In May 2019, I was lucky enough to make a trip to the Arctic for the first time. More precisely to Svalbard. At that time with the M/S Quest a ship with a maximum of 50 passengers. This year I spontaneously had the opportunity to travel to the Arctic again. The difference was not only the season but also the ship. This time we were on the M/S Stockholm is 70 years old and designed for 12 passengers only. However, there were only ten of us because two fellow passengers had booked single cabins. Both ships are operated and offered by Polarquest. The organization leaves nothing to be desired and the service on board is outstanding.
Unlike May (the time of my first trip), the weather is a bit more unstable in September. We had heavy seas the first two nights and I can tell you seasickness comes faster than you can look. Just getting from the bed to the toilet was a challenge. Lying with closed eyes went but without problems. Only the sleep came a little too briefly. But that’s not why I flew to the north. The first half of the trip was marked by snowfall and fog, but in the second half we were rewarded with beautiful weather and an incredible experience with polar foxes. But more about that later.
On my first trip in May we could unfortunately, because of the winds, not go to the north and have discovered the south. This time it went to the north and since we also had 3 days longer time we came to Bråsvellbreen. But then we went back via the north, so I didn’t go all the way around Svalbard in the two trips. The north has a lot more to offer. Here one finds large walrus colonies and also the landscape is more changeable than in the south. Nevertheless, the trip in May has an advantage. It was the time when the birds had already arrived in Svalbard. In September, on the other hand, most of the migratory birds have already left. Therefore, the diversity here leaves a little to be desired.
Our ship the M/S Stockholm
Even though that the M/S Stockholm is a more than 70 years old, it is in best condition. Designed for 12 passengers. Magnus the owner and captain as well as his crew made our stay very pleasant. The Stockholm not only has the advantage, due to its size, to go to places where other ships do not go, but it also has sea charts that no other ship has. In addition, with the guides and the captain, solutions were always found that combined both safety and the possibility of seeing wildlife. Whenever possible, the ship was placed in a position that allowed the best photographic perspective.
Wildlife in the Arctic
Nevertheless, the Arctic is worth a trip even in September. After the first snow, the landscape is incomparably beautiful and gentle. The light is undoubtedly outstanding. Somehow between hard and soft light. Can not really describe it, must have seen. The animals nevertheless let wait a little bit, but on the second day in Smeerenburg we got to see the first walruses. After that, however, everything you could wish for was there. Seals as well as whales, dolphins and, last but not least, polar bears.
Even though most of the birds had already left Svalbard, we still encountered a few species. My new favorite is the little sandpiper. A not at all shy bird. You can get up to about 2m close. This allows you to create beautiful images.
But also a lot of different species of gulls like the Arctic tern were present.But also a lot of different species of gulls like the Arctic tern were present.
Finally, on the last day of our trip we were surprised with an incredibly beautiful experience with young polar foxes. We were at the Alkhornet. The guides knew that the foxes here have offspring in the summer. Therefore the probability to meet polar foxes was relatively high. But in the wilderness you never know if it will happen. After about 20 minutes we saw an arctic fox eating a dead bird. We approached slowly and he did not let us disturb him at all. On the contrary, when he noticed us he became curious and came up to about 1.5 meters. He stole and buried the glove of our guide and explored us. But that was not all. Shortly after that a second arctic fox joined us. We spent about 1.5 hours with the two until they decided to leave.
My equipment was a little different from that in 2019. In the meantime I have a M.Zuiko Digital ED 150-400mm lens, which replaces the M.Zuiko Digital ED 300mm of the last trip. I also had the M.Zuiko Digital 40-150mm and the M.Zuiko Digital ED 8-25mm, which replaced the M.Zuiko Digital 7-14mm. Three lenses that covered all eventualities in the Arctic. I took most of the pictures with the 150-400mm. Of course, after all, you can’t get very close to most animals. But also the wide angle zoom had its purpose. Especially for the landscape shots.
Even in September the Arctic is worth a trip. Even if most migratory birds have already started their journey south, the Arctic still offers enough to make the photographic heart beat faster. Especially the encounters with polar bears and arctic foxes will stay in my memory forever. Not to forget the incredible light. Both seasons have their charms. In spring the first birds populate the cliffs, in September the first fresh snow and the opportunity to go in search of tracks.
Interested? Let me know if you have any further questions about the trip and my experiences. Happy to answer them. I will also post pictures in my portfolio as the days go by. Or you can follow me on Instagram.