A Travellerspoint blog

Cruise Day 8 - 1 polar bear, glacier, bearded seal, puffins

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

I struggled to get to sleep after going to bed last night, knowing that I might only get a couple of hours sleep before getting up again. At 01:30 I hear talking outside the cabin, and fifteen minutes later Vide pops his head around our bedroom door and tells us to get ready for the Zodiacs, as there is a bear out there.

Bear No. 16 at Likodden


As they start to load the camera bags into the zodiacs, I hear some serious swearing in Norwegian and see Svein looking forlornly into the abyss between the Zodiac and the Origo. In the process of handing stuff down from the deck higher up, he somehow manages to drop the ship's radio into the water. Oh, dear. At least it wasn't someone's camera equipment.


This is a very clean bear, and initially, she is sleeping. As usual, we hang around to see what she might do, and we are rewarded with a little morning bear yoga. She is very cute and is definitely worth getting out of bed in the middle of the night for.


On the way back to the ship, we somehow end up discussing the penises of various animals with the other passengers in the zodiac, with me explaining how the female hyena has a penis (in one of the presentations I do to camera clubs, I have a section on this subject)! We have found the level of humour with some of the other passengers, creating a lot of hilarity.

The crew has kindly left out some crispbread and butter for us on our return.

We go back to bed at 04:10, so we should manage to get some 2.5-3 hours kip before it is time to get up for breakfast. There is a lot of knocking and banging from the engine tonight (this morning)... ka-chunk-a ka-chunk-a ka chunk-a. I struggle to sleep, I think I am overtired.

We get up in time for breakfast, then go back to bed for a few hours to catch up on sleep. When we later emerge for lunch, my body clock is totally confused, I don't know whether it is morning, afternoon, or middle of the night. At lunch, we continue the penis conversation over sausages and mash (see the connection?). Jackie asks if she can see my aforementioned presentation of hyena sexual organs, which I just happened to have on my laptop. As you do.

Pregnant female hyena with a penis - totally irrelevant to the trip, of course, but just in case you are interested

Zodiac drive in the Lilliehöök Glacier bay


After lunch, we head out in the rubber boats, but first, we have to overcome a small problem: one of the Zodiacs won't start. Mikel and Victor pull leavers, turn switches, change the battery, and look at it from every angle wanting it to magically work. It doesn't. Eventually, they decide to change the engines over with the one on the spare boat, a bright orange one that is kept on the top deck, away from the other two daily zodiacs.

The two main zodiacs are kept in on a deck by themselves

The spare, however, is on the upper deck

Not wishing to risk losing an engine into the abyss of the Arctic waters while swapping them over from one zodiac to the other, the crew lowers the spare onto the water. As the two main inflatables are already next to the steps leading down from the ship's deck, the spare comes down further to the rear of the ship. This means, however, that there are no steps down to access the zodiac, so Johannes climbs over the railings and scales the side of the ship to get into the inflatable boat, all while wearing Crocs. The spare boat and the one with the broken engine then get hoisted up to make the switch on the zodiac deck, which takes all but a few minutes, and soon we are on our way.

The glaciers create a 180° sheltered bay, full of growlers of every size.



The experience is like nothing I have ever encountered before. Vide switches off the engine on the zodiac, and the silence of the frozen landscape is only broken by the tinkling of the bubbles trapped in the ice as they are released from their 2000-year-old captivity.



Then the thunder-like sound of the calving – sometimes internally within the glacier, but a couple that we do see on the leading edge of the glacier. I am not quick enough to photograph either of them, unfortunately. Vide calls it Viking farts. We spend an hour or so driving through the brash, crashing into the small – and sometimes large – pieces of glacier ice broken away from its parent.


The main glacier is nearly 11 km long and up to 30 metres high. The bluest parts are the freshly exposed areas where there has been a recent calving.



This place is totally magical, what an honour to be able to experience this.


Vide gets a call from Mikel that there is a seal close to the boat, so we decide to head back. What we don't realise, is that Mikel has taken the spare boat out to test the engine after repairing it, so when he is referring to 'boat', he doesn't mean Origo. He is sitting with a few of the other crew near an ice floe complete with a bearded seal sitting on top.


We circumnavigate the seal to get some pictures from his best side and notice that he is injured on his chest (plus some older scars on the back of his head), probably from a polar bear or maybe a Greenland shark.


We return to the ship for lunch... or is it dinner? No, it is afternoon tea. The 24-hour daylight is really confusing me, especially as we went out in the middle of the night and then went back to bed after breakfast.

This last Zodiac cruise has really buggered up my back, and I struggle to lift my leg over the threshold into the ship, Gunnar literally has to physically lift my foot for me. Every time I lift my leg, it sends a shooting pain down my back, and my kneecap feels like it is bouncing around inside my leg.

Kongsfjorden Bird Cliff


Thankfully we are not going out in the Zodiacs for this one, as photography is in fact much better from the ship. As we approach the area, the cliffs tower above the boat, and it looks like we are heading straight for them. The sheer cliff face has a number of little ledges that are home to guillemots and a few puffins. It is nice to see, but being in a great deal of pain, I fail to get more than mildly excited about it.



Our evening meal is delayed by half an hour tonight, in order to accommodate the puffins. We were later than planned to leave the glaciers because we saw the seal, which then, of course, had a knock-on effect on the timings. We start with a tasty fish paté with prawns in a dill mayo, and the main course is chicken in a curry sauce with rice (which makes a pleasant change from boiled potatoes), accompanied by a very nice bottle of Chablis. Dessert is yet again Ellen's famous chocolate orange balls. Not that I am complaining - they're delicious.


From here we have a three-hour cruise to a fjord where we will be landing on the beach to look for foxes. I have already decided that I won't be going; partly because as I am still in a lot of pain, I really don't want to do any serious hiking, nor do I not fancy hanging around for several hours waiting for Mr. Fox to make an appearance; and partly because I don't have rubber boots for the wet landing. Seeing the weather when we arrive, it definitely confirms that decision for me: grey, dark and rain. Jeanette has also made up her mind not to go, and we are looking forward to having the ship to ourselves for a few hours. David has gone back to bed for a nap, and I tell Vide not to wake him as I know he wasn't that keen on the idea either.

The crew has lowered the zodiacs, and one by one the other photographers arrive in the saloon, all dressed up for the outside world, hanging around awaiting instructions. After some discussions, the decision is made that we will skip this stop. Apparently, the foxes can be very hard to find, and with less-than-ideal photographic conditions, it doesn't seem worth the effort. It doesn't appear to be an unpopular decision, and soon the passengers are back into indoor clothes and raiding the fridge for beers. Having been warned that it could be rough seas for the next few hours, David and I go to bed while we can still walk in a straight line. We are both feeling a little under the weather with sore throats, so bed seems to be the best place for us.

Thank you so much to Arctic Wildlife Tours for this amazing adventure - truly a trip of a lifetime.


Posted by Grete Howard 10:52 Archived in Svalbard Tagged zodiac cruise glaciers back seal norway fox bear polar svalbard pain bubbling silence crocs painful knee spitsbergen painful_knee isbjørn origo ms_origo spitzbergen wildlife_cruise arctic_wildlife_tours artcic_wildlife bear_yoga hyena_penis lilliehook lilliehøøk engine_problem glacier_ice bearded_seal painful_back

Email this entryFacebookStumbleUpon

Table of contents


This trip is certainly not without its challenges but they seem to be worth it, especially that experience with the glacier - amazing to consider that those bubbles have been trapped for 2,000 years only to be released just as you were passing!

by ToonSarah

Thank you for your comments, Sarah x
My back will always be a problem, so I just have to learn to accept my limitations. It was certainly worth it, for sure, I would do it again in a heartbeat!

by Grete Howard

That's good to hear Grete (that you would do it again, I mean!)

by ToonSarah

I so like the puffins. I hope to see these birds in real life as well one day!

by Ils1976

Thank you, Ils. Apparently, this was not the best time of year to see puffins, so if that is a consideration, you are best to do some research before going.

by Grete Howard

I am definitely going to do that! :)

by Ils1976

Comments on this blog entry are now closed to non-Travellerspoint members. You can still leave a comment if you are a member of Travellerspoint.