Discover a world of icy wonders in Novaya Zemlya (“New Land”), a remote archipelago in the Russian High Arctic. Few travelers have ever set foot in this glacier-covered place, located far above the Arctic Circle. Russians knew of its existence as early as the 11th century, and had an established hunting trade there by the 1500s when European explorers first arrived while searching for the Northeast Passage. (Dutch navigator Willem Barentsz, for whom the Barents Sea is named, died here on his third expedition in 1596.) Until recently, Novaya Zemlya was closed to tourism and used exclusively by the Russian Armed Forces; abandoned military installations stand as stark reminders of the Cold War era. The archipelago is now part of the protected Russian Arctic National Park.
Your Seabourn expedition spends two full days exploring Novaya Zemlya, which comprises two large islands — Severny (northern) and Yuzhny (southern), separated by the narrow Matochkin Strait — along with a handful of smaller ones. The strait also divides the arctic desert topography of the north from the southern tundra landscape dotted by dwarf birch, lichen, creeping polar willow, and delicate wildflowers. Nearly half of Severny Island is covered by an ice cap, which feeds a series of glaciers. Novaya Zemlya is home to millions of seabirds, while its frigid waters host migrating beluga and bowhead whales, seals, and Atlantic walruses. The archipelago also is an important denning area for polar bears, and retreating sea ice has forced many bears to venture further inland for food — creating more frequent encounters with humans.
Highlights of your time in Novaya Zemlya may include*:
Cape Zhelaniya: A former Soviet weapons outpost stands frozen in time on this desolate promontory at the north end of Severny Island. It also marks the place where Dutch explorer Willem Barentsz died after his ship became trapped in ice.
Inostrantseva Bay: This striking bay on Severny’s western coast is the terminus for the active Pavlov Glacier.
Belushya Guba: Located on Yuzhny Island, the archipelago’s main settlement is home to 2,000 or so residents, most of whom are military personnel and their families.
Birdwatching: More than 100 species have been spotted in Novaya Zemlya, so grab your binoculars to view nesting Brünnich’s guillemots and glaucous gulls, along with puffin, pomarine skua, little stint, Arctic loon, and red-breasted merganser. Lapland longspur, Arctic redpoll, Peregrine falcon, and snow owl have been sighted ashore.
*NOTE: Routing and activities are dependent upon weather and ice conditions.
Regular Zodiac excursions provide an excellent vantage from which to view Novaya Zemlya’s spectacular coastal fjords and glacier-covered mountains. While there is always a chance to encounter fascinating marine life, the Zodiacs also serve as a great platform to watch birds flying overhead, listen to the ocean’s roar, and grasp the immensity of this beautiful land.
Set out on foot to explore the starkly captivating arctic landscape as your Expedition Team members point out tiny plants and flowers that thrive in this hostile environment. Encounters with Arctic foxes, hares, lemmings, and reindeer 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 Novaya Zemlya. The chance to experience this raw, rugged and wild part of the Russian Arctic from a water-level perspective is unique and not to be missed.