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Magdalenefjord - A view from our expert author
© James Stringer, Flickr
Cruise up to this stunning glacier and amble along its beach, strewn with 17th-century whaling-era relics.
Magdalenefjord is the most photographed landmark of Svalbard and its postcard scenery attracts more visitors every year than any other place apart from Longyearbyen – in spite of its relatively remote position in the far northwest. Magdalenefjord has an alpine feel, with steep sides and a glacier sliding into the sea. On the southern side there is the Gravneset Peninsula as the standard landing site with its beautiful beach and a nicely sheltered anchoring bay called Trinity Haven.
The peninsula shows that this site has attracted men for centuries; in fact, even the discovery expedition of Willem Barents came here in 1596. On the high ground in the middle of the Gravneset, there is an extended graveyard with dozens of difficult-to-recognise whaler graves scattered over the hill and a memorial to the whalers on top; furthermore, there are three areas of remains of old blubber ovens from the 17th-century whaling period down at the beautiful beach. In the 17th century, this was mainly an English whaling base. In the steep mountain slope above Gravneset, little auks breed and on the beach and the lowlands of the peninsula, the chances are you’ll meet arctic terns, skuas, barnacle geese and eider ducks.
Almost all passenger boats anchor in the shelter behind Gravneset, setting people ashore on the beautiful beach for a short walk, and the fjord is also popular for alpine expeditions due to its beauty and hard rocks.
About 20,000 visitors per year inevitably leave their traces, even with excellent environment-conscious behaviour. In fact, Gravneset is about the only place away from the settlements where tourism has left significant traces and often serves as an example of the problems of allowing tourism in Svalbard.
Vegetation on Gravneset, especially in the graveyard area, has suffered severely during more than 100 years of cruise tourism and there has also been considerable damage to the historic remains from the whaling period – mostly due to sheer ignorance, as many of these traces are hardly recognisable to the layman without proper information.