What a wonder-filled world!
Pat Richardson sailed into the world’s largest fjord system and saw the world’s northernmost active volcano on an expedition voyage with Hurtigruten.
My sense of adventure kicked in soon after MS Fram slipped out of Reykjavik’s harbour and headed North. What, you may wonder, lies North of Iceland? I was about to find out.
Of course, I’d already looked at the map and knew we would cross the Arctic Circle, and sail to Scoresbysund in East Greenland. After six days exploring its extensive fjord system we’d head east to remote, lava-strewn Jan Mayen Island, home to the world’s northernmost active volcano; then spend a day at sea en route to Norway and, on Day 12 of our 15-day voyage, would cross the Arctic Circle again, this time heading South.
I’d also read Hurtigruten’s what-to-pack list, and brought thermal underwear, woollen jumpers, socks, gloves, hats and scarves, fleece-lined trousers and tops. I knew they’d supply ‘muck’ boots plus a windproof, waterproof parka.
Purpose-built for polar expeditions, MS Fram is a comfortable, warm and welcoming base-camp. Cabins have no frills, but all the facilities you need; there’s an Observation Lounge with panoramic views and a bar; a restaurant where every table has a view, and every meal means an extensive choice of dishes. And there a Fitness Room, two saunas, two outdoor jacuzzis and a shop.
It is not, however, a cruise ship – that’s not what Hurtigruten offers. Sailing with them on their classic Norwegian coastal voyage delivers an authentic and immersive experience. And now, in response to growing passenger demand for more adventurous travel, they’re tailor-making a fleet of expedition ships, to explore both Polar regions, both coasts of North and South America, and the Amazon. On explorer voyages, the Expedition Team and expert guest lecturers give informative talks which enrich your travel experience. On both coastal and expedition voyages, the included ‘entertainment’ isn’t musicians, singers and dancers on stage, but the wonders of Nature to view as you sail.
And on my voyage – The Ultimate Fjord Expedition in the Arctic – those wonders never ceased. The Northern Polar region is another world, and the absence of people and of signs of civilisation throws all its natural beauty into sharp focus.
With virtually no light pollution this is, after dark, one of the best places to see the spectacular Northern Lights; and, albeit usually long after midnight, we did – watching, awed, watch awed as gossamer-fine white strands that we thought were clouds turned into swirling neon-bright pink, purple and green curtains that danced across the dark sky, and took our breath away.
By day, we marvelled at the stunning landscape of the Scoresbysund fjords. Against a backdrop of mountains, dusted with snow or draped with sagging glaciers, and occasional vivid red-rock outcrops, some fjords are crackle-paved with pack ice, and most are dotted with icebergs. Perhaps, like me, you’ve seen one or two small icebergs calve off a glacier in Alaska. Here, there aren’t just one or two, there are hundreds, and each is different. There are huge blocks with an air of menace; some that look like ghostly ships; others that resemble animals. Up close you can see patterns made by lapping waves or rippling water, dark lines etched by glacier-borne dirt, variations in texture. Those which are less compact have a jewel-like turquoise tint. I found them all mesmerisingly beautiful, and the highlight sight of the voyage.
Of course, there’s wildlife here too – polar bears, walruses, seals, Arctic hares, foxes and wolves and musk oxen too; but there are no guarantees that you’ll spot them. We saw only massive musk oxen and seabirds – yet, surrounded by stunning scenery, it didn’t seem that we’d been short-changed.
After one Icelandic port-call in Isafjordur, we wouldn’t dock again until we reached Norway. We anchored off Scoresbysund and were ferried by tender to the pier. Everywhere else we went ashore in Greenland was uninhabited – no ports, no port facilities. The ship’s Expedition Team would go ashore first, to check that a our possible landing place was safe for us to land by tender, and to mark out a walking route for us to take. Each such walk would serve as a reminder that, whether seen or unseen, Nature weaves beautiful tapestries. As we made our way over often-boggy ground, laced with little streams and covered with large moss-coated rocks, we saw scattered clumps of tiny jewel-bright wildflowers blooming defiantly.
On reaching Norway, we saw a more familiar ‘tapestry’ of roads, cars, towns, villages, farms, shops, paintbox-bright houses and, most exciting of all, trees, touched with Autumn’s gold. Excursions took us into narrow Trollfjord, where sea eagles soar; to the charming fishing village of Henningsvær and, for those with a taste for hairpin bends, along serpentine Trollstigen mountain road, or to see Vermafossen Waterfall’s spectacular 381-metre plunge.
Even here, Nature has the upper hand, and delivers stunning sights that will take your breath away.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Hurtigruten