising near the 5km long face of the impressive Monaco Glacier. The waters of the glacier face are a favourite feeding spot for thousands of kittiwake, and on previous voyages polar bear have been seen on the glacier, providing wonderful opportunities for photography.
DAY 5: Thurs 30 May
Today we will sail into Hinlopen Strait, home to bearded seal, ringed seal, polar bear, and ivory gull. At the entrance there is the possibility of blue whale.
We’ll navigate the ice floes of Lomfjordshalvøya in our zodiacs and explore the bird cliffs of Alkefjellet with thousands of Brünnich’s guillemot. On the east side of Hinlopenstrait, we’ll attempt a landing at Palanderbukta on Nordaustlandet, home to reindeer, pink-footed goose, breeding ivory gull, and walrus.
DAY 6: Fri 31 May
We will try to reach the northernmost point at Phippsøya, in the Seven Islands north of Nordaustlandet. Here we will be at 81 degrees north, just 540 miles from the geographic North Pole. Polar bear inhabit this region, as do ivory gull. The ship may sit for several hours in the pack ice before turning west again.
DAY 7: Sat 1 June
Retracing our route westwards, our route takes us through and along the pack ice, keeping watch for polar bear and the elusive Greenland whale (bowhead).
About 40 nautical miles west of Spitsbergen we sail along the edge of the continental shelf, where fin whale forage in summer in the upwellings along the Spitsbergen banks. At the mouth of the Kongsfjord we also have good chances to see minke whale.
DAY 8: Sun 2 June
We travel to Forlandsundet at Sarstangen, a haul out place for walrus. Alternatively we sail into St. Johns Fjord or south to the mouth of Isfjorden and land at Alkhornet. Seabirds nest on its cliffs and Arctic fox search the cliff base for fallen eggs and chicks, while Spitsbergen reindeer graze the relatively luxuriant vegetation.
The reindeer may seem unbothered by human presence, but this is not really the case. The animals must survive the harsh winter, when temperatures plummet and food is hard to find, so they preserve what energy they can, fleeing only when it is absolutely necessary. In the afternoon we cruise through beautiful Borebukta, following a glacier face before continuing to Longyearbyen.
DAY 9: Mon 3 June
We disembark in Longyearbyen, the administrative centre of Spitsbergen, for flights south to Oslo and onward to the UK.
Please note: all itineraries are given as a guide only. Actual holiday content may vary according to the judgement of your guide, and elements beyond our control, such as weather and the presence of ice. We do expect a thorough and rewarding exploration of the archipelago and its wildlife!
What’s included in your holiday price:
Full-board accommodation (as specified) during voyage. Includes breakfast, lunch, dinner and all excursions, talks and reports provided by Expedition Leaders, Heatherlea and BBC Wildlife staff.
Return scheduled flight from London Gatwick – Oslo and Oslo – Longyearbyen Airport, airport taxes, baggage and hand luggage up to airline included limit.
Airport transfers in Longyearbyen, ground transportation, accommodation and meals as specified.
The Heatherlea Pre-Flight Service offers you organisation of everything you need at the airport, including hotels, car parking, airport lounges, regional flights, and upgrades. On this holiday, all these items are chargeable.
The services of your Leaders.
What’s not included in your holiday price:
Holiday insurance, optional tips to ship’s crew/other staff, drinks, and other personal expenses.
Lunch in Longyearbyen on day 2.
Pre-flight airport hotel and lounge are not included on this holiday, we instead include hotel, dinner and breakfast in Oslo on Day 1.