Follow in impressive footsteps on our Arctic excursions

The polar regions will always be irrevocably associated with many of civilisation’s greatest explorers, and while we by no means expect you to repeat their feats on your own excursions in the Arctic here at WILDFOOT, your visit will nonetheless almost certainly give you a taste for the spirit of exploration that inspired these greats. For evidence of that, one only needs to look to the vast range of exciting Arctic activities that we make possible.

Even the most conservative of our itineraries will take you to places that you have never before experienced, but some of our travellers wish to especially capitalise on that, through one of our more adventurous packages. With our sailings offering an average of three shore landings per day while in the Arctic and not ‘at sea’, there is opportunity to indulge in all manner of optional activities. Even those who remain on board can be thrilled by our comprehensive education programme, delivered by our leading Arctic experts.

But let’s imagine that you would rather hop off the ship every now and then – in which case, your excursions in the Arctic really will be like none other that you have ever experienced. It’s enthralling enough to witness the compelling polar wildlife at close quarters, from walrus and polar bears to whales and seals. But what about indulging your physical side by going hiking, skiing, climbing or dogsledding in the remarkable Spitsbergen, or discovering the Arctic’s magical underwater world, scuba diving and snorkelling with one of our seasoned Arctic Dive Masters by your side?

If you would like a more intimate experience of Arctic waters but fear that donning the snorkel and flippers may be a little too extreme for you, never fear – on some of our expedition voyages, you also have the option of kayaking. Just imagine drifting through majestic, isolated icebergs or just stopping in the middle of the water, miles from land, revelling in the solitude of one of the most remote spots on Earth. Many others choose shore excursions in the Arctic that give them an entirely different, but no less spectacular view of the region’s icescapes, land and wildlife.

There really is no experience quite like one of our famed excursions in the Arctic, and whether you take advantage of every possible excursion before you or instead concentrate on just the one or two that most excite you, with the intimate assistance of our guides, you can rest assured of a trip to be remembered for a lifetime.

Explore the Arctic your way with our cruise ships

If you are looking to explore the spectacular surroundings of the Arctic, what better way to take in the sights than via our dedicated Arctic cruise ships? A cruise is the best way to uncover what the Arctic has to offer, and whether you are planning a luxury excursion or want to make sure that your trip is packed full of adventure, it is easy to find the right cruise operator for you. We’ve taken a look at some of the best Arctic cruise operators available via WILDFOOT, each one offering a bespoke service that gives you the complete holiday experience.

Aurora is an Australian cruise operator that offers a wide range of exciting itineraries for those wanting to explore the Arctic. The majority of its Arctic adventures start in Scotland, sailing via Norway to Spitsbergen. The trip then takes visitors around the exciting regions of Svalbard, Iceland and Greenland.

If you are looking for an action packed break, we definitely recommend Aurora. The company’s itineraries include scuba diving, climbing and kayaking to name just a few activities, making them ideal for an adrenaline-packed break in one of the most extraordinary landscapes. This operator also offers trips to Alaska, including one to the heart of Alaska’s Inside Passage, a truly unforgettable experience for any adventurer.

Those looking for luxury on their break will appreciate Hapag Lloyd, a German cruise operator offering five-star service. You will continue to receive the full expedition experience as you sail, including the only full crossing of the Northeast Passage from Alaska to Norway, literally taking you over the top of the world. If you want to explore the Arctic in style, this is the one for you.

Oceanwide sails two large Arctic cruise ships around the region, offering a fantastic range of activities. This Dutch company prides itself on its varied itineraries, with a selection of adventure options including skiing, mountaineering and a ‘Basecamp’ option on some of its departures. This is another great choice for those looking for action and adventure.

Whichever operator you choose, you should make sure you don’t miss a second of your trip. With some of the world’s most exciting landscapes at your disposal, a journey to – and around – the Arctic is truly the trip of a lifetime.

Rub shoulders with reindeer in Spitsbergen

Spitsbergen is one of the most interesting destinations in the northern hemisphere. It is part of Svalbard and is its only permanently-populated island. Svalbard belongs to northern Norway, with Spitsbergen being the 36th-largest island in the world. It also borders the Arctic Ocean, as well as the Norweigan and Greenland Seas. Here at WILDFOOT, we can assist if you have ever considered Arctic cruises in Spitsbergen.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, Spitsbergen was a whaling base before it became a hotbed for coal mining. It is now heavily associated with both tourism and research, with residents and visitors travelling from settlement to settlement via boats, aircraft and snowmobiles. It is home to a vast range of seabirds as well as reindeer, Polar bears and marine mammals. Spitsbergen is also where you can find six national parks, and is loved for its mainly untouched character.

The island also features various mountains, fjords and glaciers. So wild and remote is this part of the Arctic, that there are 3,000 polar bears roaming around Spitsbergen. As there are no roads connecting the settlements, Spitsbergen is also necessarily home to around 4,000 snowmobiles. There are no sunrises for four months, between October and March, and when the sun finally does resurface, its return is marked by Solfestuka, a weeklong celebration that consists of parties, exhibitions and music.

Longyearbyen is one of the busiest parts of the region, a place where reindeer rub shoulders with humans on a regular basis. Spitsbergen is also known as the home of the world’s most northernmost gourmet restaurant, which has more than 20,000 bottles of wine and has received the equivalent of the Michelin star for the quality of its cuisine.

Here at WILDFOOT, we’re waiting to hear from you if you’re interested in exploring Spitsbergen. We offer a range of unique packages that allow you to experience the glory of Spitsbergen and see it with your own eyes. Our team members are experts when it comes to what the region has to offer and are keen to help you to plan the perfect expedition to Spitsbergen.

We can even take you around Spitsbergen by sailing ship, so why not enquire today about what might just be a journey never to be forgotten?

Sample traditional Inuit culture with Arctic cruises to the Canadian Arctic

What do you know about traditional Inuit culture? Given that the Inuit are thought to currently number only about 118,000 people, and live in Arctic areas that are often difficult to travel to, we shouldn’t be surprised if we learn that your own knowledge of this culture is low.

However, if you do indeed know little about the Inuit people right now, that simply provides you with a great reason to join one of WILDFOOT’s cruises to the Canadian Arctic. Here are several examples of things that you can do there to clue yourself up on a culture that is all too easy to overlook.

Get your head around the Inuktitut language

This is the language in which the Inuit people are traditionally most well-versed, and you can learn about it on your way to the Canadian Arctic – for example, by reading a phrase book. In many cases, you won’t actually need that book after reaching your destination, as everybody there speaks English; however, you can still have fun reading the unique Inuktitut script and seeing the occasional sign in this language.

Feeling hungry? Why not try eating like the Inuit?

There are also opportunities to try traditional Inuit food, such as raw seal meat. Even today, many of the Inuit mainly obtain food by hunting, so you can turn to local hunters to buy the meat of Canadian Arctic animals before cooking it for consumption.

A place to time-travel to thousands of years ago…

Visit Iqaluit, the capital of the Canadian territory of Nunavut, and you can check out Crystal II. This is an Inuit camping ground that dates back thousands of years, making it a fascinating sight for travellers who want to feel transported to a very distant and different time. It continues to be used today, but you are likely to require local help in order to actually find Crystal II.

An ideal museum for just before you return home

While in Iqaluit, you can also see a huge collection of Inuit artefacts and art at the Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum. This museum is located in a white and red building on the beach. It’s also the perfect place to fill gaps in whatever knowledge of traditional Inuit culture you have already amassed as a result of any of the Arctic cruises to the Canadian Arctic arranged by WILDFOOT.

Summer Land Based Arctic Adventures – Season End Approaching

Although at WILDFOOT our main focus has traditionally been towards luxury cruising through some of the world’s most enthralling destinations, you may not realise that we also have a large portfolio of thrilling land based adventures that offer just as much excitement as you would find on a cruise voyage.

For many people a luxury Arctic cruise is the perfect way to see this incredible part of the world in total relaxation but for others a cruise does not quite fit the bill, be it the fear of sea sickness or the desire to be more “out in the open” with the Arctic wilderness. That’s why we have put together some genuinely awe-inspiring land based Arctic trips for those looking for an even more authentic Arctic experience.

Our most popular location for Arctic land based trips is Spitsbergen in the Svalbard archipelago, a pure white Arctic wilderness which is easily accessible from Europe and the rest of the world. Located approximately midway between mainland Norway and the North Pole, Spitsbergen is teeming with an abundance of Arctic wildlife including Polar Bears, flora and fauna and stunning glaciers and fjords. Being the only permanently populated island in the Archipelago also means that it is a thriving area for Arctic adventures catered to a wide range of people – from those who simply want to “see it” to those who really want to immerse themselves into the wilderness.

From Huskies to Wilderness Hotel Luxury

From 3 hour trips to 5 day all-encompassing adventures there is something to suit every desire and budget.

For example if you are already in Spitsbergen or Svalbard and you fancy setting off into the wilderness for a few hours we would recommend this thrilling Spitsbergen dog sledding trip where you get to man your own team of Alaskan huskies who will take you on the journey of a lifetime.

Alternatively, if you want an adventure that will last a bit longer why not try this thrilling 4 day Spitsbergen Ice Blue Paddling Kayaking Trip where you will kayak through the icy Arctic waters in search of adventure, encountering a plethora of Arctic wildlife and stunning landscapes along the way. Visit intriguing towns such the ghost town of Pyramiden and finish off each day with beautiful meals in the fantastic Nordenskiöld Lodge, Spitsbergen’s northernmost hotel which offers a true Arctic experience.

If you’re looking for a touch of luxury after a long day of exploring the Arctic wilderness then we thoroughly recommend a trip which includes Isfjord Radio, a stunning eco-lodge which offers an unprecedented luxury one might not expect from such a remote location and which is the only full-scale boutique hotel outside of the capital of Longyearbyen.

Of course Spitsbergen isn’t the only area which is great for Arctic land based adventures but in our humble opinion we think it might just be the best. So if you fancy keeping your feet on dry land get in touch and our polar experts will be delighted to help find the perfect tour for you. But hurry – the summer Arctic adventure season will be ending soon!

Fascinating sights to enjoy on Arctic cruises to the Svalbard archipelago

It’s fair to say that the remote nature of many parts of the Arctic are key to their appeal among tourists, and what can easily be included in reference to these parts is the archipelago of Svalbard, and in particular, the island of Spitsbergen. The world’s most northern permanently inhabited area bar a few military bases, this peculiar Arctic part of Norway has plenty to recommend it for even veteran travellers of the Arctic.

What do the people think? Look out for polar bears!

Why should you personally mull over making use of one of the Arctic cruises to Svalbard on offer from WILDFOOT? If you consider public opinion reliable, the chance to catch sight of striking aspects of Arctic nature, including a good variety of native plants and animals, should be a major draw.

Once you arrive at Svalbard with help from WILDFOOT, you should soon see the kind of glaciers and mountains that give the Arctic region much of its memorable visual character, after all, the name Spitsbergen from the original German, means ‘pointed mountains’. However, look more carefully and you should soon also be able to spot polar bears, which are one of Svalbard’s biggest tourist attractions, and other local animals like Arctic foxes, seals, walruses and reindeer.

There are more historical remnants than you might expect

Given that Svalbard’s population of about 2,600 is so small and so much of the nature remains untouched, you could be excused for reckoning that there can’t be much historical sight-seeing to enjoy through any of WILDFOOT’s Arctic cruises to the Svalbard archipelago. You would actually be wrong to reckon so!

Longyearbyen, with its population of roughly only 2,000, is tiny for what is Svalbard’s ‘capital’. However, it remains home to two museums, Svalbard Museum and the Spitsbergen Airship Museum, where you can check out exhibits related to significant Arctic expeditions. Outside Longyearbyen, you can even see two Lenin statues, a legacy of Soviet Union influence in the area.

We wish we had the space to mention even more than this…

Ultimately, these are only a few tips for enhancing your experience after booking one of our Arctic cruises to Svalbard. We haven’t here mentioned all of the big sources of excitement for an adventure in Svalbard, but WILDFOOT can assist in making your journey to the area full of fun.

Find out more about all our cruises to the arctic here

Chukotka: the part of Arctic Russia that meets the United States

Any preconceptions that you have about Russia in general, you should probably cast entirely aside before you consider one of our Arctic cruises to the Russian Far East. This part of Russia is very different to the more well-known European part, being wild and sparsely-populated. A visit to Chukotka, in Russia’s northeastern tip, can be particularly eye-opening for its close proximity to the United States.

A land full of mountains and mystery

Travel to Chukotka on one of the Arctic cruises to the Russian Far East available from WILDFOOT, and you will get opportunities to see beautiful tundra and interact with indigenous Chukchi people… but not too many of them. This is not least because, although the area covers nearly 285,000 square miles, it has only about 50,000 inhabitants. However, the great remoteness and low population density of Chukotka gives it an enchanting sense of mystery.

A fascinatingly unique culture

As the area is easy to overlook, there can be a lot for you to discover during a trip to Chukotka. On the way there, you can get a better insight into the local culture by reading the classic writings of Yuri Rytkheu, who hugely influenced Chukchi literature. Then, once you get there, you can see amazing wildlife from rare birds like the spoon-billed sandpiper to whales and walruses. Brown bears abound and on Wrangel Island polar bears too.

Is that America you can see?

One of the most extraordinary moments you could experience in Chukotka is, on a clear day, seeing across the Bering Sea that separates Russia from the US state of Alaska. The divide of the Bering Strait here has an intriguing history; during the Cold War, it marked the only border between the Soviet Union and the USA, leading it to be dubbed the ‘Ice Curtain’. In 1987, American swimmer Lynne Cox did her bit to ease tensions by swimming over the  chilly border.

There is a lot more that you can see…

Chukotka is also a great place to start exploring the Russian Far East more generally. The adjacent province of Kamchatka, like Chukotka, is quiet, unspoilt and beautiful… and you can see it all for yourself after booking one of our Arctic cruises to the Russian Far East. Enquire now about our Arctic cruises to the Russian Far East here at WILDFOOT, to begin what could be quite simply one of the most incredible adventures of your life.

Arctic wildlife viewing brings a host of pleasures

As much as we would like to talk about the highlights of Arctic wildlife viewing here at WILDFOOT, the truth is that it would be extremely difficult to pick any out, such is the astonishing breadth and depth of animal life in this most spectacular and remote part of the world.

What we can do, however, is give a bit of an insight into the kinds of species that you may encounter when you take advantage of any of our packages.

From herbivores like the lemming, caribou, muskox and Arctic hare, through to predators such as the mighty polar bear, Arctic fox, wolf and a wealth of other land and marine animals, there are so many species here to stimulate the first-time visitor as well as the most seasoned Arctic veterans.

All manner of Arctic birds

Where could we start with any discussion of the birds that make the Arctic their habitat? Any complete list would also be a seriously long one, although if there is a particular species that you would like to see, we can advise you on the best season and location.

Nonetheless, those embarking on a European or Canadian Arctic expedition may just see any bird from the ivory gull, little auk, Black Guillemot and Barn Swallow to the Long-tailed Duck, sea eagles and skuas.

Alongside the rich variety of birdlife that the main Arctic region can offer, those who venture into the Russian Far East coastal region are able to spot such rare species as the Stellar’s sea eagle, gyr falcon and spoon-billed sandpiper.

Get up close and personal with whales

An Arctic holiday package is never just one for bird-spotting, however, also being the perfect excuse for a bit of whale watching – a truly unique experience that can get you up close and personal with some of the most jaw-dropping marine species on earth.

Whether you are hoping to catch a sight of a humpback whale, a minke, a rare white beluga, an orca (killer whale) or even the largest mammal in the world, the majestic blue whale itself, you will have ample opportunity to do so on one of our Arctic wildlife viewing packages.

Don’t be reduced to experiencing Arctic wildlife through your computer screen – book one of our breaks that give you the perhaps once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see all of these animals in astonishing flesh and blood.

Why should you experience one of our Arctic cruises to Alaska?

As a customer of one of our Arctic cruises here at WILDFOOT, you will doubtless discover much of what makes this remotest of regions so great – from stunning snow-capped landscapes to an enchanting range of flora and fauna. But of course, it isn’t just the Arctic mainland that has the capacity to fascinate – as our Arctic cruises to Alaska abundantly demonstrate.

What might you already know about Alaska, especially if you do not live in the United States? You may associate it with Sarah Palin, the former Governor of Alaska and running mate of 2008 Presidential candidate John McCain, or you may simply consider it a largely unpopulated wintry wilderness. There is definite truth to the former and at least a semblance of truth to the latter, but there’s so much more about Alaska that captures the visitor’s imagination.

The figures certainly show that Alaska lives up to its reputation as a wilderness. While it is geographically more than twice the size of Texas and indeed, larger than the 22 smallest US states combined, only just over 730,000 people live here according to 2014 estimates, with half of them residents of the biggest city, Anchorage. Another indication of just how untamed Alaska remains by many of the trappings of human civilisation is the fact that only 20% of it is accessible by road – indeed, it has a mere 12 numbered highways.

It’s on appreciating these figures that you soon come to realise that Alaska in many ways bridges the gap between the rest of urbanised North America and the truly unbridled natural terrain that is the wider Arctic. The lack of people in Alaska is compensated for by wildlife like the bald eagle and Kodiak Brown Bear, not to mention the moose that can be spotted even in Anchorage.

Alaska’s natural majesty in its own right is only further enhanced by breathtaking mountains and glaciers – the state being home to North America’s highest peak, the 20,320 feet Mt. McKinley, which is just one of 17 Alaskan mountains that feature among the entire continent’s 20 tallest mountains. The glaciers here, too, are monumental, with more than 100,000 of them to be found within the Alaskan boundary.

To experience this meeting point of natural and manmade awe for yourself, simply enquire about the acclaimed Arctic cruises to Alaska that we so proudly offer right here at WILDFOOT.

5 things you didn’t know about Greenland

The largest island in the world but also the least densely populated, Greenland is a country that remains largely undiscovered by many. In common with other areas in and around the Arctic, the country offers much for those interested in the most stunning natural scenery, but it also has so much more to interest the intrepid traveller.

Below, we list five things that you might not be aware of about this northernmost of destinations.

  1. It has a rich history of inhabitation

Greenland may have a reputation for being somewhat remote, but its history of known inhabitation stretches back some 4,500 years, with some of the earliest residents including migrants from what is now Canada.

The then-uninhabited southern part of the country was settled by Norsemen from the 10th century, with Inuit peoples arriving in the 13th century.

  1. The country supports a wide range of flora…

From the carpet of mosses and low-lying shrubs that characterises the ground in northern Greenland, to such abundant plants in the south of the country as the dwarf birch and willow, there is no question about the richness of Greenland’s plant life.

  1. …and fauna

Greenland is home to large land mammals like the musk ox, polar bear, white Arctic wolf and reindeer, with other mammals including the collared lemming, Arctic fox and Arctic hare.

Visitors can also encounter marine mammals such as the hooded seal and grey seal, birds like the raven and snowy owl and fish including cod, halibut and caplin – many of these also being important to the economy.

  1. Greenland is a constitutional monarchy

Head of state in Greenland since 1972 is Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, who officially wields executive power and presides over the Council of State (privacy council).

However, the country now operates under a parliamentary system of government, the monarch’s duties having consequently become strictly representational and ceremonial.

  1. It is best explored on an Arctic cruise

Such is the sparsely-populated nature of the country and its still relatively undeveloped infrastructure, Greenland may be best discovered via one of our complete Arctic cruises here at WILDFOOT.

We offer comprehensive and well-priced packages for various areas of Greenland, in accordance with your own budgetary and practical requirements. Enquire now about the best Arctic cruises to Greenland!

Yellowstone – Day 3 Pressure’s off!

0630 start again today with the temperature as we board the bus reading -10F, which comes out at a tad warmer than -30C. I have never been anywhere as cold as this!Off on the road again hoping to consolidate yesterday’s sightings. Lots of bison of course and our first stop overlooking a spectacular valley as we watched the sun rise.

Yellowstone Park – Day 2 : Finding the Wolves

Cold and early start today to make the most of our chances. Drove off in the swirling snow at 06.30 at the first sign of dawn with the thermometer reading just 2 Fahrenheit, that’s 30 below freezing! Tucked in to my cold packed breakfast straight away as we drove for about an hour back up to the Lamar Valley to start our backwardsing and forwardsing again looking for the wolves.

#Yellowstone Day 1 : Looking for Wolves

Really cold this morning – all temperatures are quoted in Fahrenheit here, so 10 degrees doesn’t sound too bad, until you realise that freezing point is 32! Luckily, we do know what to expect in cold climates and have all the right layers and clothes.

Yellowstone Wolves in Winter

John from Arctic Bound and Wildfoot Travel has taken a few winter days out with his wife to travel to Yellowstone National Park and see it the way very few people are able to – in Winter.

Images of Yellowstone National Park

John Swindell is currently on location in Yellowstone National Park. We don’t expect much communication from him due to the rurality, but he has managed to get an internet connection long enough to send us some photos.

Unusual cuisine from the Arctic regions

Arctic Cuisine is a rich and diverse diet of varied food items from the area, a world away from the flavours that we are used to in traditional British food. Studies have suggested that Arctic Cuisine may be dying out, however it is still enjoyed by many people who live within the region and increasingly being explored by chefs across the world.

A guide to Antarctica

Antarctica is one of those places you’ve probably not been but should. Not many people know a lot about it. For instance, is Antarctica a country or a continent? Who owns it? And what’s the landscape and wildlife like there? So we’ve put together a guide to Antarctica to help you learn more about it, and add it to your list of places to visit.

The Life of the Polar Bear

As this Polar Bear cub takes his first adorable steps, he is beginning the journey which will hopefully see him grow to be a king of the Arctic plains. Polar Bears can be reared in a number of different environments, some growing up in the wild and others being raised in many different kinds of zoos. Here we’ll look at the different lives these Polar Bears end up leading.

The Stunning Arctic Fox

The Arctic Fox is a stunning creature with some incredible qualities, including the changing colour of its fur and, of course, its ability to survive in some of the coldest climates on earth. The temperature has to fall below 70°C before the Arctic Fox will even start to shiver. How does it flourish so well in such harsh environments?

Where does Santa live?

We all know who Santa is despite never seeing him on the one night of the year he visits us. We’ve all been to his grotto at some point in our lives, and may have sat on his knee. But even though he’s one of the most famous people in the world, no-one knows where he really lives.

Best 2014 Santa Tracker App

From the North Pole to the warmth of your chimney, Santa Claus spends Christmas Eve in a mad dash of sleigh-driving and present-delivering. If you or your family get impatient waiting for him to draw closer to your neighbourhood, logging into one of the many Santa tracking apps could satisfy your curiosity! These great apps track Santa’s progression across the globe, so you can leave the milk and cookies out and make sure you’re snuggled up in bed by the time he reaches your home.

The Best GPS Kit for Extreme Condition Expeditions

We all know that technology has become so incredible that the phone in your pocket is basically a super-computer you can carry around with you. Make a call, browse the internet, watch movies, play games, and, of course, use it as a GPS if you’re lost on the streets of a town you’ve never visited before.

But there’s one thing you can’t do. You can’t very well pop out your smartphone to calculate your location when you’re in the middle of, say, the rain-forest, at the peak of Everest, or wandering the snowy banks of the Arctic. Not because those areas haven’t been mapped – thanks to those geniuses at NASA and beyond, pretty much the whole world is under satellite surveillance – but because of the extremely hostile environment.

If you’re going off-road, you’ll need a GPS device capable of handling intense weather and unforgiving landscapes. Here’s our top picks for the best GPS for extreme conditions.

More about Arctic Biodiversity

If I asked you to name one of Earth’s most diverse ecosystems, chances are you’d say the Amazonian rainforest, or a coral reef. But above the Arctic Circle, an impossible amount of wildlife exists in harmony with the bitter cold temperature in a fragile ecosystem that is completely dependent on the changing of the seasons.

Arctic Microbiology

The Arctic is a place that captures the imagination of many fortunate travellers year in year out. People choose to go to the Arctic for the breathtaking natural beauty, stunning natural wildlife and the splendid isolation the region can offer.  However, there are a group of people who go to the Arctic for an entirely different reason, the study of microorganisms.

When is the best time to cruise the Arctic?

When you picture the Arctic, chances are you imagine a cold, empty ice-covered wasteland stretching as far as the eye can see. However, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. For many holidaymakers, the Arctic is the final frontier, boasting everything from dramatic landscapes, incredible wildlife, and the natural wonder of the Aurora Borealis- the famous northern lights.

Dog Sledding on Wheels in the high Arctic

Dog Sledding in Svalbard/Spitsbergen Norway

Contrary to what you may think there is little or no snow in Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen in the summer time. Snow will gradually slow from May and start again in October so during the summer months of 24/7 sunlight the sled is swapped for wheels. I honestly think this is one of the best adventure experiences you could experience either pre or post your Arctic expedition.

The dog sleighing lasts for a morning or afternoon and start at one of the local dog compounds of which there are many. The dogs are a cross between the Greenland Husky with a local breed which originates in Alaska and are known as Alaska Huskeys. They are very well looked after and loved by the dedicated dog handlers at these compounds. They are well exercised and then well rested, fed, watered and tended to. If you are dog lover and know dogs you can see that they get very excited about the possibility of going out for a run and could be out on three runs per day for one week then completely rested for the following week. They also breed dogs very selectively and at any time they will have puppies in the compounds being looked after by their dedicated mothers in a separate pen. There were four puppies whilst we were there two of them with bright blue eyes you sometimes find in this amazing breed. They are outside dogs but do have their own hutch and feeding area but really flourish in the extreme cold of the winter months. Sometimes in the summer when the sun is shining and the temp reaches around 10 degrees they get hot easily and required a couple of water stops on each run.

Dog Sledding in the Arctic - The dogs are loved and very well looked after

If you are visiting Svalbard do not miss this adventure and an opportunity to spend time with real Arctic dogs. After the sled ride we had time to see the recent puppies and play with the dogs.

Find out more about Dog Sledding holidays in the high arctic

 

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Curious Polar Bear, Whales & Harp Seals

Heading ashore in a zodiac

Yesterday evening we ended with a landing and walk in a really visited location Beach called Faksevagen in the bay of Llomfjoreen. 100’s of year ago there was a glacier in this valley but now only remnants are left as evidence. Whether it’s the currents of the gulf steam or from Siberia there’s an overwhelming mass of plastic waste which is washed up of the shores of this archipelago. Lengths of fishing nets seem to be the worse culprit and it’s the end to many a marine animal when it accidentally get tangled up and experiences an agonizing and slow death. But also amongst the litter are bottles, commercial fishing floats, ships ropes, fishing lines, timber of various sizes, crates, polathyne bags. Most expedition vessels have a policy of collecting as much as possible and between a hundred passengers in only 20 minutes we filled two large half ton sand bags – just scraping the surface I’m afraid as we left tons more which we could not manage in the time we were there. The Norwegian government do clear patches but it’s a never ending task with new debris on each tide. We witnessed two lots of dear antlers fast in a fishing net tangled ball where three animals in each had been caught up and died together unable to release themselves.

a curious polar bear

We headed north of Svalbard last night towards the ice edge and only 500 miles from the North Pole. Within a short period we spotted several bears, most minding their own business but one female who was extremely inquisitive she came for some distance sometimes at a canter with great interest. She reached us eventually by which time the captain nudged us next to the ice. This bear showed absolute signs she wanted to investigate holding her nose up as if smelling the remnants of breakfast we had just finished a few minutes before. It was an amazing sight and she performed as if on Que, rolling over, jumping across ice, swimming, sliding and a finally of a roll and stretch on the ice. Absolutely wonderful and the best sighting we could have expected. I was a little worried in the last day or so that our sighting options had been scuppered by weather but this made it all worthwhile. The expedition team team say we have one of the best sightings of the season and although curious bears are out there it’s still quite rare to find one so dead set on visiting the vessel.

As mentioned previously we have greatly benefited and our expedition enhanced by the presence of a historian on board called Paul Harris. Paul is very well published with over 40 books but has great knowledge of Arctic history to present day. For some time the first human to reason the North Pole was a disputed piece of history with at least two separate expeditions fabricating their success when in later years it was proven they had both lied to seek publicity and fortune and were so disgraced. Did you know the first Human to reach the North Pole wasn’t until the 1960’s when an obscure and little known English man called Wally Herbert made an attempt and reached the pole but it was unfortunately for Wally unfortunate that mans first landing on the mood completely over shadowed his brave and courageous achievement and Wally never attained the lime light, recognition and fame he truly deserved.

Frank Todd who as I mentioned previously is a well known Polar expedition leader with over 40 years experience and over four wildlife books published knew Wally very well and shared many an expedition cabin with him Over the years.

Check out our trips an expedition cruises to the arctic here

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Brief history of Svalbard

Svalbard - By zodiac

Straight of Freemansundet

Around 10 am last night was an optimum time to see Polar bear as we passed through the straight of Freemansundet between Edgeoya and Barentsoya on the west side of Svalbard. We were not disappointed as we saw at least five bears high of the hills and clefts of the mountain side to our port side. But the surprise of the evening was a group of Belugas on the Starboard side extremely close to the edge of the side jumping and diving. The reason they spend time so far in is to avoid their main potential predictor Orca, that that you would expect to see common sightings of Orca in these parts buts it’s a learnt strategy according to a Russian research student who is studying Beluga and writing a current thesis on Beluga.

Today we are heading for Gustavo Adolfo Land which remained partly un explored and unchartered. Polar expedition vessels keep depths and chart information they have gathered over the years a secret unless shared in an emergency situation to come to the assistance of another vessel. The weather is certainly more Polar like with much more ice flow in this area and this morning we had a little snow for the first time. The wind is between 30 & 40 knots and sea conditions are too rough for landings. We planned to land to see walrus this morning after breakfast which we had to make do from the vessel and then sail on 2 hours to Alkefjellet (Mount Guilliemot). Which is where we are right now. The sea is still swelling and dangerous to cruise of Zodiacs but we have super views of the vast Brunich Guillemot colony and the dramatic towering cliffs with over 60,000 breading pairs.

As we were unable to land This morning two exceptional lectures we given. The first one by Frank Todd on The Polar Bear which was amazing from start to end. The second lecture was delivered by Paul Harris the historian on board on a brief history of Svalbard. Again, a riveting story right the way from 15 & 16 Century to the present day Svalbard and the Treaty of Svalbard.

Vikings supposedly recorded a fist sighting of Svalbard mean Edge if the Ice although it’s not confirmed this was in deed Svalbard however the Norwegians would like to think so to assist in their claim to soverenty.
It’s been the Russians who have tried in recent years to prove a claim to the archipelago by The Pomers, ancestors in 15 Century who were Russian trappers from Siberia who were funded by the Orthodox Church. This again is an unconfirmed claim and not proven 100%.

The first proven and definitive recorded sighting of the land was by a Dutch adventurer in 1596 called Willem Barents who first gave this land the name Spitsbergen meaning the land of spiking peaks. He died possibly of scurvy related illness in 1597 marooned on the Spitsbergen ice with some of his men however a few were rescued which lead to tales of rich pickings, furs, whale oil from blubber and walrus tusk.

In 1607 an English man named Henry Hudson who worked for Muscovy Trading Company started serious seasonal whale hunting and for the first time oil was created from the blubber of the whale and used for many everyday items such as oil lamps, make up, soap, lubricants. By this time the Dutch and British were the main players one nation taking the north and the other the south of the archipelago. Business and profits were good.

Did you know we nearly didn’t have an Horatio Nelson hero figure of the British Royal Navy as our history books record today? In 1773 Young Horatio served as an officer on HMS Carcass and spent time on and around Spitsbergen. Against orders the story goes he went ashore alone hoping to kill a Polar Bear to skin and take home to his father. Once ashore after finding a likely candidate he took aim with his rifle but to his utter shock his gun failed. He tried to escape the tricky situation and used the rifle but end to try to stave off the wild and possibly hungry creature and nearly came to his end until a marksman on board the ship took aim and killed the bear. So Nelson survived to fight another day! This period in Nelson’s naval carrier isn’t as well known as his Trafalgar days.

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Birds & Bear

After setting sail last night we travelled throughout the night south to reach Hornsund the Southern most fjord in Spitsbergen. At 6am there was an announcement that there was a feeding frenzy in front of the ship involving Fin whale, Humpback, Dolphin and 1000’s of Kittiwake. The surface of the sea was teaming with activity for at least 60 minutes. Great start to the Expedition. To reach Hornsund we had to motor until 1pm when we set anchor is the Picturesque Bay of Brepollen the location of the Storbreen Glacier. Cruising by Zodiac in the afternoon we spotted a white figure in the distance towards to glacier. Polar bear alert – our first view. A young 3 / 4 year old bear. A welcome sight on only our first day. It’s suprising how speedy it swam after diving in the water from the iceberg to seek a peaceful position right under the Glacier. Incredible sight and whilst it sunbathed we had to pinch ourselves as we enjoyed the show of several carvings from the glacier with dramatic sounds of thunder as they ripped away from the main glacier creating tsunami. Yet another lucky strike, several Ivory Gulls feeding and resting in the bay apparently a rare but lucky afternoon and we felt blessed on our first afternoons expedition out on Zodiacs.

My colleague Steve promised instant wildlife hit and he was right compared to Antarctica where you also experience up front wildlife but not in close succession – maybe it’s just our luck, let’s see. The weather has been very kind so far and although it’s been around 7 Degrees most of the day the sun has shone and it’s been warm and clear. The scenery has much in common with The Antarctica Peninsula so far although the seas have been flat and calm which I have no complaints over. No need to sea sickness medication yet. The guides on board are top notch, experienced, friendly and delighted to share their expert knowledge. The Published Frank Todd gave a lecture this morning on Spitsbergen wildlife which was entertaining and a first class introduction to the wildlife we can expect to see If we’re lucky!

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01 August. Russebukta, Diskobukta & MS Expedition

Located on the west coast of Edgeoya the third largest island of the Svalbard archipelago. The landing at Russebukta was on a sandy beach leading to colorful flat march lands and lagoons and huge hills beyond some with a showing of snow. Historically an area where trappers built huts and trapped Arctic Fox and Shot Polar bear. Arctic flowers were everywhere but coming to an end in the next two weeks – Snow buttercups, Arctic cotton grass, Arctic saxifrage, Purple saxifrage and Arctic willow. A good morning for the birders – Red throated diver, Barnacle goose, Long tailed duck, Common eider with young, Snow bunting adult and young and Arctic Skua. Overcast but excellent visibility and bright.

The ivory Gull yesterday keeps springing to mind as it’s high on any birders list when in the Arctic regions. It’s a true Arctic species living and breeding entirely 70 degrees north, one of very few birds including the snowy owl and the ptarmigan, the Arctics only game bird which reacted to the last ice age by adapting to severe cold and half year darkness and remaining year round. The ivory gull lives off caught fish but principally scavengers they are great followers of hunter Polar Bears and no strangers to feasting on bear leftovers along the coast. But also common near pupping grounds of the hooded seal where they find sustenance in dead pups or afterbirth. They also follow dog teams and not shy to take whatever hand outs they can get – anything for an easy meal. As our experience showed yesterday they are quite tolerant of human presence and seem extremely bold especially if there’s a potential meal on offer.

The MS Expedition is a very good quality vessel. I’m surprised because the inside, whether it’s common areas or cabin are really clean, well maintained and for an expedition vessel easy on the eye. The dining in the evening is waiter service and 4 courses with a choice of three main courses but vegetarian option, excellent food and very friendly service. Breakfast and lunch are buffet style, but varied and again delicious. I keep reminding myself this is an expedition vessel and should therefore be limited on its level of dining but its hitting above mine and most passengers expectations every time. There are also a group of Chinese on board and the kitchen has also provided a good level of buffet style food for them. One can burn off the excess calories from the amazing cuisine in the gym which is a good size for the limited space available but is limited in equipment offering two running machines, one cross trainer, spin cycle, loose weights and multi gym, fresh towels and water machine.

The cabins are spacious for an expedition vessel all with private WC & Shower. The beds are comfortable with a firm mattress. Cabins are light and modern. We are in a grade 3 with twin beds large picture window, writing table or for dressing, adequate wardrobe storage for clothes and luggage space under beds. service is good, helpful and friendly mainly Philippine hotel staff and the cabins are cleaned thoroughly in the morning and turned down with a tidy up early evening whilst you are at dinner. Hair dryer, shower gel, shampoo and conditioner are provided. Temperature gauge for air conditioning in each cabin. In grade 4 cabins you will expect a little more space with larger windows and in grade 5 a double bed if required with floor to ceiling windows and lounge area. I will remind you that this is not a luxury expedition vessel and if you are looking for 5 Star on board Silversea Explorer, Le Boreal, La Austral, Hanseatic are the best options but this is a 4 star expedition vessel and I have no hesitation in recommending it to discerning adventurers with high expectations.

The outside and inside viewing areas very good with 360 views for whale and bird spotting from the top outside deck. It’s easy to navigate your way around the vessel and bars, restaurants, lounges are simple to locate. The Library is well stocked and you are able to take a selection of the books away from the library if needed except for the reference books and guides.

The briefings, de briefs and lectures are given in the main lounge where there’s hot and cold refreshments and snacks readily available 24/7 with the bar open during lecture times and evening. Alcoholic beverages are reasonable and priced in US Dollars. During happy hour the main beverages are $4 usually $8. Bottle of wine with meals from $15.

Lectures so far have been well delivered and I particularly enjoyed Frank Todd who gave an intro to the Wildlife of Spitsbergen. Briefings and de briefings are very informative and given by a selection of the expedition team including Doug in charge of fire arms who is entertaining and precise in delivery of information. Alexander the lead guide is first class and you can clearly see he wants to deliver the best wildlife experience whilst safety is paramount. Paul Harris is an inspiring and interesting historian from the Uk but lived in China for many years. I’m looking forward to his Polar history lecture in the next day or so. Its clear to see the credentials of these experts is of a good level. Zodiac landings could be a little quicker but I’m sure there’s a reason and it’s not the slowest I’ve experienced in the Polar regions. The photographic lectures by Chasi Annexy have apparently been extremely informative and helpful, aimed at beginner to intermediary level but Chasi has been assisting one to one and seems very helpful. The other guides also have good photographic knowledge and are also available either on deck looking for overt unities or other times on board or on landings.

Kayaking isn’t available on this expedition but I’ve inspected the Kayaks and they are top quality most of them double Kayaks. Whilst there are hiking options on some landings we are encouraged to take our walking boots on the landings but the rubber boots are comfortable and essential for the Zodiac landings. The boot room is a good idea and not available on most expedition vessels. It’s where the landings are co ordinated and where you may leave your rubber boots, Polar parka, wet weather pants to dry out instead of them taking up useful room in the cabin space.

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Playing safe in Spitsbergen

Today I was picked up first thing to take a hike and fossil hunt close to Lonyearbyen near one of the glaciers. The area we walked to was just outside the settlement but Polar Bear had been sighted up there in the past so there’s a minor risk. Maria our guide for the morning, as well as being fully trained and licensed to carry a rifle also brought along one of the dogs, a three year old half Greenlander and half something else from theses parts called Ram. You can imagine with a dogs sensitive smell and hearing they can raise the alarm for Polar Bear way before a human. Whilst we looked for fossils, and we were not disappointed, Ram obediently guarded us and did a fine job of too. No bears today but some wonderful views back down the Bally towards Longyearbyen and beyond. If you have 3 to 4 hours even if you are picking up an expedition that day it’s an excellent idea to take a hike and get out of the village even if you are not too much in to fossil hunting. Fully recommended and interesting not to mention dead safe.

Strangely on the walk down we passed a group of 8 adventurers going up the track away from the settlement lead by a chap from Chc. Republic and obviously staying out overnight with full pack of tents and sleeping bags etc. Our guide shared her extreme concern with us that the guide carried not gun at all. Seems crazy to even take minor risks in this region especially when you are responsible for other lives, not just your own. Ok it’s rare to see bears around hear as there’s not obvious food source but why would you take this risk and disregard what locals always agree on.

There are various choices of lodging in Longyearbyen from Hostel type accommodation similar to Spitsbergen Guest House and 102 to The Spitsbergen Hotel and Radisson Blu which are probably the highest grade in Spitsbergen. If you are looking for clean but basic digs the guest House and 102 will suit you fine but if you seek high end The Radisson and Spitsbergen Hotel are the best choice. However if you have stayed in other Radisson Hotels worldwide don’t expect the same of Radisson Blu Spitsbergen as it falls a lot short when compared so bring your expectations down a few notches. Even the superior rooms are a little basic of what you may expect from Radisson but it’s very central and short walking to the museum, restaurants and bars in the village plus the staff are helpful and friendly. The Spitsbergen Hotel by comparison is a 15 minute walk with slight incline at the end but better quality in a more classic in style with excellent fine dining restaurant called Funken Restaurant. I,d recommend this hotel over the Radisson to discerning travelers even though The Radisson is more expensive. An alternative is The Trappers Hotel is an interesting themed hotel with only 16 bedrooms and well located in the middle of town. It’s not for every one especially those who don’t like the thought of sitting on animal skins and seeing paintings of trapping scenes plastered around. But I loved the cosy ambiance theme of a trappers log cabin inside the hotel the fact they have cleverly used local washed up beach wood to build the inside of the rooms and hotel common areas.

Embarked MS Expedition at 4pm and set sail at 5pm. We have just seen Beluga from a distance of the starboard side and apparently there were 10’s of them when the vessel came in to dock the early hours and they are still there. Hope this is just the start of a wildlife feast for the next 8 days.

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