Saturday 10 September 2011


Approaching the pier in Ny-Ålesund (Photo © Joe Decker)

A light rain fell in the morning as we set foot on the pier in Ny-Ålesund. We assembled in language groups and then were lead on a short tour by the Expedition Team through one of the world's  northernmost communities.  We learned that all of the land here is managed by Kings Bay AS, a Norwegian state-owned company. It is the successor to the Kings Bay Coal Company originally founded in Ålesund  which we would be visiting later on this cruise.
Ny-Ålesund’s mining history is steeped with tragedy.  There were many serious accidents over the years the last of which resulted in the deaths of 21 miners in 1962.  The mines were closed shortly after, never to be opened again.
Taking advantage of the world's most northerly post office.
(Photo © Joe Decker).
Ny-Ålesund has a fascinating history of Polar Exploration as well. It was the starting point for Roald Amundsen’s  expeditions to reach the north pole with the sea planes N24 & N25 in 1925.  Amundsen’s first attempts were not successful but then in 1926 he left Ny-Ålesund with Umberto Nobile in a giant Zeppelin.  He was able to fly over the north pole all of the way to Alaska and then back again.  In 1928 Nobile made his own attempt to fly to the north pole in his airship called The Italia.  On his return his airship crashed killing half of his crew.  Amundsen flew from Tromsø to join the search for Nobile.   His plane crashed somewhere on route.  There were no survivors.
Old locomotive used to haul coal from 1917 to 1958
 (Photo © Joe Decker)
Now Ny-Ålesund exists as an international Arctic research village.  In the winter it is a quiet place with only thirty residents.  In the summer the population explodes to about 150.  Ten nations have permanent facilities here and usually another four or five nations conduct research in the summer months.
Our guided tour terminated at the tall air mast where Amundsen and Nobile tethered their massive Zeppelins in 1926 and 1928.  It now served as a monument to the glorious and also tragic days of polar exploration.
After the walk we were free to wander about Ny-Ålesund on our own.  We were advised not to go outside of town by ourselves as there was always a risk of encountering a Polar Bear.  In town there was an excellent museum and information centre to explore. Lots of people used the time to send post cards from the northernmost community in the world.  
As we prepared to leave Ny-Ålesund a band played on the pier marking our departure.  We were the last ship to visit Ny-Ålesund this summer!