Please note: this page gives details of our 2010 trip.

For details of our 2011 trips please click here




polar bears, walrus and breeding birds of the arctic



"Thanks again for a great trip and hope to see you again soon."......  Mr and Mrs T, Lancashire, October 2008


"I don't want another day to pass without writing to tell you how much we appreciated all you did for us on the trip. The cruise itself exceeded all expectations. It was truly a 'trip of a lifetime'."......  Mr and Mrs U, Shipley, September 2008




The Arctic is one of the few places left in the world where one gets a true feeling of being in a pristine wilderness. Only 600 miles from the North Pole, the islands in the Svalbard Archipelago were until recently a destination for expedition scientists rather than travelling wildlife watchers.


We have the combination of birds, mammals and plants in a breathtaking arctic landscape. Little Auks, Brünnich’s Guillemots and Ivory Gulls have seen the bleak polar winter release its icy grip on the massive cliffs and spectacular fjords to allow the birds to breed under the glow of the midnight sun. We will search for the arch-predator here, the Polar Bear, which is to be found hunting Walrus and seals on the pack ice. Massive whales feed offshore and the colourful tundra provides a brief summer home for Barnacle Geese, Grey Phalaropes, Purple Sandpipers and Red-throated Divers.


The best way to reach the secret corners of this wildlife-rich archipelago is by boat. Our comfortable, ice-strengthened research vessel allows us to cruise the islands in search of the best wildlife, with the flexibility to make diversions based on the latest information. Unlike the large cruise ships that visit the area, we have the facility to make landings in remote areas where there are no roads, airstrips or human habitation. This wildlife expedition is a once in a lifetime experience.


It is possible to find shorter, less expensive cruises to either north or south Spitsbergen, but we are joining what we believe to be the best option; a ten night cruise during which we attempt to circumnavigate the island.




On day one we fly to Longyearbyen (via Oslo), capital of Svalbard and transfer to our hotel for the night. The next day, we will look around the town before joining our ship. Dainty-looking Snow Buntings sing from rooftops while Glaucous Gulls, Arctic Terns and Dunlin can be found nearby. Arctic Fox is regular, but more luck is required to see Ptarmigan and Svalbard Reindeer.


Our vessel will take us out of Isfjorden as we head north past towering cliffs hosting thousands of Brünnich’s Guillemots, Puffins and Little Auks. Opportunistic Glaucous Gulls will be in attendance while Great, Arctic and perhaps a migrant Pomarine Skua follow the terns and Kittiwakes heading out to sea.


We begin a route that circumnavigates Spitsbergen, the largest island in the group. Ice conditions dictate our ultimate route as our experienced crew keep a regular check on the weather and also act upon the most recent information regarding sightings of Walrus and Polar Bear. The captain’s knowledge is invaluable as we attempt to see the ultimate arctic predator in its natural environment. Almost a quarter of the world population of the ice bear live here!


The usual daily routine is to use the ship’s large zodiacs to approach the pack ice, glaciers and fjords. We may choose to cruise amongst the ice to approach Ringed or Bearded Seals more closely. Polar Bears are often found stalking seals amongst the pack-ice, and we normally tally double figures during the cruise.


We regularly land on the shore to explore the tundra. Conditions permitting, excursions lasting three to four hours are made each morning and afternoon. These are accompanied by an expedition guide who will impart his knowledge and safeguard us from the attentions of Polar Bears.


Walking across the tundra carpeted in arctic bell heather and dwarf willow, we search for herds of endemic short-legged Svalbard Reindeer that graze the numerous arctic flowers. We hope to find Pink-footed, Barnacle and Brent Geese. Flocks of young birds attract skuas, foxes and Polar Bears. Pools of water may hold Red-throated Diver, Long-tailed Duck, Common Eider and Grey Phalarope. There is a chance of King Eider amongst their commoner cousins. If we are lucky, Long-tailed Skua will complete our set of European skuas.


Purple Sandpipers breed, and look splendid in their cryptic summer dress. Small numbers of Sanderling, Ptarmigan, Turnstone and Grey Phalarope also breed. Arctic Foxes are often found scavenging around the huge seabird colonies. These mountains and cliffs form a spectacular backdrop to the wheeling swarms of Little Auks. Up to 15 million nest in these islands! Thousands of Brünnich’s Guillemots will have young at the time of our visit.


Glaucous Gulls are common and we shall be keeping a watchful eye for the rarer gulls. Sabine’s Gulls occur in small numbers and have bred. Ross’s Gulls have attempted to breed and regularly migrate past Svalbard during late summer. The star bird is of course the ghostly Ivory Gull whose whole life is spent at the edge of the pack ice. They are so adapted to the polar conditions that they rarely bathe for fear of freezing. They survive the dark arctic winter by scavenging on seal and Walrus carcasses, and in summer they attend Polar Bear kills. About 400 pairs breed here and we can expect several sightings.


Time at sea provides the opportunity to study the Blue Fulmars that breed here and the Minke Whales that are regularly sighted in coastal waters. Beluga, Orca, Fin, Sperm and Humpback Whales all occur but sightings are rare. On some visits we have been fortunate in seeing many Beluga Whales. The southern limit of the pack ice provides our best chance to see Walrus. These magnificent creatures often allow a close approach by zodiac and some colonies such as those at Moffen offer the best chance to observe them in good numbers.


Cruising the calm mirror-like waters where spectacular glaciers calve into the sea, we are likely to find Black Guillemots, the odd one out amongst the auk family in that they are more solitary than their cousins. They are common here and often feed around the small pieces of sculpted blue ice that drift in the fjords.


The human influence on these islands cannot be ignored and we may see abandoned whaling stations or the remains of explorers’ camps and graves.


Photographic possibilities are endless. The landscape is dramatic and much of the wildlife is approachable.


Returning to Longyearbyen on day 12, we disembark and make our way to the airport for the flight home.


Please note: The itinerary is flexible and dependent on weather and ice conditions at the time. It is not always possible to circumnavigate the island. The daily itinerary will be decided by the expedition leader and ship’s captain. Bird Holidays has no direct control over this.



Excursions are made most mornings and afternoons and there is usually a choice for varying interests and pace. The Bird Holidays leader will accompany the group but you will be free to join any excursion group you prefer.



Full-board accommodation is provided with one night in the Spitsbergen Hotel in Longyearbyen, Svalbard, followed by ten nights aboard ship. Our ship will be the Antarctic Dream, owned by Oceanwide, a Dutch company. The ship takes a maximum of 84 passengers. All cabins have an en-suite bathroom and two single or one double bed (no upper bunks). There is a supplement for an sea-facing cabin with window/porthole.



All sea and land-based excursions with Bird Holidays leader and expedition staff, full-board accommodation (starting with dinner on 24th, ending with lunch on 4th), onshore transport, soft drinks at meal-times, return flight to Longyearbyen, and flight and airport taxes.



Travel insurance. Items of a personal nature, alcoholic drinks, laundry, etc.



Flights are from London Heathrow to Longyearbyen (via Oslo), using the scheduled services of Scandinavian Airlines. Outbound flight departs mid-morning; return flight arrives back mid-evening. Connecting shuttle flights are available on this tour for £70 return (due at time of booking), from Manchester and other regional airports. However, due to the flight times it may be necessary to stay overnight at Heathrow. Please call for details.


A cruise only price is available. Please phone.



11 nights:                             


Principal leader:


Maximum group size:


Cost with discount

(if you book before

10th April 2010):



Full Cost:



Sea-facing cabin:


Superior cabin:


Single supplement:





24th July to 4th August 2010


Andrew Woodall


15 clients with one leader and expedition staff



£4250 per person sharing in a twin cabin with en-suite


£4400 per person sharing in a twin cabin with en-suite


£720 supplement per person


£1200 supplement per person


please phone








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