Guests opened their curtains to bright views of sea ice and an Arctic sky. It was our first morning in Svalbard, and everyone was excited to see the snowcapped mountains. After breakfast, we kept an eye out for polar bears from the bridge. Whilst we didn’t see any of our white, furry friends, we did see some caribou dotted across the crisp white landscape.

Despite the expedition staff’s best efforts (including a wet and wild scouting session), conditions were too rough to land in the morning. Instead, we enjoyed a lecture on plastic in the oceans from oceanographer and naturalist Deb. It was a thought-provoking talk that encouraged us all to consider how we can help clean up and preserve the world’s oceans.

When the afternoon came, we disembarked by Zodiac for Kapp Lee, a headland of Edgeøya, Svalbard. The site is an important area for birds and mammals, with common eiders, purple sandpipers, Arctic skuas, and Arctic terns breeding in the lower parts. The beach is also a haul out spot for walruses.

We split into groups for both short and medium hikes, and we enjoyed taking in the pristine beauty of the Arctic landscape as we walked towards the coastline. The wind was cold, and the ice was slippery, but nothing could stop our excitement as we explored our first stop in Svalbard. Some of us were lucky enough to spot a walrus or two near the shore. Our naturalists explained the landscape and pointed out interesting skeletons along the way, including those of whales and caribou. We saw beautiful red-necked phalaropes dotted across the water.

Once we returned to the ship, we were greeted with a mug of hot chocolate with a dose of whiskey. Once we were all warmed up, we gathered in the ice lounge for cocktail hour and recap before a delicious dinner. Little did we know; the best part of the day was yet to come!

At around 10:30 pm, expedition leader Stefano announced a sighting of our first polar bear. We all gathered on the bridge with our binoculars to catch a glimpse of this magnificent animal as it walked across the ice. With bright sunshine and clear blue skies, it was difficult to force ourselves to go to bed, but there will be plenty more Arctic adventures to enjoy in the coming days.