The isolated beauty of Jan Mayen

Jan Mayen looks like a narrow, tilted spoon that dropped into the cereal bowl of the sea.

Jan Mayen looks like a narrow, tilted spoon that dropped into the cereal bowl of the sea. Situated at 71 degrees north and 8 degrees west, this stunning volcanic island in the Arctic Ocean is the most isolated island of Norway, even though it sits much closer to Greenland than Norway; 217 miles from Greenland, 341 miles north of Iceland. It also contains the country's only active volcano. 

Travelers on the Spitsbergen Climate Voyage can sail out to this majestic, mountainous island. The land area stretches about 144 square miles, similar to Lake Garda in north Italy or La Gomera in the Canary Islands. It is filled with mountainous terrain, and its highest summit is the Beerenberg volcano. If you were to look at it from a satellite image, you'd notice Jan Mayen is spoon-shaped, thanks to tectonic plates that stretched it long and thin, totaling 32 miles from the southwest to northeast end.

Jan Mayen history: From the 1600s to today

Jan Mayen was discovered in the 17th century century, not long after which the Dutch established whaling stations. By 1634, these stations were abandoned. At the beginning of the 1900s, Norwegians started to hunt for Arctic fox on the island. Five of the original 13 hunting cabins still remain. In 1921, Hagbart Ekerold founded the first meteorological station here, and the following year, the Norwegian meteorologist annexed a part of the island. It wasn't until 1930 that it became part of Norway. As recently as 1985 there was an eruption from its volcano, Beerenberg, which is the northernmost volcano above sea level in the world. 

Today, infrastructure runs thin on the island. There are no set tourist attractions. Unspoiled and remote, Jan Mayen has retained much of its innate gorgeousness, and in 2010, it was declared a nature reserve. But this island is not meant for the faint of heart. Tough weather and rough seas generally make it difficult to visit Jan Mayen, but Hurtigruten braves through to its barren shores - at least when possible. The Norwegian Polar Institute points out there is a constant threat of new eruptions and earthquakes. Still, polar enthusiasts have much to glean from this island, rife with geology, scenery and history. 

Parts of the island

This island can be divided into two parts: northeast Nord-Jan and Sør-Jan, bridged by a 1.5-mile-wide isthmus. Here, two of the largest lakes of the island, Sørlaguna (South Lagoon) and Nordlaguna (North Lagoon), can be found.

But the high point of island - literally and figuratively - is glacier-covered Beerenberg, towering 7,470 feet tall. The volcano has a symmetrical cone shape, and five of its glaciers reach down to sea level. The impressive calving ice cliff is called Weyprechtbreen, which descends down directly from the central crater at the top of the volcano. 

Geologically speaking, Jan Mayen is similar to Iceland, though it's entirely distinct from other land masses and islands in the north Atlantic, including Norway, Spitsbergen and Greenland. Both Jan Mayen and Iceland are part of the middle Atlantic ridge system and share similar overcast weather. The climate is characterized as maritime-arctic, bringing fog, wind and drizzle more often than not. Interestingly, the well-known Iceland low pressure system stems from Jan Mayen. 


Simply put, this island is not known for its flora and fauna. Still, visitors on Norwegian cruises will likely encounter seabirds breeding on steep cliffs. The most abundant species is the northern fulmar, a gull-like relative of albatrosses. This bird is spectacularly evolved for the frigid conditions of the island. Other popular birds are the kittiwake and Brünich's guillemot as well as the little auk, which breeds under rocks on steep slopes rather than on vertical cliffs. Including these, there are 27 species of birds use the island as their regular nesting site.

If you're lucky, you and the crew will catch a glimpse of hooded seals and harp seals that have important breeding areas northwest of Jan Mayen. Some years these creatures can be spotted near the shores of the island, due to ice conditions. 

There are no land mammals since the polar fox was hunted to local extinction in the 20th century. Once in awhile, polar bears may visit the island when there is ice drift around, but in recent years they have not been seen since the East Greenland ice sheet no longer reaches Jan Mayen.

During calm weather, a number of whale species might be seen, including the king of the waters, the blue whale.