Exploring the Arctic
By Peter and Tracy Geraerts, who travelled with us to Svalbard in August 2014.
Going to the polar regions had been a long-held desire, which was finally fulfilled through Audley, when we visited Svalbard. Leaving Longyearbyen on a ship really gives you the feeling of going on an expedition. Similarly, we were lucky enough to be in the Beagle Channel in Ushuaia, Argentina, a couple of years ago.
Looking out from the quay, where many southern polar expeditions begin, really evoked a feeling of the enormity of the challenge ahead as they travelled south to the Pole. To a lesser extent leaving for a ten-day trip on a ship from Longyearbyen, on Spitsbergen, gave a feeling of going out into the unknown.
The scenery was spectacular; 24-hour daylight, mountains, ice, icebergs, glaciers.
We didn’t see another ship on our travels. And the expedition leaders emphasised early on that there were no guarantees that we would see any wildlife. If we did, then great, but they couldn’t promise anything.
A few days into the trip we travelled into Liefdefjord and saw our first polar bear, quite a distance away but definitely a sighting. This was followed by two minke whales and then a fin whale.
We jumped into the Zodiacs and, at a distance, tracked the polar bear as it walked along the shoreline. It wasn’t bothered with us. It eventually wandered off inland. A bearded seal lay on a large chunk of ice in the water and a couple of king eiders flew past. It was turning out to be a good day.
One of the other Zodiacs spotted another polar bear on the ice so we headed over there. It was a mother and a cub. As we headed over, another polar bear swam past us and pulled itself up onto the ice. It shook itself off and just sat down on the ice edge.
At that time a minke whale also surfaced near us, presumably just taking a look. The engines were cut and, on a sunny, perfectly still afternoon, with not another sound, we sat and watched this polar bear for what seemed like ages. The guides were all pretty excited with the sighting, which we judged to be a good sign. A day that we would certainly never forget.