Svalbard – way north of the Arctic Circle

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Maureen and I spent a week on the National Geographic Explorer on a Lindblad National Geographic trip around the Svalbard islands. Look directly down on the north pole on a globe and it’s easy to see Svalbard is in the far north, way far north. At around 76 to 80°N it’s 10 to 12° north of the Arctic Circle, way north of places we’re inclined to think of as ‘far north’ – Iceland, Hudson Bay, Alaska – in fact as north as the northern end of Greenland.

▲ The sign that greets you on arrival at Longyearbyen Airport, reminding you that London is south, almost directly south in fact, by 3043km.

▲ Our ship anchored off Gnålodden, a name which which means something like ‘groaning’ in Norwegian, from the constant murmuring of the kittiwakes that nest in the towering Gnålberget cliff face in their thousands.

▲ The Gnålberget cliff face and kittiwakes.

▲ Of course we saw whales, this is a large pod of beluga whales we encountered on our first night out

▲ Then on our last day we were accompanied by another pod of whales, this time fin whales, as big as they come apart from the blue whale.

▲ Walruses are easy to spot, they’re generally lounging around like this huddle at Magdalenefjord.

▲ But of course it was polar bears we really wanted to see and after some distant sightings we finally got a close up of this mother bear and her two cubs at Magdalenefjord.

▲ This is the Gullybreen Glacier (although ‘breen’ is Norwegian for glacier) descending into the sea at Magdalenefjord.

▲ We took out kayaks in the iceberg studded waters between Spitsbergen, the largest island in the Svalbard group, and Barentsøya

◄ A place where people with no concerns about cold water – which turned out to be a surprisingly large percentage of the group – could indulge in a ‘polar plunge.’





▲ Disappointingly we didn’t land at Pyramiden, an abandoned Russian mining town which I suspected would be rather like Pripyat at the Chernobyl nuclear site in Ukraine. We did see Pyramiden from offshore, but I didn’t get to see the world’s furthest north Lenin statue.