Svalbard Glacier

Exploring the Arctic with NWS Guide Ben Jackson

Ben Jackson

Ben Jackson

03 Feb 2021

Our specialist leader tells us about working in the Arctic

Ben Jackson is a Polar Expedition Leader and White Water Kayak Instructor, sharing his time between New Zealand, California, Norway, Denmark, and the Antarctic. 

His passion for wildlife, adventure, and people means he is ideally suited to working with the adventures and challenges of life in the world's polar regions. Ben has led many trips in Svalbard with NWS and we recently sat down to talk with him. 

You’re one of the Expedition Leaders on our Polar Bear Explorer safari. How long have you been working in the Polar Regions, and how did you get into it? 
My first season in the Arctic (and the Antarctic) was back in 2010. Since my first voyage around Svalbard, I've been fortunate enough to experience over 130 voyages in the polar regions (Svalbard, Greenland and Antarctica). I got my start in the industry as a sea kayak guide and quickly progressed to zodiac driving, presenting and expedition leading.
Ben Jackson
Expedition Leaders have a wide set of diverse skills, ranging from ensuring guest safety on landings and in zodiacs, giving lectures on wildlife, and developing a team vibe amongst the guests. What sort of training have you undertaken over the years, and also what do you think is the key soft skill required as an Expedition Leader? 
My professional career in the outdoors begun with a Degree in Outdoor Education and Adventure Recreation. From there I became qualified as a whitewater kayak instructor and spent 10 years travelling the globe teaching and guiding groups. Along the way, I rounded out my outdoor skills by leading groups in various facets of the outdoors such as mountaineering, hiking, caving/spelunking and rafting. 
 
Once I entered the expedition industry, I also gained qualifications in zodiac driving, navigation, radio communications and STCW (fire fighting, life raft deployment, crowd management and ship security). 
 
As far as soft skills are concerned, communication, teamwork, leadership, emotional intelligence, decision making, problem-solving and adaptability are just some of the soft skills that you'll need to call on as an expedition leader. When people think about expedition leading they often only think about the role of logistics and coordination. The reality is the real challenge lies in managing the interpersonal side of the operation. Sharing these places with people is what it's all about so it makes sense that being able to work well with people should be such a big part of the role. 

Do you have a favourite location in Spitsbergen? And if yes, why?


That's a great question. Very simply, where ever the good ice is, especially fast ice. Often where there is good ice there is a good chance of finding bears.  The eastern side of the archipelago is fantastic all season (if you can get there) as is the Seven Islands area north of Nordaustlandet. Being on a small ship means we can get far off the beaten path and seek out experiences that simply aren't available to those on larger vessels. Late season, the waterfalls of Bråsvelbreen are amazing. 

Ben Jackson in Svalbard
What is your favourite local wildlife, and why?
Now, this is a tough one. Polar Bear would be the obvious answer because they're such amazing animals. In saying this, I feel the Atlantic Walrus is often overlooked. In my experience, close encounters with walrus are often the highlights of many guests voyages. A special mention has to be given to Arctic Fox kits. If you're lucky enough to encounter them while ashore it can be a magical experience. They're the James Dean of the polar regions. Live fast, die young. 
What do you think sets MV Kinfish apart from other vessels operating in the archipelago?
The size of the Kinfish is fantastic and it's matched in every part by the crew on board. Being small and agile, you're able to push into the furthest reaches of remote fjords looking for wildlife. You can also navigate open pack ice quickly and efficiently whereas other vessels can be too large to do so efficiently. The level of hospitality on the Kinfish is legendary. Robin and his team create such a warm, fun and relaxing feel for all onboard. It's something I'm yet to experience on other vessels in the Arctic fleet.  
Svalbard Glacier
What is your favourite time in the Arctic season?
I love early season. The coastlines, tundra and mountains are still covered in snow. On a windless day, it can look otherworldly. And fast ice, oh the fast ice. I love being able to tie the ship off on the ice edge and shut the engines off for the night. In my opinion, it's the best way to experience a bear encounter (if you're lucky enough). 
We’re delighted you and Pernille are due to return to lead expeditions for NWS this season. What have you both been up to since you were last in Svalbard?
Pernille and I have been keeping ourselves busy with all things polar. During the Austral summer's we work down in the Antarctic on small expedition ships. Our passion for cold and wild places certainly has us at home there as well. 
 
Pernille and I also run the Expedition Guide Academy with bases in Denmark and New Zealand. Here we upskill current expedition guides and usher in the next generation of professional polar guides. We count ourselves lucky to be surrounded by such passionate learners (and we get to race around in zodiac's a lot).
 
In between all this, we like to spend lots of quality time with friends and family. Hygge is very high on our 'to do' list. When we're not doing this then recreation and adventures beckon. 
Kinfish Hub Ben Jackson
You are used to keeping warm in cold weather. What is your secret tip for keeping your hands warm whilst taking wildlife photos (asking for a friend!)?
I find keeping my core warm and toasty means my hands are far less likely to suffer from the cold. Layering is key as is a good neck buff/gaiter. I always have a pair of leather Hestra gloves on hand (pun unintended) but the real secret is a pair of fingerless possum-merino gloves from back home in New Zealand. They punch far above their weight when it comes to keeping my fingers functional and free. Some of our encounters happen so quickly, I don't want to be messing about with cumbersome gloves when I should be shooting photos. 
You’re an expert kayaker and used to the cold water. Does that mean the polar plunge feels positively tropical for you?
Ha, I wish. It's probably the opposite in a way because I know what's about to happen. Working with Pernille keeps me honest though. Her record is 14 polar plunges in a season and I don't like to miss out. That, and I've never once regretted going for a quick dip. In fact, in over a decade of polar guiding, I've never met anyone who has regretted the polar plunge. 
Ben Jackson Polar Bear
How do you feel when you’re on your first flight up to Longyearbyen at the start of a season?
So excited! That moment when you get a glimpse of the archipelago out the window (or even better, the drift ice to the east of Spitsbergen). If the weather is clear, the flight over Spitsbergen is second to none. Even if the weather isn't clear, just descending into the cloud and making the final approach is also filled with excitement and anticipation. 
You always seem to be somewhere wild and rugged. How long do you actually spend at home each year? 
Over the course of a normal year, I managed to spend around three months at home in New Zealand. This time is always put to good use with friends and family and plenty of hiking, mountain biking, kayaking and surfing adventures. We also have pretty good beer, wine and food that deserves attention too. 

Below you can find dates and prices for our 2022 Polar Bear Explorer trips, taking place on the MV Kinfish. For more information, take a look through our itinerary.

BOOK YOUR SVALBARD SAFARI

Contact one of our Destination Specialists to start planning your journey to Svalbard. Please note we recommend a budget of from £7,000 / $10,000 USD per person for our style of trip to this destination.

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Trip Details

Small Group Trip

Our Svalbard Polar Bear Explorer trip is a small group wildlife expedition. The M/V Kinfish is a small, intimate ship perfect for exploring the icy shores of the Svalbard Archipelago, ensuring your proximity to wildlife-rich areas of interest. Carrying 12 passengers, it creates unique and enchanting wildlife experiences with unrivalled up-close encounters of Arctic wildlife, including the mighty polar bear.

Trip Logs

To take a look and download trip logs from previous departures, for a sense of what may happen on your trip, take a look at our Polar Bear Explorer Trip Log page.

 

2023 Departures

Date  Trip Length Price From Ship Max Passengers Specialist Guide
Apr 29 - May 07 9 Days £9,445 M/V Kinfish 12 Benjamin Hardman
May 07 - 15 9 Days £9,445 M/V Kinfish 12 Graeme Purdy
May 15 - 23 9 Days £8,095 M/V Kinfish 12  
May 23- 31 9 Days £8,095 M/V Kinfish 12  
Jun 08 - 17 10 Days £9,895 M/V Kinfish 12 Drew Doggett
Jun 17 - 27 11 Days £8,795 M/V Kinfish 12  
Jun 27 - Jul 07 11 Days £8,995 M/V Kinfish 12  
Jul 07 - 17 11 Days £8,995 M/V Kinfish 12  
Jul 17 - 27 11 Days £9,895 M/V Kinfish 12 Andrew James

 

Chartering a Ship

We offer full ship charters for a few guests on board our ice-strengthened ships, the M/V Kinfish and the Polarfront. With a full ship charter, we can plan a trip that is tailor-made to suit your requirements, whether your focus is photography, wildlife, history, or simply seeing the best that the Arctic has to offer. Take a look at our chartering an expedition ship page or contact one of our Destination Specialists for more details. 

Request a detailed itinerary

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