As travelers who are hopelessly devoted to exploring the polar regions, a proper Svalbard adventure has long been on our bucket lists.
So, when the opportunity to join an expedition to Svalbard in summer presented itself to us, we jumped at it.
This is the ultimate trip to explore the Svalbard archipelago. Spending two weeks exploring Spitsbergen and beyond, venturing to the remote outer islands that are visited by few ships. It’s the ultimate journey in the realm of the polar bear.
Our Svalbard Adventure with Aurora Expeditions
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Why did we choose Aurora Expeditions?
Aurora Expeditions is one of the legacy polar companies, meaning they’ve been around for as long as tourist travel to the polar regions has been offered. They operate in both the Arctic and Antarctica. Their trips are expedition-style, focusing on the destinations they visit.
They are an eco-conscious company that puts sustainability at the forefront of their operations. In addition, they participate in several citizen science programs and put a strong emphasis on providing jobs for women in the polar expedition travel.
After spending three weeks sailing with them to Antarctica, South Georgia, and the Falkland Islands, we couldn’t wait to embark on a Svalbard cruise expedition with them and explore more of the Arctic.
We sailed on the 15-day Svalbard In-Depth itinerary.
Full disclosure: We traveled on this itinerary with Aurora Expeditions as hosted media so that we could share more about their company, our experiences with them, and our experience with this special itinerary. All opinions, insane love for Svalbard, and polar bears are 100% ours, as always!
Our Ship: The Sylvia Earle
The Sylvia Earle is a purpose-built ship for polar expedition travel. It is operated by Aurora Expeditions and is named after Dr. Sylvia Earle, a pioneer in ocean conservation and the first female chief scientist of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
In addition to Dr. Sylvia Earle, the ship pays tribute to an additional six female pioneering conservationists across its public decks.
The ship also heavily prioritizes environmental responsibility and is 100% Climate Neutral. It uses advanced technology for reduced emissions and waste management. Additionally, it features a fully equipped Citizen Science Center, a first of its kind.
From a technical standpoint, it features an ice-strengthened hull and an innovative Ulstein X-BOW design that enhances stability and passenger comfort by minimizing wave impact. This design aids in a smoother ride when you encounter rough seas.
It is designed to hold a maximum of 132 passengers and offers amenities like balcony cabins, a dining area, a lounge, a library, a presentation room, and a wellness center. The ship is beautiful and very comfortable. We had no issues spending 15 days on this ship.
Kayaking Program Option
If you follow our adventures already, you know we love our extra activities. So, of course, we jumped at the chance to join the kayaking program for our two-week Svalbard adventure.
This optional activity costs extra, for our trip it was an additional $1,190 per person, and operates as a full program. This means if you sign up, you’ll be able to kayak whenever it is offered for the duration of the trip. For us, that would be the entire 15 days.
We kayaked multiple times around the Svalbard archipelago, making sure to paddle whenever we arrived near a new island. As most trips to Svalbard only stick to the main island of Spitsbergen, we knew our kayaks would be extra special due to our extended itinerary.
The program provides you with all the gear you need including a dry suit, booties, pogies, dry bags, carabiners, paddles, and a sea kayak.
You should have a decent fitness level, be capable of getting into and out of a kayak, and be comfortable paddling 5km to 15 km each outing.
15-Day Svalbard In-Depth Expedition Overview
Arriving in Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen (Day 1)
Despite its remote location, Svalbard is easy to access. We flew from Oslo, Norway in the morning with a mandatory stop in Tromso, Norway for processing, before arriving in the remote Arctic town of Longyearbyen by midday.
We were met at the airport by a representative for Aurora Expeditions and transferred to the Radisson Blu Polar Hotel for our pre-night. This left the entire afternoon to explore Longyearbyen, so we set off on foot.
The town is walkable, but there is no shortage of things to discover. We grabbed a sandwich at The Svalbard Store before paying a visit to the North Pole Expedition Museum.
After, we went on a mission to buy Helly Hansen gear. Fun fact, you pay less for this top-notch gear when you purchase it in Norway! So, we stocked up on new waterproofs and then made our way to the Svalbar Pub for a reindeer burger and pint of the elusive Svalbard Bryggeri.
Camp Barentz, City Tour & Ship Embarkation (Day 2)
We were up early, it’s hard not to be when you’re in the land of the midnight sun. We were just too darn excited to sleep! But before heading to the ship, we were off on an immersive cultural tour to learn more about life in the Arctic.
Our day would start with a stop at the polar bear caution sign on the outskirts of Longyearbyen. This sign is iconic and a fair warning to anyone who ventures beyond it that you’re now in polar bear country. People are not allowed to leave the city limits without being armed.
We then paid a visit to Camp Barentz, a place named in honor of Willem Barentsz, a Dutch explorer who first discovered Svalbard in 1596. It originally served as a hunting station, and the camp’s history is deeply rooted in the pioneering spirit of Arctic exploration.
Here we visited a traditional Sami tent where we enjoyed the warmth of a roaring fire, sampled local delicacies, and learned about the region’s storied past.
We were also introduced to the camp’s dog team! It’s always an experience to meet sled dogs because they have lively personalities and infectious energy.
Leaving the camp behind, we continued our Longyearbyen city tour with a stop at the main church in town, a drive down the main street, a visit to the Svalbard Museum, and eventually a stop at the Global Seed Vault.
For us, this last stop was of particular interest. We have both seen documentaries about the Global Seed Vault, so to be able to see it in person was a real treat!
Of course, you cannot go inside, and nobody answered when we knocked, but standing in front of it knowing it holds the key to rebirth on the planet should there ever be a disaster, is so humbling.
Embarking the Sylvia Earle was easy, despite the ship having to tender us from the dock. We were excited to be on adventure again with Aurora Expeditions!
Akseløya, Spitsbergen (Day 3)
Our morning started with mandatory safety briefings, and an overview of AECO, followed by bio-security. This is to ensure that everyone not only abides by the rules but also leaves no trace nor introduces foreign things to the delicate Arctic environment.
Fully briefed, we set off on our first outing, a zodiac ride around Akseløya. This narrow island is centrally located in the Bellsund fjord, and its geological formations are some of the most dramatic in the Svalbard archipelago.
Within minutes of leaving the ship, we were approached by a large pod of beluga whales! They spent a solid half hour surfacing and swimming near our zodiacs. We didn’t know it at the time, but this would be the most special and spectacular beluga encounter of the trip.
Additionally, we saw hundreds of guillemots, kittiwakes, eider ducks, and barnacle geese. Near the end of the zodiac trip, we spotted a large walrus haulout on the beach. They allowed us to approach them from downwind, providing a beautiful close sighting of this unique Arctic animal.
Bamsebu, Spitsbergen (Day 3)
High off our morning zodiac cruise in Akseløya, we arrived at Bamsebu for a landing. Set within the remote Van Keulenfjorden of Spitsbergen, Bamsebu has a rich history of Arctic exploration and survival.
Originally established as a trapper’s hut in the early 20th century, it was part of the extensive hunting and trapping network across the archipelago. Landing on the beach we were met by many large piles of beluga whale bones. It was a strong reminder of the whaling history that surrounds this northern archipelago.
From the Bamsebu hut, we set off on a 5-mile hike across the tundra to the Fleur de Lys hut where we would be picked up again by zodiac. It was our first time getting out to hike, and we went as a large group.
As this is polar bear country, we have strict guidelines on how we can move around the land and armed spotters must be set up along the way to ensure our safety.
Along the way, we enjoyed more dramatic landscapes, arctic flora that thrives in the harsh environment, a variety of bird species, and even caught a glimpse of a Svalbard reindeer.
It was a solid hike and a beautiful way to immerse in the natural environment that makes this part of the world so special.
Back on the ship we enjoyed dinner and around 11 pm, we received an announcement that a lone blue whale was feeding close to the surface and near to the ship.
It’s rare to get a close look at the world’s largest mammal, so we threw on our robes and rushed out to the balcony! We were able to observe the whale for 30 minutes right from our room.
Gnalodden, Spitsbergen (Day 4)
Arriving in Gnalodden was like arriving in a surreal dream. The weather conditions were so perfect that the light saturated the landscape in a way that felt like a painting.
Reflections danced on the water and birds circled against glassy conditions on the water. Dreamy doesn’t even really express the scene that stood before us.
Beauty aside, Gnalodden also offers a rich history. Notably, the hut that stands there today served as a base for the first female trapper in the Arctic, Wanny Woldstad.
After visiting her hut, we set off to climb towards the cliffs to observe the massive bird colony that calls it home. Along the way, we observed nesting Arctic Skuas and dodged being targets for the circling birds above. It wasn’t easy!
When we reached the top, we noticed that people had started to gather at the bottom. This could only mean one thing; someone had spotted something. Curiosity got the best of us, so we made our way over and as we approached, realized that two very curious Arctic fox kits had come out to play.
The encounter would be the best fox viewing of our trip, with the kits spending more than two hours playing near us. The mother fox then appeared from over the ridge and came down to greet the kits before climbing some rocks and napping within plain view.
They were cautious, never came too close, but were not threatened by our presence. This made for a very special and memorable encounter.
Samarinbreen, Spitsbergen (Day 4)
In the afternoon, we opted to kayak for a water-level experience near the Samarinbreen glacier. We were met with bright blue skies, full sun, and very few clouds. This was a stark contrast to the moody morning we had at Gnalodden.
We enjoyed paddling through thick ice as we made our way towards the glacier face. The goal is always to maintain a safe distance from the glacier in case it calves unexpectedly. Seeing it from the water level truly offers a perspective that is hard to come by elsewhere!
Back onboard, the ship began sailing away from the glacier but we didn’t make it far. We had come across a pair of humpback whales feeding near the surface and they had attracted a large flock of birds!
Instead of moving through the area, they were circling in one specific spot. It was easy for the ship to stop so that we could enjoy watching them.
Kapp Lee, Edgeøya (Day 5)
In Kapp Lee, we were greeted by more walruses, this time in the form of a massive colony. The expedition team planned our landing so we would be able to visit a viewpoint over them.
When everything went smoothly, we were allowed to walk down to beach level with them and get a bit closer. This was only because we were downwind.
This provided incredible viewing opportunities as we stood for the better part of an hour and observed how they interacted both on land and in the water.
At this point, some people opted to head off on a hike, but with the good weather and closeness for photography, we chose to stay behind with one of the guides.
We spent the whole landing watching walrus! There are few places in the world where you can say that is possible.
Just when we thought it couldn’t get better, our zodiac was approached by 3 very curious walruses while making our way back to the ship! They swam around us, bobbing up out of the water to get a close look at us. It was insane and one of the most intimate wildlife encounters we’ve ever had.
This was made possible by having an expert and well-experienced expedition team. They know the wildlife well and were able to offer us many laid-back, intimate viewings on this trip.
Negribreen, Spitsbergen (Day 5)
While our morning at Kapp Lee was bright sunshine and clear blue skies, our relocation to Negribreen in the afternoon would bring clouds and thick fog.
As we approached the glacier, it was giving intense Pirates of the Caribbean vibes as the Sylvia Earle cut through the fog.
While the average person might find this disappointing, these were dream conditions for photography of a glacier. So, we opted for the photography zodiac cruise with Scott Portelli, the onboard photographer.
Our time spent with the Negribreen glacier will be burned in our minds forever. Not only was the glacier glowing in various shades of blue, but we enjoyed viewing hundreds of Arctic terns, kittiwakes, and rare ivory gulls on the ice.
The water was filled with large bergs and brash ice. The entire scene was ethereal and quite frankly, something that all Artic expedition dreams are made of.
Russebukta, Edgeøya (Day 6)
After the fog proved too thick to conduct a morning landing, the team opted for a zodiac cruise at Russebukta. Upon loading the zodiacs and cruising away, you couldn’t even see the ship!
Luckily, though, the water was calm, and we were able to get close to the shoreline looking for wildlife, and observing the various geological formations of the islands that included distinct basalt columns.
Near the end, we came across a haulout of walrus, with many in the water. They approached us curiously leading to some incredible up-close viewing. They were so close we could hear them breathing! I got some of my best walrus photos on this outing.
Wildlife can be unpredictable, and I wasn’t sure how many good walrus opportunities we would have on this trip. To have a third close encounter was a very special moment on the trip!
In the late afternoon, we sailed through Freemansundet in search of wildlife. Our first polar bear was sighted at around 10 pm but was so far off in the distance it was only possible to see it with a spotting scope.
Ormholet, Barentsøya (Day 7)
Ormholet is a narrow and dramatic passage located between the islands of Barentsøya and Edgeøya. It is a hidden gem in the Arctic because very few ships venture away from Spitsbergen to the outer islands.
If you’re lucky enough to be on an expedition that stops here the passage offers steep, cliff-lined shores and fantastic bird watching. Not to mention you might find a waterfall or two flowing over the basalt columns.
We navigated through Ormholet in our small Zodiac boats, which allowed us to have an up-close experience with the surrounding nature.
The highlight was watching two pairs of barnacle geese with goslings as they navigated the ice and avoided kittiwake predators.
Kierpertoya, Barentsøya (Day 7)
Kierpertoya is an intriguing small island located in the Hinlopen Strait. What makes it distinctive is its geological and biological diversity. The island’s terrain, a mix of flat sandy areas and rocky outcrops, offers a different perspective of the Arctic landscape.
As we approached the island, the ship slowed so we could navigate through some thick ice floe. Not only was it beautiful to watch, but this meant we were now in prime polar bear territory.
As the island came into view, we were treated to our first multi-hour polar bear sighting! A female polar bear was spotted resting over a carcass and was completely unfazed by the ship.
So, we spent the better part of the next 7 hours watching, observing, photographing, and waiting for her to do exciting things.
She did indulge us by rolling, stretching, walking, and digging. We never missed a moment. David and I even ordered room service for dinner because we were lucky enough to view her from our room balcony!
Torellneset, Nordaustlandet (Day 8)
Torellneset is a site of significant geological and biological interest. Named after Otto Torell, a Swedish geologist and Arctic explorer, this area is distinguished by its broad, flat beach and towering glacial backdrop.
Our visit started with a 3-hour hike that took us up in elevation and across Arctic desert terrain to some small glacial ponds.
Along the way, we came across an old fox trap, whale skulls, and antlers. From the highest point, we enjoyed sweeping panoramic views of the mountains and water around us.
The hike concluded by approaching the large walrus colony that Torrellneset is known for, and it did not disappoint.
The conditions were surreal with glass-like water conditions, clear mountain vistas, and hundreds of walruses hauled out on the beach between us and the water.
Brasvelbreen, Nordaustlandet (Day 8)
Brasvelbreen is an expansive glacier located in the eastern part of the Svalbard archipelago on the island of Nordaustlandet. This glacier is part of the Austfonna ice cap, one of the biggest ice bodies in the Eurasian Arctic, and the third-largest ice cap in the world!
Before we reached the glacier, though, we spotted another polar bear so the Capitan made a short detour to the edge of the ice where we watched a bear haul an unfortunate walrus calf onto the ice and devour it.
The Arctic is nothing short of the trials of life with each scene we witnessed proving a reminder that everything is designed to exist for a purpose. Our bear was unbothered by the ship, so we enjoyed a fantastic viewing before moving on to the glacier.
Arriving at Brasvelbreen was surreal. The glacier was a towering wall of ice that seemed to shoot straight out of the ocean. Since it was a cloudless sunny day, the light reflected off the ice in a blinding fashion.
But this didn’t stop us from staring in awe at the many waterfalls that were spewing water dramatically into the sea below.
We didn’t even hesitate when our kayaking guides offered the opportunity to paddle here! We prepared in record time and hopped in a double kayak together to get some views of the glacier from the water level.
One of the things that draws us to the polar regions is how the power of nature makes you feel insignificant. This experience at Brasvelbreen was no exception to that.
We paddled at a safe distance but even from there, you could feel the power of the ice. We could feel the blast of icy air coming from it and we could feel the spray from the waterfalls.
Taking the Arctic Polar Plunge
Following our amazing kayak, we took the opportunity to participate in the polar plunge! Seriously, we couldn’t think of a more special place to endure this polar rite of passage. It’s not every day you get to hop in the Arctic Ocean in front of the third-largest ice cap in the world.
Having done the polar plunge on three previous visits to Antarctica, our Arctic polar plunge would earn us the official title of being a bi-polar plunger! I don’t know about anyone else, but this is a title we are proud to hold.
Was it cold? Sure, it was. Would be do it again? Absolutely.
Storøya & Nordaustlandet Ice Floe (Day 9)
Our day started with a plan to push further east to the island of Storøya. Our Expedition Leader had plans to try for a landing if weather permitted, but the polar bears had another plan. When Storøya came into view, so did a female polar bear with two cubs!
As you can imagine, the trajectory of our day changed completely, and our morning became occupied with viewing this adorable trio on the ice floe. It is incredibly rare to see a bear with a cub, let alone two cubs, out hunting on the ice. This was a real once-in-a-lifetime moment!
Shortly after leaving the bear with cubs, we came across another polar bear! This solo bear was hanging out on the most beautiful ice floe we have ever seen. The afternoon light was hitting the ice and water in a surreal glow that made the polar bear look bright white.
This bear was indulging in a successful hunt that offered a bright crimson contrast to the icy scene around it. Hanging around on the ice with the polar bear were three rare ivory gulls, waiting for the prime opportunity to snatch some lunch.
It’s safe to say that the polar bear diversions averted our plans to land at Storøya but we’re not sad about it. That evening, the crew received a call that the north side of Spitsbergen was now passable.
Plans were made to sail back towards the Hinlopen Straight to attempt a full circumnavigation of Spitsbergen in the coming days. Our Svalbard travel in the east was over and we were headed north!
Bjornsundet, Hinlopen Straight (Day 10)
Bjornsundet is a scenic and narrow strait that lies between the islands of Spitsbergen and Wilhelmøya within Hinlopen Straight.
We set off on a zodiac cruise to navigate the fast-moving ice and search for wildlife. It was our first experience pushing through thick pack ice!
Every time our zodiac driver would find an opening, the ice would come in around us and we’d have to push in another direction toward open water. It made for a fun adventure, and we were able to observe plenty of different birds while making our way around.
Eventually, we came across a lone walrus resting on the ice. He was completely unfazed by our obsessive photography and didn’t even lift his head as we left. Leaving back towards the ship we came across another walrus, and a bearded seal, both hanging out on the ice.
Wahlbergøya, Hinlopen Straight (Day 10)
Wahlbergøya is an island located in the Hinlopen Strait that was named after the Swedish naturalist Peter Fredrik Wahlberg.
Historically, the island was a key site for early Arctic expeditions and was known for its prominence in the walrus hunting industry. Today it’s still a place to see large numbers of walrus.
Due to the sunny weather and glass calm sea, we opted to kayak at this stop. It proved to be the most surreal and beautiful kayak of the trip. The water was so still you could count the ripples on the surface with each paddle stroke.
We covered 5 kilometers on the water before making a landing to hike over and view the large walrus colony that was sunning on the beach.
As with our other walrus encounters on this trip, they were unfazed by us. This lent itself to some incredible viewings as they rolled around in the sand and played in the water.
Alkefjellet, Spitsbergen (Day 11)
In a true Arctic fashion, our day started with another polar bear sighting. We named this one Rock Bear, as he was hanging out on a rocky outcrop. He seemed to play hide and seek with us, as he ducked behind rocks and then appeared in different places.
After the better part of an hour, we continued to our intended destination, the famed bird cliffs of Alkefjellet. These cliffs are composed mainly of dolerite and rise dramatically from the sea to heights of up to 100 meters.
The cliffs are home to one of the largest colonies of Brünnich’s guillemots in the Arctic, with an estimated 60,000 breeding pairs!
It was incredible to see this many birds flying, nesting, and socializing along the cliffs. They were even in the water. It was almost mesmerizing to observe them fighting over territory and wooing their mates. A dynamic that isn’t easy to witness elsewhere.
In addition to the overwhelming number of birds, we couldn’t help but admire the many waterfalls rushing from the top of the cliffs. We arrived just as the sun was hitting them and this created the most beautiful rainbow prisms.
Worth mentioning, though, is that waterfalls are not a normal occurrence at Alkefjellet. Unfortunately, it is a testament to the rapid effects of climate change in the Arctic Region. This is happening due to rises in both air and ocean temperatures that are resulting in substantial ice loss to the entire region.
Eolusneset, Spitsbergen (Day 11)
While en route to Eolusneset, we enjoyed a rare sighting of a fin whale! We happened to be dining in the Deck 8 restaurant and were able to run outside to the deck when we spotted it. Humpbacks are more common, but it’s a real treat to see a fin whale.
After a morning of immersion in the wildlife world of Svalbard, we would spend our afternoon contemplating more of its human history. Our stop at Eolusneset would give us some insight into the adjacent Sorgfjorden, a name that translates to Sorrow Fjord.
This spot is steeped in historical significance, most notably as the site of the 1693 naval Battle of Sorgfjorden, where French whaling ships clashed with a Dutch fleet.
This fjord, which extends about 20 miles inland and is bordered by steep mountains, was also a prominent whaling area, with remnants of this era still visible.
We hiked to the highest point of Eolusneset where a cross stands on a pile of rocks facing out to sea. In the space between the cross and the sea, it overlooks many graves.
This was a place where people who perished while on whale hunting trips were laid to rest. It wasn’t uncommon for whalers on these expeditions to pack enough wood for their coffins.
Clean Up Svalbard Initiative
Clean Up Svalbard is an environmental initiative launched by the Governor of Svalbard in 2000, aimed at tackling the growing problem of marine litter in the Svalbard archipelago. This region, despite its remote location, is not immune to the global issue of oceanic waste, with currents bringing debris from around the world to its shores.
The focus of the initiative is to clean up marine litter along the coasts of Svalbard, which poses a threat to wildlife and the pristine Arctic environment. Each summer, organized clean-up trips are conducted, where volunteers collect and dispose of the waste that has accumulated along the beaches and coastal areas.
It has been successful in removing significant amounts of litter from the environment, contributing to the conservation efforts in the Arctic.
We learned on our trip that Aurora Expeditions is an active participator in this initiative and conducts clean-ups on every expedition trip that they operate in Svalbard. For our trip, we would contribute by cleaning during our visit to Eolusneset.
After sightseeing, we joined the clean-up team and spent an hour clearing fishing nets, plastic, and marine debris from the beaches. It was astonishing to see the amount of trash that had washed up on the remote beach.
Our group managed to pick up an estimated 80 to 100 kilograms of garbage! We were told by the expedition team that this is the best cleanup haul that Aurora Expeditions has done to date.
Texas Bar, Spitsbergen (Day 12)
Texas Bar is a trapper’s hut that is known for its distinctive name. It was built in the 1920s by a Norwegian trapper and got its unique reputation from an American who visited the site in the 1930s.
He filled the hut with various bottles of liquor and ever since the hut has operated as a take-one-leave-one bar for anyone that visits it.
Of course, we took the time to see the hut, and you’ll be happy to know that it was fully stocked!
After, we headed back to the beach for a lovely morning kayak on more glassy water. We paddled 5 kilometers along the rocky coastline up Liefdefjorden, to a small, shallow bay.
Along the way, we passed some small caves and icebergs. Once we reached the other side, we had a clear view of the Monacobreen, Seligerbreen, and Idabreen glaciers. It was a lovely, low-stress paddle and the perfect way to spend the morning.
Monacobreen, Spitsbergen (Day 12)
Our afternoon destination would be the impressive Monacobreen glacier. Named after Prince Albert I of Monaco in recognition of his contributions to oceanographic research and exploration of the Arctic, this glacier is a significant landmark in the region’s glacial landscape.
It is known for its rapid calving activity, where large chunks of ice break off and fall into the sea. This dynamic process fascinates scientists and is exciting to witness if you get the chance.
In recent years, Monacobreen has been closely studied for its responses to climate change. It has shown notable signs of retreat and thinning, making it a critical site for understanding the impacts of global warming in the Arctic.
Our afternoon was spent exploring by zodiac. Besides being in total awe at the size and beauty of the glacier itself, we were treated to a massive flock of kittiwakes that would take to the air any time the glacier would calve.
Additionally, we spotted several bearded seals and observed the Arctic Tern in action, my absolute favorite bird on the planet. This resilient bird migrates from the Arctic to Antarctica and back again. Every single year. Tell me that isn’t cool.
Bruceneset, Spitsbergen (Day 13)
With another cloudless sunny day greeting us, we opted for the long hike when we arrived at Bruceneset. This hike took us way up to elevation, stopping at various viewpoints along the way. We almost reached the top of the mountain!
I don’t think any of us planned that, we were just going with the flow. Along the way, we spotted some reindeer and our first Arctic ptarmigan. The views, to be honest, felt otherworldly.
We spent time just standing in silence, our eyes fixed on the scene laid out before us. This world is truly an amazing place.
Once we reached the top, our expedition team decided to up the fun. They tracked a path of secure snow, and we spent the next hour sledding down each section of our climb with our boots in the air, and our bums on the ground, laughing the whole way down.
Hamiltonbukta, Spitsbergen (Day 13)
Notable for its combination of bird cliffs and glaciers, we were hoping to see an Arctic fox. We set off from the ship by zodiac, first heading to the bird cliffs. Despite our best efforts, we were not able to locate any foxes.
We continued cruising through some shallow water areas, weaving in and out of rocky outcrops while observing Arctic terns and kittiwakes that were sitting on nearby ice. It was at that point that I leaned over the zodiac edge and saw hundreds of jellyfish in the water!
The expedition staff proceeded to collect samples and we learned more about this resilient species of jellyfish that can thrive in frigid Arctic waters.
Leaving the jellyfish behind, we started making our way towards the glacier faces to see what might be hiding out on the ice. Before we reached them, a call came over the radio that a polar bear had been spotted back by the ship!
Our driver wasted no time navigating back to the fjord and kicking it into top speed so we wouldn’t miss the bear. Sure enough, as we approached the ice floe behind the ship, a curious young polar bear was roaming the ice.
It was my absolute dream goal to see a polar bear on ice, from the water level, in a zodiac on this trip. So, you can imagine my pure excitement as we slowly approached. This was it! The bear paced, played and jumped along the ice. Interested in us but really just doing bear things.
He gave us the most beautiful sighting. Something that I will always remember. My first zodiac bear.
After 30 minutes, he wandered to the edge of the ice, took one more look at us, then hopped in and swam towards land.
St Johnsfjord, Spitsbergen (Day 14)
St Johnsfjorden was named after the Dutch whaler Jan Jacobszoon May van Schellinkhout who sailed into the fjord in 1614. The fjord is 22 kilometers deep and is flanked by steep mountains. At the end, the glaciers descend directly into the sea.
I know what you’re thinking, more glaciers? But this particular fjord and glacier is special. It is here that you have a chance to see a special sub-species of bearded seal that has a distinctive red coat! You can bet that I was on the lookout for this special creature.
Find him, we did. We actually found a few of them and they posed effortlessly on the ice while we photographed them. When I was satisfied that I had captured the seal sufficiently, I looked up to study the glacier before me.
It was then that I noticed how spectacularly different it was from the others we had seen on this trip. It had many large lines of black and grey that ran through it in contrast to the white and blue ice.
Unlike the other glaciers that appeared pristine, this one looked dirty but it was so beautiful. The color contrasts spoke to me, and I struggled to put down my camera during this outing.
Alkhornet, Spitsbergen (Day 14)
As we approached Alkhornet, we stood on our balcony and took in the scene. Dramatic cliffs pushed their way from the bright green landscape creating a dome-shaped landscape. The clouds clung to the formation and the sea held the shadows. It was a sight to behold.
At this moment I realized this was our last outing of the expedition. It has been a jam-packed two weeks of expedition exploration. I was tired but eager to continue the Svalbard adventure.
For our last outing, we chose to join the long hike again. This time we climbed up from the beach onto a plateau of bright green grass. We worked our way across the land until we reached the base of the towering cone-shaped cliffs.
Here we spent our time moving through a boulder field, looking up for birds and looking down for Arctic foxes! When we reached the far side, we peered down over the plateau and were treated to the site of a hundred reindeer grazing.
As reindeer are docile, our group moved back down to the plateau for some up-close viewing. It was then that we spotted a very new baby reindeer! The herd was grazing around it while it attempted to stand and follow its mom around.
When it was time to head back to the ship, we spotted three fox kits playing on a snowbank in the distance. They were far away, but we all lined up to enjoy viewing them as they played and rolled on the snow with each other. It was the perfect end to our expedition in the Arctic.
Disembarkation in Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen (Day 15)
The morning we disembarked in Longyearbyen, we were exhausted, but it was that good kind of exhaustion! The expedition team tendered us to the dock and the bus brought us back to town, where it all began just two weeks ago.
Our flight back to Oslo was later in the afternoon, so we wandered back into town for some coffee, grabbed some lunch, and did some shopping before saying our goodbyes to the northernmost inhabited town on earth.
Svalbard In-Depth Expedition – Final Thoughts
We have long dreamed of joining an expedition around the Svalbard archipelago and this trip was incredibly special for us. We saw our first wild polar bears on this trip, we kayaked, we hiked, and we really dug in. To be honest, we cannot wait to go back.
Many people ask us if going to the Arctic is worth it. They ask us what they can see there. We’ve even been asked why anyone would even want to go there.
I hope our personal, in-depth overview will provide you with all the insight you need to dream big and add a Svalbard adventure to your bucket list.
How to Book Your Own Svalbard Adventure
Our trip was booked and organized by the amazing team at Adventure Life. They work closely with many operators in the Arctic space, including Aurora Expeditions, and are Expert Trip Planners who help streamline the trip planning process and save you hours researching the best options.
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