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1st.June: Longyearbyen. Many of the guests arrived at Longyearbyen on the day of embarkation. Throughout the afternoon, guests were arriving at our new home for the coming days: M.V.Plancius. Because the other berths were occupied by larger ships we had to use the ex-coal harbour. Before sailing there was time to explore the town.
2nd.June: St Jonsfjord. We woke up to beautiful sunshine and calm waters as we sailed towards the first landing site of our trip. Before landing, Expedition Leader Ali briefed us on Polar Bear safety. Polar bears are the iconic symbol of Spitsbergen and the main tourist attraction. While they are protected, persons going outside settlements are required to carry a rifle to kill polar bears in self-defence, as a last resort should they attack.
2nd.June: Poolepynten. The walrus, which are the only species of pinniped that have tusks, were hauled out on the beach in a big bundle of blubber and were growling and sleeping, and some were splashing in the water. The older males had impressive long tusks and many of them were flushed with a pink colouration, something that they do to regulate their body temperature.
3rd.June: Fjortende Julibukta. Another beautiful day in Svalbard, we made the most of the morning, with a split landing. Spending time onshore hiking across the tundra, seeing the wild flora starting to emerge, with some beautiful purple saxifrage. High up on the cliff face we observed kittiwakes in flight, and heard their loud calls. On the ground we were lucky enough to spot a few arctic foxes, even a brief chase was observed with one of the foxes still having half of its white winter coat. Very high up on rocks a few Svalbard reindeer could be seen grazing.
3rd.June: Lilliehöökbreen. After a short transit and a delicious lunch onboard, all of the zodiacs were lowered as the expedition team prepared for an afternoon zodiac cruise. We spent over two hours exploring the bay, getting a sense of the sheer size of the Lilliehöökbreenglacier, photographing the varying shades of colour and the different ice formations. There were plenty of birds to see including, common eider ducks, king eider, long-tailed ducks, arctic terns, snow bunting and northern fulmars. Many of us experienced true Arctic silence as the zodiac engines were turned off. We could hear the crackle and popping of the ice as the air escapes, and really enjoy the stillness and the reflections of the surrounding peaks. The perfect end to another fantastic expedition day.
4th.June: Day in the pack ice. After a couple of days of full activities, we came to search for the pack ice. The spotters in our bridge saw the first ice during the early morning and we started to navigate into it at around 07:30 in the morning. Conditions were very good; the sea was calm and there was no swell. Although the sky was partially clouded with grey clouds over the horizon, we still could see some interesting wildlife. We managed to see many birds, spotting numerous ivory gulls and Brünnich’s guillemots flying around our ship, a couple of arctic skuas and also many flocks of kittiwakes and arctic terns among others.
5th.June: Polar bear sighting. After the BBQ-party yesterday evening, we got an early wake-up call at 6h30! Our Expedition Leader Ali announced a polar bear sighting! Excited by the news, everyone rushed to the decks (no running though 😉 in order to get a view on the bear. And there it was, sniffing the environment with its nose and sometimes tasting the air with its tongue. It was not too far away, yet too difficult to tell whether it was a male or female. After about 20 minutes it laid down for some time before slowly moving away from us. The ship tried to get closer but the big ice floes of the pack ice were holding us back.
6th.June: Ytre Norskøya. We woke up to spectacular sunshine and views of mountains and ice as we approached Ytre Norskoya (151. Norsk-). The long hikers set off to reach the summit of the island where they were treated to a spectacular view and enjoyed seeing and photographing the little auks. The people on the medium walks had a lovely encounter with snow buntings, a walrus on the ice, and even a yellow wagtail flying by. The leisurely walkers had great views of a seal resting on a rock next to the shore and took a stroll to a small peninsula on the island.
6th.June: Fugelsongen. Originally our plan for the afternoon was to visit Smeerenburg to see the historic remains of the blubber ovens left on the site by the whaling industry. However, due to there being a large amount of snow covering the remains and the graves of the whalers, Ali instead took us to the island Fuglesongen (meaning birdsong) to visit the little auks that are soon to be nesting there. The weather continued to be beautiful, and we had brilliant views of the little auks flying in big flocks, resting on the rocks, and even mating. These tiny seabirds breed here from June to August and spend the rest of their lives at sea. They certainly charmed us with their distinctive calls and their cute penguin like appearance. We also took a zodiac cruise to see the little auks flying from the water and some boats were lucky enough to see seals and a puffin.
7th.June: Tordenskjoldbukta. In the morning we arrived in the stunning Tordenskjoldbukta (Marstrandoddon). Such a huge tundra and a nice beach to land on. It was quite snowy in the beginning, so we had to climb up a bit but then we had this nice overview and already spotted the first reindeer. During our walks (long, medium, or short) we were able to see them even closer. These animals are good to approach as long as we stay quiet. On our way back we could see a red-throated phalarope. Some of us saw a carcass of an arctic fox.
7th.June: Alkhornet. During lunch, we cruised from Tordenskjoldbukta to Alkhornet (Alkepynten). At Alkhornet we saw even more reindeer walking along the pinnacle. Barnacle geese flew overhead and in the gras some pink-footed geese were walking. The long hikers were quite close to a rockfall at the bird cliff, this was a bit scary. After a lovely walk some of us joined the polar plunge. The air temperature was around 4 degrees and the water temperature around 1 degree. Some of us decided to be a little bit crazy and go for a swim, while the others could slide down to the landing site.
Around midnight, we arrived in Longyearbyen. While we enjoyed a last breakfast on board, our suitcases were taken off the ship. It is a sad moment to disembark from Plancius, which has been a comfortable and cozy home during this unforgettable journey. We have shared many unique moments, seen a range of rarely sighted wildlife, and made new friends. Loaded with fond memories we now must head home.