The Norwegian territory of Svalbard and the islands that make up the archipelago offer a tremendous wildlife and birdlife experience, as well as a fascinating lesson in glaciology. The islands were first used as a whaling base in the 17th and 18th Centuries and are now celebrated as a breeding ground for many seabirds, along with lots of marine mammals.
Start your North Spitsbergen cruise in historic Longyearbyen, then join our expedition to the north of the island to take in the fantastically beautiful landscapes, the thousands of seabirds, and of course the star of the show, the Polar Bear. Nothing can prepare you for your first sighting of a wild Polar Bear, the undisputed king of the Arctic.
The Svalbard archipelago is one of the most dramatic places on earth. Just 600 miles south of the North Pole, warmed by the most northerly waters of the Gulf Stream, this is a spectacular land of rugged mountains, extensive Arctic pack-ice drifting offshore, and the blue ice of ancient, awe-inspiring glaciers. Experience the majesty of these North Atlantic islands as we explore one of the last great wildernesses on earth.
Our voyage focuses on the western coast and pack ice edge west of Spitsbergen, and as far north as the permanent pack ice. This area has the highest concentration of wildlife and places of historic and scenic interest in the archipelago.
- Take advantage of long daylight hours, coinciding with the height of the breeding season for most birds
- Watch for Purple Sandpiper, Red-throated Diver, Ptarmigan, Great and Arctic Skua, Long-tailed Duck, and Common Eider
- Witness wild Polar Bear hunting to sustain themselves through the long winter
- Watch for the rare and beautiful Ivory Gull and endearing Dovekie
- Learn the natural history of this fabled archipelago
- Visit fascinating historic locations of early industry and exploration
Day 1: Arrivals in Spitsbergen | Longyearbyen
Welcome to Svalbard! You touch down in Longyearbyen, the administrative center of Spitsbergen, the largest island of the Svalbard archipelago. Enjoy strolling around this former mining town, whose parish church and Svalbard Museum make for fascinating attractions. Though the countryside appears stark, more than a hundred species of plant have been recorded in it. In the early evening the ship sails out of Isfjorden, where you might spot the first Minke Whale of your voyage.
Day 2: Walruses, Seals & Seabirds
After an exciting sailing through straits and fjords we arrive late morning at Smeerenburg, where a large group of Walrus often lays at its haul-out place. It is also a rare opportunity to see Harbor Seal on rocky islets. Smeerenburg was an important whaling station in the 17th century. Later on in the day we land at Fuglesangen, where we have a great opportunity to sit among hundreds of nearby Little Auk. In the evening we make a short landing in Birgerbukta, where the Basq whalers had their station, and continue into the splendid Raudfjord.
Day 3: Route to Raudfjorden
Raudfjord, with glacier fronts, is a good area for meeting Polar Bear and Bearded Seal on fjord ice, which is still unbroken. In Hamiltonbukta is an impressive colony of Brünnichs’s Guiillemot. Later we visit Ytre Norskøya, a small island that was used for many years as a lookout point for Dutch whalers. There we can still follow their tracks to the summit of the island. On shore the remains of 17th Century blubber ovens can be found near about 200 graves. The north side of the island offers the rare opportunity to see Puffin near their breeding places. There is also a small colony of Kittiwake. From there we sail northwest to the edge of the pack-ice.
Days 4 – 6: Along the Ice Edge in Search of Bowhead Whales, Seals & Polar Bears
For three days we are at sea, sailing from 80 N to 76 N along and in the outer fringes of the ice edge looking for Bowhead Whale, Harp Seal, Hooded Seal, Polar Bear, and migrating seabirds like Little Auk, Brünnich’s Guillemot, and Kittiwake. On previous voyages in this area we have sometimes seen up to hundred Bowhead Whale. On the last day, at open sea we have good chances for Northern Bottlenose Whale and the first Fin Whale of the season.
Day 7: Bell Sund’s Flora, Fauna & Haunting History
Bellsund is a fjord system with two major branches (Van Mijenfjord, Van Keulenfjord) and a side bay (Recherchefjord). The geology is fascinating and has created amazing landscapes, such as the long, narrow island of Akseløya that blocks Van Mijenfjord almost completely. The rich wildlife of the area has attracted hunters throughout several centuries, including English whalers, who also wintered there. We walk in their footsteps and see remains of their huts. We often see Polar Bear and we have also seen Beluga in this area. How far we can sail into the fjords much depends on the fjord ice.
Day 8: There & Back Again
Every adventure, no matter how grand, must eventually come to an end. You disembark in Longyearbyen, taking home memories that accompany you wherever your next adventure lies.
Cost of the Journey
Pricing is by cabin, per person, based on double occupancy. Many cabin levels sell quickly. Superior: $6900 | Twin Window: $5750 | Twin Porthole: $5300 | Quadruple Porthole: $3850. There are also Triples and Twin Deluxe rooms on the ship. Please ask about cost and availability.
Tour price includes: Voyage aboard the indicated vessel as indicated in the itinerary; All meals throughout the voyage aboard the ship including snacks, coffee and tea; All shore excursions and activities throughout the voyage by Zodiac; Program of lectures by noted naturalists and leadership by experienced expedition staff; Free use of rubber boots and snowshoes; Luggage transfer from pick-up point to the vessel on the day of embarkation, in Longyearbyen; Pre-scheduled group transfer from the vessel to the airport in Longyearbyen (directly after disembarkation); All miscellaneous service taxes and port charges throughout the program; Comprehensive pre-departure material.
Tour price does not include: Any airfare, whether on scheduled or charter flights; Pre- and post- land arrangements; Passport and visa expenses; Government arrival and departure taxes; Meals ashore; Baggage, cancellation and personal insurance (which is strongly recommended); Excess baggage charges and all items of a personal nature such as laundry, bar, beverage charges and telecommunication charges; The customary gratuity at the end of the voyages for stewards and other service personnel aboard (guidelines will be provided).
Plan to arrive in Longyearbyen at your convenience on June 13. You will need to overnight in Longyearbyen on June 13; we can recommend hotels. Plan departures in the afternoon on June 21.
Please discuss your flight details with us, before you confirm your flight booking. Once we know your flight details, we will book your airport transfer and any extra accommodation before or after the tour. These are not included in the tour cost and can be paid directly at the hotel.
John first set foot in Antarctica in 1994 as a general laborer at Palmer Station. He has spent the last 25 years figuring out ways to continue to return. This has included stints researching Adelie Penguins at two locations on the Peninsula, conducting biological inventories throughout the peninsula, and as a guide/naturalist on many expeditions to Antarctica as well as South Georgia and the Falklands.When he isn’t traveling south he is a Wildlife Biologist for the Bureau of Land Management in Billings, Montana. His main duties are now centered on Greater Sage-Grouse management.
John was born and raised in northeastern Montana and has had a strong interest in wildlife in general and birds specifically for as long as he can remember. He obtained his BA in Zoology from the University of Montana and MS in Zoology and Physiology from the University of Wyoming. In addition to his Antarctic work, he has conducted research on a wide variety of animal species from one end of the world to another, including seabird research in the Bering Sea, and northern Baffin Bay.
Other trips with John Carlson
Photo credits: Banner: Bearded Seal by Erwin Vermeulen courtesy of Oceanwide Expeditions; Arctic Fox by Erwin Vermeulen; Zodiac Cruise by Erwin Vermeulen; Purple Saxifrage on Spitsbergen by Rinie van Meurs courtesy of Oceanwide Expeditions; Polar Bear by Erwin Vermeulen; Little Auk couple by Rinie van Meurs; Ivory Gulls by Rinie van Meurs; Fuglesangen by Rinie van Meurs; Humpback Whales by Erwin Vermeulen; Lounging Walrus by Erwin Vermeulen; Arctic Tern by Erwin Vermeulen; Swimming Polar Bear by Erwin Vermeulen; Perfect day for an zodiac cruise by Erwin Vermeulen; Blue iceberg by Leica Akademie; King Eider Duck taking off by Erwin Vermeulen; Zodiac cruising among the icebergs by Leica Akademie courtesy of Oceanwide Expeditions; Returning to the vessel by Rinie van Meurs; Minke Whale by Rinie van Meurs; Bog Saxifrage by Erwin Vermeulen; Polar bear interaction by Erwin Vermeulen; Arctic Fox with Pink-footed Goose by Rinie van Meurs; Group of Walrus by Erwin Vermeulen; A so called 'wet' landing at Diskobukta, Edgeøya, Sptisbergen by Arjen Drost courtesy of Oceanwide Expeditions.