Ny-Alesund - 78 50‟ N, 011 30‟, E
Magdalenefjorden - 79 30‟ N, 010 30‟ E
Weather: overcast, no wind.
Temperature: 6° C/43º F
In the early morning we came into Kongsfjord and arrived at Ny Ålesund, said to be the worlds northern-most community. It is a former coal mining settlement that has become an important international research centre. Work is mainly on the atmosphere and ozone layer, but geological, biological and glacial research is also carried out here by many different countries. We had guided walking tours in town, where we divided into different groups and some went bird hunting (armed with a telescope only!). The rest of us had a cultural and historical overview. During our time here we looked at the old train that was in use in the mining period. Among everything else here holding the title “northernmost”, this train is the northernmost railway in the world.
We walked through this small town with colorful wooden houses from before World War II. Some of us even went inside one of them – where they have made a museum – and we could see how people were living in the early 1960‟s. Next to the Amundsen bust we heard about the many people starting their expeditions from this remote settlement. But the most interesting story was the one about the Norwegian Roald Amundsen and the Italian, Umberto Nobile. They flew over the North Pole in an airship in 1926. Some of us walked over to the airshipmast that is still there. After that we enjoyed some time for ourselves and some shopping, in this peaceful place.
Underneath one of the old houses there is often a family of Arctic foxes and they are here this year too. Many of us saw the male at very close range. He was very active – running around, sniffing the ground, digging in the soil and coming very close to us. At the end of our time ashore some of us were surprised to see an Arctic Tern fall onto the ground next to the fox. The fox saw it and soon picked it up in its mouth before disappearing under the house, which is where the cubs are born. Other interesting wildlife included Reindeer, Arctic Terns, Red-throated Divers, Snow Buntings and Arctic Skuas.
From the dock the ship headed north, past the seven glaciers, towards Magdalenefjorden. This is the most well known fjord in Spitsbergen and is also one of the few places where big cruise ships are allowed to come. It is a lovely fjord with peaked mountains on both sides and an impressive glacier at the end. These are the mountains Willem Barents first saw when he discovered Svalbard in 1596, naming the biggest island Spitsbergen (peaked mountains) after them.
Entering the fjord, a snow-covered peninsula stuck out from the southern shore; this is where we landed with the Zodiacs. This is Gravneset (“the grave-yard peninsula”) where Dutch and English whalers from northwestern Spitsbergen came to bury their dead in the 17th and 18th centuries. There are 150 men buried here. Down on the beach there are remains from two blubber ovens where blubber from whales was rendered or boiled down. At the end of the beach lies a small cabin where the Sysselmannen (Governor) has officers during the summer.
After dinner we went close to the spectacular front of the Smeerenburg glacier. All around were dramatic, snow-covered mountains smaller glaciers and small bays. In some of them there was still ice attached to the land but it is melting rapidly. Sailing northwards out of Smeerenburg Fjord, Polar Star turned to the east.