Venture deep within the world’s northernmost archipelago, a seldom-visited chain of nearly 200 uninhabited islands in the remote Russian High Arctic. Few travelers have ever seen Franz Josef Land, which, until quite recently, was buried beneath a sheet of ice for much of the year. It was closed off to foreigners during the Cold War, when two Soviet military airfields were built there. Franz Josef Land was declared a nature sanctuary in 1994 and, in 2012, became part of the Russian Arctic National Park — the largest marine reserve in the region. The designation protects the islands from future oil and gas exploration, while also granting protection to their incredible wildlife.
Your Seabourn expedition voyage spends five full days exploring this glacier-covered wonderland. Anticipate wide open vistas and overall spectacular arctic scenery, with a varied and unique array of flora and fauna. Bowhead whales feed in the frigid waters and Atlantic walruses haul out on the diminishing sea ice, while colonies of kittiwakes, little auks, and other seabirds claim the scree slopes and cliffs. On shore, polar bears reign over graceful tundra ecosystems in which delicate yet resilient species like purple saxifrage and Polar willow thrive during the short summers.
Highlights of your time in Franz Josef Land include:
Cape Fligely: This rugged cape on Rudolf Island marks the northernmost point of land in Russia, Europe, and Eurasia — a mere 566 miles from the North Pole.
Champ Island: Mysterious spherical stones — ranging from Ping Pong ball-sized to 10 feet in circumference — lie scattered about Franz Josef’s southernmost island.
Polar Bear Safari: Set off on a safari-like experience in search of the majestic “King of the Arctic.” Polar bears are never pursued, and your Expedition Team members carefully manage all activities to ensure that any encounters do not have an adverse impact.
Birdwatching: Grab your binoculars for the chance to spy a wide variety of seabirds, including northern fulmar, kittiwake, Brunnich’s guillemot, little auk, Arctic skuas, ivory gulls, and snow bunting.
Regular Zodiac cruises with your Expedition Team provide an outstanding vantage to admire Franz Josef’s rugged topography. While encounters with fascinating marine life are possible, your Zodiac can also be a good platform for watching birds overhead, listening to the ocean’s roar, and grasping the immensity of this beautiful land. An exhilarating excursion around Rubini Rock reveals its seabird-covered columnar basalts.
Set out on foot across the vast, seemingly barren tundra landscape as your Expedition Team members point out delightful small plants and flowers that thrive in this hostile environment. Encounters with arctic foxes, hares, or interesting bird species are always possible, as is the rare polar bear sighting. Whether seen as a tiny white speck in the distance or ambling slowly along a shoreline, a glimpse of this special creature is always awe-inspiring. Rest assured that all walks are carefully monitored by Bear Guards, who work to maintain the safety of visitor and bear alike.
OPTIONAL EXPEDITIONS (whenever possible):
Join your Kayak Team for a paddle along the shores wherever your expedition stops in Franz Josef Land. The chance to experience this spectacular and magical region from a water-level perspective is unique and not to be missed.