The day spent in our last port, Honningsvåg – described in my previous post W1610 – On Safari had been a very warm 21 degrees and sunny. It was rather a shock therefore that the next day I woke up to fog and a mere 8 degrees. This was a day at sea, as we sailed north to the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, so the weather was not so vital and I remained inside the ship wondering if the stunning weather had left us for good.
I needn’t have worried, for the next day as we sailed towards our next port of call, Longyearbyen, the weather was bright and clear – normal operations had been restored!
Longyearbyen is the largest settlement in Svalbard, at 78 degrees of latitude it’s a long way north, and is the world’s northernmost town with a population around 2000 people.
I visited Longyearbyen once before and did a tour visiting the local museum and the husky dog kennels. This time I chose to go on a nature walk – my second nature walk of this cruise. As I joined the other 28 passengers boarding the coach for this tour, we were asked to keep the front seats clear for our guides. Two young ladies duly joined us, suitably kitted out to be a guide outside of a town in Svalbard – each had a rifle, one had a pistol and the other a husky dog on a thick lead! It wasn’t that our reputation had gone before us, it is equipment essential due to the ever present threat posed by polar bears. We were extremely unlike to see one, never mind be attacked by one so close to town, but it was reassuring to know we were being so well protected.
The coach took us out of town on a rough road into the Advent Valley. On the way the guides introduced themselves, and talked about Svalbard and about the walk we would make. On arrival we divided into two groups, and each guide took a group for a wander along the valley beside a river. We were walking on tundra, and our guide pointed out the various tiny plants and flowers that manage to survive in these harsh conditions so far north. These and the scenery were lovely to see and photograph, but the only birds we saw were some Great Northern Divers (or Loons) on one of the many small lakes that we passed:
The walk was over all to quickly – I and others I talked to would have happily spent longer exploring the area and walking further than we did. It was a popular tour and was repeated twice more that day, which probably accounts for it’s limited duration.
After lunch back on board the ship, I set out with my camera to walk the couple of kilometres from the ship to the town centre. After pausing to watch some Arctic Terns feeding close to the shore, I passed a giant Christmas postbox (they must send lots of Christmas cards in Longyearbyen!), and a very shiny polar bear:
I walked around the few tourist shops in the town centre, and then headed out to see the church, which I didn’t have time to view on my last visit. It is located on the side of a hill overlooking the town, and was quite different inside to other Norwegian churches I have visited – even featuring a (stuffed) polar bear!
On the way back to the ship I had to walk just that bit further to get my own photograph of the most photographed road sign in Svalbard – the wording underneath means ‘all over Svalbard’:
The weather was still glorious as we slipped our moorings and headed back down the fjord:
By taking my second nature walk I proved it was second nature to get close to the flora and fauna which have adapted to the challenging conditions and climate in the Arctic regions.
On my last visit to Svalbard we sailed north to visit the tiny scientific research base at Ny Alesund. Being further north there was more snow, and the fjords in that area were simply stunning. Sadly but understandably cruise ships are no longer allowed to visit Ny Alesund for fear of contamination, so instead we headed south for some scenic cruising on our way to the next port of call – which will feature in my next two posts.