The photo's were taken in Spitsbergen, an island in the Svalbard Archipelago, north of Norway and 660 nautical miles (758 miles) from the North Pole.
This trip took place in July 2007. Some things may have changed, but I'll include links to websites which look pretty up-to-date to me.
When we first looked at doing this 10-day trip, it was so expensive we nearly considered not doing it at all. But we wanted to see polar bears, and since we were planning to move to California the following summer, we wanted to stay in Europe. At first we'd looked at a tour from Explorer.co.uk, but there were two things we didn't like - 1) the cost and 2) the itinerary was back to front for us. It began with a cruise and ended with a camping trip.
We wanted to get the camping out of the way first. I wanted the experiences that portion of the trip offered, the glacier hiking, and the kayaking, but I didn't relish lying awake in the freezing cold for two nights and then being wrecked for the rest of the trip. We'd camped in Donegal that Easter and it had been pretty Baltic! How much worse would the North Pole be? (And, yes, I know we weren't actually at the North Pole but close enough for me.)
Then we took note of the tour companies Explorer were using and decided to approach them ourselves, camping first, ending with the cruise. It became much more affordable. Saying that, it was, and still is, the most expensive vacation we've ever been on, if you consider cost per per day. Worth every penny though - the memories are still so vivid and so unique.
We booked the cheapest combination of flights to get there. It took nearly 24 hours to fly from Belfast (where we lived at the time) to Manchester to Oslo to Tromso to Longyearbyen, one of four settlements on the island. We could have flown to New Zealand in the same time.
You couldn't tell it was 3 am when we landed at the airport in Longyearbyen since the sun was still high in the sky.
|Spitsbergen at 3am|
Svalbard Wildlife Services on a three day wilderness camp. They were amazing the guide was brilliant - friendly, knowledgeable and an amazing cook. Our group was small too, just me, My Husband and two others, nice women from Switzerland.
It's the most remote place I've ever been to, I think.
You had to use this gate to enter and leave the campsite so you didn't trigger the flares. I worried that if you were going off to have a pee during the night you might trip over the wire, but it didn't get dark so it wasn't an issue. You still needed to bring a buddy in case a polar bear did catch you with your pants down!
Solid human waste was an interesting problem. It had to be taken off the site with you, so you pooped in a bag, tied a knot in it and kept the bags a a bucket until it was time to take the ship back.
Our campsite was at the base of a glacier and we went glacier hiking on it with crampons. I was nervous about falling down the crevasses. We were all roped together, but I was the smallest one in the group and where the others just stepped across I had to take a run and jump!
The ice formations were amazing.
I had the chance to geek out on the amazing rock collection in the terminal moraine deposited by the Glacier - Sedimentary, igneous and metamorphic all in one spot. I wish I'd studied geology ...
And check out erosion in action - the rock has fractures along seams where water seeped in then froze and expanded.
There was something to amaze me around every corner. Herds of Svalbard Reindeer, sort, stocky little chappies, their rotund bodies adapted to conserve heat.
We cruised north out of Longyearbyen and stopped at Russian mining settlement. It was pretty bleak.
If you ignored the frigid temperatures, sometimes the colors along the coastal waters looked quite inviting.
There were three languages used on board, Norwegian naturally, German and English. If the crew spotted some wildlife, they would announce the best place to go on the ship to view it. There were about 150 passengers all hustling for the best photo spot. Invariably animals would pop up when we'd be in the dining room (maybe because we spent so much time in the dining room!) and there'd be a stampede (of humans not animals!) for the doors
Sometimes the announcement would begin in English, "Ladies and Gentlemen, a polar bear has been spotted off the starboard side." etc. (or maybe it was Klingons?) People who understood English, (and knew where starboard was) would head off. Then the language would change and others would move too. We soon figured out, no matter what language they started with, just follow someone who looked like they understood.Waiting for your own language would mean missing the front row!
Moffen Island and saw the Walruses, animals I half suspected were not real, seeming more like mythical creatures and ranked a rather ugly, cumbersome version of the unicorn. But there they were...sorry again about the picture quality.
Each night we'd have to tear ourselves away from the scenery, staying up into the wee hours of the morning, our brains unwilling to accept that fact, seeing sunlight as we did. These pictures were taken between 3 and 4 am...
Some insane people were having a swim...totally not tempted!
P.S. Some of these scenery shots look amazing if you click on them and view then full screen - go on - I dare you :-)