Thinking about travelling to the Arctic? Read Alex’s extraordinary experiences in the icy paradise of our Jewels of the Arctic expedition.
It all started in Oslo where I spent the first couple of days getting accustomed to the non-stop daylight. Beautiful clean city dotted with multicoloured flowers, unique architecture and a perfect blend of nature, art and history. I found my bearings, map in hand, exploring the sights mainly by foot or sometimes just a couple of hops away on the train, admiring the eclectic style paintings in the Town Hall, the unusual, yet, eye catching, sculptures of intertwined bodies and shapes in Frogner Park and of course, I made sure we allowed time for a trip to the Fram museum. What a perfect introduction to polar history in the area. I couldn’t wait to step on our own expedition ship and follow the steps of these remarkable legends.
The moment myself and fellow travellers had waited for for months, or even years for some, had finally arrived and we were only hours away from uncovering the true jewels of the Arctic.
The next morning, we boarded our flight to Longyearbyen, the excitement building up more and more, the closer we got to our destination amidst the most stunning mountains and culminating into emotional tears as we started our descent and spotted our cutting-edge vessel moored, her beautiful colours standing out against the nearby black shale quarry.
Soon after, we were embarking on our sleek ‘basecamp’ and exploring all the areas of the Greg Mortimer. With multiple viewing options around the ship, I set my heart on deck 8, with its spacious outdoor viewing deck, observation lounge /bar and what was to become my ultimate viewing point, the hot tubs.
A few hours later, we were off into the sunset or so they told me as I hardly felt the ship move and secretly could not wait to experience rougher conditions to see what the famous Ulstein X-BOW® design was all about.
As I found my feet around the ship, I sauntered, admiring images and reading captions about past expeditions and Greg Mortimer himself, the hero who the ship was named after. Soon after the drill, it was time to sample one of the cocktails of the day. My Pisco Sour took me back to my days in Santiago before heading to the Southern continent and perfect way to whet my appetite before heading to the dining area and meet my fellow expeditioners over a couple of vinos and a scrumptious dinner. So many options to choose from for each of the delicious three courses. I opted for the onion soup, a perfectly cooked salmon steak and an indulgent chocolate cake for the finale. The crew, warm and attentive, impressively remembering who drank what and who did want that extra sprinkle of black pepper. In true Aussie style, the atmosphere was relaxed and unpretentious.
Our first zodiac cruise in Svalbard set the tone for the whole voyage. Pinching ourselves and gripping on to our binoculars, our heart beats increased by the minute, while we simultaneously held our breath. Incredulous, we stared at this majestic creature, a polar bear mum and her cub, waking up from their siesta, as they started to play and, even more special, shared a cuddle. Even some of the expedition team members who had seen their fair share of polar bears couldn’t have been more excited. On our next zodiac cruise around Svalbard, we were equally blessed with another polar bear sight, a mum and her very active cub who, after being chased by his mum, decided to go for a quick dip in the water, as we gasped, realizing how lucky we were. Things could not get any better…or so we thought…
However, it is not all about the polar bears and after spotting a walrus haul out in the distance from the ship the previous evening, we got a much closer encounter with them on the next day’s landing, when we landed on an island inhabited by a bunch of these entertaining ‘horny’ locals, comically keeping each other warm despite their boisterous ways. I must emphasise that I did zoom in a lot for this picture, while we quietly stayed at a safe distance, while observing them, making sure we didn’t interfere or caused any distress.
And of course, breathtaking icy landscapes everywhere you looked.
En route to Greenland, we could not believe it when we heard an announcement that a blue whale had been spotted ‘at 11 0’clock’. We all rushed to the different viewing spots around the ship, armed with our phones and cameras and witnessed, tongue tied, this beautiful creature and her blow across the blue sky which echoed in the distance.
Sea days went incredibly fast, as we listened to our historian and his fascinating stories of when he lived in the wild with huskies as his only companions and other talks from our on-board experts on whales and glaciers to name but a few or gleaned photography tips from the Award-winning Photographer. We also proudly helped organizations such as Nasa Cloud by collating data and logging clouds details for their research on cloud formations.
Another favourite and goose bumps moment was to hang out on one of decks and look at the ship as she gently sliced through the waves and pushed the ice.
Next stop, Greenland. Brash ice, growlers, bergy bits, icebergs of all shapes glistening in the sun were one of the many breathtaking views we were treated to on our perfect expeditions. Each day kept giving and we often spent hours guessing what these unbelievable ice sculptures reminded us of. Gliding on our kayak, slaloming amongst the sea ice and picking up pieces of ice to snack on along the way.
The most spectacular backdrop with countless icebergs, glaciers, mountains and towering cliffs shaped by the weather and the ice. Red rocks reminiscent of our very own Uluru, sharing the stage with glistening ice ‘sculptures’ and verdant hills nestled amongst the world’s largest fjord system.
Best setting and sunny day for an equally anticipated and dreaded afternoon polar plunge in 2-degree water, after dancing on the spot to keep warm and cheering on other passengers as they took their own plunge in the freezing water to the sound of ‘jump’ by the Pointer Sisters. This refreshing bragging right and tingly moment was facilitated, courtesy of a quick gulp of Vodka and followed by a race to the hot tub and sauna with the best view.
Throughout the expedition, everyone enjoyed several landings amongst the most spectacular scenery. Choosing from a short, medium or long walk, we ventured on incredible hikes, making our way to the top of several rugged hills, stunned by the variety of colourful flowers, despite being surrounded by the icy scenery. We always felt safe with our Expedition Team looking after us. Watching musk ox families running in the distance, we were impressed by their speed and happy to finally see them after finding traces of them such as wool and skulls along the way.
Listening to fascinating stories of nomadic communities who lived where we were walking while looking at rocks and remnants of their lives and traditions. Everyone took countless numbers of pictures of the ship, with rainbows, icebergs and waterfalls in the background, as we softly threaded on the softest mosses, trying to avoid walking on the delicate flowers. Our passionate Botanist also shared many interesting facts with us as we snacked on carefully picked sorrel or stared at a few leaves in disbelief when she told us we were in fact looking at a tree!
One day, we enjoyed our first landing back into civilization in days, I.e., with other human beings other than our fellow expeditioners. Heavy showers were the flavour of the day, but we still got to meet a few friendly Inuits from the local community in the church, browsed in the shop selling musk ox hats, gloves, figurines and postcards and watched the beautiful Greenlandic dogs at feeding time. Amongst the picturesque colourful houses, some covered with musk ox skin, we witnessed as the weather balloon was launched into the clouds.
As the trip was nearing the end, we were feeling the effect of a recent storm and the water movement started to get more lively, but we took this as a welcome opportunity to attend some more talks, a yoga session on the deck and sorting through our pictures for the final slideshow. As we were heading back to Reykjavík, we reflected on the incredible experience we had just shared and couldn’t wait to get on board the next one.