Category Archives: Expeditions

Penguins of Antarctica

Although there are 18 species of penguin in the world, only 7 live in the Antarctica region. These adorable looking birds vary in size and markings although they all have the ‘tuxedo’ black and white feathers. With this colouring, when swimming through the water from below they look like the light surface of the water, while from the sky, they blend with the darker colour of the sea.

Bentours offers a number of packages that will take you on an expedition cruise to incredible Antarctica and the surrounding islands, where you can discover these seabirds for yourself.

Adélie Penguin

Adélies live in Antarctica all year round although the best time to see them is from spring to autumn, as in the winter they mostly spend their time in the water. Adélies were named by French explorer Jules Dumont d’Urville after his wife Adélie. They are the smallest Antarctic species and the male and female are impossible to tell apart in either appearance or behaviour – they both take equal share of the care-giving of chicks. Like many penguins, Adélies build their nests from stones stolen from the nests of rival pairs and can be quite territorial.

Emperor Penguin

Emperors are the largest and probably most recognisable penguin, with yellow or orange plumage on their heads. They are usually about 115cm tall (that’s about the size of a six year old!) and weigh around 23kg. Like Adélies, they stay in Antarctica year round although they rarely actually set foot on land in their lifetimes, instead breeding on the sea ice. Emperors can dive to depths of 500m and hold their breath for 22 minutes at a time!

Emperors do not build nests but rather, once the female has laid the egg, the male will look after it for up to two months on its feet. During this time it regulates the egg’s temperature with its collection of excess feathers that form a brood pouch.

Gentoo Penguin

Gentoos are the speediest penguin underwater, travelling at up to 35km/h. They are the third largest penguin and weigh in at about 5kg. Gentoos make nests from molted feathers, stones and vegetation (when breeding on islands around Antarctica). Probably most interesting about Gentoos is their ability to slow down their heartbeat on deep dives from 80-100 bpm to 20 bpm!

Chinstrap Penguins

As their name suggests, Chinstraps have black markings that make them appear to be wearing a helmet, with a strap under the chin. There are at least 8 million in the world making them one of the most common. Male chinstraps will race to claim the best nest in the breeding grounds and then wait for five days for his mate to arrive. If the female does not arrive in that time, the male may take a new mate. Watch out though if the original female finds her mate with ‘another woman’ – fighting ensues to win the affection of the male. Males who are unable to find a nest, may force other couples out of theirs.

Macaroni Penguin

Macaronis mostly live on islands surrounding Antarctica such as South Georgia and the Falkland Islands. They are very territorial and aggressive and fights between males are very common. They have bright spiky orange eyebrows (called crests) and lay two eggs, although usually only one develops.

Rockhopper Penguin

As their name suggests, Rockhoppers move very distinctively, jumping from stone to stone on the rockier north Antarctic islands. They make their nests between the crevices of rocks in rough terrain to deter predators. Rockhoppers have bright yellow or orange eyebrows that extend all the way to the crown of their heads and are known for having a rather erratic temperament. Like all penguins, they can rest on their bellies but they additionally cover their face with their flippers when they find a comfortable rock to snooze on.

King Penguin

Kings are the second largest penguin and, like the Emperor, do not create nests but use the same brood pouches to protect their eggs during incubation. King penguins have more a dark grey than black back and live in large colonies. During the winter time, they will often leave their chicks for weeks unattended, while during the summer they migrate to the South. When the chicks are fully grown but unfledged they appear bigger than the adult Kings – so much so, in fact, that originally they were mistaken as an entirely different species of ‘woolly penguins’.


Are you ready for the adventure of a lifetime? See these penguins in their natural environment on a Bentours expedition cruise – contact us today!

Voyage to Antarctica: Part II

The adventure of a lifetime

Juliet Symes had the time of her life on her sea voyage over ten days to Antarctica. If you missed her talking about her very close encounter with a humpback whale and crossing the Drake passage, make sure to check it out. Otherwise, continue reading to learn about penguins, camping and glacier calvings.

BT: What was the most magical sight you saw?

JS: There’s too many! A couple, both completely different from each other…

First of all, Neko Harbour is renowned for its regular glacier calvings. And we saw a fair few! You hear this deep rolling sound like thunder then suddenly a giant chunk of ice breaks off and falls into the ocean, sometimes causing a mini tsunami. It was incredible to see. And hear!

 

Also at Neko Harbour, watching penguin chicks catch snowflakes was wonderful. Neko Harbour is essentially a ‘penguin creche’, and when it snows the penguin chicks all try to catch snowflakes with their mouths, supposedly to help keep them cool (it was about 0ºC that day). It was adorable, I could have watched them all day!

BT: Speaking of penguins, what was it like to see them in the wild? What other wildlife did you see?

JS: Well, almost everyday there was a penguin colony visit involved in our excursions. I went in mid February so there were plenty of penguin chicks around!  We saw three species of them – Gentoo, Adelie and Chinstrap. They’re completely unfazed by people, and although you’re not allowed to get within five metres of them and the ‘penguin highways’, penguins themselves often break this rule and will walk right by your feet.

I always thought penguins were cute but oh my goodness, in real life they exceeded all my cuteness expectations! They chat, they hop, they waddle around with their ‘wings’ behind them as if they’re moving really fast. They enter the ocean by dipping their head in first then splash about a bit before zipping off at surprising speed. Then when they come back ashore, they make a quick and almost dramatic entrance onto dry land.

 

We also saw many sea birds, several species of albatross and petrel. We saw a lot of crabeater seals, lying around on icebergs snoozing, drooling and scratching their bellies. Fur seals and leopard seals too but less often. Plus, of course, whales! We witnessed humpback whales bubble net feeding and some minke whales too. You can usually see killer whales but we didn’t this time.

There’s a rule allowing only 100 people per vessel ashore on Antarctica at a time, so being on a smaller vessel like the Ioffe allows all the passengers to disembark together giving us twice the excursion opportunities (and twice the penguin colony visits!)

BT: Is there one story from your Antarctic expedition that you think you will be repeating for years to come? What is it?

JS: Besides my whale encounter?! Probably camping on the ice. Camping is an optional excursion and weather-dependent. About 40 of us left the ship after dinner one night, put on ALL our warm layers and headed back to Dorian Bay where we had visited a penguin colony earlier that afternoon. We were given a mat, sleeping bag and bivvy bag. We headed up the hill to find a good spot with a penguin view and dug a shallow ditch in the snow to lie our bivvy bag in. We were surrounded by towering, snow-covered mountains and just the purest of landscapes. I found it drew my thoughts away from all worldly things, away from the thousand mechanical details of my life back home. I was so struck with awe that it was impossible to worry about anything or even give a moment’s attention to anything outside of what I was seeing.

Yes, it was cold. Yes, there was a private portable ‘toilet’ (we left NOTHING behind). And yes, I held on until I got back to the ship. But no, there was no beautiful, serene silence one would expect out there… penguins are noisy! They do not shut up. But it was absolutely magical.

BT: And finally, how cold was it?

JS: Antarctic cruises only run in the summer (Nov-Mar) so the coldest it got for us was -4ºC and the warmest maybe 1ºC, so a little brisk but you are provided with warm outer gear to leave the ship.


If Juliet’s story has inspired you to pursue your own adventurous dreams on the great southern continent, make sure to check out our many Antarctic sea voyages on offer.

Voyage to Antarctica: Part I

The adventure of a lifetime

When Juliet booked in her Antarctic adventure through Bentours, she’d already spent a fair amount of time living in cold parts of the world. She’d read all the books, she’d done all the research, she’d bought all the gear – but nothing would prepare her for the amazing experience she was to have. From seeing eye to eye with a whale to toasting to adventure with fellow guests on board, Juliet’s ten day voyage to the Antarctic Peninsula onboard the Akademik Ioffe was the once-in-a-lifetime experience she had been dreaming of. We chatted with her about her most memorable experiences and asked any advice she might have for future travellers to the Great Frozen Continent.

BT: Why Antarctica? Has this been somewhere you have wanted to go for a while?

JS: Visiting Antarctica has been on my bucket list for a good 20 years – but in brackets, meaning it would be ideal to check it off but no shame should it not be possible. I used to think that the continent, historically, was pretty much a testing ground for men with frozen beards to see how easily they could kill themselves, so I was desperate to figure out the lure of Antarctica myself. Plus, I’ve always been drawn to cold remote places off the beaten track.

BT: What was the most exciting experience of your voyage?

JS: Without a doubt, coming face to face with a humpback whale. Down in the Antarctic Peninsula, you’ll often see humpback, minke and killer whales. The plan was to sail to Wilhelmina Bay, an area where you will easily spot a lot of whales (or as I like to call it – Whalemina Bay!) However, on our way through the Gerlache Strait we came across a couple of humpbacks just snoozing so we grabbed our cameras, got suited and booted and boarded the Zodiacs to get a closer look.

The expedition team on the Ioffe are always cautious never to interfere with the wildlife, watching each whale for a maximum of 30 minutes before moving on and never following them – humpbacks are more likely to follow us anyway!

This day though, instead of us whale-watching, the whale decided to people-watch and investigate us! We quietly approached the big guy, careful not to surround him. He gently came up to each boat, sticking his head out of the water to check us out and blew bubbles at us. He swam between the boats, underneath them and rolled over onto his back with his white pectoral fins extended out.

Then he moved onto the next boat and did the same. Before I know it, with my GoPro dangling in the water, his face appears out of the water a foot away from my face, getting a good look at me. He was so curious and playful and my heart melted into the sea! The staff said they had rarely experienced this behaviour before so they were just as excited as the rest of us.

BT: Is there one thing that stood out as making this holiday different to any other? (Apart from curious whales!)

JS: It’s really a once in a lifetime trip. Antarctica is a destination very few people have experienced and that made it even more special. With no culture or people, the attraction and experiences are purely based on the environment itself which is quite rare. It’s a world stripped of clutter, people and culture. What made it for me though was how much I learnt along the way. Everyday there are talks onboard about Antarctic wildlife, polar history, photography tips and tricks amongst other topics. I learnt so much!

The expedition guides came ashore with us and taught us about the wildlife and nature we saw around us. We even had whale researchers hitching a ride with us, so we got to see first hand how they tag and track whales. Guests and expedition leaders would all sit together at meals and talk about the day’s sightings. I had done a lot of reading up about the continent before the trip so it was great to pick the brains of experts and get that intimate knowledge. I felt like I was learning something new everyday and came away from the trip with a whole new appreciation for the planet and the incredible continent.

BT: The Drake Passage is known the world over for being a very rough body of water to cross – how did you find it? Do you have any advice for the crossing?

JS: Let’s just say there’s a reason they call it the ‘Drake Lake’ or the ‘Drake Shake’. With the often-violent convergence of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans and inherent unpredictability, it can be your worst nightmare or sometimes, if you’re lucky, it can be eerily calm. The vessel I was on, the Akademik Loffe and her sister ship the Akadmik Vavilov, were built for polar waters and are some of the most stable ships to be on for the Drake crossing so we were in safe hands. I’m not good on the water at all so I certainly anticipated some trouble with the Drake. But we got lucky – there and back again!

When we boarded the ship, the staff told us that they had just come through a horrendous storm the previous night with 30ft waves in the Drake. This made me feel apprehensive to say the least, but in reality it meant that we were treated to a calm crossing.

I took some prescribed Ondansetron but that didn’t seem to work for me. So the next 24 hours were spent lying down. I found as long as I maintained a horizontal position everything was ok. I got dressed lying down, brushed my teeth lying down and ate marmite toast lying down. When the staff noticed I wasn’t at meals they kindly brought crackers and ginger ale to the pity party I was throwing in my cabin. There’s a doctor onboard who I decided to pay a visit to. He gave me a patch and an injection and it worked a treat! Don’t let that put you off – I get seasick, airsick and carsick,  and coupled with my fear of being out on the open ocean, I battled the war on sickness.

A calm Drake Passage (L); the Akademik Ioffe has an open bridge policy so you’re allowed up there any time of the day or night (R)

There is no happier person than one who has been through seasickness hell and come back from the brink. My advice? Get seasickness medication prescribed by your doctor and take it BEFORE you hit the Drake. And travel on a ship built for these kinds of crossings with stablisers.

Click through to read the rest of Juliet’s interview.

 

All Aboard: MS Fram

The MS Fram was purpose built in 2007 to be one of Hurtigruten’s leading explorer vessels. Following in the wake of the original pioneering Norwegian explorer ship and its namesake, the MS Fram takes guests as close to the natural wonders of the world as possible.

Designed specifically to take on the polar waters, her itinerary is based on the Greenland and Arctic cruises during the European Summer months and then down to the Southern Hemisphere for round trips from Argentina through Antarctica in the European Winter.

Explore in comfort

Christened by Norway’s Crown Princess HRH Mette-Marit in 2007, MS Fram offers guests the chance to explore without sacrificing comfort. Interiors reflect the polar colours and landscapes, with photos from the original Fram and there are a number of cabin options to choose from. The artworks commissioned for the ship are by local Arctic-region artists and there is a heavy emphasis on the beautiful landscapes that dominate these far reaches of the world.

The ultimate adventurer

The most appealing thing about MS Fram is it’s small size – meaning not only are there less guests and more chance to get involved in shore excursions, but she is ideally sized for manoeuvring around icebergs and getting up close to ice floes. Guests reviews often comment on the approachability and knowledge of expedition staff who make an effort to engage everyone onboard in the discovery experience.

Daily lectures are offered in English and at least one other language (depending on the nationalities onboard but usually French, German or Norwegian) about all manner of topics and most days (depending on the route) different excursions are offered with the shore landings.

Discover your inner explorer

On the Iceland and Greenland itinerary, guests can enjoy a natural warm water spa ashore, or for the more adventurous, participate in guided hikes, sea kayaking or glacial boat rides. On the Antarctic itinerary, guests can hike in the footsteps of Ernest Shackleton across South Georgia and admire wildlife such as penguins, seals and Orcas.

The activities are always weather dependant but some guests have relished the chance to try their hand at something new even when the weather doesn’t allow landings – such as photography or watercolour painting lessons.

Hurtigruten’s goal is to offer you a true expedition experience onboard the MS Fram, no matter your age or experience level. With a cruise on the MS Fram, everyone discovers their inner explorer.

A brief look at Antarctic History

Antarctica was once the most treacherous continent on the world for humans. Just getting there was a feat in itself, let alone the 320km/h winds and freezing temperatures once you reached land!

Today, it is a lot easier to visit but let’s take a look back at the history of hardship in exploring the great southern continent.

As far back as the Ancient Greeks, there was speculation of a great southern land mass to balance out the northern continents. The Greeks called the north arktos, the word for bear after a constellation in the north. And so they presumed that there must be an anti-arktos in existence too.

In 2 CE, Terra Australis (as it was referred to) was named Antarctica by Marinus of Tyre – like the Greek name, meaning the opposite of the Arctic. However, the continent was not sighted until 1820 by a Russian expedition led by Fabian von Bellingshausen.

On his way to Australia in 1774 it is believed that English explorer Captain James Cook did not quite come within sighting distance, although he crossed into the polar waters. Recordings in his journal show his reluctance to go closer, concluding “the world will derive no benefit from it”.

“The risk one runs in exploring the coast in these unknown and Icy Seas, is so very great, that I can be bold to say, that no man will ever venture farther than I have done and that the lands which may lie to the South will never be explored.”

It’s just as well for us adventurous souls that Cook was wrong – only a year after the first sighting, it is believed that sealer Captain John Davis was the first person to set foot on the continent in 1821. The continent was little explored for the next fifty years, with ships struggling to handle the fast freezing ice.

The Heroic Age

The era between 1898 to 1916 marked the Heroic Age of Exploration of the Antarctic, with expeditions setting forth from Europe, the USA and Japan. Perhaps the most famous of these was the race to the South Pole between Roald Amundsen (Norwegian) and Captain Robert F Scott (English). Scott discovered the Polar Plateau on which the Pole was situated in the early 1900s however was beaten to the Pole in 1912 by Roald Amundsen by a month.

Originally Amundsen planned to be the first to reach the North Pole but he was beaten before he had even gotten passed his planning stage. Hearing of Frost’s plans to reach the South Pole, Amundsen set forth a month earlier than scheduled to the South and his hastiness paid off. Upon discovering that Amundsen had pipped them at the post, Frost and his crew turned back and during their return journey tragically perished in the extreme cold.

Another famed Antarctic story of exploration is that of Ernest Shackleton and his crew aboard the “Endurance” in 1915. The pack ice was too thick for the “Endurance” to reach the continent and they became trapped. Gradually over 10 months, the pressure of the ice built up so incredibly as to tear through the ship. Astonishingly, Shackleton and his crew proceeded to camp on the ice for a further 5 months before they managed to reach civilisation on a lifeboat on a 17 day journey.

Modern day exploration

Today exploring Antarctica is no where near as dangerous and can be done in comfort with state of the art safety features aboard all Expedition ships. For example, the MS Midnatsol  has a specifically designed hull to break through ice and onboard scientific testing facilities for samples collected during field trips.

On the Spirit of Shackleton tour aboard the MS Expedition, over 21 days explore the Falkland Islands, the remote South Georgia where Shackleton’s grave lies and the Antarctic Peninsula, retracing Shackleton’s route in reverse. And we have many other ready-made adventures for you to experience the thrill of a polar expedition. And, as relatively few people visit the continent today, you can still feel like a true explorer as you discover this incredible land of ice.


Contact Bentours today to follow in the footsteps of the pioneering explorers  and discover Antarctica for yourself!

11 reasons to visit Iceland

The Land of Ice and Fire, with its ghostly volcano formed structures and black beaches covered in icy diamonds, is emerging as one of the top travel destinations.

So what’s with all the hype? Here are just a handful of reasons why YOU should be visiting Iceland.

1. Wildlife:

The waters around Iceland are home to more than 20 species of whales, so it is not surprising that it is Europe’s capital of whale watching. On a boat trip from Reykjavik, you are almost guaranteed to see Minke whales, beaked dolphins and harbour porpoises, as well as adorable puffins. Better yet, take an expedition voyage around the island and spot various whales from onboard – you might even see a massive humpback.

2. Horses:

Although the Icelandic horses are kept in semi-wild conditions, they don’t really classify as wildlife. Descended from stock that the Vikings originally brought to the island, the small sturdy horses are known for their spirit, endurance and unusual fifth gait. At one time, the Icelandic horse was one of the main tourist attractions of Iceland!

3. Glaciers:

11% of Iceland’s landmass is covered in glaciers, the largest of which is the Vatnajokull covering the greater part of the south and central highlands. Discover the glaciers for yourself on an excursion by snow mobile or by foot. Perhaps the most visually impressive, the Jokulsarlon glacial lake is full of looming icebergs and is genuinely otherworldly.

4. Light and Darkness:

Whatever time of year you decide to visit Iceland there is always something magical in the air and a lot of that has to do with the light. In the wintertime, experience the incredible Northern Lights as they dance their way across the sky, while in summer the Midnight Sun allows for hours of activities well into the evening.

5. Reykjavik:

Although small for a capital city with only 200,000 people, Reykjavik oozes cool, in a laid back way. For such a small population, Iceland produces a huge amount of music and theatre, both of which you can experience in abundance in the city. Plus, with an emphasis on the freshest produce, Icelandic chefs are at the forefront of modern Nordic cuisine, combining traditional smoking and preparation methods with inventive twists.

6. Scenery:

In Iceland you can sometimes feel as though you have been transported to another world. From volcanic fjords to eerie treeless stretches of land, it’s not hard to understand why fairytales and legends of monsters, goblins, elves and fairy folk dominate the particularly deserted stretches of land.

7. Beaches:

Not exactly somewhere you think of going for a beach holiday, the beaches of Iceland may be too cold to swim in but they are still well worth a visit. The black pebble beach of Reynisfjara is particularly impressive near Vik village but by far the mot impressive black beach is Breidamerkursandur, in the south east. Visit this beach at dusk or dawn and it will appear to be sparkling with diamonds of all shapes – due to a nearby fjord, icebergs break up and ice diamonds adorn the shore year round.

8. Lake Myvatn:

The nearby hell-fire furnace of Krafla heats up the water in this area, creating many natural hot springs and interesting shapes and colours in surrounding rock formations. One such formation, Dimmuborgir (meaning Black Forts) resembles the ruins of what has been dubbed a demon city.

The Golden Circle:

The three most popular natural destinations in Iceland are an easy loop drive from Reykavik and are known as the Golden Circle. You can do it in one day, or extend it on one of our great itineraries to really make the most of the big three and the incredible sights in between.

9. Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park:

Only a 45 minute drive from Reykjavik for those on a self drive holiday, this national park is not only incredibly beautiful but also of supreme historical and geological significance. Site of the first meeting of Iceland’s parliament in 930 CE, it contains Iceland’s largest lake, and the meeting of the American and European tectonic plates. In fact, adventurous souls can scuba dive through the glacial waters of the Silfra fissures, where the two plates have rent apart.

10. Gullfoss Waterfall:

Here, the water thunders down a wide curved three step stair case then plunges into a crevice 32m in depth. Not only is the sound deafening but there is an interesting story to learn about how it earned its protected status… Make sure you investigate when you are there!

11. Haukadalur Geothermal Area:

Home to the geyser that gives us the name, Geysir, this impressive area is well worth your time. Although Geysir no longer erupts due to a past earthquake, the Strokkur geyser nearby erupts every five to ten minutes, shooting water 30m up into the air!


This list is by no means exhaustive. There’s no mention of the astonishingly beautiful glacial lake of Landmannalaugar surrounded by rhyolite cliffs; the incredible chance to find yourself inside a volcano’s magma chamber, angry red swirls in the rock evidence of a fiery past; or, the adventure sports capital of Akureyri where skiing, hiking, kayaking, mountaineering and more are all within reach.

But we don’t want to give it all away. In fact, you can discover the true beauty of this country yourself and add a few reasons to this list. Call us to book your holiday with Bentours today!

Cruising into Canada

Follow in the wake of Viking legends and travel to the High Arctic in Canada. Home to the first European settlements in North America, this journey will encompass some of the most beautiful national parks that Canada has to offer.

Along a number of different routes through the Canadian Arctic, guests will have the chance to visit L’Anse aux Meadows, a sleepy fishing village that holds secrets to a Viking past. In the 1960s, the Norwegians Anne Stine and Helge Ingstad, together with their daughter, Benedicte, made the discovery of an ancient Viking settlement on this land. Perched on the northernmost tip of Newfoundland, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1978 and dates back to about the year 1000 C.E.

“Guests have a chance to follow in the footsteps of the first Viking explorers.”

This site has been linked with Vinland the attempted settlement of North America by pioneer explorer Leif Erikson. Benedicte Ingstad is now a 72 year old professor of medical anthropology who has spent her life devoted to research, and joins guests on some of the Hurtigruten voyages to Canada, to recount her family’s discovery of the site.

Learn about Canadian wildlife and culture

Hurtigruten expedition voyages emphasise activities, adventure and gaining insight into the wilderness around us. The Canadian Arctic voyages are no exception. From the ‘floating classroom’ guests will have the chance to learn about the fascinating Viking history, the Indigenous people of Canada, zoology, botany and environmental science. Plus Hurtigruten ships are perfectly equipped for adventure with lecture halls, a photographic and optics centre and are an optimal size for manoeuvring up close to the shore and all the action.

Canada is an exciting area to explore with a combination of beautiful nature and fascinating history. On some Canadian routes, guests get close to the Torngat Mountains national park, an Inuit homeland. The park is 9700 square kilometres and of great spiritual significance to the Inuit people – a place where they have lived, hunted and harvested for thousands of years. From onboard the ship, guests can admire sloping glaciers and keep a look out for polar bears and North American caribou.

Another UNESCO World Heritage site, the fishing village of Red Bay is on the itinerary. Guests can wander among picturesque streets and learn about the history of the Basque whaling operation that took place on the nearby Saddle Island.

Also along some Canadian routes are Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, small towns that preserve the strong French influence over parts of Canada in fashion, food, fine wine and delicious cheese. Nearby is Gros Morn, a national park of soaring mountains that are geologically unique. At The Tablelands, a plateau 600m above the sea level, guests are invited to hike on ancient stone that was pushed up from the Earth’s core after a collision of tectonic plates millions of years ago.

Conquer Iceland and Greenland…

Follow the trail of Vikings further with exploration of Iceland and Greenland. From Reykjavik in Iceland, guests can see the bird cliffs where Vikings would hunt. Take in the best of Iceland at sea, visiting archipelagos and the famous volcanic island of Surtsey.

Some routes may also visit the southern tip of Greenland, where the Norse Chieftan Eirik Raude is said to have lived or even the stunning Ilulissat glacier  on the Western Coast.

Itineraries include Exploring the Arctic Land of the Caribou, Baffin Island – High Arctic Jewel and Crossing Baffin Bay, plus many more cruise expeditions.


These incredible new routes will enable Hurtigruten guests the chance to discover Canada in the same way as the Nordic Vikings did many years ago. With Hurtigruten’s trademark hospitality, amazing cuisine and a number of Shore Excursions, a trip in the Canadian Arctic promises to be unforgettable.

Windswept Vigur Island

Known for its avian population far out numbering the human residence, Vigur Island is a true slice of Icelandic resourcefulness. In the face of harsh winds and a trying environment, 200 years ago three families established farms on Vigur, only a half hour boat ride from the mainland. One family remains, descended from the original inhabitants and welcomes visitors with open arms to this picturesque Icelandic settlement.

Vigur Island is situated northwest off the coast of Iceland and is a fascinating stop on a Hurtigruten voyage around the Land of Ice and Fire. Vigur means spear and it is on this small spear shaped island that visitors can see a huge variety of birds, including the adorable puffin.

Bird watchers paradise

As well as the comical puffins, Vigur is also home to eider ducks, guillemots, Arctic terns, snow buntings, pied wagtails, meadow pipits and (although rarely seen on a short stay) white tailed eagles and gyrfalcons. Arctic terns are notoriously aggressive and territorial so all visitors are recommended to carry a large stick. When the terns undoubtedly spot you, they are attracted to the highest point, so holding a stick above your head will keep you in good stead.

The territoriality of the terns actually works the the advantage of the residents, as the terns protect the eider ducks, from which the expensive eiderdown can then be harvested. There is even a 200 year old wall built from when the families first arrived to protect the breeding ground of the ducks from predators.

Quaint buildings

Although the buildings are few and far between, the original homes of the three farming families have been beautifully restored and can be visited now. Viktoria House in particular shows a great insight into traditional Icelandic decorations. A circa 1840 windmill, the only one in Iceland at one stage and now the only old mill surviving, is a must see and was in use to grind Danish grain until 1917.

Perhaps most impressive is the eight oar row boat that is 200 years old and is still used on occasion to transport sheep to and from the mainland, or for fishing!


Vigur Island gives visitors a chance to see wonderful birdlife, hike among the green knolls and admire the mainland’s stunning coast from afar.

 

Ten peculiar facts about Antarctica

Are you all geared up for the adventure of a lifetime to the icy southern continent? Or perhaps you are dreaming yourself onto a pioneering exploration of Antarctica, in the golden age of polar exploration?

Whether you’re planning to visit Antarctica or not, these facts below are sure to fascinate.

1. The average summer temperature in Antarctica is -30°C while in the winter it is -60°C. The lowest recorded temperature is – 89.6°C. Salt water usually freezes at -2°C however Deep Lake on the continent is so salty that it cannot freeze.

2. The Dry Valleys of Antarctica are so moisture free that despite the cold, no ice or snow can form. The dusty expanses of dirt are close to the environment of Mars and so NASA did testing there for their Viking mission.

3. The ice sheet of Antarctica is up to 6km thick in places and holds 60% – 70% of the world’s fresh water. If it was to melt, sea levels would rise approximately 65m the world over.

4. Despite the ice sheet, Antarctica is home to many fresh water lakes, buried deep underground. Lake Vostok is buried 4km under frozen water, one of more than 200 bodies of water discovered beneath the ice.

5. Antarctica is also home to one of the world’s biggest mountain ranges, the Gamburtsev Mountains. Peaks here reach about 27,000m – that’s about a third the size of Everest.

6. The most southern volcano in the world Mount Erebus, is surrounded by lava lakes which have held liquid magma for thousands of years despite the freezing temperatures.

7. The largest land animal of the continent is an insect. The wingless midge is less than 13mm long and lives around penguin colonies. There are no flying insects on the continent – with winds up to 320km p/h they would not survive!

8. Antarctica is one of the best places to find meteorites. The dark meteorites show up clearly against the white ice and snow. In fact, ice floes often encourage meteorites to gather in one place.

9. The geographic South Pole hasn’t always been on Antarctica because of continental drift. Each year on New Year’s Day there is a ceremony where the geographic South Pole is repositioned to compensate for  the 10m shift per year of the polar ice sheet towards the Weddell Sea.

10. There are 30 countries that man 80 research stations on the continent and in the summer there are about 4,000 people living there while in winter there are 1,000 people. In January 1979, Emile Marco Palma was the first person born on the continent and only ten other people have been born there since.


Explore Antarctica with Bentours on one of our fascinating expedition cruises – contact us today!

10 Interesting Facts about Greenland

How much do you know about the largest ice island in the world? Sparsely populated on the coast, while the interior is covered with ice, Greenland is emerging as one of the world’s best kept secrets as a holiday destination.

And with Hurtigruten running Expedition Voyages up the coast, there is no better time to see the incredible flora and fauna! Plus it is a great chance to have an in depth look at the fascinating culture and history of this land of ice.

Did you know that…

1. 80% of Greenland is covered by an ice sheet and glaciers, estimated by scientists to be 400,000 to 800,000 years old, with the edges about 10,000 years old, a remnant from the last ice age! Despite that, the ice-free area is still as large as Sweden.

2. The flag of Greenland is a polar bear on a blue shield – the polar bear represents the fauna of the nation while the blue represents the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans.

3. Technically, Greenland is part of the North American continent although it is geopolitically aligned with Europe and is part of the Kingdom of Denmark. In fact, in 1946, the US attempted to purchase Greenland but Denmark refused.

4. The Northeast Greenland Ice Sheet has lost more than 10 billion tons of ice per year since 2003 due to melting, according to a Nature Climate Change study.

5. While sealing, whaling, hunting and fishing are the primary source of income, there are large deposits of gemstones all throughout the country and it is predicted that mining could take over fishing as the largest industry.

6. ‘Kayak’ and ‘igloo’ are Greenlandic words that have been adopted without modification into English.

7. There are practically no roads in Greenland! Despite the fact the country is enormous, all travel is done by plane, boat, helicopter, snowmobile or dogsled. As a matter of fact, there are hardly any cars in Greenland – with a population of 57,000, there are estimated to be only 2,570 cars in the entire country, most of them in Nuuk, the capital.

8. The indigenous people of Greenland are called Kalaallit (which means Greenlander in Kalaallisut language) and originate from Central Asia. Parts of Greenland have been occupied for over 4,500 years, although the people today are not directly descended from those earliest settlers. They are rather largely descended from a group that arrived in Greenland some 1,000 years ago.

9. Greenland is home to some of the world’s most extreme versions of sport including the Arctic Circle Race and the Ice Golf World Championships. The Arctic Circle Race is the toughest cross country ski race in the world, spanning 160km out of Sisimiut with both locals and visitors competing. The Ice Golf Championships occur in March over two days and involve a golf course cut into the ice between icebergs and into the snow fields.

10. From May 25 to July 25, Greenland experiences the midnight sun – thanks to the angle of the Earth, the sun travels across the sky but does not actually set. July is also the only month of the year were the temperatures are above freezing point!

Did you learn something new about Greenland? For such a sparsely populated land, the culture and history is certainly very fascinating – and there’s a lot more facts where these came from!

Experience the wonders of Greenland, from picturesque Nuuk to the incredible Ilulissat Icefjords with the largest glacier outside of Antarctica on a Hurtigruten coastal expedition voyage.