We awoke to the beautiful winter scenery of Hellemofjorden. The first view that greeted most of us was of rounded mountain ridges rising out of the narrow fjord, the tops covered with a fine layer of newly fallen snow. It was another day of typical Norwegian weather: low clouds that occasionally offered a glimpse of the blue sky, whilst light rain, fine hail, and even snow made us aware that, yes, indeed…we were on our way north. We were definitely in the Arctic!
Our landing today was at the end of Hellemofjorden. From here, it is only about 3.7 miles (6 km) to the Swedish border! Snug in the steep mountain walls lies a tiny summer settlement called Hellemobotn, which is only accessible by boat. We quickly left behind the few houses, which are temporarily used by a group of Sámi reindeer herders. Many of us hiked across the diverse terrain, through one of those typical primeval, temperate Norwegian rainforests of conifers and birch. We continued alongside a river towards a waterfall that looked like a huge water slide. Some of us Zodiac cruised the fjord and explored this peaceful, remote place from sea level. Today was by far the coldest day of our trip, so everybody was happy to be greeted onboard with cups of hot chocolate!
We spent the afternoon onboard. After another delicious lunch, Captain Martin Graser invited us into the Ice Lounge for his presentation, "What is so special about this new Lindblad Expedition ship." He enthusiastically informed us about azipods, x-bows, ice-strengthening, and the amazing steering capabilities of National Geographic Resolution. In the late afternoon, we cruised Tysfjord, the deepest fjord in Northern Norway, reaching 2,943 feet (897 meters) below sea level. We stopped beneath Norway’s national mountain, Stetind, where the hotel department offered a wine tasting in the den on deck 8, accompanied by a delicious assortment of cheese and sweets. After this, we enjoyed an equally educating and entertaining lecture by Dennis, who talked about, "Plants and Lichens of Norway.” During the adjacent daily recap, Carl Erik Kilander enlightened us about the Sámi. These Finno-Ugric-speaking people inhabit the region of Sápmi, formerly known as Lapland. Kerstin Langenberger amused us with the story of Brigadier Sir Nils Olav III, a king penguin that happens to be colonel-in-chief of the Norwegian King's Guard. National Geographic photographer Nick Cobbing gave us insights into his photography before our expedition leader, Stefano Pozzi, informed us about tomorrow’s plans. We rounded off our day with another fantastic dinner as we sailed silently through the fjords of Vesterålen.
National Geographic Endurance
It’s hard to believe that our amazing journey together is coming to an end. Today’s expedition in Bamsebu in Bellsund treaded an oddly comfortable line between the utterly foreign wilds of the High Arctic, and the now familiar embrace of a landscape we have fallen in love with. The wind was brisk, but explorers of all interests set out to absorb the scenery with new flames of intrigue, ignited by our two weeks of exploration. Discarded reindeer antlers, whalebones left behind from human activities of the past, old ships, ancient fossils, lichens, mosses, fresh buds of spring plants: we were surrounded by a plethora of curios set amongst stunning scenery and snow topped mountains. As we took time to talk about what we had seen in the morning during our afternoon “recap,” we were interrupted by a radio call from our captain. The folks on the bridge had spotted something white and fluffy on the ice ahead! Our time in Svalbard concluded, stunningly, with one last solitary polar bear ambling along the last remaining fast ice of the season. How lucky we have been on this incredible expedition!