A Travellerspoint blog

June 2017

June 2017 - Norway to 80°02.1’ North

Route: Oslo – Longyearbyen – Polar Expedition - Oslo

Since I've known Malcolm, he has been talking about seeing Polar Bear in the wild. For over 15 years we have looked and researched the best way to go see polar bears. We realised lately that if we wanted to see polar bear, we better do it soon as global warming might means the end of them. As the ice retreats further and forms later, more and more polar bears die of starvation or drown searching for the pack ice to feed from. You can go to Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Russia or Norway to see them. We decided to choose an expedition cruise in Svalbard, Norway, where polar bear have been protected since 1972. But first lets start at the beginning, which is arriving in Oslo, Norway.

Oslo:

Capital of Norway, the city is renowned for its green space, numerous museums (I can confirm they are worth a visit) and the cost of life.
Oslo Airport was smart and efficient as was the train ride into the city centre. But already we were reminded that we were in Norway, by the price of everything. We were later to find out that it cost 20NOK (£2.00) to use the public toilets, the neon violet type of light is a deterrent for drug users. A beer is a bit less than £10 (but you don't really have a full pint either), a soft drink about £4.50 and a 10mn shuttle bus from the Airport to the Hotel is £7 per person. Yes, Oslo does earn its reputation of being a very expensive city to go to.
For our first three days in Oslo we stayed in an AirBnB, just outside the city centre. We had a room in an attractive 200-year-old house, sharing with the owner Margrethe and her two cats, Otto and Suzy.

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Having experienced almost constant warm weather and sunshine over the past twelve months or so, it was a bit of a shock to be greeted with rain for these first three days in Oslo. But this was not a problem as shelter was close to hand, whatever part of the city we were exploring at the time. Oslo is an attractive city and pleasant to walk around, together with some amazing attractions. Even in the rain the statues in the Sculpture Park were very life like and beautifully sculpted. The Fram Museum, complete with two famous exploration vessels, told the story of Polar Exploration and got us in the mood for our trip to Svalbard. And the Noble Peace Centre reminded us how lucky we are compared to many in other parts of the world.

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Day four found us back at Oslo airport for a flight to Norway’s most northerly outpost, the town of Longyearbyen, on the island of Spitsbergen.
Spitsbergen is deep in the High Arctic, only 1000km from the North Pole and the largest island in the Svalbard Archipelago. The Dutch discovered this land in 1596 and named it Spitsbergen, meaning, “pointed mountains”. However, the Norwegians now use the Viking word Svalbard, “cold coast”, for the whole archipelago, in recognition of their 12th century landing.
Good weather allowed us to see the iceberg-strewn Arctic Ocean beneath us as we flew over. However, we weren’t so lucky when we reached land, as fog required the pilot to make three attempts before he landed us safely.

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Longyearbyen

Which means LongYear Town is the largest settlement of Svalbard with a population of 2,144 in 2015. It is the northern most settlement of any kind with a population of over 1000. It was once a coal-mining town (only one pit remains open now) and before that a Whaling station in the 17th & 18th century. But today its functions mainly as a research centre and the launching point for Arctic expeditions. Up here we are between 77 & 80 degrees north, so that means 24-hour daylight and a temperature range of between 0-5C, without the wind-chill factor.

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We had one full day and two half days in Longyearbyen which allowed us to explore and see the curiosity of Longyearbyen such has road signs for polar bears, the biggest mail box in the world for....Santa Claus and to bump into the local wildlife.

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Were also invited to take a road trip with some American friends, to see the surrounding area. The roads around Longyearbyen don’t go far, a few miles in each direction, but it allowed us to admire the amazing scenery and spot some local bird life (Eider ducks and some Barnacle geese)

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In the afternoon of our third day in Svalbard, we boarded the icebreaker m/v Ortelius, an ice-strengthened ship, to start our Arctic expedition.

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The ship was moored in the bay so we had to take zodiacs to reach it.

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The cabin was quiet spacious, much better that what we expected, and we even had a view out of the porthole.

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That night we sailed north and had a mother and calf Blue Whale for company for part of the journey, amazing.

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Day two took us into Krossfjorden (Kings Bay), where we disembarked for a geology walk around Mollerfjorden where Malcolm sunk into the snow and had to dug himself out (hahaha, he wasn't laughing then).

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In the evening we visited the massive and impressive Lillienhookbreen glacier. For security reason, the ship was anchored 1.5 miles away (2.5km) away from it in case of ice fall from it.

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During the night we sailed even further north and day three found us amongst the pack ice, and only 10 degrees south of the North Pole @ 80 degrees North.

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The main aim of today was to find Polar Bears, and after a long search we found two. The first polar bear, a male, had obviously just finished his meal as the remains of a carcass, we guess a seal, could be seen behind him. But he seemed to just want to sleep and was not bothered by us.The second one , another male, was more interactive and came right up to the boat, giving us an incredible view. That day I took over 1000 photos, but don't worry you only get to see a very small sample of them.

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Obviously the Polar Bears were the highlight of the day, but the pack ice and being so close to the North Pole was an unbelievable experience.

The following day we stayed in the pack ice. In the morning we went out in the zodiacs (12 seated inflatable motor boats) to get a closer look at the ice and bird life. It was incredible to see the ice flow at sea level, made even more amazing when a Fin Whale appeared, followed shortly afterward by a Minke Whale.

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The afternoon highlight was another Polar Bear, however this one was content to just sleep on an ice flow and when it began to snow we decided to leave him alone.

Overnight we sailed south and out of the pack ice. Our morning destination was the Magdelenefjorden were we spent the morning on a snow-covered hillside, under a bright blue sky and in the company of Little Auks, a sort of black and white miniature puffin (more photos!!).We just sat on the rocks and they would fly over our heads and land next to us, perfectly comfortable with our presence.

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Then in the afternoon we went back north to the Smeerenburgfjorden, landed on a beach and spent an hour or so with a group of male Walrus’s and more photos !.
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But the fun didn’t end there; our evening meal aboard ship was a BBQ out on the Heli-Deck with the most amazing scenery all around us and with sun still shining (24 hours daylight remember).

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Overnight we continued north and east back into the pack ice, and luckily the good weather followed us. Unfortunately no Polar Bears this time but we did see some Walrus sleeping on ice flows.

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It was now time to leave the ice and Polar Bears, and head back to Longyearbyen.
The journey took us down the west coast of Svalbard and back into the Isfjorden, most of the way accompanied by Blue Whales. At the mouth of Isfjorden we stopped for a hike. It was a beautiful setting, with sheer cliffs packed with birds and pastures filled with Reindeer.

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Our Arctic expedition ended in Longyearbyen, where we caught our flight back to Oslo. We then had a day in Oslo to look around before flying back to the UK the following day.

Total distance sailed on our voyage: 698 nautical miles | Furthest North: 80°02.1’ N / 012°20.0’ E
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Personal Observation

An interesting anecdote that we were told is that; the Norwegians go to Sweden to shop, the Sweds go to Denmark to shop; the Danes go to Germany and the Germans go to Poland. But we don’t know where the Poles go.

Longyearbyen is in Norway’s tax free zone. But as it is Norway, it only brings the price of cloths and equipment down to what you would pay in the rest of northern Europe.

Food: There are some food that you can only find in Norway and some of it is a bit like marmite. You like it or you hate it. For example this block of cheese with is sweet and sour at the same time and looks like an old soap bar. And Kaviar in a tube, they have lots of food in tubes, mayonnaise, pate, etc.
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Posted by MAd4travel 07:02 Archived in Norway Tagged wildlife Comments (0)

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