Svalbard aboard Hondius
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 resolution version. 

  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.


Polar Bears

   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 fed.

  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 photo?







  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 quite curious.






  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.


Seals and Whales

  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 Longyearbyen harbor.



Arctic Fox

  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.






Kapp Waldberg

  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 there.



  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 August.



  Ice is everywhere in every form - cruising the glacier fronts, through the brash ice, around the drift ice, or amid the pack ice.






  Svalbard is a rugged land of cliffs and windswept plains. In a few places there is evidence of human occupation. Here is a selection.






Trip Logs and Slideshows

  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!!!