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Heleysund, Ormholet and Straumsland

Heleysund, Ormholet, Straumsland Map

Gene­ral: Heley­sund, Orm­ho­let and Straums­land

Heley­sund is the nar­row strait that sepa­ra­tes the nor­t­hern tip of Barent­søya from Spits­ber­gen. The strait is dif­fi­cult to see from the distance and it was belie­ved well into the 19th cen­tu­ry that Barent­søya was part of Spits­ber­gen, alt­hough it was occa­sio­nal­ly seen and pro­ba­b­ly navi­ga­ted as ear­ly as the 17th cen­tu­ry.

For more, detail­ed infor­ma­ti­on: the Gui­de­book Spits­ber­gen-Sval­bard

Guidebook Spitsbergen-Svalbard

The­re are actual­ly seve­ral pas­sa­ges: Heley­sund its­elf is the nor­t­hern­most and lar­gest one, about 600 m wide and quite deep. South of the small island of Küken­thaløya are some smal­ler, unna­med chan­nels and final­ly the nar­row, aptly named Orm­ho­let („Worm hole“).

Passage of Ormholet at slack tide, with almost no current

Pas­sa­ge of Orm­ho­let at slack tide, with almost no cur­rent.

The tidal curr­ents can reach an impres­si­ve 10 knots (18 km/h). The chan­nels should accor­din­gly only be navi­ga­ted during slack tide, when the curr­ents are week. A pas­sa­ge should defi­ni­te­ly be avo­ided when drif­ting ice floes are cove­ring lar­ger parts of the water: the ice is drif­ting quick­ly with the curr­ents and have cer­tain­ly crus­hed more than one ves­sel in the old days.

Strong tidal currents in Heleysund

Strong tidal curr­ents in Heley­sund.

Drift ice and poor visibility: conditions to be avoided in Heleysund and Ormholet

Drift ice and poor visi­bi­li­ty: con­di­ti­ons to be avo­ided in Heley­sund and Orm­ho­let.

Most of the Heley­sund area is part of the Søraust Sval­bard Natur reser­ve, only the land north of it (Straums­land) is out­side.


All islands in and lands near Heley­sund con­sist of basalt-like dia­bas.

Straumsland, Heleysund

Colum­ns of dia­bas (simi­lar to basalt) on the coast of Straums­land, north of Heley­sund.


See­ing or even navi­ga­ting through Heley­sund or even Orm­ho­let at times of modera­te­ly strong curr­ents can be an ama­zing expe­ri­ence, and stee­ring a ship through it is cer­tain­ly not ever­y­bo­dies cup of tea. Some rock-towers in Straums­land north of Heley­sund have an almost wild-west-like appearance, and east Spitsbergen’s wide gla­ciers and ice­caps pro­vi­de a stun­ning back­ground in the distance in fine wea­ther.


The small, unna­med chan­nels north of Orm­ho­let.

Flo­ra and fau­na

A rich tun­dra area with dry, rocky are­as next to wet­lands is hid­den behind basal­tic coas­tal cliffs of Straums­land. The vege­ta­ti­on is rather poor in spe­ci­es, but rich and accor­din­gly home to birds such as geese and smal­ler tun­dra birds, which again attract the arc­tic fox. Reinde­er are com­mon, and Polar bears migra­te more or less regu­lar­ly through the area. Black guil­l­emots and Glau­cous gulls are bree­ding on coas­tal cliffs, and the eddies and curr­ents attract flocks of fee­ding Kit­ti­wa­kes.


Not­hing of signi­fi­can­ce has hap­pen­ed here, except occa­sio­nal­ly visi­ting expe­di­ti­ons such as Theo­dor Ler­ner with his ship Hel­go­land in 1898 and one win­tering of Nor­we­gi­an trap­pers in 1926-27. The­re is still a ruin of a hut built and used during that win­tering in Buch­holz­buk­ta.


Bay on the east side of Küken­thaløya, descri­bed as a sple­ndid natu­ral har­bour during the 1898 Hel­go­land expe­di­ti­on of Theo­dor Ler­ner.

Gal­lery – Heley­sund

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

Gal­lery – Küken­thaløya

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

Gal­lery – Orm­ho­let

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

Gal­lery – Straums­land

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.



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last modification: 2019-05-02 · copyright: Rolf Stange