Friday, 16 August 2013

Arctic research station, whaler’s graveyard and vegetarian polar bear

During breakfast we sailed into Kongsfjorden heading for Ny Ålesund. The sun was still hiding behind low clouds, and it was raining. Ny-Ålesund is one of the world’s northermost year-round communities. Coal mining was the original reason for settlement here, but mining was put to an end after a serious accident in 1962, leaving behind numerous cultural remains of technical and industrial importance.  Ny-Ålesund has also been the starting point of several historical attempts to reach the North Pole. Names like Amundsen, Ellsworth and Nobile are strongly linked to Ny-Ålesund. The place has been a centre for tourist operations, with several hotels located in town. Today, 20 000 tourists travelling by cruise ship visit Ny-Ålesund on a yearly basis. Since 1964, Ny-Ålesund has also been a centre for international Arctic research and environmental monitoring. A number of countries run their own national research stations here, and research activity is high in the summer. We enjoyed a guided walk around the settlement, and some also walked out to the air ship mooring mast.

After our visit in Ny Ålesund we headed north towards Magdalene fjord where we had our first landing with the polar cirkle boats. This fjord was used by English whalers over 400 year ago. We could still see the remains of the blubber oves on the beach. Gravneset where we had the landing, is also a big cemetery and over 300 whalers found their last resting place here. Some of us had a longer hike towards the Gully glacier, and where lucky to observe both the barnacle geese, artic skuas and even a bearded seal. Some others tried out and Artic kayak experience, gliding silently between blue icebergs that had calved off the glacier.  Some brave people got really close to the elements and had a swim in the Arctic Ocean, even though the temperature of the water was only 2 degrees Celsius!

Some of the passengers also had chosen to join in for an extra trip to Virgohamna, and left Magdalenefjord with the Polar Cirkle boats. In Virgohamna they had a historical walk and could see the remains of the many expedition towards the North Pole who started from this place, especially Andrès’ attempt to reach the north pole.

As a super end of an exciting day we spotted a polar bear on one of the islands in the Sørgattet strait! He was not stressed or afraid at all and the ship could come quite close so we all could have a nice view of him. He lifted his head, and smelled into the air, maybe longing for the nice dinner we had onboard? After a while he did lie down and settled with a kelp salad instead. What a great polar bear encounter!