When people think about diving they tend to imagine warm water, endless sunshine, palm trees and tropical destinations. It isn’t all about the tropics though. There are some fantastic cold water diving liveaboards for adventurous travelers to experience.
Spitsbergen, the largest island in Norway, is the only permanently populated island of Svalbard. It borders the Arctic Ocean, Barents Sea, and the Greenland Sea and has a typical Arctic climate, with long polar night and midnight sun seasons. Spitsbergen has six national parks with an abundance of wildlife and is popular for polar bear sightings and the northern lights.
Spitsbergen is also a popular diving location and liveaboard safaris provide access to remote and untouched dive sites in the Arctic. Divers can experience zodiac boat diving next to ice floes, diving with sea lions, wreck diving and ice dives. It is a great destination for photographers looking to capture features such as kelp walls, glaciers, and unique underwater landscapes. Marine life includes sea snails, sea butterflies, crabs, sea hedgehogs, and starfish.
Northern safaris take divers to the more remote, smaller islands off Spitsbergen and to experience highlights such as the wildlife-rich Hinlopen Strait and huge Monaco glacier. It is also possible to visit the third-largest ice cap on the planet, explore Ahlstrandhalvøya’s numerous whale skeletons, and witness the polar desert of Nordaustlandet.
Wildlife that may be encountered includes bearded seals, walruses, reindeers, Arctic foxes, diverse birdlife, and whales. The waters around Spitsbergen are visited regularly by Minke, Fin, Humpback and Blue whales.
The M/V Plancius is an 89m expedition vessel that offers Arctic liveaboard diving and explores the dive sites of Spitsbergen in July and August each year. This vessel also offers non-diving polar bear expeditions. Divers need to be experienced in cold water and dry suit diving to join these liveaboard safaris.
Scorsby Sund, Greenland
Scorsby Sund is one of the largest and longest fjords in the world; covering an area of about 38,000 square kilometers and extending up to 350 kilometers in from the coastline of Greenland. It reaches depths of up to 1,450 meters in places. This huge fjord system contains a number of islands and is rich in birdlife and Arctic fish such as char, Greenland halibut, wolffish, sea scorpions and the Greenland shark. The fjord is home to a variety of marine mammals including ringed, hooded, harbor, bearded, and harp seals. Walrus, narwhals, polar bears, and beluga whales can also be seen in the area.
A liveaboard safari to Scorsby Sund offers the chance to dive this unique area and enjoy activities such as northern light spotting, wildlife watching, and zodiac boat excursions. Both ice diving and boat-based diving are available.
Those hoping to see the northern lights need to visit in the winter months. September is one of the best months to visit, as there is a chance to see the northern lights and also enjoy good underwater visibility. The water temperature in September is around – 1 degree Celsius.
As with Spitsbergen, divers need to have cold water and dry suit diving experience. The M/V Plancius visits Scorsby Sund during certain liveaboard itineraries.
Antarctica, the world’s last untouched wilderness, is populated by just a handful of researchers and hardy visiting tourists looking for polar wildlife experiences found nowhere else on Earth. It isn’t just a destination for topside tourism though, and those willing to dip their toes in icy waters can immerse themselves amidst staggering ice formations and bright blue water.
It is possible to try zodiac diving, ice diving, and also shore diving in Antarctica. The marine life of Antarctica is understandably diverse and includes seals, penguins, and numerous whale species. Antarctica has approximately 15 species of whales and smaller creatures include various fish species, starfish, giant isopods, and jellyfish.
Liveaboard safaris explore the Antarctic Peninsula and the sub-Antarctic islands, where divers have the chance to see sea lions and possibly even swim with leopard seals. These expeditions combine diving with other activities such as visiting icebergs, kayaking, boat rides, hiking, camping and wildlife watching.
The 91m Ortelius vessel offers diving safaris during December to March each year and has a range of comfortable en-suite cabins to suit all group sizes, two restaurants, and a lecture theatre.