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Heleysund & Barentsøya: Map

For more, detailed information: the Guidebook Spitsbergen-Svalbard

Guidebook Spitsbergen-Svalbard

General: Heleysund is the narrow strait that separates the northern tip of Barentsøya from Spitsbergen. The strait is difficult to see from the distance and accordingly 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.

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.

Geology: 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.

Landscape: 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 Polar 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 Kittywakes.

History: 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.


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

Heleysund and Straumsland (gallery)

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last modification: 2019-02-14 · copyright: Rolf Stange