Tuesday 16 August 2011

Virgohamna and Gravneset

This morning at Virgohamna we had the option of going on a long hike or a shorter walk.  Both options were really great. The shorter walk had the possibility of a Polar Cirkel boat cruise at the end which seemed to attract a lot of people.  The long hike had a more exploratory nature with plenty of opportunities for scenic views and to great some great exercise and fresh air.  The groups were spit almost 50/50.  The long hike wound across the island to the top of a modest hill where we enjoyed a fantastic view of the old whaling station and the famous site where the Swedish Engineer, Salomon August Andrée launched his hot air balloon in 1897 in a tragic attempt to reach the north pole.  In the small bay and on the opposite shoreline we could see many Harbour Seals.  We cautiously worked our way closer, being very careful not to startle the animals.  We counted twenty seals lying on the rocks and on the shore and there were three or four more in the water.  With all of those seals lying about we couldn’t help wondering if there might be Polar Bears in the area.  While we were watching the seals, a Norwegian Armada of Polar Cirkel boats cruised onto the scene.  It was the people from the short walk on their 
Polar Cirkel boat cruise!  They were also able to get a view of the seals without disturbing them. We then continued in a big loop and eventually ended back at our starting point.  The hike took a little longer than two hours.

In the afternoon we went to Gravneset which is in Trinity Harbour in Magdalena  Fjord.  It is one of the most visited sites in all of Spitsbergen.  It has it all.  There is the fascinating history of the whalers.  There is the grim graveyard on a hillock near the landing site.  There are the four try-pot ruins where the whalers rendered the blubber in to oil.  And, there is the fantastic scenery.  As we approached our anchorage site the officers on the bridge announced that there was a Polar Bear in the distance on the opposite shore from our landing site.  The bear appeared to be sleeping on a mossy embankment. The sleeping bear was at least four kilometres from our landing site and posed no threat to us.

Gravneset had been used by whalers for over 200 years.  Over that long period of time many whalers died and were buried on a small hill in the centre of the beach.  It was a somber reminder of the tough life they must have endured.
An hour was ample time to explore the area, stretch the legs and get a breath of some of freshest air on earth.  Some of the hardier souls braved the frigid water and went for a Polar Dip.  Br-r-r!