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Dreaming in Disko Bay

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I was out on deck early the morning we entered Disko Bay. Fog surrounded the ship, hazy blue-grey into infinity, light rain and calm seas. As I watched, a giant iceberg appeared through the mist, looming ominously before it faded away into oblivion. Another appeared, then yet another. Soon the ship wove carefully through a landscape of ice, each piece as unique as an individual person. “It was as if they had been borne down from a world of myth, some Gotterdammerung of noise and catastrophe”, Barry Lopez had written. “Fallen pieces of the moon”. I stared out in wonder at their silence and their magnitude.

Photo by Acacia Johnson 

We spent days around the ice and each one was different. One eerie night we anchored near the glacier Eqip Sermia, which thundered all night and whose jagged face gleamed blue in the morning to greet us, again enshrouded in fog. We walked a great distance to see it from above, fording river after river around the base of sweeping black mountains. We were alert that day, watching the glacier and the sea, wary of tsunamis rising up from the massive walls of ice that cracked magnificently and collapsed into the water. Our caution rewarded us, and as we crested the ridge of moraine, the fog lifted. The whole world of Eqip Sermia’s ice lay below us, galaxies of its remains floating out into the green-blue sea.

 

Photo by Acacia Johnson

 

Photo by Acacia Johnson

 

That night we stopped the ship outside the town of Ilulissat, launching our zodiacs out into the evening light. Immense walls of ice stood, fortress-like, at the mouth of Jakobshavn Icefjord. The gateway to another world. I thought of the Norwegian word isfjell - ice mountain. We slowly cruised their perimeter at a distance, watching new landscapes appearing in the spaces between the bergs. Time passed and the sky grew a brilliant purple, the ice glowing turquoise white in contrast. I looked at the colorful buildings of Ilulissat in the distance and wondered what it must be to grow up in this wondrous place, to accept such dramatic and constant change every single day. I thought perhaps it teaches you something about the nature of life, something that can be all too easy to forget at times.

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The sky gleamed suddenly yellow for a brief moment, reflecting brilliant off the glassy water. Then darkness overtook the seascape, and this world of ice faded from view and into the night.

 

Acacia Johnson is currently aboard the Sea Explorer on our Arctic Quest Expedition.

Find out more about Quark's Arctic expeditions.

 

 

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Guest Post: Antarctica through the Eyes of an Arctic Aficionado by Andrew White

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As someone who has truly been bitten by the Arctic bug, I was chomping at the bit to see Antarctica. And as the newest member of the Quark sales team, I was looking forward to seeing a Quark expedition in action. Like most salespeople it is easier to sell something you have experienced and even easier if you are genuinely passionate about it. Would it stack up to my experiences in the Arctic? Would I be able to sell Antarctica as passionately as I can sell the Arctic? And more importantly, would I get sick crossing the Drake Passage? (Yes. Yes. And NO!)

I overheard one passenger say that she had brought four books to read during the voyage but there was so much to do and so much to see that she didn't have time to crack open even the first book. To me, that sums up the experience of seeing Antarctica. A Quark Expeditions trip to Antarctica is sensory overload and I definitely ‘came back different.’ Based on the many conversations I had with guests as well as having read all the customer feedback surveys, I wasn't the only one! Not only did I return with friendships and memories that I will take to my grave but I also returned with a profound respect and sense of deep appreciation for the world’s last great wilderness.

Iceberg Antarctica

Ice: In Antarctica, it’s all about scale and colour of these amazing icescapes. The blue ice totally “blew” me away. They may measure in excess of 25 cubic miles whereas the Arctic masses are measured in mere yards. 90% of the all the ice and 70% of all the fresh water on the planet is in Antarctica, these stats are quite staggering and completely dwarf ice caps as massive as even those found in Greenland. But stats are stats; you need to experience the sheer scale of enormity, the texture, the colour and the movement of the ice – photos and video simply don’t capture its immensity.

Penguins Antarctica

Wildlife: To see wildlife in Antarctica you just have to be there! Thousands of penguins, hundreds of seals, plenty of whales and unique bird life galore – the soaring albatross or the leopard seal patrolling the shore will stay in my memory forever. To stand in the middle of a large penguin colony and witness parents taking turns waddling from their nest to the water to gather enough krill (which can take days), to then return to find their hungry chicks (amongst thousands of others) and regurgitate the krill into their chick’s mouths is a sight to behold; the 'circle of life' takes on a new meaning. If frequency of sighting and quantity of wildlife is high on your list then Antarctica is your destination. When I guide in the Arctic I tell guests that we cannot absolutely guarantee we will see polar bears, narwhals, musk ox, belugas, wolf and walrus (which is what makes those sightings so unique and magical), BUT seeing an abundance of wildlife in Antarctica on every excursion is guaranteed!

Needless to say, I can’t wait until my next trip – I have been well and truly bitten by the Antarctic bug. Bring on South Georgia, the Falklands, and let’s cross the circle while we’re at it. This trip was just the tip of the iceberg (pardon the pun). And yes, now I am more than a salesperson for Quark, I am an evangelist!

For anyone considering a trip to Antarctica I defy you to look at photos and watch video and not feel compelled to visit this uniquely special part of the world. And if that still doesn't do it for you, call me directly and I would be happy to share first-hand what to expect (1.416.645.8252).

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Part 1: Journey to the Arctic with Janet & John Tangney

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Janet & John Tangney have been married for almost 41 years and live in Oregon. John's full time job is writing Computer Aided Design software, and Janet was previously a pre-school teacher and substitute teacher for high school special education class. While John is a photo enthusiast, Janet also enjoys the hobby. They primarily go to National Parks in the USA on their travels, and love the Northwest. John had previously gotten to go to Antarctica with Quark Expeditions, and hopes to be able to return to there with Janet in a couple of years. They have a website, www.pbase.com/jctangney where they post photos for all to view and enjoy.

Janet & John Tangney embarked on Quark's 11 day Spitsbergen Explorer, Wildlife Capital of the Arctic. This Arctic paradise is perfect for first-time visitors. Below is Part 1 of the their exciting journey!

Sea Spirit Arctic

Monday, 06-24-2013

We arrived in Longyearbyen at 2pm and had a couple of hours to explore the town before boarding the Sea Spirit around 4pm. Longyearbyen (#1 on blue map), lies within Isfjorden, the second longest fjord in the archipelago (group of islands) of Svalbard. Spitsbergen is the largest of those islands and is the only permanently populated island in the archipelago. Isfjorden is roughly in the center of Spitsbergen, and a portion of it is within the boundaries of Nordre Isfjorden Land National Park. Before dinner we had a life boat drill wearing life jackets. Then came our first dinner in the dining room. We sailed from Longyearbyen sometime after midnight.

John Tangney Zodiac Arctic Arctic photography

Tuesday, 06-25-2013
Just got our email set up. We've had our safety orientation on land-ings and should be doing our first zodiac landing this afternoon. We sailed south all night from Longyearbyen, now sailing east into Hornsund Fjord (#2 on map), the most southerly fjord in Svalbard. The plan is to zodiac into Burgerbukta Bay (#3 on map) where the 2 arms of the bay each end in glaciers, each about 2km wide. We’ll look for wildlife and see glaciers. Since a polar bear was seen at lunch swimming in Burgerbukta Bay, it was decided we would do a zodiac cruise instead of a landing. We saw that same bear a few times as he continued to paddle up into the bay. We saw another polar bear on land and a bearded seal in the water, plus Kittiwakes on an iceberg while on the cruise. Finally that first swimming polar bear climbed out of the water in front of a glacier, where he kept a wary eye on us.

We turned around and headed back to the ship, not wanting to harass the bear any longer. Some of the passengers expressed unhappiness that we did not get closer to the polar bear, like in Churchill Canada, where John went on the Tundra Buggies. In Churchill, the bears are gather in late fall waiting for the sea ice to start forming (which is earlier there than most anywhere else in the Arctic) so they can get out on it to hunt for seals from the sea ice. So the bears are closer together in Churchill and you can see them close up. This area is typical of how polar bears spend most of the months of their lives, on the sea ice, looking for seals swimming just below the ice. The Quark guides try to get us as close as possible to see bears, but from experience, they make a judgment on how close they can approach in a given situation so as to avoid disturbing the bear or changing its natural behavior. I am glad that they did not get so close that we would have disturbed the bear!

Arctic Polar Bear Bearded Seal

Wednesday 06-26-2013
It’s sunny today and very cold as I write this from outside on the back deck on my iPad. I think it's in the high 30s but that only an estimate and it’s quite windy. They announced earlier that it was 4 degrees and everything is in that foreign language, metric. During the night we round-ed the southern tip of Spitsbergen and are now headed north through Storfjorden (means great fjord). Storfjorden (#4 on map) separates the island of Spitsbergen on the west from Edgeoya and Barentsoya to the east. We will look for bands of sea ice and hopefully polar bears and seals on the ice. A polar bear was spotted on the ice lying down. It was at a good distance, but once he stood up and started walking, he was still very recognizable without binoculars or a telephoto lens. We then spotted a bearded seal sunning himself (herself?) on the sea ice.

Bearded Seal on ice Polar Bear

The polar bear, still walking, walked “behind” the seal from our viewpoint., but he was still at some distance from the seal and neither seemed concerned about the other. We usually ate lunch on the deck. They served hamburgers or chicken burgers and a dessert. On sunny days, like today, it was just nice to be outside for lunch. We continued to watch the same polar bear walking across the sea ice. He slipped in the water and then climbed out and shook off the water. The setting was iconic with the bear on sea ice that is breaking up now that it is summer. In the afternoon, we sailed to Dolerittneset (#5 on map) on the northwest corner of the island of Edgeoya for a zodiac landing. It is named for the dark, dolerite (balsaltic) rock along the steep cliffs. The huts on the shore are remnants of the 18th century Russian and Norwegian whalers and hunters. Along part of the shore, walrus bones are scattered, a sad reminder of their slaughter over 3 centuries.

Walrus Arctic Tern

We did not do a landing because there was information there is a sick or injured polar bear hanging around that region. We saw a group of male walruses hauled out on the beach. Our group of 9 zodiac boats were all lined up about 50 feet from shore where they were sunning themselves. Zodiacs mostly travel together in pairs so as not to disturb wildlife, if possible. But this group of 6 males didn't seem to care how many boats were passing beside them. One of them turned over to scratch himself with a flipper and that was about it for movement from the group. Another one appeared to use his long tusks as a prop for his head to rest on. His tusks were stuck straight down in the sand and his eyes were shut. We also saw reindeer, a few in the distance along the mountain sides. One reindeer was much closer and once he saw us, he seemed to follow the zodiacs as much as he could, posing and prancing quite nicely in perfect settings. No disrespect intended, but this reindeer looked like a clown, with those huge black eyes. Also photographed arctic terns.

I have finally mastered using my huge yellow parka. It's heavy and cumbersome, but I seem on top of it now, actually zipping, snapping and velcrowing the various parts together before I go outside instead of freezing while trying to do these things once I am outside. John is at a polar photography discussion tonight and I'm off to bed. We will sail over night into the Freemansun-det (Freeman Strait) which separates the islands of Edgeoya and Barentsoya . In the afternoon, we sailed to Dolerittneset (#5 on map) on the northwest corner of the island of Edgeoya for a zodiac landing. It is named for the dark, dolerite (balsaltic) rock along the steep cliffs. The huts on the shore are remnants of the 18th century Russian and Norwegian whalers and hunters. Along part of the shore, walrus bones are scattered, a sad reminder of their slaughter over 3 centuries.

Yellow Parka

Thursday, 06-27-2013
Yesterday we landed on the north-west corner of the island of Edgeoya. Today we are sailing in the Freemansundet (Freeman Strait) which separates Edgeoya and the island of Barentsoya. The strait is only 6 km wide, and can be blocked by ice late into summer. Barentsoya is the 4th largest island in Svalbard. We will first land at Sundneset (#6 on map), which means sound point, on the south-west corner of Barentsoya and hike through the “rich tundra”. The Arctic gets very little precipita-tion, so it is a desert. Wildflowers are blooming now and no plant is more an 2 or 3 inches tall and yet they can be hundreds of years old. We saw polar bear prints by the river and assorted antlers and skulls of reindeer and a few rein-deer higher up on the hillsides. We were among the first to make our way down to the zodiacs after seeing the bird colony to head back to the ship. For John, Kittiwakes are definitely are not in the category of large male mammals.

Kittiwakes Kittiwakes

The wind had picked up after we landed, so now the guides were strug-gling just to hang onto the zodiac as the waves pounded the shore. While all landings are planned to be wet landings, this would be considered a soaking wet landing. Getting through the surf in the zodiac was interesting. Waves hit the zodiac from the side drenching everyone. Back to the ship for lunch as we sail a short distance to another landing on Barentsoya (#7 on map). There we will see a huge colony of nesting Kittiwakes. They looked like standard sea gulls to me. These birds spend the most of the year at sea, mostly around Europe, but fly here in the summer to make more Kittiwakes. The ship had moved in the meantime so the zodiacs could face the waves going forward instead of from the side. All in a day's work for these guides. But I got some interesting photos of the crew's struggle to keep the zodiac in place to get the passengers inside. It was a definite E-ticket ride today. After our zodiac left, the other zodiac drivers moved the site a short distance to anoth-er landing site which wasn't quite so wild.

Zodiac Zodiac

Friday, 06-28-2013
We will not do any zodiac trips today. We are sailing northeast of Barentsoya Island (#8 on map) around the sea ice and small icebergs, looking for polar bears, walrus, seals and sea birds. We will sail east toward as far as Kong Karls Land (King Charles Land) before turning around and heading back through the Freemansundet (Freeman Strait). Kong Karls Land (#9 on map) is an island group (of 5 islands) within the Svalbard Archipela-go. These islands, which have the largest concentration of polar bears in Svalbard, are part of the Nordaust-Svalbard Nature Reserve. There is a ban on all traffic to these islands, including up to 500 meters away from shore and 500 meters above land, to protect sensitive polar bear denning areas. We had dinner two nights ago with two very interesting passengers. One of them is an executive producer of National Geographic TV. She's British but currently lives in Washington DC. And the other is her husband who is a producer for BBC nature documentaries such as Frozen Planet. She expressed some interesting in staying in contact after looking at some of his photos. John is quite pleased with that development.

Iceberg Iceberg

We had 2 excellent talks by the expedition team today. One was about glaciers and the other about grizzly bears in British Columbia. Speaking of photos they have a computer on board for the pas-sengers to put photos they have taken during the trip. Not many people had put photos on yet (John is excluded from that state-ment). To encourage people to add photos there will be a "Photo of the Day". So for the 4 previous days, John's photo of a rein-deer was picked as the “Photo of the Day" and posted on the monitor where the next day's agenda is posted. Needless to say, he is quite happy. In all fairness, it was an accomplishment to get a non-blurry photo of the reindeer as we were in a zodiac at the time plus using a lens that did not have vibration reduction on it.

 

Photo of the day Reindeer Photo of the day

 

Check out Part 2 of Janet & John's journey!

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Pleneau Island: Iceberg Alley

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Pleneau Island is located west of Booth Island at the southern end of the Lemaire Channel and features an array of iceberg scenery. In fact, an astonishing ninety-three percent of the world’s mass of icebergs is found surrounding the Antarctic. The word "iceberg" actually comes from partial Dutch translation meaning "ice mountain." The term iceberg refers to chunks of ice larger than 5 meters (16 feet) and smaller chunks of ice are known as bergy bites (how cute!) and growlers. While Antarctic icebergs last typically ten years and Arctic bergs about two years, what's interesting to note is the glacial ice that icebergs are made of could be more than 15,000 years old!

 xIcePhoto.2011-12.Antarctica.PleneauBay.-600x397.jpg.pagespeed.ic.HBjMLnk0xs

Beautiful and tranquil, this photo was captured from Pleneau Island, at Pleneau Bay, from one of our 2011 Antarctica Expeditions

 

Got an ice photo of your own to share? Post it to twitter and tag with #IcePhoto! Follow Quark Expeditions on twitter @quarkexpedition where we share photos and videos and chat about all things polar!

Follow us: @QuarkExpedition on Twitter | QuarkExpeditions on Facebook

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The Spectacular Lemaire Channel

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7 miles of sheer beauty!

Renowned as one of the most beautiful parts of the world, the Lemaire Channel runs between the mainland of the Antarctic peninsula and Booth Island, off the Graham Coast.

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Photo courtesy of award-winning photographer Catalin Marin www.momentaryawe.com/blog

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Featured passenger photo: Spitsbergen Cruising

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This photo was sent to us by passenger Lotte Furlong, who recently traveled with us on our Spitsbergen Explorer voyage. Lotte was kind enough to send us a few fantastic photos from her expedition, and had this to say about her trip:

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"It was an amazing trip! The expedition staff was phenomenal. I would recommend it to anyone and I can't wait to book Antarctica."

Thanks Lotte! We can't wait to have you back traveling with us!

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Creating new Antarctic Ambassadors

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A few of us Quark Expeditions recently had the pleasure of attending our first Google+ hangout with some grade one students from Quaker Ridge School in Scarsdale, NY.

Polar Travel Adviser Naomi Box, and Marketing Coordinator Courtenay Oswin were first to jump on board for this project and did a fabulous job chatting with the kids. Below you can see our set up for the afternoon, complete with Antarctic backdrop for "atmosphere":

 

Quark Expeditions reps Courtenay and Naomi chat with Grade 1s from NY Quark Expeditions Naomi (left) and Courtenay (right) answer questions via Google+ hangout

The kids at Quaker Ridge are studying Antarctica and had many great questions for us about why it's important not to touch penguins, what to eat when you're in Antarctica, whether or not there are schools in Antarctica, and most importantly, what happens when you have to go to the bathroom in Antarctica! Naomi and Courtenay patiently described what working in and visiting the white continent is like for those of us at Quark, creating many new Antarctic ambassadors in the process!

Here is the official customized Quark Expeditions Antarctic Certificate of Participation we sent to each child (this one we left blank for photographic purposes)..and the official chocolate of Quark Expeditions! Don't forget to brush those teeth, kids!

Official Quark Expeditions gift certificate and chocolate

A big thank you to the grade one students of Quaker Ridge School, teacher John Calvert who helped get this whole thing set up, and the other teachers involved. We had a wonderful time creating future Antarctic Ambassadors and would be happy to "hangout" with you guys any time!

 

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Explore Greenland

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From unique cultures and rare wildlife to majestic landscapes and towering icescapes, Greenland is beyond imagination.

Describing Greenland as multicultural might seem a little unorthodox, however when you learn about its rich Viking history, the journey of the Dorset people, as well as the Greenlandic people and the Danish immigrants, you’ll agree that Greenland is a melting pot of old and new mores.

Child of Greenland

Visiting communities big (up to 5000 residents) and small (some as small as 150 people), you’ll be guided by locals who provide a unique perspective on your experience. Children in both modern and traditional dress play with husky puppies in training to become sled dogs; village elders lay their pelts out on the front porch to dry in the Northern sun; old Viking churches still erect transport you back to the days of Erik the Red and the Viking settlements of yesteryear; all paint a beautiful photo in your mind’s eye of the Greenlandic way of life.

Greenland is a green and lush country with vegetation aplenty. Hiking presents opportunities for everyone to enjoy the scenery. Sit on a rock on the beach and watch as the sun inches west, take a hike far and high to explore the land in all its beauty or just follow your photography guide to capture the moment. While hiking through the valleys, you’ll come across Uunartoq Springs, naturally occurring sulfur hot springs with an average temperature of 38°C (100°F). Sit back, relax and enjoy the view as you watch incredible icebergs floating past.

Greenland ice

Kayaking was invented here. The word ‘Qajaq’ was adopted by the rest of the world. Traditional kayaks were made of drift wood, animal skin and bones. A kayak demonstration will show Eskimo rolls amongst other tricks. Experience kayaking in Greenland for yourself by taking a more contemporary kayak out; professional guides will show you all the nooks and crannies of this wondrous land and steer you around the immeasurable icebergs.

When you think of icescapes, you have probably never imagined anything like Ilulissat icefjord. As the fastest moving glacier in the world (at a rate of 25-30m per day (82-98ft), this UNESCO World Heritage Site should definitely be on everyone’s bucket list. The icebergs that calve from this fjord are so enormous it is hard for the average person to even begin to fathom their size. Measuring more than 600m (2000ft) below the surface of the water and two city blocks long, these icebergs cannot leave the fjord until they break up into smaller icebergs; there is, quite literally an iceberg traffic jam.

Whale fluke in Greenland

If wildlife is your thing, Greenland offers rare, but impressive sightings. During the Arctic summer, you can spot humpback, minke and fin whales – these creatures weigh up to 70 tons! You’ll spot ring seals swimming around the fjords, birds both at sea and flying over land, and perhaps even floating on calmer waters waiting to catch their dinner. Even the pre-historic looking musk oxen roam around Greenland near Kangerlussuaq, preparing for the upcoming winter.

An expedition to Greenland with Quark doesn’t end with your on-land experiences; quite the contrary. Your on-land experiences are complemented by your shipboard home-away-from-home. While aboard Quark’s all-suites ship, Sea Spirit, you’ll be treated to five-star meals, all-inclusive drinks, lectures from experts in the fields of marine biology, glaciology and more. Laurie Dexter, recipient of the Order of Canada, your onboard historian, will regale passengers with stories of the Vikings, Dorset and modern-day Inuits.

With a warm blanket and hot tea in hand, relax on your private balcony to watch as the sun sets and the Aurora borealis dances you into a deep slumber, preparing you for another day of exploration.

 

 

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Reasons to visit East Greenland

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If Greenland is known for one thing, it is probably its amazing views of the Aurora Borealis. Known to most as the “Northern Lights,” this majestic display of natural light in the northern sky is breathtaking to say the least.

The Greenlandic people believe the dancing of the Northern Lights are their “ancestors’ spirits playing football [soccer] in the sky.” Some of the best displays in August and September can be found near Scoresbysund Fjord where the white and green colours dance around the night’s sky. Meteorologists say that 2013 will have the best display of lights in over a decade. So take a blanket, a hot drink and sit back and enjoy the show on a clear night!

During the day, Arctic animals are plentiful like the curious Arctic fox playing in the valleys and musk ox families roaming everywhere. These pre-historic animals resemble shag carpets with legs and hooves. When the ice is thick, spot polar bears walk around purposefully hunting for food, while in the sea orca, fin, humpback and minke whales abound as the Denmark Strait is a rich feeding area.

photo credit: Terri Chalmers

What Greenland might not be known for as well, but definitely should be, is its beautiful lush scenery. With icebergs of every shape and size everywhere you turn and blossoming colorful flowers guide you along your hikes, you won’t know where to look. Choosing to hike up to the top of Ella Island will present you with a view of five converging fjords; a spider web of fjords.

iceberg in east greenland

A perfect, and calm, way to enjoy the Greenlandic landscape is by sea kayak. While on a single or double kayak, you’ll sail past icebergs, float through fjords and marvel at the marine wildlife. The narrow fjords and high walls on each side, not to mention the multitude of places to pull ashore and explore this land make this a unique opportunity to see Greenland like it was meant to be seen.

Part of Greenland’s rich past includes old trapper huts scattered across its eastern seaboard. While out on a winter hunt, men would stay in these huts for months at a time. Some of these historical huts have been restored and modern-day adventurers sometimes choose to stay in them, while other huts are run down and barely left standing. Take a tour and let your camera be your guide.

Ittoqqortoormiit

A small village of 450 people await you in Ittoqqortoormiit; the most northern town on East Greenland. This hunting community still abides by the ways of old; traditional garbs, pelts and exotic animal meats will entertain all your senses.

So visit East Greenland for a chance to see some of the natural wonders of the world.

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Glacier Calving

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A dramatic moment captured as a glacier calves during a Three Arctic Islands expedition in September 2012. Photo courtesy of Frede Hansen.

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Glacier or ice calving is the breaking off of chunks of ice at the edge of a glacier and is often preceded by a loud cracking sound similar to thunder!

You can read one passenger's firsthand experience on this voyage right here.

Got an ice photo of your own to share? Post it to twitter and tag with #IcePhoto! Follow Quark Expeditions on twitter @quarkexpedition where we share photos and videos and chat about all things polar!

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