Svalbard- East & North
Guarded by pack ice, explore the little-visited North
Information about Svalbard- East & North
If you can venture this far north and east, you're very much in the high arctic. Closed to exploration for parts of the season due to the density of the pack ice, that often lingers here, the northern and north east areas of the Svalbard archipelago are some of the least visited.
Here the terrain gives way to the so-called "polar desert" - permanent ice caps cover much of the land, and where it does melt, very little vegetation grows on a landscape that has been hewn by ice over millions of years.
Despite the lack of cover, this part of Svalbard is well-worth exploring if you can, as there is plenty of remarkable wildlife. Arctic ducks and geese nest here, and some of the biggest concentrations of walrus in the arctic gather on the shores. Polar bears and ringed seals are also common sights, as are minke and beluga whales.
The group of islands known as Sjuøyane are the most northerly in Svalbard and always a good location for Polar Bears.
Later in the season ships often head up to the pack ice edge from the north coast of Spitsbergen.
Interesting facts about Svalbard- East & North
Our expert guide says: "One of the reasons we always hope the Hinlopen Strait will open up early is that it gives us access to one of the most spectacular bird cliffs in the arctic, Alkefjellet. As well as stunning geology, they are home to thousands upon thousands of guillemots, little auks and kittiwakes. Often people's highlight of a Svalbard cruise, taking a Zodiac ride below them is a must-do!"
Remotest of all is the bleak island of Kvitoya, far to the NE.
Pictures of Svalbard- East & North
Highlights in Svalbard- East & North
Translating as ‘White Island’, located in the extreme NE of Svalbard it is both a bleak and a beautiful location with most of the island covered by an ice cap, with one rocky peninsula at the eastern end.
Few cruise ships get here, and there are years when it remains in the grip of the pack ice the whole season. It is also the location where the remains of Andrée and his two companions were found, along with the journal, and a tin box containing photographic films. They set off on their ill-fate balloon expedition to the North Pole in 1897, then disappeared, a mystery for decades until their remains were found on Kvitøya, 33 years later in 1930, an indication of the remoteness of the island and the scarcity of vessels that sailed through the area or landed. With a memorial to the expedition, and just to step ashore, it is a unique landing. But this is often unlikely with changing weather conditions, where the fog can come in quickly, and the fact that that bears are often found here. It is still a great location for a Zodiac cruise, weather permitting, to explore the rocky eastern end, look out for Walrus and bears, and pause to think of the fate of Andrée.
This island is off the NE coast of Nordaustlandet and there is a very large Walrus colony, with lots of mothers with young.
Although it is almost impossible to get ashore with the restrictions and all the Walrus, the terrain, and the chances of bears, it is popular for a Zodiac cruise for ships doing a circumnavigation of the whole archipelago.
A series of hard granite islands that translates as seven islands, islands that are to the north of Nordaustlandet. Being the furthest north in the whole of Svalbard, the islands can remain in the pack ice for much of the year.
Walrus can be seen throughout the area, with at least one popular landing at a haul out. There are plenty of seabirds, and the chance of a bear resting somewhere on one of the islands, sometimes several bears, understandable with the location. With the myriad of islands it is very popular to explore by Zodiac and the area also has important ties to polar exploration. Many of the locations were named after the English North Pole expeditions led by Phipps (1773) and Parry (1827), including Neslonøya, after a certain young midshipman! Not that long ago the whole area could be trapped in ice throughout the year and just to the east was the area where Nobile’ airship, the Italia, crashed onto the ice, with a huge rescue effort.
This island, and the associated smaller islands, is off the NW coast of Nordaustlandet. Lågøya means ‘low island’, and it is the site of a Walrus haul out and is great for bird life, with the chance of Sabine’s Gulls that are attracted to the lagoons on the island.
Part of the island is sea¬so¬nal¬ly pro¬tec-ted and off limits and landings are often thwarted by the presence of a bear, or bears. It is an area where there can be loose pack ice when the pack, further to the east, is still too compact to sail though. It means this location very popular for Zodiac cruising with the wildlife that can be encountered. There is at least one old hunter’s cabin on the island, but conditions were particularly harsh on Lågøya, some perishing on the island, making hunters reticent of over wintering here.
Exploring the pack ice
The highlight of many Svalbard cruises is to explore the pack ice, and the best conditions occur when there is an obvious edge to pack ice to sail past, or calm seas where some ships go into the loose pack ice.
It is a unique and unforgettable experience to explore the pack ice ‘at the top of the World’. Seabirds feed along the edge, that can also be good for Harp Seals, and whales. The highlight is to spot a bear. Sometimes they are at a distance, sometimes a few hundred metres away, sometimes they come right up to the ship. What is crucial is to bring binoculars to enjoy and observe the Polar Bear in the heart of their realm, the pack ice, whatever the distance.
Sometimes a bear is seen quickly, sometimes it takes a few hours, sometimes it takes most of the day. Other times two days can be spent exploring the pack without seeing a bear. It is important to patient, enjoy the whole experience, with a bear sighting being the icing on … the pack ice! Conditions can change quickly. Mists often come in to reduce visibility. Currents can spread out the ice into widely scattered pack, making bear sightings less likely. Strong winds and a swell can mean keeping further away from the pack ice edge. In the early season the whole northern coast is in the grip of the pack, plus fast ice in the deeper parts of the fjords on the western side. Ships explore the ice edge to the NW of Spitsbergen at this time, with more options as the ice retreats north. As the pack ice retreats north it gradually ‘unzips’ from west to east, clearing the coast of northern Spitsbergen first, then the northern end of Hinlopenstretet, (enabling circumnavigations of Spitsbergen, exactly when varying from season to season), then the northern coast of Nordaustlandet and Sjuøyane.
Some years the ice edge can end up a long way to the north, enabling a circumnavigation of the whole archipelago, even to reach remote Kvitøya. Other years, pack ice remains along the northern coast of Nordaustlandet, caught up among the offshore islands. This prevents a circumnavigation of the archipelago, but the areas of drifting pack ice around and places like Lagøya and Sjuøyane can be superb for ship cruising and even Zodiac cruise amongst the pack.