The islands of the Svalbard archipelago, the largest of which is Spitsbergen, have only officially been part of Norway since 1920. This wild, fragile area lies halfway between the north pole and the mainland.
Icelandic texts from 1194 contain the first known mention of Svalbard. After the Dutch navigator Willem Barents visited Svalbard in 1596, whaling and winter-long hunting and trapping were virtually the only human activities here for the next 300 years.
In 1906 John M. Longyear established the first coal mine and named the area Longyear City. Now called Longyearbyen, Svalbard’s capital has a population of 1,200. With a local economy fueled by oil drilling, the town is a diverse community with excellent accommodations and restaurants.
Sixty percent of Svalbard is covered by glaciers; plants and other vegetation cover only 6 percent; the rest of the surface is just rocks. Only a few cruise ships and other boats land here, and no roads connect the communities on Svalbard — people travel between the communities with snowmobiles.
The archipelago’s climate is surprisingly mild, with periods of summer fog. The small amount of precipitation makes Svalbard a sort of arctic desert. Permafrost covers all of Svalbard, which means only the top yard of earth thaws in summer. Because it’s so far north, it has four months of the midnight sun (as well as four months of polar night).
During the 1600s, whaleboats by the hundreds could be seen bobbing about in beautiful Magdalenefjord, situated on the northwest coast of the island of Spitsbergen and extending eight kilometers inland.
The whaleboats are gone, but the fjord’s beauty remains. Considered to be one of Spitsbergen’s most beautiful fjords, Magdalenefjord, is punctuated with glaciers, including the Waggonway Glacier.
Towering rock cliffs and sharp-peaked mountains surround the fjord to form a dramatic backdrop. On the south side of the fjord are the golden sands of Gravneset, where a monument pays tribute to the primarily Russian, Dutch and Norwegian “Svalbard Voyagers 1600 – 1750,” some of which are buried here.
Magdalenefjord is a nature lover’s paradise, with thousands of rare and whale spotting.
Avid Cruiser Posts, Photographs and Videos Featuring Longyearbyen and Spitsbergen.