10 years since my first visit to the beautiful Svalbard archipelago, I was excited yet apprehensive about returning. Tourism has increased in this region of the Arctic over this period and I had concerns over how much would have changed. However, I was pleased to see that the relatively small settlement of Longyearbyen (a population of just 2,100) hadn’t been impacted too much.
My first trip north in 2008 had completely blown me away, I remember disembarking my expedition ship at the end of my journey and not really being ready to return to the ‘real world’.
That feeling still remains and the beauty and remoteness of Svalbard are impossible to describe unless you experience it for yourself. The islands are known and visited for their array of wildlife life, both in the ocean and on land. However, I would say everyone onboard had chosen Svalbard for the chance to see a Polar Bear. We were exceptionally lucky, on day two we managed to not see just one but three bears.
Apprehensions aside, I was back in the Arctic, somewhere that not even Wi-fi has been able to reach yet. A true opportunity to immerse myself in the splendour and switch off from the outside world, something I highly recommend everyone attempts at least once a year.
Whilst cruising through one of the channels in the northwest of the archipelago, searching for wildlife, one cold Saturday morning, it became evident that this morning’s Zodiac cruise was going to be wildlife free. Although slightly disappointed, it didn’t take long for us to realise that this allowed us the opportunity to sit back, put our cameras down and take in the magnificent scenery that surrounded us from every angle of our Zodiac boat. Rolling mountains still covered in snow, atmospheric clouds hovering about the tops, this was nature at its best. This became one of my most memorable mornings.
After six days of incredible wildlife sightings, the decision was made to ‘head North’. At around 79 degrees north the Svalbard archipelago is already high, but due to receding pack ice, our trip so far had been relatively ice-free. We all felt ‘what’s an Arctic expedition cruise without the opportunity to see pack ice’ so, as we slept our captain sailed north for eleven hours to get us to the pack ice, just 500 miles from the North Pole. It was a wonderful moment made even sweeter when one of the younger passengers asked our expedition leader if we would be able to see Santa from our ship’s position.
It was both humbling and sad as we cruised past miles and miles of ice. I wondered if this would possibly be the last opportunity for people like me to witness this awe-inspiring view of true wilderness. We spent the day cruising alongside the pack ice, reaching 81.38 degrees north, before heading back to the main archipelago.
As I sat in the bar discussing the day’s activities with Monty Halls, one of our experts on board, I suggested that this trip was more than a journey but a form of therapy – no beeping phones or wavering attention. In Svalbard, you are fully present in each moment, mind, body and soul, and that is far the best way to experience such an incredible journey.