FOOTSTEPS OF WHALERS
North west Svalbard
North west Svalbard
This trip will be devoted to the discovery of Spitsbergen by Willem Barentsz and the remarkable contribution that the Netherlands have had in the history of Spitsbergen since then. It will first lead us to the Northwest corner of Spitsbergen, where Willem Barentsz was inspired to call the land he saw Spitsbergen and to Smeerenburg, where Dutch whaling celebrated its heyday. At the Isfjord will we make a visit to the minning town Barentsburg, named after Willem Barentsz, and make a landing at the former Dutch coalmine Rijpsburg
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PLEASE NOTE: All itineraries are for guidance only. Programs may vary depending on ice, weather, and wildlife conditions. Landings are subject to site availabilities, permissions, and environmental concerns per AECO regulations. Official sailing plans and landing slots are scheduled with AECO prior to the start of the season, but the expedition leader determines the final plan. Flexibility is paramount for expedition cruises
You will arrive at the small airport of Longyearbyen, located about 15 minutes drive from the centre of the small town. Longyearbyen is the largest inhabited settlement in Spitsbergen and the world’s most northerly inhabited town with more than 1000 inhabitants. If you have the opportunity, it is an absolute must to visit the Svalbard museum. Here you can delve into the history of the island, the coal mining industry, the wealth of unique polar animal species, scientific developments and the many polar expeditions. After your visit, you can take a walk into the former mining town where you will find several shops offering a collection of unique Arctic products and souvenirs. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault, which preserves the global variety of agricultural crops, is also located nearby.
Our sailing ship Noorderlicht will be waiting for you at the so-called ‘floating pier’ where you can embark from 16:00. After a welcome from the captain, the mooring lines will be cast off and you will receive a comprehensive safety briefing from the crew. Afterwards you will enjoy a delicious first dinner on board, while the ship sets course towards Trygghamna bay, where it will anchor for the night. The name Trygghamna comes from the original Dutch name ‘safe harbor’, because of its sheltered and safe anchorage possibilities.
After a healthy breakfast, you will be asked to prepare for the first zodiac landing in Trygghamna, where you can see the remains of a 17th century English whaling station and a 18th century hunting station of the Pomor (Russian hunters). From here we will hike to the 428-meter high Alkhornet cliff, where some 10,000 pairs of different seabirds breed. The cliffs are composed of carbonate rock, which is more than a billion years old. The tundra at the bottom of the cliff receives nutrients from the sea birds and provides meadows for reindeer, nesting sites for geese and shelter for Arctic foxes. Therefore, this location is very suitable for spotting these animals as well as polar bears. Shortly before lunch all guests will be brought safely back aboard where everyone can warm up whilst enjoying a hot lunch. In the meantime, depending on weather conditions, the crew will set sail and head North.
In the Forlandsundet, as in the Isfjord, a lot of floating sea ice has probably accumulated. If the entrance of the fjord is free of ice, at nightime we will sail into the St. John Fjord. This beautiful and sheltered fjord system contains multiple glaciers and is one of the favorite spots of the captain. If we are lucky, we can enjoy the singing of the bearded seals at night.
In the morning we will leave Grimaldibukta to continue in a northerly direction and continue to sail in the Forlandsundet. Histocally, the northern part of the strait has always been a fear to many whalers, because of the Forlandsrevet sandbar. Willem Barentsz called this northern part the ‘ Forlandsundet Keerwyck ‘, because they had to turn at the sandbank for the shallows. Due to its shallow draft, the Noorderlicht is one of the few ships that can navigate these waters although the crew will need full concentration. In the meantime, do not forget to keep an eye out for large groups of walruses that can often be found at Sarstangen and Poolepynten! They form a beautiful scene with panoramic mountains in the background that cameras love.
If the weather permits we sail to Fuglehuken, the northernmost tip of Prins Karls Forlandet. Willem Barentsz is said to have set foot ashore here in June 1596 as the first traveller to Spitsbergen. Large numbers of guillemots and kittiwakes nest here on the steep cliffs and here we also find graves of whalers. After the hike, we will sail further north to the breath-taking blue-green bay of the Magdalenafjord, one of the most impressive fjords in Spitsbergen. This fjord, on the northwest corner of Spitsbergen, was first discovered and named by Willem Barentsz. With rugged and pointed mountain peaks and impressive glaciers you find yourself here in a small Arctic paradise. In the mouth of the inlet, at Graveneset, roughly 160 graves from whalers from the 17th and 18th century are found between the remains of two furnaces which were used to boil the blubber of the whales.
As we sail further north we come across the island of AmsterdamØya, where we can get a good insight into the 17th century whaling. Here you will find Smeerenburg, a former settlement of Dutch whalers that grew into the center of Dutch whaling in the period from 1617 – 1646. The settlement consisted of warehouses, homes and a blacksmith shop. Horseshoe shaped ovens were used to boil the blubber of the whales, to extract oil which was used for soap and fuel for lamps. Today, little can be seen of the activities that took place 400 years ago. Remains of blubber ovens, tombs and houses can still be found here and there. After landing you will receive an extensive lecture on whaling in Smeerenburg and the ship will move to Sallyhamna where we will find anchorage for the night. In this area, full of shallow spots, polar bears have been spotted frequently so keep your binoculars at hand!
Today we plan a landing near Ytre NorkskØya where we hopefully can land at the’ Zeeuwsche Uitkijck. Here in 1617, whalers from Zeeland built a blubber cookery and were able to keep a good lookout over the sea for whales from the highest point of the island. Here we can follow the historical route to the 150 meter high peak of the island, the Utkiken. On the coast remains of the blubber furnaces and the graves of Dutch whalers can still be found, very well preserved in the frozen subsoil. When we sail south again to Virgohamna, we can clearly see why Willem Barentsz used the name Spitsbergen for the land he discovered. The steep mountains with sharp peaks in this area are the most striking of all of Spitsbergen! Our goal is Virgohamna, where a Harlinger blubber cookery can be found on the Danish island. Since there was no place for merchants from Stavoren and Harlingen at the blubber cookery in Smeerenburg, they built the ‘Harlingertraankokerij’ in 1636 on the adjacent ‘Deenseiland’. By this time, the whale population was already declining significantly, which meant that the activities of the ‘Harlingertraankokerij’ had already ended after 10 years. The remains of the blubber ovens, associated buildings and some graves from the whaling era are still visible.
The next morning we sail to the beautiful Kongfjord and Krossfjord where we will be greeted by the towering face of the “14th July” glacier. Bearded seals often lie to rest on the broken ice floes, and near the glacier we may find breeding colonies of black-billed guillemots, kittiwakes and puffins.
These fjords in particular feature the historical heritage of the English. In the early years of whaling, the English and the Dutch made an agreement in which they divided the whaling areas among themselves. The English obtained the right to hunt south of the Magdalenafjord and the Dutch were granted control over the northwestern corner of Spitsbergen.
We may be able to organize a landing on the Blomstrandhalvoya peninsula, where the remains of a marble mine can be seen at Ny London. From this location we also have a beautiful view of the Tre Kroner, the three iconic mountain peaks that shine through the ice cap. Alternatively, in bad weather conditions, we can visit the former mining town of Ny Alesund. Ny Alesund is the world’s most northerly settlement and today a renowned polar research center . The special bond of the Netherlands with Spitsbergen is honoured here by the Arctic center of the University of Groningen. They use a number of buildings here as polar station, where research is carried out into barnacle geese and climate change.
The next few days we will turn south and make our way back to the Isfjord, if possible making a stop in the sheltered and beautiful bay of St. Johnsfjord. Depending on the availability of a berth in Barentsburg, we will sail towards the Russian mining settlement where we will arrive towards the end of the afternoon. After an adventurous journey in the unspoilt nature of Spitsbergen, you will have the opportunity to move freely without the supervision of a guide with a rifle, as is necessary in most of Spitsbergen.
The name Barentsburg was given in 1924 by the Dutch Spitsbergen Company to the then Dutch mining settlement. In 1926 the mining town was taken over by the Russians, after which it grew into a town of miners with more than 1000 inhabitants. Today there are still about 400 people of mainly Russian or Ukrainian descent. Since the mine has not been profitable for a long time, the focus has shifted more and more to tourism. From the dock where our ship is moored, we will first have to climb some 140 wooden steps before we enter the main street. Here we will see that the Soviet period has left its mark. There is a life-size bust of Lenin in the middle of the town, billboards with photos of workers and modernist Soviet buildings. Furthermore you can find the world’s most Northerly brewery and find the Pomor museum. When everyone is safely back on board, we leave for Borebukta. We will try to get as close as possible to the northwestern end to get a look at the steep glacier front of the Borebreen. We then continue to the west side of the bay, close to the Nansenbreen, where we will anchor for the night.
In the morning we will organize a final landing at Cape Bohemanflya. Here we find a piece of Dutch history in the form of the former Dutch mine in Rijpsburg. It was expanded by the Dutch in 1920 with cabins for coal mining. Because the coastal waters here are very shallow, the Dutch found out that shipping coal here was very difficult. In 1921 it was therefore decided to transfer the activities to Barentsburg. Here we will visit an old hut from the 1900 and the foundations of the removed huts. Since August 31st 1920, there has also been a monument to Queen Wilhelmina in the form of a large stone pyramid. Weather permitting, we will spend the rest of the day sailing back to Longyearbyen. Upon arrival in the Arctic town, you may enjoy some free time to buy the last souvenirs or simply take a walk to soak up all the impressions of the week. Around dinner time you are expected back on board. The rest of the evening you can enjoy your last night with the crew and your fellow travellers.
Unfortunately, our adventure through the Arctic landscape of Spitsbergen has come to an end. After a hearty breakfast, you are kindly requested to disembark by 09:00. We hope that we have been able to show you the variety and beauty of Spitsbergen and that you enjoyed an unforgettable experience on board the Noorderlicht.
Do you have any questions regarding our expeditions? Schedule a 15 minute call with our expedition manager.