July 23 - August 27, 2023
This page is a way to save and share some images and words from
my voyages on Oceanwide Expeditions ship M/V
Hondius in 2023. I was aboard for four voyages - all
four around the Arctic archipelago of Spitsbergen/Svalbard. As
we visited many sites multiple times over the course of the
contract, and as a change of pace, I have decided to organize
this page by category instead of chronology or geography.
To check the details of the vessel see the Oceanwide website or
my Antarctic voyage of 2019. There are links to the video
slideshows and trip logs distributed to the PAX for each voyage
at the end of the page.
Sorry - I
have made no effort to make this page work well on smaller
screen sizes. You can click on most images to get a higher
As usual, my
editor has been far too lenient. Having said that there are less
photos here than usual for a similar length contract. This is
due to the repeated visits to many sites with me choosing to be
camera free for subsequent visits. In addition, many of the
activities were Zodiac cruises. Other guides have the ability to
take photos while driving, but the need for attention to the
task, and the interaction with the PAX means that my camera
often remains in my bag.
I guess that I might as well start with the wildlife that attracts
the most interest and attention. We had excellent Polar Bear
interactions on every voyage. First a bit of explanation about our
process for Polar Bear safety. As we approach a proposed landing
site, the expedition team gathers in the Bridge with binoculars to
scout the area. If no bears are seen, then a nominated set of
senior guides lands with rifles to scout the area from the shore
while others scout with Zodiacs. If no bears are seen, then the
rest of the guides land and arm themselves. Several are sent to
the perimeter of the area in which PAX will be allowed to roam.
Then PAX are landed, maximum 100 at a time, while a watch is kept.
If a bear is seen at any point then the landing is cancelled. At
which time, if the bear can be viewed from the sea, the Zodiacs
are launched to approach the bear.
All of this
happens if the bear is seen on land or swimming. However, the
prime bear viewing location is in the pack ice. Each voyage
included a day north of the archipelago in the remains of the sea
ice that had covered the Arctic Ocean in the winter. This is the
natural hunting ground for the bears as it is where the seals go
to feed. The diminishing sea ice is the main reason that Polar
Bears are threatened. There are many climate models that show that
the Arctic Ocean will be ice-free at mid-summer by 2050.
Notwithstanding this, every bear that we saw was healthy and well
The first bear
was spotted sleeping during scouting so we did a Zodiac cruise to
view it. The first 2 photos were taken from the same spot in the
Zodiac at the full wide-angle (25mm or 0.5x magnification)
and full telephoto (600mm or 12x) range of my camera. Bring good
binoculars for the Arctic. It woke up and wandered over the ridge.
We had other occasions when we spotted a bear on the shore
and then did a Zodiac cruise - during which I was not able to take
photos. I was able to capture an
encounter with a group of 4 bears - a mother with 2 cubs plus a
single adult - feeding on a whale carcass.
By far our best encounters were in the sea ice. The bear
would be spotted in the distance and we would approach slowly
through the pack. Often the bear would be curious and come to us at
the same time - sometimes swimming. Spot the bear in the first
After the Polar Bear the animal most closely identified with
the Arctic is the Walrus. They were actively hunted for over 300
years to near extinction. Protection was established in 1952 and the
population has re-bounded. It is estimated the the population in and
around Svalbard is 3000-4000. We had nice encounters with them at
their "haul-outs" on every voyage - some at landings and some from
the Zodiacs - some with males and some with females with calves. On
land they lie piled on top of each other. In the water they can be
Like Walrus, the Reindeer were hunted to near extinction
but are now protected (or at least mostly protected as some
licensed hunting is still allowed). We saw many individuals
grazing in the distance but had only a few close encounters.
Despite many cruises along glacier fronts, we saw seals
rarely, mostly as occasional passing swimmers. Pictured here are a
Bearded Seal and a Harbor Seal. It seemed like I was always
somewhere else or without my camera when whales or dolphins were
spotted, but we had a visit from a pod of Beluga Whales in
For me the most fun wildlife viewing was of the Arctic
Foxes. We found them at the base of birds cliffs (see below) and
at other landings. The kits were numerous and playful. Each litter
can be of up to 12 kits. The adults were busy trying to keep them
fed. All of them were quite unbothered by our presence - not tame,
still wary, but will to approach very closely while seeming to pay
us little attention going about their daily activities. They are
quite small animals (around 2 feet/60cm - half of that tail -
3-5kg - 7-11 lbs) alternating between sitting quite still or
scurrying rapidly. Great fun to watch.
This video is
marginal at best with plenty of bird noise, wind noise, PAX
chatter in Mandarin, camera shake and focus issues. It shows an
adult with an egg, and then having buried a chick for later a
meal later, then some kits. Better than nothing I hope.
The bird cliffs are an absolute highlight of Svalbard.
More on these next, but there are plenty of solo birds around too.
Pictured here are Arctic Skua, Arctic tern (my favorite), Ivory
Gull, Kittiwake, Glacous Gull and Barnacle geese
Alkefjellet (the j is silent) is a magical place. We
visited it on every voyage. Basaltic cliffs rise directly from the
sea forming turrets and providing ledges for the 60,000 pairs of
Brunnich's Guillemot that breed there. Often draped in mist, the
landscape is something out of magical fable. Waterfalls cascade
from the glacier above. Every ledge is packed with birds. The air
is full of birds leaving and returning from their fishing trips.
The Guillemot are a bit like flying Adelie penguins and the place
has the energy typical of an Adelie colony plus plus. They have an
interesting quirk in that the chicks leap from the cliffs before
they are fully fledged. They plop down on the sea, sometimes
nearly into the Zodiacs. The male parent lands next to the chick,
then swims next to it and supports it for several weeks until it
can fly. Glaucous Gulls and Arctic Foxes patrol the area feasting
on the unfortunate chicks that don't make it. Guano happens.
We made 2 landings at Kapp Waldberg, which is remarkable
because the Expedition Leader had failed to land in her first 12
attempts due to a bear, or bad conditions. This site is a narrow
cleft eroded in the hillside. You walk right up through the cleft.
Kittwakes nests occupy every suitable spot and they swirl in the
air in huge numbers. The foxes are especially abundant - most of
my fox photos were taken here.
Even though much closer to the pole, the flora is abundant
in Svalbard compared to Antarctica. It mostly mosses and low lying
ground covers (the joke is that in Svalbard the mushrooms are
taller than the trees). On the first voyages (in late July/Early
August) the wildflowers were still around. Lichens were always
When you live in a place without trees then you make the
most of them when they arrive - as seen at my hostel in July and
Ice is everywhere in every form - cruising the glacier
fronts, through the brash ice, around the drift ice, or amid the
Svalbard is a rugged land of cliffs and windswept plains.
In a few places there is evidence of human occupation. Here is a
Trip Logs and
For every voyage the PAX are sent the Trip Log. This is a
day-by-day account written by the Expedition Staff in rotation,
with pictures also supplied by the team. It is supplemented by a
map, the team bios, and the daily programs. In addition, on the
final evening the expedition slide show is played - and
immediately distributed. Taken together these can give an idea of
what went on. Click the links to download them - note that not all
the trip logs are available at the time of this writing and the
slide shows are 1 gigabyte or more.
Voyage 1: Trip Log Slide show
Voyage 2: Trip Log Slide show
Voyage 3: Trip
Log Slide show
Voyage 4: Trip Log Slide show
That's all folks!!!