** Book Now! Space is limited! ** A TravelWild Expeditions exclusive charter to Spitsbergen! Our primary focus is finding polar bears as we cruise along the pack ice—prime habitat for bears as they hunt seals. Along the way we'll spend ample time taking in other wildlife and the majestic Arctic scenery of glaciers, fjords and soaring mountains. Travel with a hand-picked group of naturalist leaders who know the wildlife and the areas we visit.
We begin our journey in Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen’s largest community. We embark the Polar Pioneer between 4 PM and 5 PM in the afternoon. As we steam west out of Isfjorden, we’ll encounter numerous seabirds, including dovekies, thick-billed murres, northern fulmars, black-legged kittiwakes and, perhaps, a puffin or two. (D)
These next nine days are dedicated to exploring the Svalbard Archipelago, especially the environs of its biggest and most spectacular island—Spitsbergen. Our exact day-by-day itinerary will remain flexible, depending on local weather, ice and wildlife conditions, but the ship is totally at our disposal to go where and when we please. At the top of our "to do" list is polar bear watching. We’ll head to the pristine pack ice to search for the great white bears and also hope to encounter them swimming, hunting and inquisitively inspecting our ship. In addition to searching for bears, we’ll spend our days discovering and learning about other wildlife, as well as the flora, geology and history of Svalbard. We are very likely to experience up close meetings with Svalbard reindeer grazing along mossy banks, walruses on land and amid the ice floes, arctic foxes, bearded and ringed seals and, possibly, whales. Birdlife is abundant and throngs of wheeling seabirds, including millions of dovekies, are commonly seen. Other interesting High Arctic species include redthroated loons, barnacle and pink-footed geese, common and king eiders, long-tailed ducks, arctic terns, red phalaropes, purple sandpipers, ivory and glaucous gulls, long-tailed, pomarine and parasitic jaegers, great skuas, Atlantic puffins, black guillemots, rock ptarmigans and snow buntings. We will have a remarkable amount of time available for wildlife viewing, exploring and taking photos in the 24 hours of daylight. (BLD)
We arrive back in Longyearbyen during the night and disembark as a group after breakfast. Participants may disembark earlier to meet morning flights home. (B)
If you want to see the Arctic in all its wildness and splendor, then a visit to Spitsbergen is a must! And there's no more enjoyable and comprehensive way to see it than on our upcoming Polar Bears & Wildlife of Spitsbergen cruise, July 8–18, 2016. Spitsbergen is the Crown Jewel of the Arctic. When we first visited the island more than a decade ago, clients and leaders alike predicted that Spitsbergen cruises would soon be on a par with such venerated nature and wildlife destinations as East Africa, Antarctica and the Galápagos. Clearly they were impressed with all they saw in Spitsbergen!
More than ten degrees north of the Arctic Circle, the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard comprises four large mountainous islands and hundreds of smaller ones. Spitsbergen—the largest island in the archipelago—has four settlements including Longyearbyen, the world's most northerly town and the spot where our cruise begins and ends.
Unlike some cruises, there is no wasted "at sea" time—wildlife-viewing starts the moment the ship is underway. Our primary focus is navigating through the pack ice and into glacier-filled fjords in search of polar bears as the bears, in turn, hunt for ringed and bearded seals. On the northern edge of the archipelago, drifting pack ice crowds the shore and it is common to find polar bears hunting seals and walruses. The Norwegian Polar Institute has estimated that there are over 2,000 polar bears in the Svalbard region.
After traveling with us to Spitsbergen, nature writer Kathryn True wrote:
"Last night a polar bear walked right up to the ship! It was a bright and sunny evening and we were parked in thin pack ice. We all hurried to the deck after the captain announced a polar bear in the distance. At first it looked like a glowing white snowball moving towards us. As it got closer you could see its determined walk, which seemed to say—'I've got to check this out.' The bear walked straight towards the ship without hesitation. About 30 yards away, he lifted his nose and moved his head back and forth sniffing the air, then continued towards us. As he got closer I could hear the crunching of his massive paws against the slushy layer of snow on top of the ice. We were all quiet on deck—except for the click of camera shutters we were awed into complete silence. He sniffed around the ship for about five minutes, then abruptly headed away from us, without so much as a backward glance! We felt so lucky to be there. The solitary life of a polar bear was never more poignantly clear."
While seeing polar bears is reason enough to join our Spitsbergen cruise, there is much, much more to see and do! Our route along the pack ice will give us ample opportunity for sightings of several other marine mammals—viewed from the ship, but also when we go ashore in inflatable Zodiac landing craft. Species we commonly see—often at very close range—include walruses, reindeer (a subspecies called Svalbard reindeer), arctic foxes, bearded, ringed and harp seals, minke and, occasionally, humpback whales.
We'll also use our Zodiacs to cruise along the foot of towering sea cliffs, home to tens of thousands of raucous seabirds. We are likely to see arctic terns, arctic skuas, Atlantic puffins, thick-billed murres, dovekies, northern fulmars, long-tailed jaegers and more. All of these wildlife sightings are made in the relatively benign weather and calm seas of Spitsbergen's summer.
Many of our trip participants are surprised by the colorful flora we see when we go ashore. The Gulf Stream creates a mild climate and when summer arrives the snow recedes to uncover verdant patches of green and red mosses and delicate wildflowers. Two national parks, 15 bird sanctuaries and two plant reserves protect half of Svalbard's spectacular landmass.
There is no better way to experience the pristine beauty of the Arctic than on our Spitsbergen cruise. Join Wayne Lynch, Gary Alt, Dennis Mense and Rinie van Meurs on an unforgettable cruise to one of the most remote and uniquely beautiful locations on Earth. Be among the few lucky travelers to visit this spectacular Realm of the Polar Bear!
Our cruises are floating classrooms where we experience wildlife and natural history in the field and then interpret what we've seen through a series of informal lectures, discussions and presentations. Integral to this approach are the leaders we choose for your expedition. In addition to planning daily activities, guiding you safely to shore and making evening presentations, they will introduce you to the wonders of Spitsbergen, dramatically enriching each encounter with the island's flora and fauna. There is truly no better way to experience the splendor of the Arctic!
Wayne is a former emergency physician who has worked for more than 30 years as a full-time naturalist, science writer and photographer. We credit Wayne with introducing us to the wonders of Spitsbergen. After visiting the Svalbard Archipelago in 1997, he proclaimed it "the most beautiful Arctic destination he had ever seen." That is indeed high praise coming from someone who has traveled the world over—including much of the Arctic—and who has led more than 150 trips worldwide! With Wayne's knowledge, help and a little prodding, we developed our highly-successful Spitsbergen cruises. In addition to the fantastic work he does for TravelWild, Wayne is the author of award-winning books and television documentaries, a popular guest lecturer, and Canada's best-known and most widely-published professional wildlife photographer. His photo credits include hundreds of magazine covers and tens of thousands of images published in over two dozen countries. He lives in Calgary, Alberta.
Gary is widely regarded as one of the leading bear research biologists in North America. As one of our longest-tenured TravelWild leaders, Gary has introduced hundreds—if not thousands—of our clients over the years to his personal passion—bears. He has led trips in Spitsbergen, Churchill and Alaska and he has an encyclopedic knowledge of bears—particularly black, brown and polar bears. Gary entertains and educates our clients with many stories of his encounters with bears while conducting field research. His work has been featured in National Wildlife, People, Sports Illustrated and Reader's Digest, as well as a variety of national television programs. Gary's training in natural history consists of four ecology-related degrees, including a Ph.D., and extensive experience in the field. He has presented hundreds of educational and entertaining natural history lectures throughout the country, and has used wildlife photography in his work for years. Among our clients he is renowned for his amiable sense of humor.
Dennis is recognized throughout the nature and adventure travel industry as one of the most respected, trusted and sought-after expedition leaders in the business. By any standards his knowledge of, and experience working in, polar regions is impressive, spanning more than 20 years of planning and leading dozens of expedition cruises and land-based tours to remote destinations, including Antarctica, the Russian Far East, the North Pole, Spitsbergen, Franz Josef Land, Greenland, Arctic Canada, Alaska and many more. With a degree in marine biology from the University of Hawaii and many years conducting marine-related research, Dennis is an excellent interpreter of nature as well. While he has traveled the world extensively, seeing and doing more than most, he still has a genuine enthusiasm for nature and wildlife that is sure to rub off on all who travel with him. Dennis is Sales Director for TravelWild Expeditions and lives with his family on Cortes Island in the Canadian Gulf Islands.
Rinie has been the leader on hundreds of expeditions in the Arctic and Antarctica over the past 25 years—more than 120 to Spitsbergen, alone! No one else has led so many expedition cruises throughout this archipelago—and Rinie knows it like no other. In addition to his expedition leader duties, he is also a talented nature lecturer and an affable shipmate. Rinie studied forestry and civil engineering before finding his passions for travel, wildlife and nature photography. He has traveled the world extensively and once spent a year in the Falkland Islands photographing and observing seabirds and wildlife. Rinie has published several books featuring his photography of polar bears and the diverse polar regions encountered on his numerous voyages.
PLEASE NOTE: Due to the nature of expedition cruising, itineraries are subject to change due to weather, ice conditions, natural and cultural events, wildlife viewing opportunities and other logistical considerations. In general, a ship's crew will endeavor to complete the itinerary provided, but the ultimate decision lies with the ship's captain and expedition leaders.