On arrival in Reykjavik, Iceland's colourful capital and largest city, set against a backdrop of still-active volcans, you will meet with fellow expedition members as you are transferred to Keflavik port where we embark the ship. Here we will be transferred to the dock to board our expedition ship the Greg Mortimer. In the evening, we set sail into the whale-rich waters of Denmark Strait, excited by the prospect of adventures ahead.
We will sail across the Denmark Strait leaving Iceland behind us as we head for Greenland's spectacularly remote east coast.
We aim to reach Scoresby Sund, the world's biggest fjord and a favourite hunting ground of the local Inuit. Massive glaciers dump into this fjord, the birthplace of the famous big Greenland icebergs. We hope to visit remote Inuit communities, like the unpronounceable Ittooqqortoormiit (Scoresby town), and to hike across the tundra in search of ancient graveyards or summer villages occupied 3000 years ago by Eskimos. This area provides excellent opportunities for sea kayaking in its maze of calm, interconnecting waterways. If we are lucky we may see musk ox, Arctic fox, seals, and maybe even polar bears or narwhal; although due to the relentless pursuit of the local hunters, these sightings are very rare. We will also enter Kong Oscar Fjord for spectacular landscapes, possible landings at flower-rich Botanikerbugt and historic Ella Island.
As we cruise across the Greenland Sea, the main outlet of the Arctic Ocean, we may encounter pack ice. The strong icy currents have isolated East Greenland from the rest of the world for millennia. These currents carry nutrients from the Polar Basin, attracting large numbers of fish, seals and whales. Climatic conditions and the concentration of ice in the vicinity often create thick morning fog, that vanishes with the onset of the midday sun.
As we work our way along the North Coast, we will explore places such as Woodfjorden and Leifdefjorden in search of the remarkable polar bear. Spitsbergen supports one of the world's densest populations of these magnificent animals. From the zodiacs we will enjoy magnificent views of sweeping glaciers winding their way into the sea; ringed, bearded and even small numbers of harp seals can be seen. We may walk on smooth, raised beach terraces to a magnificent viewpoint, or hike in the mountains on the flowering tundra where reindeer graze. The Svalbard reindeer, an endemic subspecies, are generally not shy of humans and we hope to have some close encounters during our shore excursions. Due to the warming influence of the Gulf Stream, there is an amazing variety of flora. In addition to the typical tundra vegetation of mosses and lichens; there are also fungi, seven species of fern and 164 flowering plants including purple saxifrage, exquisite yellow spider plants and Svalbard poppies, that somehow survive in the great expanses of the tundra. We will visit trappers' huts of yesteryear all the while staying alert for wandering polar bears. We will come face to face with the formidable pack ice of the Arctic Ocean, and keep our eyes peeled for sightings of minke and other whales, as well as bobbing walrus feeding on clams or hauled out on the beach in wallows.
Welcome to the wild side! Along the East Coast of Spitsbergen we will enter a different world a polar desert. Our Russian crew and expedition staff will call on their considerable expertise to reach some of the region's highlights. This is true expedition cruising, where our plans are dictated by ice conditions and our desire to explore. Frigid Arctic currents sweep around Spitsbergen's northeast corner, lowering air and sea temperatures, creating a landscape worn down by severe frost. Even in summer, pack ice can make access difficult and could bar our way. We will attempt to pass through narrow Hinlopen Strait. The strait is flanked by creamy coloured slabs of rock that are rich in fossils, as we discover for ourselves when we go ashore. On our walks we will be on the lookout for some of the specialist birds that live on the tundra, including snow bunting and elusive Svalbard ptarmigan. We may hike to visit nesting guillemots or cruise past glacial fronts. We will Zodiac cruise beneath Alkefjellt, sheer basalt cliffs that rise like an ancient castle more than 250-metres, adorned with some 200,000 nests of Brunnich's guillemots (the penguins of the north) literally buzzing with life. Elsewhere we will seek out Eider ducks and geese, and hope to spot Arctic fax and beautiful ivory gulls. As the Polar Pioneer passes between Spitsbergen and the smaller Barents ya, we will cross the main polar bear migration route and may visit Sundeneset, a fertile plain covered with bright green mosses, various mushrooms, clear bubbling streams and a variety of delicate and colourful flowers, including the yellow marsh saxifrage. Exploring this beautiful terrain on foot will allow us to marvel at the contrast between the colourful soft ground and the barren, rocky terrain from further north. Eventually we will round South Cape, returning to the world of open water and rugged coastal mountains, and sail north toward Hornsund and Bellsund before continuing our journey northwards. If conditions allow, we will visit the Polish research station at Isbjornhamna in Hornsund fjord, where we will be shown around by the base leader, and walk to a spectacular colony where little auks nest and darken the sky as they fly from their fishing grounds.
Today we will arrive in Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen. As our journey draws to an end, we will have time to reflect on the amazing experiences we have shared before biding farewell to our friends and crew.
NB* Itinerary is a guide only. Itinerary is subject to ice and weather conditions.