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Cruise Day 4 - birds, 2 polar bears, walrus, cocktails

View In the Realm of the Ice Bear - Svalbard 2023 on Grete Howard's travel map.

I wake at 04:00, and when I look out of the porthole, I see we are surrounded by ice floes. I feel the occasional jolt as we barge into the ice, but it certainly didn't wake me up in the night.


I'm dressed and out on the deck by 05:00, and I am not the first: Gunnar is there already. I could spend hours just watching the little mini icebergs with their fascinating patterns float past. The smaller ones just get pushed to the side, but the bigger ones split in half (or more) as they get crushed by this ice-strengthened vessel. Some of the bigger completely flat ones start moving in a circular motion as they get pushed to one side by the bow of the ship. The captain steers in a zigzag fashion, trying to avoid the larger floes. We still get stuck in the ice several times, necessitating the use of reverse thrust and sideways movement.





The bow of the ship hits an ice floe



You can see where Origo has zigzagged through the ice

Large colonies of gulls follow the ship, and each time we disturb an ice floe, we make numerous little fish homeless, which the birds take advantage of and scoop up some easy breakfast.



Northern Fulmar


Glaucous Gull


This is a truly magical place.


Polar Bear Lecture

After breakfast Vide is giving a lecture on all things polar bears, That guy is incredibly knowledgable, on par with Gaston, our guide in Argentina, and Andrej in Romania. He has a large personality and is a great speaker, accompanying his presentation with some glorious photographs.


Bear No. 8

Just as Vide is coming to the end of his presentation, Leiv (0ne of the other guides) pops his head around the corner, requesting Vide's presence on the bridge. We all assume they have spotted a bear, of course, and Vide comes back to confirm, that there is indeed a bear, but he is a very long way (3-4 kms) away.

They start the engines to see if they can get us any nearer to the polar bear. Before we have a chance to get him to within camera-shot distance, Jeanette spots another, nearer, bear, so we head for that instead. The captain manages to get to a great distance for photography, adding some beautiful surroundings, with islands and mountains in the background.



For the next hour or so, we stay on the bow of the ship, watching the ice split, buckle and push away from the hull. The gulls are out in force again, so I try to get one with a fish in its mouth, or flying straight towards me.


Kittiwake with a little fish

This kittiwake scored big time, with a cod almost as large as he is

When it becomes too uncomfortably cold out there, we head for the mess to warm up. Followed by a buffet lunch, and for me, a triple dose of painkillers.

David is feeling the cold

Photographic equipment temporarily abandoned on the deck

Down time

The afternoon is spent travelling, which for passengers means chatting, editing, reading, playing cards/games, snoozing, drinking coffee, or braving the elements to photograph the passing ice floes or distant mountains.

Afternoon tea is accompanied by semlor (plural of semla) today, a Swedish speciality that I have heard about, but never tried. These are another one of Ellen's creations: sweet buns filled with almond paste and whipped cream.


The painkillers I took earlier have completely knocked me out, and I spend some time napping sitting on the bench in the mess. There are no comfortable seats on board the ship, in fact in the cabin there is no seating at all, and the top bunk prevents me from sitting on the bed, too. The bench in the mess is not at all comfortable, so I end up with a very painful pelvis after a while. Most of the other photographers are editing their photos on their laptops, something I don't feel like doing. I find the laptop screen way too small to be able to see any details in the images, and I don't feel in control of the mouse, either (I use a trackball at home, which I so much prefer).

The crew have been out getting ice from the glaciers for pre-dinner drinks, so it seems rude not to have a cocktail to utilise it. We ask Gustav to surprise us with two different rum cocktails.


Both drinks are rum sours, just prepared differently, the one on the left has crushed lime and egg white. They are both delicious!


The camera equipment seems to have moved indoors now, on what has become known as 'The Equipment Table'.



We share a table with Jackie, Ian, Deepak and Gunnar, having a laugh-a-minute, as everyone shares a similar sense of humour, with quick-witted responses and risqué play on words.

Tonight the main course is salmon – with boiled potatoes, of course.

The dessert is amazing: merengues with ice cream, bananas, and caramel sauce.

Polar Bear No. 9

In the distance, on the pack-ice, is a lone bear. She is not very obliging - we are hoping that she will get closer, but she insists on doing her yoga far, far away: rolling over on the ice, and being super-cute in the process.



From the stern of the boat, we can see a colony of walruses, dipping in and out of the water. Again, they are rather too far away to get decent photos.


The scenery here is stunning and worth photographing in its own right. I love the orange and blue reflections.


Everyone gradually returns to the warmth of the mess to warm up. I grab a coffee and take some painkillers, although I take care not to have as many as I did earlier today, as I felt really quite out of it afterwards.

At 22:20 the sun comes out, bathing those floating blocks of ice and dark mountains with streaks of snow in a glorious light.


Having earlier switched the engine off, the captain starts moving the ship in large circles, mainly to break up the ice around it. We were starting to drift towards the shore (it is too deep to cast the anchor), which could be very dangerous, as we really don't want to be grounded.

The plan is to move around and stay here until (if) the bear moves closer (the ice is too thick for us to manoeuvre closer to her), so that we can get some beautiful backlit shots.

Most people are hanging around in the mess, but one by one they start to drift off to bed, including David. In the end, there is only me, Jeanette, and Deepark left. We call it a day, too, and Deepak kindly helps carry my gear down to the cabin.

Tonight we really do have the midnight sun, so much so that I feel the need to close the hatch on the porthole to keep the sunshine out. Neither David nor I have any problems sleeping in daylight, but direct sunshine in our eyes is likely to disturb our sleep.

Half an hour after I bunk down, they have obviously given up waiting for the polar bear to cooperate, and we start moving through the pack ice. The experience is exhilarating and irritating at the same time, a little bit like trying to sleep in a Dodgem car. Each time we hit an ice floe, we get buffeted to the side. That plus the gentle normal swaying of the ship makes for an interesting experience. Someone else likens it to the feeling of turbulence in an aircraft. I struggle to get off to sleep this evening, the first time on this trip.

Thank you to Arctic Wildlife Tours for making this amazing dream come true.


Posted by Grete Howard 15:22 Archived in Svalbard Tagged landscape scenery norway bear svalbard iceberg gulls arctic polar_bear fulmar walrus painkillers isbjørn origo ms_origo spitzbergen bjørn ice_floes arctic_wildlife arctic_wildlife_tours kittwake

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I'm running out of superlatives for these polar bear shots, while the walrus and general landscape ones are almost as stunning!

by ToonSarah

Aww, bless you, Sarah, thank you so much xx

by Grete Howard

Fully deserved Grete :)

by ToonSarah

my gosh I have to agree with Sarah on this one, the pictures are just so stunning and so cute!

by Ils1976

Aww, thank you, Ils ♥

by Grete Howard

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