Tag Archives: Expedition

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!

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.

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.

 

Arctic Adventures in Sisimiut

40km north of the Arctic Circle, Sisimiut is Greenland’s second largest town and a gateway to Arctic adventure. Try hiking, skiing, fishing, hunting, kayaking or dog sledding – if you can think of any Arctic activity, it’s probably common place in Sisimiut!

Although only established as a town in 1756, the area has a rich history and has been inhabited for some 4 500 years. There are countless artifacts of the Inuits of the Saqqaq culture who occupied the area almost five centuries ago while the majority of the population is descended from the Thule people, who settled the area nearly one thousand years ago.

Hurtigruten Greenland Expedition

Aboard a Hurtigruten journey, you can explore the coast of Greenland, seeing incredible glaciers, fjords and oceanside towns. Some towns of the island are so isolated that they can only be accessed by boat and most aren’t connected to each other by roads. Sisimiut is one of the larger towns the voyage stops at – specifically chosen for its charm and the wealth of opportunities it presents to adventurous souls!

Summer – Hiking, Fishing and more

In the summertime, take advantage of the midnight sun and hike amongst the mountains any time of day. Crest the summit of the Palasip Qaqqaa – from the peak on a clear day you can see the long Greenland coast snaking off into the distance. With the stunning views of the ocean and Nasaasaaq mountain, it is well worth the climb.

The back country of Sisimiut is where the original people of this land have walked for centuries. Participate in an organised guided walk to see early Inuit artifacts and ruins along the trail or buy yourself a map and find your own way.

Fly fishing is also a popular summer past time, with Arctic Char abounding in the rivers. There are also opportunities for big game hunting, mountaineering and kayaking.

Winter – Skiing, Snow Shoeing and Sleds

In the wintertime, do as the locals do and ski! Back country skiing offers fresh powder off-piste almost daily. Each year the strenuous Arctic Circle Race takes place from Sisimiut. At 160km, this race is the toughest cross-country race in the world but unites locals and travellers alike, all challenging themselves to an ultimate test of endurance.

Dog sledding is a must do, heading off into the back country for the afternoon or perhaps for a longer three day adventure. Bunk down in log cabins each night, eat fresh Greenland produce and try some cross country snowshoeing.

All year – Cultural Experiences and Fresh Produce

Visit the fascinating Sisimiut museum, housed in historic 18th century colonial buildings, with an entrance gate decorated by an intricately carved whale jawbone. Here, you can learn of the history and traditions of the region, as well as examining artifacts from the Saqqaq settlements, an exhibition of modern and traditional dog sleds and hunting tools, plus explore a reconstructed traditional peat house.

A trip to the local handicraft market is fascinating, where art is made out of reindeer antlers, seal skins and walrus tusks. A popular souvenir is a tupilaq statute – a monster traditionally carved into an animal bone but now more often out of antler or tusk, that Inuits would use to take revenge on their enemies.

For those not keen on any strenuous outdoor activities, Hurtigruten also offers a leisurely boat excursion, where you can admire the mix of modern and traditional in the town, with its brightly coloured colonial houses and new cultural centre.

To try the local fare, you can’t go past the central fish and meat markets, where there is casual dining on the very freshest ingredients. Just be aware that most of the market (and the museum) will only accept cash, so have some with you.


Contact an agent today to book your Bentours adventure with Hurtigruten up the stunning coast of Greenland!

Antarctic vs. Arctic: where should you go?

Both the Antarctic and the Arctic offer incredible adventures & once in a lifetime experiences that you won’t find any where else in the world. Despite often being categorised alongside each other, the Arctic and Antarctica are very different places to visit – so which is right for you?

The polar regions of the world have drawn the most daring among us for years and today they are more accessible than ever. Bentours runs Expedition Cruises to both of these destinations offering many incredible and varied excursions so guests can truly discover these sparsely populated lands. But what are the key differences?

Culture and History

Antarctica was entirely uninhabited by humans until the establishment of research stations in recent years.

SamiThe Arctic on the other hand has been inhabited for many years and interesting history has played its way across Arctic lands. The Sami indigenous people of the Arctic region, still occupy the area and in spite of hardships faced at the hands of various governments, continue to live in a semi-traditional way. Sami culture is rich with nuances and individuality thanks to the Arctic environment, such as the long practice of reindeer husbandry and the construction of lavvos, Sami huts. Hurtigruten offer shore excursions to learn about this unique culture.

The Arctic region is also famous as the land of the first polar exploration. The Vikings of Scandinavia colonised Iceland and Greenland in the Middle Ages while Russian monks set out an outpost monastery on the Kola Peninsula in the same period. Then of course the Golden Age of exploration in the 19th century saw many pioneering expeditions through the area. You can take a  guided walk in Tromsø to the Polar Museum to discover more about this history of exploration.

In contrast, Antarctica was not explored in ernest until the early 20th century, with many of the expeditions leading to death and injuries. Norway’s own Roald Amundsen was the first to reach the South Pole, ending a dramatic race with the British Robert Falcon Scott. His ship, the Fram, was inspiration for Hurtigruten’s modern expedition ship, MS Fram.

Landscape and Wildlife

Another key difference between the two polar regions of the world is the landscape. The Arctic is made up of many islands, including land of Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, the United States (Alaska), Canada, Denmark (Greenland) and Iceland.

Technically the Arctic is a large frozen sea surrounded by continents, while the Antarctic is a massive ice covered continent surrounded by oceans. Not as cold as Antarctica, there is a great variety in the environment of the Arctic, with fjords, mountains, glaciers and green areas in the tundra replete with trees and plant life. Due to the more temperate climate, there are many land animals that can be seen including reindeers, arctic foxes, elks and, the Kings of the Arctic, polar bears.

Penguins AntarcticIn comparison, the Antarctic land mass appears quite barren but there is something undeniably beautiful in this barrenness. The continent is the most remote in the world and is covered in ice, punctuated by towering ice mountains and rock. The wildlife here is all water based, with penguins, whales, seals and many other marine animals to see. Given the isolation of Antarctica, the excursions available tend to be more limited but no less exhilarating – just imagine yourself kayaking surrounded by incredibly shaped ice formations!


Where ever you decide is right for you, you are guaranteed to create life-long memories on an incredible trip in one of the polar regions of the world. And who knows… you might like the Arctic so much that you feel you have to visit the Antarctic to compare (or vice versa)!

 

All Aboard: MS Spitsbergen

 

Following in the wake of classic Viking explorer ships, MS Spitsbergen takes guests to the most remote places to discover their inner explorer.

Hurtigruten’s newest ship, the MS Spitsbergen, is named after the island of Spitsbergen in the breathtaking Svalbard archipelago. She is the perfect size to manoeuvre through polar waters and bring guests up close and personal with beautiful landscapes like that of her namesake.

Write your own adventure saga

On MS Spitsbergen, there is an emphasis on learning and discovery beyond the ordinary. Crew are equipped with expert knowledge and there are daily lectures in geology, history and ornithology. The ship has a photo and optics test centre, a media program and many on board facilities to enable you to make the most of the unique regions of the world you will find yourself in while on the ship.

There are also many outdoor activities on offer for those ready to embrace their adventurous side with camping, hiking and kayaking programs. On various trips, guest expedition staff join the crew to treat our guests to a variety of activities and their wealth of knowledge so that you can write your own Viking saga.

What’s in a name?

Spitsbergen is the Arctic crown of Norway, a jewel in the beautiful Svalbard archipelago. Hurtigruten has a long history of travelling from the mainland to this remote area of Norway, where some of the world’s most unique cultures persist. In keeping with Hurtigruten’s important connection with the Norwegian community, this ship was named after a public competition with over 15,000 entries.

“We find MS Spitsbergen to be a very appropriate name as it ties together our history and present-day Hurtigruten,” says Hurtigruten CEO Daniel Skjeldam. “As early as 1896, Hurtigruten founder and tourism entrepreneur Richard With built a hotel in Spitsbergen and established “The Sports route” with sailings from Hammerfest to Spitsbergen, operated by steamship DS Lofoten. Having built on this heritage, today we are world leading operator of nature-based experiences along the Norwegian coast, in the waters around Antarctica and in the Arctic.”

Expedition cruise at your own pace

Unlike Hurtigruten’s other ships, MS Spitsbergen is not a working ship meaning she does not need to dock at port each night. As a result, guests can spend longer admiring the magnificent fjords and enjoying the daytime activities. From May 2017, guests can sail on MS Spitsbergen to Greenland, Iceland, the Faroe and Shetland Islands, as well as to Arctic Canada. In 2017/2018, MS Spitsbergen will operate expedition style coastal voyages, the ideal choice for those who want to explore the coast in an adventurous way.

spits-2_600x450There is a large observation deck from which guests can look out to the marine life below, including some seldom seen species of birds as well as polar bears and penguins, to name just a few. Deck 6 has a covered observation deck with panoramic windows so that guests can make the most of their gorgeous surrounds, even when relaxing inside. Both the restaurant and bistro also capitalise on the views, so that guests can enjoy beautiful local produce while admiring the environment from which the unique cuisine is derived.

Classic Scandinavian design

spits-1_600x450Although offering many activities for thrill-seeking guests, on the MS Spitsbergen comfort is never sacrificed for adventure. With newly updated interiors, as of 2016, the ship has a fresh colour palette that reflects the ocean surrounds. The design is classically Scandinavian, simple yet comfortable, designed by Tillberg Design of Sweden – the world leader in maritime architecture and interior design. The ship has a number of cabins on offer, catering for all guests, and all the public areas are comfortable and modern.

During her reconstruction in 2016, improvements were made to lower MS Spitsbergen‘s fuel consumption and reduce emissions, meaning she now has a strong environmental profile, in line with Hurtigruten’s ambition to be a world leader in sustainable travel.

 

spits-3plan_600

 

Hurtigruten’s new explorer vessels

Hurtigruten to take adventure travel to new frontiers with the announcement of new explorer vessels

Norwegian exploration travel company Hurtigruten has announced an order of up to four new explorer ships for 2018/19 sailings in a move to meet growing demand for adventure travel from holidaymakers across the globe.

The signing, which marks the largest investment Hurtigruten has made in its more than 120-years of exploring the Arctic and Antarctic waters, will open-up the polar waters and exciting new adventure opportunities.

Set to offer a host of activities for adventure seekers, from climbing and kayaking to rib-tours, whale and sea eagle safaris, the new vessels will embark on exploring some of the world’s most exceptionally beautiful and unspoilt natural surroundings. Adventure tourism is one of the fastest growing global tourist trends valued at $263 billion*, and has witnessed an increase of 195% over just two years.

The order includes the construction of two new state-of-the-art vessels, which will be designed and customised specifically for adventure-rich expedition voyages in the Arctic and Antarctic regions, as well as along the Norwegian coastline. Hurtigruten prioritises sustainability, and the new ships will be equipped with advanced environmentally-friendly technology to reduce emissions, underlining its vision of playing a lead role when it comes to green shipping.

Hurtigruten’s new ships will also offer lectures on topics relevant to the destinations they sail to from experts in areas such as history, zoology, botany, and environmental science. In addition, experienced expedition teams will accompany passengers on educational excursions to isolated places only accessible by ships or zodiac boats.

HRG New Ships

Daniel Skjeldam, Hurtigruten’s CEO says, “This is a milestone for us and an expression of our confidence in the growth of the global market for adventure tourism. We are to build the most formidable expedition ships the world has seen.”

“People no longer want to spend their holiday time being passive spectators. The new adventure traveller is looking for authentic experiences, which is why sedentary, standardized travel packages are becoming less popular and active adventure travel is booming” Skjeldam adds. “Our experience is that explorers travelling with Hurtigruten crave adventurous activities and mindfulness in combination, therefore Hurtigruten offers active voyages. We offer real experiences in local environments, just steps away from the wildlife.”

Magnus Zetterberg UK Managing Director of Hurtigruten explains further, “We offer our guests a truly unique experience on-board all of our ships. Every season we’ve seen an increase in demand from guests to travel with Hurtigruten for the unrivalled range of adventure activities we offer. It has been more than ten years since Hurtigruten last placed an order for the construction of a new ship so the prospect of being able to expand this with the arrival of new vessels is very exciting.”

The agreement is testament to Norway’s strong international position as a shipbuilding nation. It will also ensure Hurtigruten’s position as world leading within adventure tourism in the Arctic and Antarctica.

Daniel Skjeldam adds, “We are proud to be a more than 120-year old pioneer company. Along parts of the Norwegian coast, Hurtigruten drew the charts – literally. We will bring this knowledge and know-how with us when we put the new ships into operation.”

The vessels will be designed and developed by Rolls-Royce, with the assistance of renowned Norwegian ship designer Espen Øino, and built by Kleven, a longstanding partner.

From 2017, Hurtigruten will offer explorer travel to additional new destinations such as the Amazon Rainforest and Arctic Canada. And with the new explorer ships, guests will be able to land close to new completely new adventurous destinations.