Ny Alesund is considered the most northern permanent settlement in the world. At 78 degrees latitude, I doubt there are many other competitors, perhaps Greenland somewhere? It’s population varies from 30 in the winter to 150 in the summer when teams come from various nations to conduct research on anything imaginable – global warming, glaciers, weather, marine biology, biochemistry, geology… When we arrived the harbour master immediately advised us to turn off all mobile phones, wifi, data and radios as there were teams were conducting research and our various frequencies may interfere! There was however a little room on the pier with a phone box and two ethernet cables so we could skype J in London and upload a few photos on flickr:
This was someone’s research project…
Ny Alesund boasts the most northern railway (with the exception, we noticed, of the old tracks laid out in Ny London across the fjord!). “Ny” by the way, means “new”. The original Kings Bay Coal Company that started this northern settlement was based in Alesund, Norway. There was a very successful mining industry here for many years. However a serious of accidents with several fatalities led to its eventual closure in 1963. The town was also used as a starting point for expeditions to the North Pole, including Roald Amundsen’s successful attempt in 1926 in the airship Norge. Here is a photo of a memorial dedicated to Amundsen, who also happens to be the first person to reach the South Pole.
We wondered around the settlement and were able to visit a few of the houses open to the public. Here is the post office, with D and I sending off our postcards:
And the old telegraph station had been turned into a little museum. Here we could read some of the stories and history of Ny Alesund, including one where the telegraph operator was killed by an accidental gunshot. The doctor was unable to save him and as a result, the whole settlement was completely cut off from the outside world! The doctor spent weeks working with an electrician to figure out how to send a message. Eventually they got through and the doctor laboriously transcribed the messages that had come through for various inhabitants of Ny Alesund.
Eventually the post office was established. The story goes that eventually the telegraph operator tired of sending messages for people so he posted a large sign outside his building say “Use the post office. Letters are faster than telegrams.” In response, the postman put up a sign saying “Telegrams are faster than letters. Go to the telegraph office”!!
Each nation had it’s own building or part of a building for accommodation. This was the chinese building:
The edge of the settlement was clearly marked with polar blear warnings. We didn’t bother with our gun here, although there were a few people cycling back and forth with rifles strapped to their backs. It looked very peculiar – Better than being eaten though!!! That tube is a security setup to ensure that the rifle is not accidentally loaded when coming or going.
The area around Ny Alesund is protected for the birds. We saw hundreds of Barnacle geese, who are reported to be the most studied birds in the world due to their vicinity to the settlement. It was not uncommon to see them tagged repeatedly by different research groups.
There were also a few arctic terns scattered around… These sea birds are incredibly territorial, particularly during breeding time. They start chattering away and diving to attack. I think we’ve been lucky so far as we haven’t had too many attacks. Here is a photo of one trying to get rid of me though…
The Sysselmannen (governer of Svalbard) had posted signs around Longyearbyen and Ny Alesund warning people of them and advising how to avoid getting attack without risking harm to the birds. The effort to preserve the ecosystem, from the wildlife to the geology and the rich history of the islands has been spectacular. We have found extensive information regarding protected areas, historical sites polar bear protection and loads of other things.
Here are a few shots of the harbour and marina:
We intended to set off early from Ny Alesund, so we crawled out of bed around 12, spent the early afternoon showering, downloading weather gribs, having a delightful breakfast and socialising with the other yachts.
It’s 4:30 and we are just heading off towards Krossfjorden…