Encounters with the big and blubbery

Ice and easy ... walrus sightings were a highlight of the tour.
Ice and easy ... walrus sightings were a highlight of the tour. Photo: Getty Images

"We were onshore looking at a group of walruses in the distance when we got the message.

"The message was that the action was back where we had left the Zodiacs. When we got there, there was a group of walruses going up and touching the Zodiacs; they were very curious, they wanted to know what they were.

"Apparently one of them had put a puncture in one of the boats last year but this time they were just going up and touching them and having a look.

Suzy Roche and Bev Cornell.
Suzy Roche and Bev Cornell. 

"We were very close to them, only a few feet away, which was very exciting, because the other ones we had been looking at were a long way away and were just sitting around in clumps.

"The walruses kept looking at the Zodiacs and looking at us and then looking back at the Zodiacs, trying to work out what it was all about.

"They're great big blubbery things that are awfully efficient in the water but don't look so special on the land. I wouldn't want to take one on, though, because they have those huge tusks.

"After a while they went out to sea but they were still checking us out and keeping a watch on us; it took a long time before they moved away.

"We were then able to go on a walk up to the top of the hill and look back over the whole area and over the ocean; it was just wonderful to be there.

"You always have to have a weapon-bearer with you when you go on walks in the Arctic, on the slight chance that you might encounter a polar bear.

"They're not very prevalent, unfortunately, but we did see some one night from the ship.

"There were two of them standing on an ice floe and the current brought them closer and closer and closer until they almost touched the boat, then they slipped into the water and swam away."

Value for money

All excursions are included on Peregrine's Arctic cruises, which Bev says are excellent value.

"It's an expensive trip [fares for the 11-day Spitsbergen Explorer cruise start at $4960 per person] but they are very expensive cruises to put together," she says. "You can't do an Arctic or Antarctic cruise on the cheap, it just doesn't happen.

"What I really loved about the cruise was that there were lots of lectures, on the geography, history and wildlife. For people who get seasick, a big advantage of cruising in the Arctic, as opposed to the Antarctic, is that it is so smooth you can hardly tell the boat is moving."

WHO Bev Cornell, of Spotswood in Melbourne, on her eighth cruise.

WHAT Up-close encounters with walruses in the Arctic.

WHERE On the island of Nordaustlandet, in Norway's Svalbard archipelago. The group of islands lies north of the Norwegian mainland and east of Greenland.

THE SHIP Bev cruised with her friend Suzy Roche on an 11-day "Spitsbergen Explorer" expedition with Peregrine Adventures. The cruise started and finished in Longyearbyen, on the Norwegian island of Svalbard.

As told to Jane E. Fraser

Have you done an interesting shore excursion? Drop us a line at travelshd@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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