Travelers seek out Japan for many reasons, but snorkeling has generally not been one of them. That is a missed opportunity. Made up of nearly 7,000 islands, the country may be one of the most underrated snorkel spots around.
The Japanese have long known the value of a walk in the woods. From the indigenous wisdom of Shintoism to the comparatively modern practice of forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku, a common belief remains clear: time spent in nature is healing. Science supports this, too. Recent research shows that just one day spent in the forest is enough to spur significant mental health benefits.
We began our day with a landing on North Seymour, where we encountered hundreds of birds, mostly frigatebirds flying overhead. We followed a path that took us to a breeding site of blue-footed boobies and magnificent frigatebirds. We watched their mating displays in awe as nature showed us its wonderful ways. Male frigatebirds inflated their red gular sacs and stretched out their wings trying to attract a mate. Male blue-footed boobies slowing raising their cerulean feet to show a potential mate that they can fish well and support a nest. We also spotted land iguanas, marine iguanas, lava lizards, and a Galapagos racer snake along the path. We continued our navigation to Rabida Island, famous for its red sand beach, a coloration resulting from iron oxide in its volcanic soil. Those who chose to snorkel were delighted with sightings of sea turtles, sharks, Galapagos sea lions, and colorful fish. As the sun dipped into the horizon, we continued with a casual walk to a brackish pond that has a resurgent population of American flamingos, an excellent way to finish this day.
Ice, ice, baby…Today was all about ice. Just before breakfast, we spotted three walruses hauled out on an ice floe, quite a different sighting from the walruses hauled out on land the day before. Afterward, we entered Freemansundet, a narrow strait between Edgeøya and Barentsøya. In more open areas, the sea was calm and mirrorlike, offering us spectacular reflections of the Arctic landscape. Farther east, the strait was filled with ice, and we spent the morning admiring its beauty. It’s amazing how ice can be so mesmerizing with so many intricate details. Despite our best efforts, we had to turn back since the ice that had filled the strait was too strong, even for a ship as capable as ours. In the afternoon, we learned a lot about the nature of Svalbard and how it is managed from naturalist Carl Erik. After hours of admiring the ice from the ship, it was time to head to it. We boarded Zodiacs and landed on an ice floe. We were able to wander around and even saw some polar bear prints. Throughout the day, polar bears teased us with footprints that often showed up on pieces of ice just next to our ship, but they were too shy to reveal themselves to us. After dinner, one of them finally decided to show itself to us by sleeping on a piece of land-fast ice in front of a glacier face. What an amazing backdrop for a nap and a wonderful way to end the day!
Sunday dawned cool but sunny, and a gentle breeze rippled the waters of Stockholm Harbour as the ship awoke. Guests enjoyed breakfast with scenic views of Gamlastan on the one side and the tall ship of Chapman on the other. The day’s first activity was an early morning presentation delivered by Jim Hannson and Patrick Hoglund of the Vrak Museum of Wrecks. Their talk about the maritime archaeology of the Baltic and the story of the excavation of the Vasa’s sister ship Applet whetted guests’ appetite for the next activity – a visit to the spectacular Vasa , now in its own museum in the city. The best way to get around Stockholm is by boat, and so it was by Zodiac that we arrived at the fabulous museum. Nothing can truly prepare first time visitors for the entry to the museum, where this great warship – beautifully preserved for nearly 300 years in the waters of Stockholm – now resides. For many, it was enough to simply wander around the levels overlooking the ship, but local guides were also on hand to explain the intricacies of the ship’s rescue and restoration. After lunch on board and an invigorating walk around the harbour for some guests, we prepared for the afternoon excursions. One group went on a walking tour of Gamlastan, the city’s historic quarter, where evidence of settlement right back to the Vikings can be found in the narrow and scenic streets. Another group went to Fotografiska, Stockholm’s museum of photography. A visit to the Millesgarden Art Museum and Sculpture Garden outside the city completed the artistic afternoon. At 6:00 pm, we sailed out of Stockholm Harbour with a scenic evening light illuminating dozens of pleasure and sailboats as we toasted the city from the sun deck.
This morning, we reached Edgeøya (“Edge Island”) in Eastern Svalbard. This is the third largest island in the Svalbard archipelago, and the area is known for its varied wildlife. The weather invited us to make a landing at Russebukta (“Russian Bay”). Edgeøya has a relatively lush tundra that sustains a rich population of the endemic Svalbard reindeer. During hikes of various lengths, we spotted a number of reindeer and a good variety of birds: pink-footed geese, barnacle geese, king eiders, common eiders, red-throated divers (loons), long-tailed ducks, red phalaropes, purple sandpipers, ruddy turnstones, black-legged kittiwakes, northern fulmars, and snow buntings. This represents almost half of the regular breeding bird species in Svalbard! After lunch, expedition leader Stefano announced that two groups of Atlantic walrus had been spotted on a couple islands to the west of Russebukta. This iconic Arctic animal is definitely high up on the wish list for any visitor to the region. A Zodiac cruise was swiftly prepared, and we enjoyed amazing views of walrus hauled out on land and a good number in the water, too. What would be more relevant to follow than a presentation on the Atlantic walrus? In the late afternoon, naturalist Hazel Pittwood gave a very engaging talk on this largest of the pinnipeds in the Arctic Ocean. A recap before dinner completed our adventurous day with short talks on what we have seen and learned over the last two days: beluga whales, retreating glaciers, local trapping history, the Svalbard reindeer, and a recap on photos from yesterday and today. We are now heading farther north to continue our exploration in the eastern part of the Svalbard archipelago.
This morning, we sailed through the beautiful Swedish Archipelago and boarded Zodiacs for a spectacular cruise along the Djurgården Canal running along the Royal Game Park island of Djurgården into the vibrant heart of Stockholm. We enjoyed a breath-taking view of Stockholm from the vantage point of its waterways and cruised past some of the city's most beautiful sights and buildings. Along the way, our wonderful hotel department arranged for champagne and delicious appetizers that we enjoyed together on the water in perfect sunny conditions. In the afternoon, a private concert was organised just for us with Emilia Amper, one of Sweden’s most sought-after folk musicians. Emilia is a world-renowned, Grammy-nominated master of a unique Swedish folk instrument called the nyckelharpa, meaning “keyed fiddle.” Through her music, she and her band (Emilia Amper Trio) shared with us her deep knowledge and love of Swedish and Nordic traditions with charisma, virtuosity, and energy.