Friday 15th June
Last nights rough conditions eased as we travelled north and in between two islands which gave a smooth ride that most appreciated and slept nicely.
During the night, the anchor was dropped and in the morning we found ourselves in King Bay – Aleysund. This was where Hubert Wilkins was aiming for when he flew from Alaska to Svalbard over a hundred years ago on his extraordinary flight with the most basic of navigation instruments.
We’re next to a glacier and the weather is glorious. Bright sunshine, almost warm and we enjoyed a breakfast of porridge, omelettes, cereals – plenty of everything provided by the chef who is an engaging and friendly chap.
Our first journey on the Zodiacs was a good experience. Dressing up in our wet weather gear, overjackets, $25 boots from Bunnings alongside very expensive Muck Boots with neoprene wet suit material – both seemed to work fine.
The crew off load the zodiacs from the rear – aft – deck with the ships crane and they are brought around to the side of the boat where we climb down a few steps, step onto the side of the zodiac then into the base – being supported by a crew. Still hanging onto the crew, you turn around and sit down on the side, and your backpack is passed to you. Always having two hands free for the climb.
A short ride of perhaps 300 metres and a smooth landing on the beach, spin around 180° and drop into the water – after checking the depth. Fortunately no inrush of freezing water into my boots!! Single shot rifles were prepared as a matter of completely last resort. Sensible behaviours by us, and a couple of long plastic poles carried by the guides are the other lines of defence against polar bears. Our guide has written a book about Polar Bear behaviours and appears quite confident and competent to assist and support us should danger come our way. We need to play our part and follow instructions!
A slow stroll along the beach to observe a large bird nesting rookery and we found fresh polar bear prints. Large for an animal, with pad and claws it would have been as long as my foot and twice as wide. These were fresh marks left since the last high tide – so we were on the lookout.
As we climbed to the top of the rookery bluff, we saw reindeer, including one young one that was feeling hot in the sun, so was lying on the snow to cool down. Several birds and awesome mountain views. One pair of Rock Ptarmigan with the male in white and the female very well camouflaged.
The sun stayed out all morning with very clear almost cloudless skies and after four hours we returned to the boat very satisfied. Chef had delayed lunch to suit our late return. They are always in radio contact with each other, the two guides and the boat crew.
After a lunch of soup with fresh cooked bread, we were all sent for a siesta which was very welcome. The climb up the bluff was arduous with steep sections and wearing the heavy boots walking in slushy ground was hard going. The views across Kings Bay had amazing clarity.
The afternoon started at 4:00pm with both zodiacs being loaded with 6 passengers each – a real luxury with most cruises fitting twelve giving no room to move around.
We cruised along the coastline searching for the polar bear we’d seen before, but with no luck.
Quite quickly the weather changed. The wind picked up as we came close to the glaciers, as did the waves and our wet weather overjackets were put to the test. My lovely warm possum gloves are not waterproof!. I carried a waterproof bag to store the camera and this worked well, simply pulling it over the camera that was dangling around my neck.
We snuck into little coves along the rocky coast, coming close to little icebergs allowed some great pictures of the patterns in the ice.
We made our way back to the Kinfish and left our heavy gear in the mud room, before settling into dinner a while later. Salmon first, then schnitzels second. We are being very well fed!
After dinner we lifted the anchor and motored close to the glacier, edging into uncharted waters as a snails pace. Fred the captain is cautious about ice – wise I think. Around 9:30pm, with it still quite light outside, I closed the hatch on the cabin, crawled into bed and slept soundly.