Our last full day on our circumnavigation of this remarkable Arctic island was to be a beautiful one. The Sun shone down on us and a mist rolled in across the stunning glacial scenery. The fjord was called Bellsund at it was home to some amazing cultural history as well as the natural history.
Below is a stark reminder as to why the islands were colonised in the first place ... sadly the Arctic was a superb hunting ground for whales and other blubber rich mammals. Belugas, the white whales, were killed in their thousands as were the now critically endangered Bowhead. Below you can see the carnage that the Europeans brought to this wild landscape.
We also had a fantastic sighting of an Ivory Gull as it flew right past the group as we explored this old whaling outpost.
After our morning landing we headed over to Ingeborgfjellet (as we were eating our lunch) and arrived to a beautiful big blue sky. We were hoping to find another colony of Little Auks as well as Reindeer. It was incredibly warm in the sun and I actually stripped down to my t-shirt ... it really was particularly mild.
We never managed to get particularly close to the Little Auks but I had an amazing encounter with a small herd of Reindeer. So close I had to get the wide-angled lens out of my bag and make the most of the photographic opportunities.
So another amazing day with what the Svalbard Archipelago has to offer. It is so incredibly hard to really do this amazing place justice with photography. The landscapes are utterly awe inspiring, the wildlife is remarkable and the freezing temperatures just help add to the feeling of a true wilderness ... and this really is wilderness, there is no escaping that.
Sadly this was my last full day in the Arctic Circle, the next day the M/V Ortelius docked in Longyearben and we flew back to Oslo, before flying back to Heathrow and heading back to the day job. Sub-Saharan Africa has always been that special place for me and nothing has ever quite compared ... until now! Perhaps, at long last, I have found another wilderness where I feel I could just keep on returning.
This morning we awoke to big blue skies and headed into the spectacularly beautiful Hornsund. This massive fjord is surrounded by dramatic mountain peaks and destructive glaciers. Being so far South, I have to admit I really wasn't expecting to see as much of the truly specialist Arctic wildlife.
Upon arrival in this stunning setting a female Polar Bear was spotted on the shoreline and then moments later another larger bear was spotted on the far shore (perhaps a male). We would be going on a Zodiac cruise to see if we could get any closer to the bears and then on to explore the fjord ... little did we know what was in store for us all.
We all met on the deck and waited to board our Zodiacs for our afternoon cruise, I was with the Naturetrek leader Peter Dunn and expedition leader Jan Belgers. We set off as one of the lead boats and headed toward the small headland where we had earlier sighted the female bear.
As we approached the shore line we realised that the bear had moved on and as much as we were scanning both the water and the shore we were unable to see anything. Peter then spotted some movement on the water's surface way out in the fjord ... it was the bear, it had managed to slip by us in the ice-cold water. The bear approached an island and we all held our breaths as we prayed the bear would be a 'quality' bear.
It was definitely a 'quality' bear ...
The real benefit of the island was that the bear felt completely at ease and we could travel all the way round for a constantly changing backdrop. As a photographer you always want to try and capture that image that stands out and lingers in the mind, this really was the perfect photographic opportunity. Even then this was one of those moments where you just have to put the camera down and really take in the moment!
We slowly moved around the island the backdrop was more than you could ever have dreamt of. We slowly moved closer and closer, all the time keeping an eye on the bear to make sure it was completely at ease. We all go the odd glance and a quick sniff but it certainly wasn't affecting its scavenging behaviour. The bear was obviously search for whatever food it could find, it is known that a variety of birds breed on this island in the summer months.
After a wonderful hour with this remarkable Polar Bear we thought it would be best to leave it in peace and leave it to carry on with its search for food. With a few months remaining until the sea ice returns this bear will really have to try and conserve its energy and find whatever scraps that are available.
We move further up the fjord to see whether we could approach the second bear, he was a huge male but he was not at ll interested in us and remained in his slumber. We carried on towards the head of a glacier to explore the amazing landscapes and the ice-filled water.
I really hope you have enjoyed looking through all of these images and with only one more post left, I think that this is perhaps the highlight of the cruise. This day was quite possibly the most memorable of my life outside of my time in Africa, with jaw-dropping landscapes, danger and unbeatable wildlife encounters I am not sure what can beat it.
Coming up are some charismatic reindeer and a few more landscapes so please keep on reading.