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Franz Josef Land Ecology Safari

Found deep in the Russian Arctic, explore Franz Josef Land to find polar bears, whales, seals, walruses, and more surrounded by icy scenery. The archipelago was completely unknown to humanity until 1870, and since then has been obscured from the common traveler by veils of ice and politics. Travel when ice retreats enough to allow passage, taking advantage of this season’s window and a newly open political climate to explore the recently declared Russian Arctic National Park. Discover a dynamic environment of shifting sea ice and glaciated islands that create the perfect habitat for seals, polar bears, walrus, sea cliff breeding bird colonies, and the possible rare and elusive bowhead whale. The high Arctic is a polar desert, beautiful and stark, sometimes profoundly inhospitable, sometimes bountiful by turns. This exploratory voyage will take you from Longyearbyen on the west coast of Svalbard, east to Franz Josef Land, and back. Journey into waters where polar adventure and opportunity await!

Franz Josef Land Ecology Safari itinerary:

show reverse itinerary
Day 1 Travel To Norway
Travel to Norway from home or onward from our Finland safari. Note: Cheesemans' are members of World Cetacean Alliance and abide by responsible whale watching practices.
Day 2 Arrive In Longyearbyen, Svalbard
Relax in Longyearbyen for the night, preparing for your expedition.
Day 3 Sail To Franz Josef Land
Board the Sea Spirit and travel east by northeast into the Barents Sea, hoping for good whale watching conditions.
Days 4 - 5 Sail To Franz Josef Land
Enjoy a lecture series about Franz Josef Land and the high Arctic environments you are traveling through. North of the Arctic Circle you travel through 24hrs of daylight, a wonderful novelty allowing the possibility of wildlife sightings at any hour. By afternoon of your second day you will be approaching the remote Franz Josef Land archipelago. Before you can land, your initial call is to the Russian polar station Nagurskoye in Cambridge Bay for customs and passport control.
Days 6 - 13 Explore Franz Josef Land
Due to the expeditionary nature of this voyage, specific stops cannot be guaranteed. Flexibility is paramount in expedition travel; the following itinerary depends on the conditions at the time of travel. We strive to land often and stay as long as possible, abiding by the guidelines of minimum impact travel set by AECO, the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators. Sailing into the waters of Franz Josef Land finds us in a rarified space. Curtained behind ice and political lines for most of human history, almost no compelling place on the planet has received less travelers. Yet you can expect to find iconic arctic wildlife including polar bears, walruses, bowhead whales, and enormous nesting colonies of seabirds. You will sail, Zodiac cruise, and hike around stunning, stark scenery filled with glowing glaciers and illuminated icebergs. Zodiacs make the ideal platform for exploring cliff-nesting seabird colonies where you find large numbers of thick-billed murres (Brünnich’s guillemots) and black-legged kittiwakes flanked by black guillemots, dovekies, fulmars, and ivory gulls. The timing is perfect for the semi-annual event of every arctic sea cliff bird colony, when young guillemots leap seaward, attempting to evade glaucous gulls on their maiden glides into the sea. Human exploration of the arctic was not friendly to wildlife. Svalbard was discovered in the 1600’s and immediately set upon by sealers and whalers. Walruses were eradicated and bowhead whales were hunted until they were extremely rare. But what the sealers and whalers did not know was that healthy populations were sheltered 300mi to the east, hidden for another 300 years in Franz Josef Land. Fortunately for us, these refuge populations are where today’s wildlife is now healthiest, repopulating waters that were hunted out. Around Franz Josef Land you can Zodiac cruise near important walrus haul-outs where large numbers of calves are born, and you can reasonably hope to find the elusive bowhead (Greenland) whale. Potential Zodiac Cruising or Landing Sites: Alger and Mathilda Island Discover relics from many expeditions, including the huts of Camp Ziegler built by Baldwin in 1901. Zodiac cruise among illuminated icebergs. Ivory gulls are commonly found here. Apollonoff and Stolichka Island Zodiac cruise around the largest known walrus haul-out in the archipelago with up to 1,000 animals, dominated by females and calves, and keep your eyes out for polar bears looking for sick or helpless prey. Common eiders, arctic terns, and small colonies of little auks and glaucous gulls are found in this dramatic landscape they call home. Bell Island Walk amid the stacks and grottos of sandstone up to the bell-shaped hill for which the island was named. Travel back in time to Eira Lodge, built in 1881 by Leigh Smith and used as a refuge for several generations of explorers. While Smith was here, his vessel Eira was crushed by ice. We intend to avoid a similar fate. Walk amid three- to ten-thousand-year-old whale bones and see nesting glaucous gulls. Champ Island Known for its special geological phenomenon: perfectly round stone spheres from around 1cm to 2m in diameter scattered amid the highest mountains in the archipelago. Claimed to be one of the most beautiful islands, the red, yellow, and green mosses are juxtaposed against the dramatic snow-capped peaks and surrounding glaciers, providing stunning opportunities for photography. Zodiac around the cacophony of bird calls along the cliff known to house nesting black-legged kittiwakes, little auks, and black guillemots. East of Champ Island, you’ll Zodiac cruise Pondorff’s narrows in an extreme geographic rarity, a narrow stretch of open water between two dramatic glacier fronts that face each other. Hall Island At Cape Tegetthoff, photograph the towering dorsal fin shaped cliffs amid seabird colonies. Hooker Island Surrounded by glaciers, lava solidified to form Rubini Rock in Tikhaya Bay, named after the opera singer Giovanni Battista Rubini reportedly because of the raucous calls of around 100,000 nesting seabirds along the cliffs, including thick-billed murres (Brünnich’s guillemots), little auks, black-legged kittiwakes, northern fulmars, glaucous gulls, and black guillemots. You may encounter bearded or harp seals, polar bears, and with luck walrus or a bowhead (Greenland) whale. Tikhaya bay is also home to the first Soviet polar station, Bukhta Tikhaya in operation from 1928 to 1959. In this most sheltered part of Franz Josef Land you can discover 43 of the archipelago’s 55 flowering plant species alongside possible sightings of rock ptarmigan, purple sandpiper or arctic fox. Jackson Island Travel back in time to Cape Norvegia to see the remains of Fridtjof Nansen and Hjalmar Johansen’s 1895–1896 wintering site, after their attempt to reach the North Pole. Walk among poppies, saxifrages, buttercups, willows, and beautiful carpets of red moss and watch black-legged kittiwakes flitting around their colony. Polar bears often roam nearby, and you may encounter narwhals and beluga whales near the coast. Northbrook Island Cape Flora is home to a few polar expedition bases amid thick carpets of colorful mosses. Leigh Smith spent ten months here after ice crushed and sank his ship in 1880 and where a chance encounter occurred between Frederick George Jackson and Fidtjof Nansen. You’ll visit remnants of the largely intact settlement from the Jackson expedition. You may witness young thick-billed murres (Brünnich’s guillemots) aloft and arctic foxes foraging. You’ll also zodiac cruise in Günther Bay near an important walrus haul-out. Prince Rudolf Island If Franz Josef Land is unusually ice free, you will take the opportunity to navigate to Eurasia’s northernmost point, Cape Fligely, a site where the presence of polar bears can make it a challenge to set foot on this unique spot. Wilczek Island Discover the remains of the stations of early polar explorers like the Austrians, Weyprecht and Payer, who first discovered Franz Joseph Land in the 19th century.
Days 14 - 15 Sail Back To Svalbard
Before you depart Franz Josef Land, you’ll have your final call at the Russian polar station Nagurskoye in Cambridge Bay. Sail westward to Svalbard.
Day 16 Disembark And Fly Homeward
Disembark the Sea Spirit in Longyearbyen to catch your flights homeward.
Day 17 Arrive Home
Please Note:
Itineraries are subject to change.

Franz Josef Land Ecology Safari reverse itinerary:

show main itinerary
Itineraries are subject to change.
Disembark the Sea Spirit in Longyearbyen to catch your flights homeward.
Before you depart Franz Josef Land, you’ll have your final call at the Russian polar station Nagurskoye in Cambridge Bay. Sail westward to Svalbard.
Due to the expeditionary nature of this voyage, specific stops cannot be guaranteed. Flexibility is paramount in expedition travel; the following itinerary depends on the conditions at the time of travel. We strive to land often and stay as long as possible, abiding by the guidelines of minimum impact travel set by AECO, the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators. Sailing into the waters of Franz Josef Land finds us in a rarified space. Curtained behind ice and political lines for most of human history, almost no compelling place on the planet has received less travelers. Yet you can expect to find iconic arctic wildlife including polar bears, walruses, bowhead whales, and enormous nesting colonies of seabirds. You will sail, Zodiac cruise, and hike around stunning, stark scenery filled with glowing glaciers and illuminated icebergs. Zodiacs make the ideal platform for exploring cliff-nesting seabird colonies where you find large numbers of thick-billed murres (Brünnich’s guillemots) and black-legged kittiwakes flanked by black guillemots, dovekies, fulmars, and ivory gulls. The timing is perfect for the semi-annual event of every arctic sea cliff bird colony, when young guillemots leap seaward, attempting to evade glaucous gulls on their maiden glides into the sea. Human exploration of the arctic was not friendly to wildlife. Svalbard was discovered in the 1600’s and immediately set upon by sealers and whalers. Walruses were eradicated and bowhead whales were hunted until they were extremely rare. But what the sealers and whalers did not know was that healthy populations were sheltered 300mi to the east, hidden for another 300 years in Franz Josef Land. Fortunately for us, these refuge populations are where today’s wildlife is now healthiest, repopulating waters that were hunted out. Around Franz Josef Land you can Zodiac cruise near important walrus haul-outs where large numbers of calves are born, and you can reasonably hope to find the elusive bowhead (Greenland) whale. Potential Zodiac Cruising or Landing Sites: Alger and Mathilda Island Discover relics from many expeditions, including the huts of Camp Ziegler built by Baldwin in 1901. Zodiac cruise among illuminated icebergs. Ivory gulls are commonly found here. Apollonoff and Stolichka Island Zodiac cruise around the largest known walrus haul-out in the archipelago with up to 1,000 animals, dominated by females and calves, and keep your eyes out for polar bears looking for sick or helpless prey. Common eiders, arctic terns, and small colonies of little auks and glaucous gulls are found in this dramatic landscape they call home. Bell Island Walk amid the stacks and grottos of sandstone up to the bell-shaped hill for which the island was named. Travel back in time to Eira Lodge, built in 1881 by Leigh Smith and used as a refuge for several generations of explorers. While Smith was here, his vessel Eira was crushed by ice. We intend to avoid a similar fate. Walk amid three- to ten-thousand-year-old whale bones and see nesting glaucous gulls. Champ Island Known for its special geological phenomenon: perfectly round stone spheres from around 1cm to 2m in diameter scattered amid the highest mountains in the archipelago. Claimed to be one of the most beautiful islands, the red, yellow, and green mosses are juxtaposed against the dramatic snow-capped peaks and surrounding glaciers, providing stunning opportunities for photography. Zodiac around the cacophony of bird calls along the cliff known to house nesting black-legged kittiwakes, little auks, and black guillemots. East of Champ Island, you’ll Zodiac cruise Pondorff’s narrows in an extreme geographic rarity, a narrow stretch of open water between two dramatic glacier fronts that face each other. Hall Island At Cape Tegetthoff, photograph the towering dorsal fin shaped cliffs amid seabird colonies. Hooker Island Surrounded by glaciers, lava solidified to form Rubini Rock in Tikhaya Bay, named after the opera singer Giovanni Battista Rubini reportedly because of the raucous calls of around 100,000 nesting seabirds along the cliffs, including thick-billed murres (Brünnich’s guillemots), little auks, black-legged kittiwakes, northern fulmars, glaucous gulls, and black guillemots. You may encounter bearded or harp seals, polar bears, and with luck walrus or a bowhead (Greenland) whale. Tikhaya bay is also home to the first Soviet polar station, Bukhta Tikhaya in operation from 1928 to 1959. In this most sheltered part of Franz Josef Land you can discover 43 of the archipelago’s 55 flowering plant species alongside possible sightings of rock ptarmigan, purple sandpiper or arctic fox. Jackson Island Travel back in time to Cape Norvegia to see the remains of Fridtjof Nansen and Hjalmar Johansen’s 1895–1896 wintering site, after their attempt to reach the North Pole. Walk among poppies, saxifrages, buttercups, willows, and beautiful carpets of red moss and watch black-legged kittiwakes flitting around their colony. Polar bears often roam nearby, and you may encounter narwhals and beluga whales near the coast. Northbrook Island Cape Flora is home to a few polar expedition bases amid thick carpets of colorful mosses. Leigh Smith spent ten months here after ice crushed and sank his ship in 1880 and where a chance encounter occurred between Frederick George Jackson and Fidtjof Nansen. You’ll visit remnants of the largely intact settlement from the Jackson expedition. You may witness young thick-billed murres (Brünnich’s guillemots) aloft and arctic foxes foraging. You’ll also zodiac cruise in Günther Bay near an important walrus haul-out. Prince Rudolf Island If Franz Josef Land is unusually ice free, you will take the opportunity to navigate to Eurasia’s northernmost point, Cape Fligely, a site where the presence of polar bears can make it a challenge to set foot on this unique spot. Wilczek Island Discover the remains of the stations of early polar explorers like the Austrians, Weyprecht and Payer, who first discovered Franz Joseph Land in the 19th century.
Enjoy a lecture series about Franz Josef Land and the high Arctic environments you are traveling through. North of the Arctic Circle you travel through 24hrs of daylight, a wonderful novelty allowing the possibility of wildlife sightings at any hour. By afternoon of your second day you will be approaching the remote Franz Josef Land archipelago. Before you can land, your initial call is to the Russian polar station Nagurskoye in Cambridge Bay for customs and passport control.
Board the Sea Spirit and travel east by northeast into the Barents Sea, hoping for good whale watching conditions.
Relax in Longyearbyen for the night, preparing for your expedition.
Travel to Norway from home or onward from our Finland safari. Note: Cheesemans' are members of World Cetacean Alliance and abide by responsible whale watching practices.
* = Indicative
Map for Franz Josef Land Ecology Safari
Sea Spirit, the ship servicing Franz Josef Land Ecology Safari

Sea Spirit

Vessel Type: Luxury Expedition

Length: 90 metres

Passenger Capacity: 112

Built / refurbished: 1992 / 2011

Sail aboard the remarkably comfortable Sea Spirit and experience the polar regions in grand style with spacious suites. Sea Spirit accommodates just 112 passengers, all in spacious suites with panoramic oceans views. Think king-size or twin beds, en suites, flat screen TVs and DVDs and internet satellite. Many suites have private balconies, lounge areas, dressing tables

There is a lounge, bistro and bar, hot tub, gym, a state-of-the-art presentation room and stabilisers for smooth cruising.

  • All-suite ship
  • Smallest suite is a spacious 215 square feet.
  • 15 suites have balconies.
  • Owner's Suite is an outstanding 550 sq. feet.
  • Flat Screen TVs and DVD players in every suite
  • Gymnasium and Hot Tub with seating area and Bistro
  • Library/Games Room
  • Open bar
  • Elevator 
  • Every suite has an exterior view

Some cabin plans may vary depending on the cruise, please check for details.

Classic suite - Suites do vary                                      Zodiac dock

Cabin layout for Sea Spirit
• Spend eight landing days on one of the planet’s most hidden and seldom visited wildlife destinations, the northernmost archipelago in Eurasia.

• Discover some of the world’s most dense populations of polar bears and walruses.

• Ice, seascape, and landscape photography with dramatic lighting and arctic intensity.

• Participate in citizen science alongside a team of international marine scientists.

• Our 14 leaders are polar specialists, photographers, scientists, and naturalists who will provide lectures, workshops, and guided excursions.
Enquire now about Franz Josef Land Ecology Safari

Travel on the Sea Spirit

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