Everything at the camp froze overnight, the ponds turned a weird green

Friday, November 2, 2012

Arctic Kingdom's Camp near Arviat, in Hudson Bay

Arctic Kingdom's camp on the Polar Bear Migration Route  is just south of the Gellini River, near Arviat, in Hudson Bay

The collection of cabins; the camp near Arviat
They must have had me in mind when they set up this particular adventure; the 'Polar Bear Migration Route'. The camp is seriously remote, in the wilderness of Hudson Bay. We flew 40 minutes north from Churchill by Twin Otter turbo (charter) plane, landing on an impossible looking landing site, right next to the cabins. It wasn't a landing strip, more like another piece of arctic dirt/ice/snow, without rocks. We measured the plane's tyre tracks later as 25 metres. Yep, he put the plane down in 25 metres! Granted the soil was soft, so that would have absorbed some of the impact. Down the plane went, and the pilot did a little twist just after he landed; we were down. Unbelievable!

The morning after! My cabin had the pink door
There were 6 of us adventuresome guests, plus 6 staff – and I was the only female! I got to have my own cabin, complete with its own generator for emergencies, air horn for bear alerts, coffee maker, walkie talkie phone, 2 gas heaters, a Pacto toilet (google that one!) and a shower – hmmmm, that one was a bit of a mission.

It was reasonably 'warm' when we first arrived, but winter arrived with a blast overnight, and snap froze everything. The cold was quite severe compared with the day before, and got colder, getting to about -25C with wind chill. So, not quite winter really. I have never seen ice pile up like it did on the beaches and rolling along the waves. The ice on the ponds and lakes froze too of course, and was a weird evil green – very strange. I've never had such cold painful hands so frequently before, and the weird thing about that was that I got used to it! Unreal.

Nosey - being nosey He really was hyperactive
Ummmmm – I haven't said much about the bears have I. Well, sigh, we saw four from the plane on the way in, then two more in the distance during the 5 days there, so no bears at all up close. I think it was probably the bleakest turnout of bears that Arctic Kingdom have ever had there. There was a gorgeous little Arctic fox, called Nosey, who put in several entertaining appearances, and was a delight to photograph. We went for several wonderful walks, mainly looking for Ursus Maritimus, and finding plenty of sign of caribou and foxes, and some sign of bears too – but no sights!
There's a larger pic of Nosey playing with a raven, amongst the larger pics at the bottom.

Chopper flight for those who couldn't wait

Churchill airport's runway froze over the day we were supposed to fly out, together with very high winds, so our small plane couldn't come and retrieve us. How sad! Three of us weren't at all upset about it, and didn't join 4 others who elected to charter a chopper and try to catch their connections; they managed it – by two minutes.

We not only had an extra day there in that wonderful Arctic wonderland, but also the Northern Lights came out to play for the first time up there. Max had never seen them before, and Todd had never had the chance to photograph them, so the three of us had an entertaining evening sharing settings, laughs, and of course our images.

And the final coup de grace – when we arrived back in Churchill the next day, the driver (with 30 years of polar bear guiding) took us to where he 'just happened to know' there was a bear – up close. How lucky was that! Northern lights, plus a polar bear up close, because we had to stay an extra night. Yipee!!!

Iceland Winter Photo Workshop – 5 days

What a full-on experience this Winter Workshop was! I'd thought there would be indoor (relaxed) class time, but no, it was all outdoors, and learning on-the-go. We were incredibly lucky with the weather, and didn't have one storm, which is unusual in October for the south-eastern part of wild Iceland. The photo tours and workshops are run by Tony Prower of IcelandAurora.com, an Englishman who resides in Reykjavik, and whose no.1 passion in life has to be photography. He's very enthusiastic and innovative, so we were treated to some intriguing places to visit and to photograph.

Aurora Borealis on the Jökulsárlón Lagoon

In particular the Jokulsarlon Lagoon - a glacier lagoon - was a spectacular location, especially for the Northern Lights. So too was the nearby beach, where icebergs washing out of the lagoon and down Iceland's shortest river, are deposited on the beach. They are both a challenge and a delight to photograph.

Sunset - through
 the waterfall at Fjadrargljufur

Five days of continuous wild locations, much travelling to get there, coping with the cold, new photography techniques and not enough sleep left us all a tad weary (I could use another word!). Often we were very late to bed after the Northern Lights, and then up early to catch the sunrise on the iceberg beach!  It was all a challenge, but hugely worthwhile. I loved it and wouldn't have missed a minute.

Tony Prower uses a technique called the Magic Cloth extensively and very effectively. You can find it on his website - http://icelandaurora.com/

I'd LOVE to go back to Iceland! Are you surprised? Anyone coming? 

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Reykjavik, Iceland – 48+ hours with Mark (my oldest son)

It was great that Mark could come over to Iceland from London for a quick rendezvous with his Mum. Wasn't I lucky! We packed a lot into the time, although we originally planned to be laidback and not push it!
The lovely warm waters of the Blue Lagoon, in a freezing wind!

Mark reckoned we couldn't be in Reykjavik and not visit the Blue Lagoon, so the first afternoon we caught the bus out there, and spent a couple of hours escaping the cold icy wind, soaking in the hot water that's left over from the town's geothermal electrical plant. Deliciously warm, and beautifully blue, we had a great time! The sauna was a refuge from the wind, and made going back out to the cold much easier.

The 'rift' between the two tectonic plates
The next day we really packed it in, starting with a 'Golden Circle' tour, combined with snowmobiling. The Golden Circle consists of 1.) a visit to Pingvellir National Park, which was the site of Iceland's first Parliament, and also where you can see the rift between the Eurasian tectonic plate and the American plate – fascinating to see the gap, which apparently is increasing every year. (I did wonder why anyone from Christchurch would want to go and see tectonic plate movement, but I guess there are a few nutters in this world)  2.) was the Gullfoss waterfall, very beautiful and wild. And 3.)  Geysir, 3 geysers in all, but only one active, approximately every 8 minutes – it made me jump when it went off!

It was tricky taking pics from the back of the snowmobile!

Snowmobiling was great fun, and Mark's aim was to go as fast as he could (it's been his goal ever since he first got on Brian's wee bike on the farm) but he had to cope with his mother yelling at one point! He got the snowmobile to 62kms at one point apparently. It's a wild place, this Iceland, and you could spent weeks enjoying the outdoors. Many back country roads are now closed for the winter, although the first big snow fall is yet to happen.

Back in Reykjavik we visited an innovative restaurant, the Fish Market. Not cheap, but a great experience. First time visitors are recommended to go for the Tasting Menu, where you get an entree sized plate of just about every dish on the menu - 8 dishes in all. The young woman owner/chef is combining Icelandic food with Asian cuisine, and it's all absolutely delicious, and expensive! To top off our busy day, we joined a Northern Lights bus trip out into the country, escaping the city's light pollution. We didn't have to go very far before the Auroras started playing in the sky, and both Mark and I thoroughly enjoyed taking photos – taking turns on my camera. For those techie minded amongst you – a Nikon D7000 DSLR with a Tokina 11-16mm 2.8 lens. I set it at f2.8 for about 15 seconds, on ISO 800.

From Mark's and my Aurora evening shoot
The next morning, far too early, and far too soon, Mark shot off back to London, and work. I think he slept the whole way on the plane!

St. John's City and Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland, Canada

Some of the brightly coloured homes in St.John's NFL

After 'Clipper Adventurer' arriving in St. John's Newfoundland I spent a couple of days with Sue, also from the ship, renting a car, and visiting Mistaken Point in the South of NFL with its ancient fossils in the rocks (Google 'Mistaken Point' – it's a World Heritage site), and Tuckamore forests, and then Trinity village further north, a pretty little village with beautifully kept houses and businesses, and a very photogenic church. I'd have loved to stay.

Peridodite area in the Gros Morne Tablelan
After Sue left for her home I took off to the west of NFL, visiting Gros Morne National Park for 3 days. One day's hike took me up to the Tablelands, where there is an area of great interest to geologists, with its fields of peridodite, a rock that forms part of the earth's mantle, not usually visible to the naked eye. Quite soapy feeling, it doesn't support much plant life and so the area looks particularly barren. I also drove up the west coast quite a way the next day, visiting an old and quaint lighthouse, and looking at the little fishing settlements on the way. It was autumn, and the tree colours were vibrant, almost luminous. Unfortunately most places were shut down for the winter, and it was very very quiet. I stayed at a lovely spot in Norris Point near Rocky Harbour, but I was the only one there!

Quaint houses in St. John's, near the harbour 'narrows'

The 'Newfies' are a delightful lot, with intriguing personalities and a fascinating accent. They're quite unique, in a very special way, with a strong sense of being part of the land, and having a right to be there. I liked them!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

NORTHERN LIGHTS – Kangerlussuaq, Greenland

 We did see Northern Lights in Greenland, while I was still on the ship from Illulisat down to Kangerlussuaq, but I hadn't got my head around taking photos of them at that stage, and the results were patchy. I went outside at night when I was staying at the Polar Lodge at Kangerlussuaq, about 10pm or so, and was entranced to see the lights playing in the sky. Also, at Illulisat, the lights were there again, dancing all over the sky.  Such an entrancing sight! I needed to be rugged up warm; it was pretty darn cold, My hands were absolutely freezing. 
Having a tripod is a must. And Jude – my little light weight Sirui tripod was just the job, as long as it wasn't too windy.

Sunday, October 21, 2012


Finding safety in a Greenland fjord let us explore the shoreline

Voyaging with Adventure Canada on the Clipper Adventurer was a different experience from other ship trips I've done before. The focus was mainly cultural, with many different experience both on and off the ship. On the staff there were folk from Greenland, Labrador, Newfoundland and mainly Canada in general, who were there to give information about the land, and the people of the land, and to guide us on different sites. There were two authors and a painter, several musicians (very proficient) and a Greenlandic woman, Ayju, who seemed to be able to turn her hand to just about anything. There were also 'expedition' staff, whose extensive experience in the Arctic helped with understanding the conditions and maintaining safety, mainly when we were on land eg taking rifles in case of sightings of polar bears and making sure that everyone was kept together.. There were also some experts in geology, Arctic travel and photography.
Some excitement when the glacier calved

There weren't many empty berths, so there were many passengers to be fed, and to be ferried to and from in the zodiacs. I think that there were 125 passengers, so it was impossible to get to know everyone, but there was a lot of camaraderie and fun. There was much entertainment from the staff too, particularly in the evening at the daily 'recap', some of it interesting and informative, and other times ribald humour and hilarity.

I had a lovely cabin-mate Marion, who lives in the NW of Vancouver city, and who I hope to see again before I leave Vancouver for NZ at the end of the month. We didn't live in each other's pockets the whole time, but did enjoy some good tête-à-têtes in our cabin, as well as making the most of the walks in the wild places, some of them quite long and steep.

Glowing autumn colours
Polar bears? Yes, some, but usually quite distant. Some birds, the occasional breaching minke whale and a couple of seals, and that was about it for wildlife. It was fascinating to go ashore and visit little villages, and meet some locals, and see their handwork and the way they have lived for years. The scenery was stunning as you'll see from the pics. The autumn colours on the low lying slopes were vibrant, almost glowing – no longer north of the Arctic circle, but still very constrained in size by the climate. We had to rug up well when we were ashore, but with the right clothing it was all fine – although our first few days were very wet and stormy. So stormy in fact that we holed up at the top end of a fjord for 24 hours before crossing the Davis Strait from Greenland to the very northern tip of Labrador. The whole voyage was dictated by the weather, and there were a couple of destinations that we just couldn't get to, because of a persistent following low pressure system. It got quite rough a couple of times too.

Our final destination was St. John's in Newfoundland, the capital city of Newfoundland and Labrador province. It was a shame to have to part from so many lovely people – after a fortnight you really do get to know some people quite well!

The Vikings landed in northern Newfoundland,
 at l'Anse aux Meadows - this is
 a replica sod dwelling

Monday, October 15, 2012

ICEBERGS IN ILLULISAT – which means 'Icebergs in Icebergs', in Greenlandic!

Mona's home is dark blue, just right of centre
I loved returning to Illulisat. It was such a quick visit when we called in there with the Akademic Ioffe; I'd had a sense when I was there that I was just checking it  out!

I stayed with Mona, a Greenlandic woman, whose husband works away from home in the capital city of Nuuk, for 6 weeks at a time, and who enjoys having people to stay. She was just lovely, and we enjoyed each other's company. She said she couldn't speak english, but really – she could!

The icebreaker, Illulisat style!
 I went on an Icefjord Tour, in the dinkiest and quaintest boat you ever saw, the 'Clane', with a old time Greenlandic fellow, who sure knew what he was doing. He even tried to pretend that his boat (it did have a cabin) was an icebreaker, tried to push an iceberg out of the way and left some red paint on it! I pretended to step off the front of the boat onto the iceberg, which had him cracking up laughing. The immense numbers of the icebergs that are found in Disko Bay have made it a Unesco World Heritage site, and it's mindblowingly stupendous. I did see hundreds of icebergs from the ship when we came through, and we kayaked through just a few of them, but somehow the tour in that 'original' boat just took the cake.

Look what's at the bottom of Mona's street!

Walking to see an ancient site where Saqqaq, Thule and Dorset people have lived for thousands of years was an eye opener. How they did it astounds me. It certainly underscores the tenacity and depth of the human spirit. The places (saw all this in the fascinating Illulisat museum) they travelled to and from are way beyond the burnt stump – or should that be the smashed up igloo?

I loved the little town of Illulisat. It's quaint, and friendly, and not too touristy. There were a couple of women from France who stayed were staying at Mona's too and I found that I could still speak French! J'ai été stupéfié!!

Taken on a short evening stroll, from Mona's home

Next post? Hmmmm – the ship to 'Wild Labrador & Newfoundland'. I had a lovely cabin mate this time . . . . .  another story!