July 11, 2012
Queen Elizabeth’s Entertainment Team
22 June – 6 July
The first three days of our voyage were spent in the company of our sister ship Queen Victoria, as we travelled first to Stavanger, then Flaam together.
On the evening of 24 June we were treated to the kind of sunset you only get at sea, and it was a pleasure to share it as we sailed side-by-side.
On 25 June we arrived in the small picturesque village of Flaam, nestled at the inner end of the Aurlandsfjord. Many guests set off to experience the scenic 20 km railway between Flaam and Myrdal; at an incline of 1 in 18 it is one of the steepest in the world. Others were content to enjoy the sunshine at the water side cafes and gift shops. As we set off to head northwards we passed Queen Victoria at anchor, later bound for Olden. This beautiful photograph of the two Queens was taken by Photographer Sigmund Krøvel.
Norway always provides some truly breathtaking scenery and the sailaway from Flaam is no exception.
At 5.40pm on 26 June we crossed the Arctic Circle, one of the five major circles of latitude that mark maps of the Earth. The position of the Arctic Circle is not fixed, but directly depends on the Earth’s tilt, and is currently drifting northwards at a speed of about 15m per year. The circle marks the southern extremity of the polar day, 24 hours of sunlight often referred to as “midnight sun”. On the night of the 26th midnight arrived in full daylight – and as we approached the Lofoten Islands on our starboard side rain falling over the mountains caused a rare sight – a midnight rainbow.
Our next port was Tromsø, the second largest city within the Arctic Circle (following Murmansk). Between September and April Tromsø is in the middle of the Aurora Borealis zone, its location and transport links make it one of the most popular places in the world to see the Northern Lights. With much to do in the city, including a visit to the only wooden, and northernmost, cathedral in Norway, an undoubted highlight for many was a trip to a husky centre on nearby Kvaløya (Whale Island) – all cuddly residents were carefully counted before guests returned to the ship with extra, adorable, stateroom companions.
On the morning of 29 June Commodore Christopher Rynd became ‘Expedition Leader’ as he took us to Magdalenfjord, an 8km long fjord between Reuschalvøya and Hoelhalvøya on the west coast of Spitsbergen. At 79.59 degrees north, an atmosphere of intrepid excitement ran through the open decks of the ship as the flag was raised on our forward mast in the early morning. The ship’s engines gently hummed as we edged towards the most spectacular area of the fjord, the Waggonwaybreen Glacier. Seen here in front of our bow, the glacier is just under a mile wide.
Dwarfed by one of the fjord’s mountains, one of our rescue craft was launched with a ship’s photographer on board – who captured the below image of the ship behind one of the large chunks of ice that were constantly separating from the glacier itself.
All too soon it was time to gently ease back out to sea and steam along the rugged coastline to our anchorage at Ny Ålesund, further south at a mere 78.55 degrees north – one of the world’s northernmost settlements and one of only four permanent settlements on the island of Spitsbergen.
With a permanent population of approximately 30-35 persons, rising up to 120 in the summer months when more of the research stations are manned, a ship like Queen Elizabeth is difficult to miss. After taking in the breathtaking scenery the highest priority of the day was to send a postcard from the world’s northernmost post office. Ny Ålesund is an extremely important area of natural preservation, a pathway just over 1km long took visitors on a circuit of the 60 buildings in the populated area – with several methods of ensuring people stick to the path. Aside from warnings of local polar bears, the local nesting birds proved a more immediate threat. Arctic Terns nesting next to the pathway did not extend the warm greeting given by the rest of the settlement’s residents, and were quick to swoop down upon unsuspecting pedestrians who wandered a little too close.
Local advice: try not to look like a polar bear – so those with light coloured hair should cover it and white or beige coats were a definite no, however sometimes even though the rules were followed warning swoops were made, just in case. Even the Tour Office team fell foul of one particularly persistent tern.
Next stop was the port of Trondheim, offering a great deal to do ashore, one particular lure has been the tiny village of Hell, a 30 minute train journey away. The wooden building of Hell Station has been an essential holiday snap since the very first Cunard ships began Norwegian itineraries – the below picture may be familiar to those who have travelled on board Queen Mary 2, as it features on the heritage trail. Not much has changed externally with the latest Cunarder to visit, and the tickets still make excellent souvenirs.
A day in Olden is a chance to walk through beautiful Norwegian countryside or take a boat trip across picturesque lakes. Our good fortune with the weather continued and as the bright sunshine ensured no bad photographs could be taken, Queen Elizabeth posed wonderfully against the perfect backdrop.
Never slow to take advantage of good weather ashore, some chose to go for a bracing swim in ice cold clear waters.
While others took a spectacular helicopter trip – taking in stunning views of the fjords, surrounding mountains, and of course, Queen Elizabeth
After a final call to the bustling city of Bergen, it’s time to head home to Southampton to recharge cameras and reflect upon a once in a lifetime voyage of discovery.