Heading north from Bjørnøya, we were stirred from our slumber around 2:00 a.m. by a gentle “thunk” that reverberated down the hull. Those new to the High Arctic awoke with curiosity, wondering what had happened. We pulled back the blackout curtains, and all was revealed in the gleaming midnight sun. We had reached the edge of the ice floes. The shape and strength of our vessel, National Geographic Endurance, allow us unrivaled access to the icy wilds of the east coast of Spitsbergen.

The High Arctic did not disappoint! Soon after breakfast, we spotted our first walrus: a group of three, basking in the sunshine on a small ice floe. They were calm and relaxed, and everyone got a good look at the biggest of our arctic pinniped friends.

The afternoon had all eyes on deck, searching and searching for the lords of the north. Excitement was palpable when the undeniable King of the Arctic was spotted just before dinner. For almost an hour, we had exceptional views of a large male polar bear strolling calmly along the edge of the ice. Cameras clicked and smiles abounded.

After dinner, we were exceptionally lucky to spot a healthy female polar bear with a healthy cub in tow. Mum is clearly a very good hunter, as both bears were in excellent body condition. We were treated to another spectacular viewing as the two cruised a large ice floe, looking for tasty blubber treats. What a spectacular way to kick off our time in Svalbard!