Simonetta takes us to the Great North
Entre Cap Nord et Pôle Nord, Located between the North Cape and the North Pole, Spitsbergen is a spine-tingling place. Here, the ice has frozen the landscape into powerful silent scenery. Simonetta and a friend set off on an expedition on board a scientific boat to try to get to grips with it. The Ocean Nova cruises the dark waters of this region at the very height of summer. A region where 59% of the landmass is covered with ice and the wildlife is protected. Destination Spitsbergen for a day on what is set to be a boat trip like no other.
Sptizberg. A strange name, a place of dreams, a mere speck at the very top of the globe.
It is very early when the first passengers climb up to the observation decks. In the pale light of a night bathed in the colours of daytime, the polar boat advances slowly. It is the beginning of August and the ice has melted in places, redesigning the landscape and strewing icebergs all around. At 80° 12' N latitude, with a slight tack to starboard, the boat enters Woodfjord. Ahead of us, the peaks of Albert I Land dissect the horizon framed by the ice caps. The air is sharp and pure. The day looks set to be idyllic. The outside temperature is 4°C.
08:00. Breakfast is served.
Time for a coffee and a couple of pastries before the first lecture of the day begins.
09:15. The lecturers and guides open the discussion.
In the panoramic room, they provide an overview of the different French expeditions that have explored the Arctic over the centuries. It's fascinating stuff, and particularly those of Prince Albert I of Monaco. Icebergs glide by the wide windows. On the water, three inflatable Zodiacs set off to carry out reconnaissance. Their aim? To spot bears. More specifically, polar bears, which have been protected here since 1973, just like the walruses found elsewhere. To celebrate its natural beauty, this archipelago is home to a number of reserves and national parks. Daily excursions offer the chance to discover its many small wonders.
10:00. Dressed in parka coats, gloves and boots with life jackets on their backs,
the passengers file onto the Zodiacs.
Direction? Land. And it's up to you what you see. The hikers will dash off to the glacier while others will admire the view from the moraine. Another group might remain on board the boats to observe the Ida glacier located just a bit further away. It's magical. The tundra in its tawny colours, the ice and its blue-tinged reflections.
12:30. Lunchtime arrives.
There is only one on-board restaurant, but the chef knows how to really treat the guests.
13:30. Everyone is resting. Suddenly, the crackle of the radio awakens everyone from their stupor. The announcement comes over clearly: Bears have just been sighted on nearby islands. It's action stations. Everyone is on board the Zodiacs within a couple of minutes. The excitement is contagious. 20 metres away, the bears appear. It is a rare and precious moment.
15:45. Returning to the boat, everyone talks about what they saw, with an abundance of beautiful photos on their cameras and images imprinted on their memories. A specialist discusses the fur, behaviour and a thousand other details about these big polar teddy bears.
17:00. The boat continues its course.
Several metres away, one of Spitsbergen’s most beautiful glaciers, Monacobreen, appears.
The Zodiacs are launched back into the water for a closer look. This exploratory trip lasts over two hours, taking passengers along the front of the ice of this giant that measures 5 km in length. The scenery is incredible. All around, snow-whitened peaks rise to 1100 m. On board, only the clicks of camera shutters and the crinkled-paper noise of the blocks of ice sliding around the boat can be heard. The nearby birds – gulls, seagulls and guillemots – perform a choreographed dance. Spitsbergen seems more magical than ever. For almost two and a half hours, the immaculate polar landscape is a silent kingdom offering a wild and powerful sight.
19:30. Everyone returns to their cabins, heads full of beautiful images.
In a few moments, the boat's glaciologist will talk about the day to come and the 2650 glaciers located in this part of the world.
20:30: It's dinnertime. Starving after an emotionally charged day, the passengers relish the small dishes cooked up by the chef. Great care is taken over the flavoursome on-board food. After the day's trips out onto the sea, a good meal is always welcome. Outside, the scenery slips by. In the distance, the hot springs of Bockfjord and Moffen can be seen; a lost rocky island located at over 80° N latitude.
23:30. In the light of the midnight sun, the Ocean Nova charts its path.
Everything is quiet, as if numbed by an icy fist.
Suddenly, an announcement jolts the already half-asleep passengers awake. A colony of 80 walruses is visible port side. Everyone to the deck! It's an unmissable show. It will fill the passengers' sleep with life-sized dreams. Dreams that will become reality the very next day when the boat approaches the ice field and its immense white expanse, a kingdom of bears and walruses.
Tip: to see other posts on the same region, click on the name of the country underneath the title of the article.