Experiencing Spitsbergen with Hondius
Looking out over the pack ice after reaching 80 degrees north, this was the moment when I really felt like I was in the Arctic.
The peaceful yet eerie silence was intermittently disturbed by the loud cracking sound of the ship gently breaking through the sea ice. For me, this was an absolute trip highlight, and I was mesmerized; I couldn’t take my eyes away from these unique sights and sounds.
At this point in time, we were halfway through our 10-day polar voyage, a trip that had already taken us to a number of glaciers and provided some incredible wildlife sightings. These included three different whale species, seals, Arctic foxes, various birds, and of course, polar bears.
We were soon to discover there was still plenty more to come!
In July 2019, I had the great privilege of traveling on the “Around Spitsbergen” voyage aboard Oceanwide Expeditions’ brand new ship, Hondius. I work for a UK-based tour operator called Discover the World and was thrilled to be offered the opportunity to go and experience the highlights of Spitsbergen in real life!
Hondius is a ship specifically designed for voyages in the extreme polar regions, but I was happy to discover that it also doesn’t compromise on the on-board creature comforts. Cabins were cozy and surprisingly spacious, with plenty of storage. The food was plentiful and delicious, whilst the onboard crew were friendly and helpful.
The boat was a great hub from which we were able to jump into Zodiac boats for shore landings and take part in hikes alongside our incredibly knowledgeable guides, who would take us closer to the spectacular scenery and wildlife (whilst keeping a respectful and safe distance of course).
Between these excursions the guides, who are all experts in their own field, gave us lectures on the ship, providing a greater depth of knowledge and understanding of the surroundings and wildlife we were witnessing.
I loved standing out on the deck and taking photos of the passing scenery, and the 24-hour daylight during the summer makes it possible to take outdoor scenic shots at any time! Staying up late to experience the midnight sun is a must-do on any Arctic cruise, and the lower light levels at nighttime make for some atmospheric photos.
The varied landscapes of Spitsbergen were also both surprising and interesting. From snow-capped mountains alongside glistening aqua-blue glaciers, to rolling green hills dotted with bright flowers and the odd Arctic hut, anyone who has an interest in landscape photography would be very pleased with what Spitsbergen has to offer.
The Zodiac excursion to the famous cliffs of Alkefjellet was another highlight for me, which came as quite a surprise as I’m not really a bird enthusiast. This huge colony of around 60,000 Brünnich’s guillemots nesting along the vast, sprawling cliffs was incredible, and no photo can really capture the grand scale of it all.
Finally, no trip to Spitsbergen would be complete without seeing its native residents, the show-stopping polar bears (although they are sometimes hard to spot and, of course, not always guaranteed)!
Over the course of our journey, we were so lucky to see three sets of polar bear mother and cubs together, as well as a couple of lone male polar bears, one of them swimming alongside the boat. I’m happy to report that all of the polar bears looked reassuringly fit and healthy.
I’ve returned home feeling incredibly fortunate to have witnessed these incredible Arctic sights, especially as scientists predict they may not be around for much longer.
This trip really brought into focus for all of us onboard the delicate ecosystem that exists in the Arctic. Such trips in turn can help people become more emotionally invested in ensuring the survival of the wildlife of Spitsbergen and its very beautiful surroundings.