Svalbard – Store norske leksikon

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

Svalbard
Before and After Svalbard
Svalbard – Store norske leksikon

Highlights in Svalbard- East & North

Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus)
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.

Animals in Svalbard- East & North

Our trips to Svalbard- East & North

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