Visions of Svalbard: landscapes and wildlife around Ny-Ålesund.

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This is the final blogpost in our “polar” series, dedicated to those days when Maarten (who is writing this) was sent to the arctic and antarctic in order to research the marine fauna there. Until now, I have written about my experiences in Antarctica. This blogpost is the only one about my stay on the island of Spitsbergen (in 2007). Since I basically stayed in one location (the Ny-Ålesund research village) and only left this place on two (short) occasions, I really can’t say I have seen a lot of the island. Spitsbergen is the largest island of the Svalbard archipelago (the other two islands are Edgeøya and Nordaustlandet). Halfway between mainland Norway and the north pole, Spitsbergen is a rugged and rather inhospitable place. I arrived in Longyearbyen (the administrative centre and “capital” of the archipelago) by plane from Oslo. Really not that interesting, Longyearbyen: basically one street, a museum, a university building, one pitta bar (!) and there you have it…

My only photo of Longyearbyen. Dull place if you ask me...
My only photo of Longyearbyen. Dull place if you ask me…

It took the small propeller plane between Longyearbyen and Ny-Ålesund three attempts to land (weather conditions were not optimal), which resulted in an extra day in Longyearbyen for me. So I visited the local museum about fisheries and mining. It turned out that Ny-Ålesund had been a miners’ village until the eighties. There are still a few remnants of that era in the village, including an old coal train and an old concrete (and sightly spooky) building.

The train of Ny-Ålesund.
The old coal train of Ny-Ålesund.
Different angle. Even more beautiful?
Different angle. Even more beautiful?
Personally, I thought this mining facility was really spooky...
Personally, I thought this mining facility was really spooky…

Flying from Longyearbyen towards Ny-Ålesund was the best way to see the island, its mountains, its glaciers etc. Really impressive!

View over Spitsbergen from the air.
View over Spitsbergen from the air.
Arrival. This is Ny-Ålesund.
Arrival. This is Ny-Ålesund.

I stayed in the “Blue house”. Following Norwegian tradition, most houses are brightly coloured here.

The blue house behind a bust of Norwegian polar explorer Roald Amundsen.
The blue house behind a bust of Norwegian polar explorer Roald Amundsen.
Loved those colourful houses. But the backdrop was even better...
Loved those colourful houses. But the backdrop was even better…

Ny-Ålesund was a very colourful place to stay, but that wasn’t only due to the buildings. We didn’t really have dark nights here (so close to the north pole), but there were some very extraordinary orange-yellow-pink-red skies during late evening/early morning.

Pink skies over the meteorological station.
Pink skies over the meteorological station. Pretty proud that this picture was featured in the June 2016 issue of Lonely Planet Traveler magazine.
Colourful night sky above the roofs of Ny-Ålesund.
Colourful night sky above the roofs of Ny-Ålesund.
The pier at night.
The pier at night.

I had been looking forward to seeing walrus or polar bear, but no such luck for me. When you leave the village, there are signposts warning the hiker for polar bears, but it turned out they weren’t all that common. In a way that was fortunate for us, since an encounter with a polar bear is potentially lethal.

Beware of the polar bear!
Beware of the polar bear!

On the other hand: it would have been one hell of a wildlife encounter. So I had to settle with two polar foxes (no photos: saw them from the window of the restaurant at around half past 1am), a few reindeer, geese, Purple Sandpiper (Calidris maritima) and Arctic Skua (Stercorarius parasiticus).

Interested reindeer.
Interested reindeer.
An Arctic Skua flying by.
An Arctic Skua flying by.
Purple Sandpiper.
Purple Sandpiper.
Polar fox's pawprints.
Polar fox’s pawprints.
Geese were here...
Geese were here…
One of the many Huskeys in the village.
One of the many Huskeys in the village.

The real highlights of a trip to Spitsbergen are the landscapes: the magnificent, breathtaking surroundings of my work place just kept amazing me, especially in that special midnight light…

The village. This photo was taken on one of those rare occasions that I went outside the borders of the town.
The village. This photo was taken on one of those rare occasions that I went outside the borders of the town.
The "Tre Kroner" (three crowns) mountains.
The “Tre Kroner” (three crowns) mountains.
A three-master sailing ship, moored in the marina of Ny-Ålesund.
A three-master sailing ship, moored in the marina of Ny-Ålesund.
The pier.
The pier.
Everywhere you look, the landscape is jaw-dropping...
Everywhere you look, the landscape is jaw-dropping…

Spitsbergen is a unique place, and maybe I should come back one day to see a bit more of this island…

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