Svalbard, a Norwegian territory, is a collection of remote islands in the North Barents Sea. East of Greenland, North of Norway, this is not a place most people just happen across on their travels. But if you crave glaciers, jagged peaks and dramatic coastlines, wish to witness a staggering amount of wildlife, and hanker for truly wild adventures, this could be your next destination.
Each summer, as the sea ice recedes from the shoreline and the sun shines 24 hours a day, the rich arctic waters off of Svalbard erupt in a bloom of plankton, attracting millions of seabirds who nest in the island’s craggy cliffs. Rock Ptarmigans, the region’s hardiest birds, are the only ones who refuse to fly south when the days get short, instead spending the dark, cold winters on Svalbard. What else will you see? Arctic foxes, walruses, narwhals, seals, reindeer, polar bears, and perhaps a spouting blue whale – the largest mammal on earth.
The major settlement on Svalbard is Longyearbyen, which claims the prestigious title of the world’s northernmost town, being just over 1000km from the North Pole. The tiny town of roughly 2000 inhabitants has been surviving and thriving in the harsh arctic climate for over 100 years. Once a mining town, it’s now a hub for eco-tourism and arctic research.
Polar bears, known in Norway as isbjørn – or ‘ice bear’ – have been known to wander the fringes of town, and it’s local law to carry a rifle whenever you leave the town limits. The residents have a deep and abiding respect for the bears (hunting is illegal), and using the gun is only a last resort.
If you’re ready for an arctic adventure, you need to meet Bård, our long-awaited Svalbard guide. A native of Longyearbyen, he’s recently finished an intensive course on guiding in the arctic, and is eager to help people feel at home in nature. Whether you’re coming in for a day on a cruise ship, or have a week to explore, he can design an experience that lets you access the spectacular arctic wilderness of Svalbard (without getting eaten by a polar bear...)