Co-ordinates: 79°38’N – 020°31’E
Weather: Low cloud and sunny spells
Air temperature: +3°C
A full day of expedition cruising began rather early, with the Expedition Team on shore at Zeipelloden by 6.15am. The promontory is located on the southwest corner of Nordaustlandet, in Gustav Adolf Land, immediately to the east of Hinlopenstretet.
Cloudy skies flanked the distinctive, stepped landscape with patches of snow remaining in the shallow indentations of the hillsides. The plan was to investigate the desert valleys and their sparse but beautiful vegetation, however the mist rolled in down to sea level and the morning activities progressed to Plan B!
The impossibility of a safe and bear-free landing was plain for all to see, so the Captain took the vessel further into nearby Palanderbukta. The joy of seeing such majestic ice and the jagged snouts of the glacier at the end of the fjord! As the sun succeeded in burning off the earlier mist, the view was truly breathtaking.
We all gathered on the foredeck and above to photograph the spectacle and watch for occasional bearded seals lounging on tiny ice floes with a couple of ivory gulls overhead. We were later called into The Theatre to listen to Robin Aiello’s excellent presentation on Polar Bears.
Returning across Hinlopenstretet, we arrived after lunch at the towering cliffs of Alkefjellet – The Auk Crags. Each ledge was packed with 60,000 black and white guillemots, mostly Brünich’s, with the distinctive white flash at the beak. Whirling masses soared back and forth and in the sea rafts of male birds guarded the chicks.
A Recap & Briefing session followed, drawing together some elements of things experienced in the recent days. Robin West, our Expedition Leader, advised of our next day’s programme. The ship meanwhile was steaming full speed ahead to our next eagerly anticipated landing at Augustabukta, an area of exposed gravels with tiny pockets of hardy vegetation growing low to the ground, seeking any protection or extra nutrients it could glean. With the air temperature dropping near to zero, we landed with some degree of excitement on the shingle beach – at the promontory nearby was a haul out of walrus. We approached in near-silent groups, marvelling at the ugly masses before us, captivated by the scene of almost 20 walruses with tusks of varying length.
Our departure was more hurried than we would have liked, as we heard that a large male polar bear was approaching the haul out! With less than a mile or so separating the last of our shore staff and the curious bear, we headed back to the warmth of the ship.
As if the day had not held enough adventures for us, our after-dinner treat was to see the start of the Bråsvellbreen glacier, with its calving front measuring some 190 kms. Hazy mist punctuated with brilliant sunshine completed our wonderful day exploring magical Svalbard.