Svalbard is an otherworldly location deep within the Arctic Circle. The beautiful fjords, icy landscapes, and plentiful wildlife make Svalbard a must see attraction for anyone, no matter your age.
Svalbard is an archipelago, of which the largest island is Spitsbergen, halfway between Norway and the North Pole. Longyearbyen is the largest town in Svalbard, located on Spitsbergen, and is the northernmost major population center on the planet. Due to the extreme location Svalbard experiences 24 hours of daylight between May and August and 24 hours of darkness between November and February.
Svalbard does not have a large variety when it comes to species but it does have large populations of those native species, especially in the summer when the migratory seabirds return. Svalbard is home to reindeer, polar bears,walruses, arctic foxes, many types of seals, and dozens of birds like puffins,Svalbard rock ptarmigan, and arctic terns, just to name a few.
With a population of around 3000, there are times when there are more polar bears than humans in Svalbard. These majestic creatures call the Arctic home and are well suited to the extremes of nature. The best time to see polar bears is between May and September. Go on a cruise to see these patient hunters waiting next to a seal’s breathing hole in the ice, hoping its prey surfaces. Polar bears mainly feed on ringed and bearded seals, but in the summer it is possible to see polar bears scavenging on the carcasses of beluga and minke whales.
The lack of trees and bushes in Svalbard means that the nesting birds create their nests on the ground, usually along the cliff ledges of the fjords. Thousands of birds populate the coasts in the summer providing food sources for other local animals, including the ever popular polar bear.
Guided expeditions allow anyone to see most any part of Svalbard, from day cruises to see polar bears feeding on the ice floes along the bird cliffs during the summer to 2+ week expeditions across the tundra experiencing the raw power of nature in blizzard like condition under the northern lights in the winter there is a tremendous variety when it comes to how you experience this unique destination.
Go kayaking in the summer through the fjords among the ice floes. Try dog-sledding across the tundra. Take a hike on the world’s northernmost hike in the mountains north of Longyearbyen under the northern lights in the winter. Try cross-country skiing across the frozen tundra or go on a snowmobile expedition. The only limit is your imagination as guided expeditions and safaris will safely allow you to experience this magical and alien environment.
Migrating whales are a beautiful thing and there are many whale watching cruises in the summer that afford excellent opportunities to see narwhals, beluga whales, minke whales, and even the occasional humpback. On land travel by snowmobile to see polar bears cubs playing with each other, even going down ice slides. Caution must be taken, there are no fences, no roads, no boundaries outside on the town limits so permits are needed. If going over land a rifle and knowledge of how to use it to take down a polar bear are a must if you venture out independently of a guided tour.
Svalbard is not a zoo, these majestic wild animals are at home in this desolate and inhospitable terrain so be respectful and safe as you tour the otherworldly sights of this phenomenal destination
Photo Credit: ShutterBird Production