Circumnavigating the Realm of the Polar Bears

This epic voyage circumnavigates the large island of Spitsbergen, with the aim of heading well above the 80th parallel and placing you closer than 600 nautical miles from the Geographical North Pole.

Discover the great eastern nature reserves and some of the most spectacular highlights of the Arctic. The eastern part of Svalbard is more barren and characteristically High Arctic than any other place we visit with MS Fram. Enjoy expedition landings, hikes, kayaking and other activities in the largest Arctic wilderness in Europe.

  • 9 days
  • 22, 29 July, 5, 12, 19 August 2015
    20, 27 July, 3, 10, 17 August 2016
From £3,317 per person

Day 1 - 2 Longyearbyen and the start of circumnavigation

The voyage starts with an overnight stay in Longyearbyen, the main town of Spitsbergen. It has all the amenities of a small, modern town and is situated in a stunning Arctic landscape.

Experience fantastic meals with an Arctic twist in the restaurants, or enjoy chatting with the locals over a meal in Barentz pub. The morning after you can explore the settlement before embarking on MS Fram and this arctic adventure. 

Day 3 - 4 North West Spitsbergen National Park

Kongsfjorden and its surroundings are known to be one of the most beautiful fjord areas in Spitsbergen. The islands and islets in the inner part of Kongsfjorden are teeming with birds. At the head of the fjord, mighty glaciers calve into the sea and all of this is framed by characteristic mountain formations.

As we sail further northwest we reach Krossfjorden and Mitrahalvøya, with cultural remains from the whaling period, beautiful alpine flora, bird cliffs and quite often Svalbard reindeer. Try traversing a glacier with our Expedition Team, a remarkable experience and almost obligatory as 60 % of Svalbard is covered by glaciers.  On our way back we visit the former mining settlement of Ny Ålesund, which today it's an international centre for research, with a picturesque mix of old and new buildings.

The North West Corner of Spitsbergen was where Willem Barentsz and his crew discovered new land on 17 June 1596. They described the land as being “rugged for the most part, and steep, mostly mountains and jagged peaks, from which we gave it the name of Spitsbergen”.  In the centuries that followed, the large number of bowhead whales found here attracted whalers from the Netherlands and various other countries, and the area became a place of high activity, both on the shore and in the surrounding sea. This is why this area offers the largest concentration of graves, blubber ovens and other cultural treasures on Spitsbergen, all dating back to this first era of the exploitation of Svalbard’s natural resources.

On the north side of Spitsbergen you find a relatively small fjord called Raudfjorden, however, you’ll find out that you should never judge a fjord by its size. There are plenty of opportunities for great hikes, visiting  an old trapper station, learing about the cultural heritage from the whaling period or simply taking in the fine alpine landscape edging this fjord. One subsidiary bay off from Raudfjorden is Hamiltonbukta. It is too shallow to navigate into this bay with MS Fram, but it’s the perfect playground for explorers with a kayak with its numerous small islets.

Deep inside the giant Woodfjord system, in the branch called Liefdefjorden, the enormous and fast moving Monaco Glacier is situated. In front of this dramatically crevassed glacier front there is always a lot of brash ice and larger pieces that have “calved off”. Mixing of fresh and saline water creates an upwelling of sea-living creatures towards the surface making them available for the local sea birds. 

Day 5 - 7 Eastern Svalbard Nature Reserves and South Spitsbergen National Park

The two large nature reserves in East Svalbard were established to protect some of the most pristine High Arctic environments on Earth. The Hinlopen Strait separating the main island of Spitsbergen from Nordaustlandet is teeming with birdlife. In Eastern Svalbard the density of polar bears is higher than other areas of Svalbard and we really hope to see some on this journey!

In Sorgfjorden a famous battle between whalers took place in the late 17th century and is where Captain Parry started the first attempt ever to reach the North Pole. He did so by rowing a boat and continuing by foot over the Arctic Ocean. He didn’t reach the North Pole, but sat the record for human exploration to the farthest north which stood for nearly five decades. The eastern shores of Sorgfjorden are within North East Spitsbergen Nature Reserve.

Alkefjellet is a spectacular bird cliff and one of the largest of its kind in Svalbard and we'll have great views from the deck. The 1000 ft spires that rise directly from the sea create perfect nesting conditions for species like the Brünnichs guillemot.

With its approximately 5000 km2, Edgøya is the third largest island in the Svalbard archipelago. On its western shores the landscape is largely un-glaciated, unlike most other places on the east side of Spitsbergen. Kapp Lee is a wonderful site where you will find cultural heritage from all eras of human exploration of Svalbard. From the early whaling and walrus industry in the 16th century to the era of Pomors, Russians from the White Sea area that sailed to Spitsbergen in the summers to hunt and fish and the Norwegian trapping era, represented by a special trappers cabin. For the observant visitor you may find signs of mineral exploration and scientific equipment here as well.

We continue to the large fjord east of Spitsbergen with spectacular views of the east coast. In the distance there are hundreds of glaciers and mountains, and if we are lucky we'll meet some of the marine mammals of Svalbard as we head towards the South Cape Land – the southernmost tip of Spitsbergen. In winter Storfjorden is mainly frozen.

Hornsund has a similar fjord structure as the rest of western Spitsbergen, but is not as long as Isfjorden and Bellsund. The area displays large variations in landscape and geology over short distances. The mountains, the valleys and the fjords combine to create huge local weather variations. Hornsund has always been rich in hunting resources such as Arctic fox and polar bear. This is a result of the currents drifting ice and pushing it into the fjord early in the season which attracts polar bears that hunt on the ice. 

Day 8 Isfjorden

Isfjorden is the most prominent fjord system in Svalbard where we spend the day exploring both the outer and inner parts. One of the most noticeable mountains in the outer part is Alkhornet, where thousands of Brunnich Guillemots are nesting during the summer season. In the inner parts the landscape is changing.

Large U-valleys, carved out of the giant glaciers that covered the area ten thousand years ago, are home to large populations of the endemic Svalbard Reindeer. The sedimentary geology raising hundreds of meters out of the ocean are just perfect graphs of geological history. This day, our intent is to find a scenic fjord arm and arrange a farewell barbecue in the most beautiful Arctic surroundings. 

Day 9 Longyearbyen

Every good explorer voyage comes to an end. It often feels as if time has travelled faster than you expect, but you'll take with you awesome experiences, memories of the calving glacier front and the buzzing birdlife, or even the subtle, odd feeling of having spent time on top of the globe, just a few hundred kilometres from the Geographical North Pole. 

2016 Pricing

Dates Cabin Types
  Inside Outside
20, 27 July 2016
3, 10, 17 August 2016 
Twin From 4093 4427
Single From 6670 7253

There are a number of cabin grades, the above prices indicate the lead in price and are subject to availability. 

Included in price:

  • Expedition Voyage in cabin grade of your choice.
  • Full board and free tea and coffee.
  • Landings with Polarcirkel boats.
  • Activities on board and ashore.
  • Lectures and landings with Expedition Team. 

Price does not include:

  • International flights
  • Travel insurance
  • Optional excursions and gratueties

Please note:

Hurtigruten has a flexible pricing system and all prices are capacity controlled and subject to availability. Prices may change at any time before departure date. The applicable price will be quoted at the time of booking. Prices are in £ per person.

2015 Pricing

Dates Cabin Types
  Inside Outside
22, 29 July 2015
5, 12,  19 August 2015
Twin From 3317 3712
Single From 5745 6435

Important information

Areas we explore:       We circumnavigate Spitsbergen
Vessel:                         MS Fram
Sailing Distance:         Approx. 1300 nautical miles (2400 kilometres)

Some activities and excursion trips will only be sold on board. There is a rental of rubber boots available on board. We recommend purchasing travel and cancellation insurance.

As much as we strive to be punctual in order to reach flights and agreements to visit eg. Scientific stations we are “polar opportunists” – this means having an open mind to changes if opportunities arise or weather dictates.

Our explorer cruises have a wide range of landing options. Every voyage is unique.

What to bring:

  • Wind and water resistant trousers
  • Shoes with a good grip sole
  • Thermal underwear
  • Warm cap or headband
  • Scarf
  • Gloves/mittens
  • Warm sweaters/jacket
  • Warm socks
  • Swimsuit
  • Sunscreen/sunglasses
  • Small backpack

Expedition Team and Wildlife

To further enhance your experience, the Expedition Team on MS Fram will give presentations and lectures on the history, culture, traditions, navigation and wildlife. The Expedition Team consists of experts from numerous fields and backgrounds and they are always happy to answer your questions. Together with the crew they will make your time on board, and the landings we make, really worthwhile!

While in Svalbard, we will attempt to land several places. On land, our Expedition Team will explain what you see and help you avoid disturbing nature and wildlife. When conditions allow, kayaking, hikes or other activities on land and sea may be offered. Participation on any hike requires a good level of fitness, and that you are accustomed to hiking in uneven terrain.

We will take advantage of the conditions at hand. On an expedition with MS Fram this means that the Captain and Expedition Leader monitors conditions at hand closely; where is the ice edge, how can we expect the ice drift, where is the ice landlocked, what is the prevailing winds and currents. We obviously have some wishes on where to go, but at this time of the year we have to expect weather- and especially ice conditions to be highly variable. The ice edge of the Arctic Ocean is now at its lowest latitudes – this is a highly productive area biologically as plankton and algae is growing beneath the ice. This cornerstone biological production is an immensely important part of the web of life and attracts all kinds of other animal- and birdlife that thrives here. At the top of this food web we find the big predators – including the polar bear.

Will we see polar bears?

Within the Svalbard Archipelago there are about 3000 polar bears – more than there are humans and probably one of the largest concentrations on Earth. That said; polar bears are solitude animals with no set colony or living area – they roam wherever they can expect to find food and only the pregnant females use denning areas during winter and only when they are expecting offspring.

However; the more eyes scouting through binoculars the higher is the chance of observing the King of the Arctic. The polar bear is a marine mammal hence it is more likely to observe it close to water or even in water. Whenever close to drift ice there is a chance that a polar bear uses this as a platform when at sea.

In very rare occasions dead whales or walrus drift ashore on Svalbard beaches. These tend to attract all kinds of wildlife – including polar bears. Bottom line is that we often observe polar bears on this itinerary – not every day and seldom on very close range – there are no guarantees for sure. But; one of the biggest fascinations or this expedition is the chance of being really lucky spotting one. One of the really nice “by-products” of looking for polar bears is that it sensitizes the observer to other wildlife such as birds and other marine mammals. You get a lot from observing sharply in Svalbard!

What about the walrus?

Since the protection of walrus in 1952 the Svalbard population has grown from being decimated down to only a few animals to a strong population with several haul outs scattered around the whole archipelago.

The two best ways to observe walrus is from the vessel when they are hauled out on ice flows or from shore, close to the well-established haul out places. In order to understand where haul outs may be you’d have to understand that the walrus feeding method; they are shallow divers that feed on benthic fauna that are hiding in sediments on the bottom.

To find these shellfish and molluscs they use their hypersensitive whiskers to locate for then to suck in the food with high pressure with the mouth. Gently graduated beaches close to larger shallow areas are good habitats – a landing close to a walrus colony is an experience for all senses (in particular smell), but such places that are suitable for small boat operations are limited and often exposed to wind and swell. No guarantee – but we often see walrus on our expeditions in Spitsbergen.