Several of our voyages in Arctic Norway are around Spitsbergen. Dutch for ‘pointed mountains’, this is the evocative name for the largest island of the Svalbard archipelago in the High Arctic, 1,300km from the North Pole. It has a fascinating history of arctic exploration and whaling. The scenery is dramatic – snowy peaks rising majestically through huge ice-caps, glaciers creeping down valleys to the sea and sparkling ice walls enclosing deep fjords. All this is surrounded by the glistening pack-ice as we walk along rocky shores.
Although the archipelago is locked in ice for many months of the year, when summer comes it can be brilliant with orange lichens and flowering plants covering the ground. The surrounding seas support numerous birds, seals, dolphins and whales. Since the banning of hunting in the 1970s, the populations of bear and walrus have dramatically increased and you are almost certain to see these magnificent creatures on your voyage.
We also sail to the Lofoten Islands which, despite their high latitude north of the Arctic Circle, experience extremely mild winter temperatures, due to the effects of the Gulf Stream and the North Atlantic and Norwegian currents. Røst and Værøy are the most northerly locations in the world where average temperatures stay above freezing all year. Turquoise waters, idyllic coves and the glorious sandy beaches of the Norwegian Sea form a picturesque backdrop to the islands’ brightly painted cabins and craggy hillsides which are strewn with rowan berries in autumn and thick with snow in winter. The sea teems with life and you can expect to see sea eagles, cormorants, puffin, otter and even moose on the larger islands.
Half-way between Iceland and Spitsbergen lies Jan Mayen, a volcanic island of beauty and mystique which is dominated by Mt. Beerenberg. From the slopes of the 2,300m volcano, impressive glaciers spill into the sea. Until recently, the island was off-limits as it is a military base and was rarely visited by tourists, but, with permission from the Norwegian authorities, we hope to visit the weather station.
Fiona’s travel tipsDID YOU KNOW: Svalbard has more than 20 per cent of the world’s population of polar bears?
WEATHER: Strong winds can occur in late autumn and winter, but are rare from late March to mid-October. Snow and sleet are not uncommon in winter.
TOP TIP: Book a Scotland to Spitsbergen voyage and then the consecutive North Spitsbergen one. It’s fun to leave the UK by ship and you will get a discount off the second voyage.
“All went well and I had a fantastic time. I was particularly hoping for ice, which fascinates me, and Arctic foxes as I had only ever seen one in the wild, and I really got my wish. We certainly went through plenty of pack and also glacier brash ice. And lots of Arctic foxes – I have some quite good photos of five of them, as well as two polar bears and plenty of walrus, distant reindeer and a few seals. Many thanks for all your help.”Meryl Gover, Northern Svalbard Explorer, Polar Pioneer’s last voyage
“The crew were exceptionally good, especially the team leader/cruise organiser, and the meals were fine, lots of choice and all nice. There always seemed to be something to do, even if it was just watching the magnificent scenery go by. Interesting to see Greenland in summer and especially good to have access to Nordwestfjord which I believe is not normally accessible
to tour boats. Photos certainly don’t convey the scale of the icebergs – even the eye could not appreciate it without the ship as a reference.”
“It was an epic holiday, very well organised.”
David and Elizabeth Manning, Spitsbergen in winter
“My Noorderlicht trip was superb and everything went like clockwork as I knew it would.”
Jane Hamilton, Sail North Norway
“Our favourite part of the trip was observing the walrus, least favourite, the dining area was too noisy during meal times. In all other respects the trip was excellent and was hugely blessed by the quality of the lectures and lecturers.”
John and Beryl Bannister, Fair Isle, Jan Mayen, Spitsbergen
“I really enjoyed being among the ice and seeing how it moved in relation to the ship and other bits of ice. There were polar bears and walrus too, but for me the wildlife took second place to the ice and the general environment. Having talked to some of the other passengers, I think the service you provided was exemplary and I have been singing your praises...I've never gone on a holiday organised by someone else before so I didn't know what to expect, but it seems that my experience was far better than some of the others. There were a few times during the trip when I felt a little 'herded' but I think that's the price you pay for being in such an inaccessible part of the world. All in all, a very enjoyable experience and one I would repeat in the northern hemisphere again, in a few years’ time”.
Anne Robinson, Jan Mayen to Spitsbergen
“Still very stroppy about being home! Really mad keen to go again, would like to see Northern lights but go back to Longyearbyen, dog sled to Pyramiden again, stay in cabin then maybe head off with dogs somewhere else if the ship is not going back into the ice next year. Everything was fantastically organised - so easy and great service”.
The Curl Family, Spitsbergen
“I felt I received a personal and accessible service from Fiona from my initial enquiry to near the time of my departure. The holiday itself lived up to all my expectations”.
Jennifer Dalmaine, Scotland to Spitsbergen Arctic voyage
“For weeks after coming home I felt homesick (even physically) for all I experienced on these voyages – the beauty, the ruggedness, the quiet, the cleanliness, the fauna & flora, the life on board, my fellow passengers, the staff and crew…”
Janice Hinlopen, Spitsbergen circumnavigation and North East Greenland back-to-back voyages
“I loved the holiday and all your arrangements were spot on! The dog-sledging on my first day was such fun and a great introduction to the whole experience. At the dog-pound there was a fine example of a trapper's hut and also bear and fox-traps - all of which my Dad often made mention of in his journals - so that set the scene.”
Elspeth Hamilton, Around Spitsbergen and Basecamp Isfjord Radio
“Just a short note to thank you for your help in finding the right trip for us both. The travelling arrangements worked very well, the accommodation was just right and the possibility of talking with you over any queries proved very useful. Having been to Antarctica in 1984 and enjoyed a life-time experience, it was essential I saw, heard and visited the Arctic. Finding the right trip, size of ship and itinerary was crucial and happily it was the right choice. Comfortable and functional ship, great crew, attention to detail – a real expedition.”
Tessa Huggett, Land of the midnight sun
“Weather – very good. Scenery – spectacular. Wildlife sightings – excellent. Boat – extremely comfortable. Expedition staff – mostly extremely good. Atmosphere – friendly and convivial on the whole. We had very good service from all at Arcturus and the result was one of the most memorable and enjoyable holidays we have ever had.”
Mr and Mrs John Nugée, Scottish Islands, North Atlantic and Spitsbergen
“Back home from a wonderful holiday which certainly lived up to my expectations! The jewel in the crown was of course Isfjord Radio Station…. Unbelievable experience. The change of schedule was perfect. The dog sledding was the best hands-on experience I’ve ever had….guide knowledgeable and very friendly, the dogs an unutterable delight. The treks and boat safari were wonderful and again the guide knowledgeable and likeable….the fact there were only three of us on this tour was also a bonus….more individual attention. The food there was off-the-planet good. I hope they keep the chef!! The scenery utterly, stunningly beautiful. Saw most of the whale population on the planet on board ship and on the way to and from Isfjord in the rib. A pod of beluga circled the rib on the way back to Longyearbyen, then sped off down the fjord…a walrus popped up beside the boat!! Magical moments. Your organisation of it all was top class. Listening to some of the tales of other tour operators confirmed this. A world class trip that is tucked away like a little lodestone in my heart, to be taken out and looked at with fondness and awe. I'd do it all again in a blink!! I will certainly recommend Arcturus as an excellent tour operator.”
Maureen Kerr, Spitsbergen
“Overall, I explored some stunning parts of Svalbard (Isfjorden glaciers, Pyramiden and Kappe Linne) that I’d not visited before. Hosts, guides and co-travellers were all extremely hospitable. Given that I’m normally an active person (a hill walker and cyclist) it was a little too sedentary for me. But having said that, the lazy side of me wasn’t disappointed and given the recent bear incident, I’m glad the accommodation was based indoors.”
Alan Haselden, Spitsbergen bespoke
“The holiday totally fulfilled a lifetime ambition to visit the Arctic but not on a cruise ship. Everything was effortlessly tailored to the wishes of those on board – on numerous occasions the skipper changed course to allow us to see something we had glimpsed e.g. walrus or an iceberg. The knowledge and enthusiasm of the guide and crew enhanced every aspect of the trip – exactly the right balance was struck between safety (on ship and re polar bears) and freedom of the individual. Before leaving home I had a few reservations about being in close proximity to 19 unknown people but it was no problem at all. The ship was outstanding with excellent crew and skipper. Information came from Fiona in plenty of time and was clear and jargon-free whilst responses to any queries were always very prompt. I most enjoyed the sailing as well as the scenery.”
Jane Hamilton, Sail North Spitsbergen (Noorderlicht)
“We had prompt and detailed answers to queries and a feeling of personal, knowledgeable service. A fantastic experience- we had an idea of what to expect having been to Antarctica and it lived up to expectations!”
Andrew and Katharine Balkwill, Circumnavigation of Spitsbergen (Polar Pioneer)
“Thank you for arranging our trip to the Arctic. We found Fiona to be extremely helpful and very knowledgeable about the destination. We had a fantastic time and really enjoyed the Arctic experience. We wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to friends and would certainly use Arcturus again.”Gillian and Neville Ham, Spitsbergen and NE Greenland
“An excellent trip which achieved all its main objectives although landings on Barentsoya were prevented by polar bears. The ship was run in a pleasant and informal way but everything was organised very efficiently and competently.”Roger Hill, Around Spitsbergen (Antarctic Dream)
“We were lucky in that the conditions allowed a complete circumnavigation of the archipelago which allowed a wide range of landscape. The longer walks were our favourite part of the trip”.Mr and Mrs Stephen Henwood, Around Spitsbergen walking voyage (Antarctic Dream)
“The holiday was outstanding - we saw so much - 18 Polar Bears on one day, 31 in total. The boat was excellent. We had a fantastic time and the guides on board ship were also tremendous in taking us on the remoter walks and their knowledge and enthusiasm were second to none. I have to say the Captain and his crew were also so enthusiastic as well and seemed as excited as us with all the sights of wildlife. In addition to the polar bears of course, watching a pod of beluga whales from above on the shore will remain with me for a long time.”Mr and Mrs Alan Black, Around Spitsbergen (Antarctic Dream)
“Deepest thanks for all your kindness and help before departure and to lovely staff on board.”Alison Lambie, St Kilda, Jan Mayen, Spitsbergen (Plancius)
“A trip of a lifetime which exceeded all my expectations. Thank you for your side of the arrangements – everything went like clockwork.”
Jane Hamilton, Sail North Spitsbergen