Hunting Polar Bears: ten days on a ship in the Arctic, with some time in Scandinavia:-
May to June 2015

Not long after we had returned from our trip to Switzerland and Italy in June 2014, we spent a weekend in Canberra visiting family. Cousin Ron and Janine were excited to tell us that they had booked a trip on a cruise ship that sailed from Svalbard, hunting polar bears, whales and other Arctic sights. "Wonderful" we thought, still not fully recovered from Europe. "Why not join us. It would be great to have you along." We thought and thought - for all of a week - then rashly booked the last double cabin available on the cruise! "Where did you say Svalbard was?"

Well, we soon found out. Svalbard is a small archipelago of islands, north of Norway. The main island is Spitzbergen, which boasts the main settlement of Longyearbyen. The place is well above the Arctic Circle, so has around 6 months of darkness followed by 6 months of full sunlight - the Land of the Midnight Sun. Our cruise was to depart the day after Midsummer Day, 24 hours of light and temperatures soaring to a maximum of about 8°C.

Scandinavia. Not an area that was high on our "must do" list, but now it had been promoted to the top. Oslo, Bergen, Tromso, Stockholm, Copenhagen: all places that I knew about but now I had to search out the details - what to see, where to stay, how to get there. This might be a once-in-a-lifetime trip, so we had to pack it all in.

And so we did. Four weeks in the far north. In fact so far north that we got closer to the North Pole (we reached 80° 5.96') than some of the early explorers who were desperate to actually get there.

Paul and Colma, July 2015

Once again, getting there is not part of the fun

On our previous trip to Britain we flew Air New Zealand NZ002 bound for Los Angeles and were surprised at how civilised American Immigration had become. Sadly, on this next trip, American Immigration had woken up to the fact that they had made the experience too pleasant and had promptly shut that process down. Now, we once again suffered the worst excesses of American Border Security - long queues, grumpy, humourless, bullying people, endless questions about why we wanted to visit the USA (they still cannot understand that WE DON'T). Instead of diverting transit passengers into a secure transit lounge, we were precipitated into the melee of the full arrivals hall. Officious fools demanded that we go this way and that, instructed that we HAD to use the automated machines and overall caused us unnecessary stress and wasted a lot of time. Clearly Air New Zealand was frustrated too, and they had about 12 people in the hall extracting transit passengers, arguing with officials and helping passengers through the process so that we would be back to the departure lounge within the 2 hours available. We did make it through, with about 30 minutes to spare. Just time for a drink and wash in the airline Lounge. Coming home again was worse, but this time the immigration officer had the decency to apologise for the mess.

Then the 2 hours were up and we were back on the plane for another numbing 11 hours. At least we had the Air New Zealand food and service to look forward to. Once at Heathrow we transferred straight to Terminal 5 (no immigration hassles - in fact no immigration) and onto our plane for Oslo. At last we made it to Oslo, but my bag didn't. It had taken fright at the thought of American Immigration and refused to board the plane at Auckland. But Air New Zealand rounded it up, and my bag was delivered to our hotel in Olso about 30 hours later. (note to self: pack more clothes in your carry-on bag...)

Our Itinerary

Day Date Event
Day 1 Sun 21 June 2015 Arrive Heathrow, transfer to Terminal 5, flight to Oslo. Train into Oslo and walk to hotel.
Day 2 Mon 22 June 2015 Day in Olso. Walk along Karl Johan Gate, visit Nobel Peace Centre, afternoon cruise around fjord.
Day 3 Tues 23 June 2015 Ferry across to Bygdoy for museums - Fram, maritime, Holocaust and Viking.
Day 4 Wed 24 June 2015 Tram to Vigoland Park in the rain. View sculptures. Afternoon at Akershus Festning - castle.
Day 5 Thurs 25 June 2015 Train back to airport, flight to Longyearbyen via Tromso.
Day 6 Fri 26 June 2015 Our cruise ship has arrived. Book in our luggage and board at 4pm. Safety briefings and then our first dinner onboard.
Day 7 Sat 27 June 2015 After leaving Longyearbyen we turn south. We head into Hornsund for our first stop at Gnålodden. Our first Zodiac excursion ashore to see a trapper's cabin and the wildlife, including an Arctic fox.
Day 8 Sun 28 June 2015 We continued south and east to Edgeøya Island. Another Zodiac trip at Kapp Lee to see walruses (standing downwind of course!). The we cruised the ice edge and eventually saw our first polar bear.
Day 9 Mon 29 June 2015 We cruised slowly along the face of the impressive Negibreen glacier. As we were moving away a polar bear was sighted. The ship was nestled into the edge of the ice and we watched three bears roaming and eating a seal. After lunch the Zodiacs took us ashore at Agardhbukta to view the bird life.
Day 10 Tues 30 June 2015 With the sea ice blocking our way north, we turned around and cruised up the west coast of Spitzbergen finally spotting four whales. After lunch we went ashore at Ahlstrandodden, in Belsund Fjord to view the piles of whale bones left by the early whalers.
Day 11 Wed 1 July 2015 After ploughing into heavy seas we entered Magdalenefjorden near the northwest tip of Spitzbergen. We anchored at Trinityhamna and went ashore. After lunch we found sheltered waters and cuised in the Zodiacs along the face of a glacier and amongst the blue icebergs. Late in the day another bear was spotted, and we watched her amble along the coast.
Day 12 Thurs 2 July 2015 The morning found us at anchor in Woodfjorden at a site called Mushamna. We went ashore to meet the local police, who were checking up on tourists like ourselves. After lunch we cruised in the Zodiacs around the fjord, until one of the kayak party saw an Arctic fox catch a kittwake and we motored over to watch the dining experience.
Day 13 Fri 3 July 2015 This "night" we reached the furtherest north at 80° 5.96' We approached the high cliffs of Alkefjellet, or Mount Guillemot, covered in thousands of nesting birds. The ship cruised slowly up and down so we could watch the spectacle, despite the heacy fall of snow. We then ran into the heavy sea ice still blocking the fjord, so turned back.
Day 14 Sat 4 July 2015 We were now in Krossfjord and stopped at Fjortende Julibukta and its glacier. After lunch we were at Kongsfjorden for a visit to Ny-London, where marble was mined in the early 1900s.
Day 15 Sun 5 July 2015 Our last full day of the cruise. We entered Isfjorden and Trygghamna or "safe harbor." We landed at the foot of the steep mountain called Alkhornet where the reindeer grazed right beside us. Soon we were heading back across the fjord to Longyearbyen and the end of our cruise. Of course, on anchoring at Longyearbyen the weather cleared and gave us a spectacular view of the "midnight sun".
Day 16 Mon 6 July 2015 After being ferried ashore at 6am, we walked the streets of Longyearbyen until the cafe opened at 10am. It wasn't the coffee were craved, but the first Internet access in 11 days. Mid-afternoon the bus transfered us to the airport and the flight back to Oslo via Tromso. Back to the same hotel.
Day 17 Tues 7 July 2015 An early start for the train west to Myrdal, then transfer to the spectacular Flåmbana Railway. Check into the Fretheim Hotel then a bus tour to the Stegastein Lookout.
Day 18 Wed 8 July 2015 Ferry from Flåm to Gudvangen through the spectacular fjord, then bus up to Voss to rejoin the railway to Bergen. A walk around Bergen.
Day 19 Thurs 9 July 2015 A morning in Bergen to take the funicular railway to the lookout, then our train all the way back to Oslo. Back to our hotel for the third time.
Day 20 Fri 10 July 2015 An even earlier start for the train to Stockholm. Walked to Freys Hotel, then down to the canal for the "Under the Bridges" boat tour. We dodged the rain and headed back to the hotel.
Day 21 Sat 11 July 2015 Today was the highlight of Stockhom - the Vasa Museum, followed by the Abba Museum - what else would you HAVE to do in Stockholm?
Day 22 Sun 12 July 2015 Train to Copenhagen, walk to hotel and then the Grand Canal Tour.
Day 23 Mon 13 July 2015 Despite the light rain we walked through the shopping district, dined at the old part of Nyhavn, then indulged in the fun and fantasy of the Tivoli Gardens.
Day 24 Tues 14 July 2015 Train from Copenhagen to Cologne - well that was the plan but the German railway has become so efficient that our train left 30 minutes BEFORE the scheduled time! No problem, they put us into a taxi and we raced the train to the border at Rødbyhavn with 20 minutes to spare. Caught the train, drove straight onto the ferry and we were soon in Germany and on to Hamburg and a change of trains to Cologne. Time for a quick look at the Cathedral and the bridge over the Rhine.
Day 25 Wed 15 July 2015 Our last day in Europe, train to Brussels, transfer to the Eurostar and by midday we were in London. Decided to spend the time at Covent garden watching the crowds.
Day 26 Thurs 16 July 2015 Checked and packed all our luggage - it had expanded to three bags - and headed out to Heathrow for the start of our journey home. Another nightmare awaited us at Los Angeles and then on to New Zealand.

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Last updated: 08/10/2015