My Polar Bear Adventure

Mike Gurrey

07 Sep 2017

Day 1: Longyearbyen - M/S Sjoveien

I spent my first morning exploring Longyearbyen. For the first half of the afternoon, I stopped at most of the coffee shops, then went on to visit the bars.  In the afternoon, we boarded our boutique explorer ship, the M/S Sjoveien, and departed at 5pm.

Shortly after setting sail, we were taken on a tour of the ship and this gave me a chance to get to know my other explorers with a glass or 2 of champagne. Thomas, our chef for the trip, introduced himself with a bang - a 3 course chef dinner (which was amazing!).

After enjoying our delicious dinner, everyone headed off to bed in preparation for a bright and early start on our Svalbard adventure. 

Day 2: My First Polar Bear Encounter

Our first zodiac trip was at 8:45am and we set off to see a polar bear enjoying a hearty breakfast, a fresh whale carcass, in Danskoya. This was then followed by second and third polar bear, a mum and her cub! We observed them until around 10.30am.

After our polar bear encounter, we headed north and, about 20 mins later, we spotted a group of walrus. Some were on land and some were in the water and we watched them whilst eating lunch – a delicious pasta carbonara. Whilst eating lunch, we heard of sightings of blue whales, but sadly they were too far and we were unable to find them.

After lunch, we were lucky enough to find blue whales, 2 of them. They were 50 meters, if not less, from the bow of the ship – an incredible sightseeing opportunity!

Our first landing of the trip was at the beach in Woodfjorden. We saw the small settlement there and then went for an hour walk around the beach area into a small inland lake. Here we were picked up and started our journey to our next destination.

Day 3: The Polar Plunge

Today, we woke up in the pack ice - amazing!! We saw 4 or 5 seals swimming around the ice and the light and reflections of the sunshine in the water created a perfect reflection of calm. 

We hopped into the zodiacs for a 2 hour sightseeing adventure to see the pack ice and different ice formations.

Afterwards, I took part in the Arctic tradition of the Polar Plunge! 

The water was -2c and it’s safe to say that it was a big shock to the system – the word ‘cold’ doesn’t quite cut it!

Once you’ve gotten yourself back up out of the freezing waters, you’re given 3 shots to warm you up, but I then thought I’d do a 2nd Polar Plunge, so more shots were given! Oh yeah! Afterwards I enjoyed a lovely warm shower to bring me back to normal temperatures. The whole experience was epic.

Day 4: Guillemots, a minke whale and Bråsvellbreen glacier

This morning was spent at the bird mountain at Alkefjellet to see the guillemot birds, there were 120,000 of them on the cliffs. We also spotted 2 arctic foxes playing on the cliffs which was an amazing spectacle! We managed to get arm’s length from the cliff on the boat - we definitely had the most amazing captain.  Alongside the cliffs was a glacier with a glacier waterfall. This was our first of the trip but there were more waterfalls to come!

We went back to cruising after this and saw a minke whale surface a few times in front of us. It was truly breath-taking.

After lunch, we headed out on the zodiac for a landing on at Torellnesetin search of walrus and found over 60 of them! We sat on the beach for around 2 hours watching the walrus play and sat whilst they got closer to us. The walrus were less than 5 feet from us at some points. We also found a bones of a walrus skull that were extremely heavy and still in perfect condition.

After spending some time on the beach, we headed back to the ship afterwards to conclude what was an amazing day.
  

After we’d enjoyed a very filling pork roast dinner, our final stop was Bråsvellbreen glacier. We sailed around the glacier for around an hour and saw a number of waterfalls and many different colours.

We also played chicken with the glacier to see how close we could get - the answer is ‘very close’!

Day 5: Ticking wildlife sightings off the list

This morning we did a zodiac landing to see a polar bear and a reindeer in Barentsöya. The polar bear was around 200 meters away high up on a slope, with the reindeer being closer. We then got back into the zodiac for a short 10 minute trip to the front of Freemanbreen glacier. After sailing round the glacier, we headed back to see what the bear was doing, but it was still quite high and was very comfy so wasn't moving down to us.

We decided to head back to the ship ready for lunch. After lunch, the fog came in and we didn't think we were going to get out of the ship that afternoon due to the conditions. Fortunately, our guides and captain wanted to take a chance and so we did. On our afternoon landing, we saw walrus, Arctic fox and reindeer. We had a family of 5 Arctic fox, including 2 cubs running around and playing which was great fun. There were about 6 walrus on the beach and 10 reindeer spread across the hills also, so we ticked a large amount of wildlife off the list on the first visit. We then returned through the fog to the boat.

After dinner at around 9.30pm we hit the Negribreen glacier and the iceberg field which consists of hundreds and hundreds of icebergs and frozen waters. We tried to find a clear path to the glacier, but unfortunately we had to turn around. As soon as we got outside, of the iceberg the weather turned to perfect blue skies and sunshine...at 11pm!

Having a gin and tonic sitting on the bow in the midnight sun was an astonishing moment that will stay with me forever.

Day 6: Calm waters and whales

Today started with a calm sea and no fog the first time since we set sail 6 days ago. We had a 10 minute zodiac ride to the foot of a delta at Hemland for our climb up the mountains. The climb lasted about 3 hours and was great fun, with lakes and different flowers on the way. The view from the top was stunning and definitely worth the climb.

After lunch we sailed through a small channel with a strong currents and whirlpools - with the engine off we hit 16 knots!


This afternoon we had a lecture on the whales of Svalbard which was extremely interesting and, as luck would have it, we found a fin whale of the bow of the ship. We followed it for some time before losing it as the waters opened up.

Day 7: Liefdefjorden

I awoke this morning a bit later than the past few days as we had 130 miles to cover during the night. We woke up in Liefdefjorden with dramatic scenery and perfect blue sky weather.  We all joked that we couldn’t possibly be in the Arctic!

Our first outing today was a 3 hour hike to a mountain viewpoint. The views were stunning and you could see for miles and miles. We then got a great surprise on our return to the beach; our captain and crew were onshore and we had a steak BBQ right there on the shore in the sunshine.  It had to be seen to be believed!

Our second outing this afternoon was a glacier zodiac cruise at the foot of the Monaco glacier for around 2 hours.

 The warmth of the morning left as the glacier’s cold air took over, but we managed to get lots of fresh glacier ice for our drinks that evening.

During the cruise, we saw some seals relaxing on the ice and lots of remarkable icebergs with incredible colours.

Day 8: Mountain climbs and glaciers

We awoke in the fjords again with great weather and great views. Our morning Zodiac ride was to a mountain to spot baby auks. We climbed and watched the birds for an hour as they adjusted to life with us. They flew right over us, so close that you could hear them.

We then took a scenic cruise through a valley with glaciers all around and got the most amazing pictures in the perfect sea reflections.  You may go to the Arctic for wildlife, but the scenery is something else!

On our afternoon zodiac trip, we learnt about the history of Svalbard and looked at different whaling sites which was really interesting. We also saw 5 or 6 harbour seals whilst sailing.

On arrival back on the ship, our chef, Thomas, greeted us with homemade chocolate chip cookies which were delicious!

Afterwards, we cruised to the end of a glacier with no clouds in the sky and a perfect reflection in the water, so it was utterly amazing.

More blue skies this evening – the Arctic looked like the Caribbean!

Day 9: Wildlife and a BBQ

This morning I woke to blue sky with not a cloud to be seen. We set out on our first outing bright and early and we really did see everything. First was an Arctic fox, then a reindeer and, last but not least, a female polar bear!

We were at the foot of a bird mountain with 3 Arctic fox hunting for eggs and birds before we climbed another mountain for amazing views over the fjords and glaciers of Svalbard.

We found a polar bear on a cliff overlooking our zodiac landing beach so we did a controlled walk back to the beach so not to alarm it. After leaving the beach in the zodiacs, we slowly crept to the cliffs to get a closer look. The bear was a good size and comfy in the sunshine. After soaking in all the experiences and being out for nearly 4 hours, we returned to the ship.

Our afternoon venture out in the zodaics was a trip to see the puffins which was brilliant. Afterwards, we went to the glacier for a walk – it really was hard work but was definitely worth it.

We then had a BBQ on the back deck which was absolutely unreal. A lot of the experiences I had here will stay with me forever.

Day 10: Our final Zodiac outing

The weather and sea changed today - it's more choppy, it's cloudy and a lot colder now.

Our first Zodiac outing was to the foot of a glacier to go to a fresh water lake to see what wildlife we could find. We found a few different species of birds but nothing more and so, with a 4 hour cruise to the next location, we decided to cut it short and head back to the boat. The change in plan gave us all some down time to do some packing as unfortunately our expedition was coming to an end.

The afternoon lead us to our last Zodiac outing. We ventured out to Alkhornet in search of our last sights of Arctic wildlife and we were lucky to find a family of reindeer, which was a perfect way to end our trip.

We arrived back in Longyearbyen late in the evening where we toasted our trip with our last drinks as a team.

Day 11: Longyearbyen - London

Today is our last day and our amazing trip has come to an end. We all enjoyed an early breakfast (which I will miss massively!) and stepped ashore to transfer back to the Radisson Blu in Longyearbyen for our last few hours in the Arctic.

I stopped at a few shops for some last minute souvenirs and a few jars of jam that definitely had to be taken home! After lunch, we transferred back to the airport and sadly waved goodbye to Arctic Norway for our journey back to London. 

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