Amazing Svalbard by Dewi Edwards

Dewi Edwards

19 Sep 2012


Svalbard Polar bear safari review 

For as long as I can remember, I've always wanted to see Polar Bears in the wild. As a young boy growing up, I dreamed of going to the Arctic to see these magnificent animals in their natural habitat. In August I finally managed to fulfill those dreams by joining World Bear Safaris [Natural World Safaris] on their Wildlife Explorer voyage to Svalbard.

After several flights, we arrived in Longyearbyen and were met by our guide for the trip, Mats Forsberg. Mats is a first class Polar guide with vast experience, an easy going manner and always willing to answer any and all questions thrown his way no matter how trivial or awkward they might have been.

After introductions between the 12 passengers who had booked for this small group voyage aboard the excellent MS Stockholm, we had a quick look around the town before a visit to the museum.

We boarded the ship mid-afternoon and sailed at 1700 hours, heading West along Isfjorden. The scenery was beautiful and the birdlife engrossing as we steamed towards what turned out to be an adventure of a lifetime.

We sailed overnight, arriving in Ny-Alesund early the following morning. After breakfast, a walk around the various research buildings here was followed by a stroll across the tundra where various plant and bird species were noted, along with our first Svalbard reindeer of the trip. Ringed plovers ran around our feet and the tinkling songs of snow buntings rang in our ears. Purple sandpipers scurried amongst the rocks of the shoreline searching for food and a gorgeous ivory gull paid the ship a brief visit on our return.




One feature that I enjoyed on this trip were the cookies and cakes on offer every time we returned from an outing, with fresh coffee to wash them down with. The food throughout on board was excellent, so don't be surprised if you return home slightly heavier than when you departed if you ever do this particular voyage!

Sailing North, we landed at Danskøya where we were treated to our first encounter with a Polar Bear, even if she was a little ways off, it was fantastic to finally see one in this Arctic Wilderness.

The following day we made landings at two islands where we encountered more wildlife and amazing scenery. A visit to a Walrus haul out was an experience to behold as three huge bulls came close inshore to inspect us. Sabines gulls, grey phalaropes, pomarine and Arctic skuas were all seen and photographed, along with Arctic terns pair bonding when the male offered the female a small fish. Fabulous.

That evening, the clouds and light joined forces to give us a spectacular light show overhead and a minke whale crossed our bows as we headed Northeast. Another polar bear was seen feeding on seabirds on a small island while on the cliffs above, guillemot chicks were leaping suicidally from their lofty nesting ledges down towards the sea accompanied by their fathers. Amazing to think that these chicks cannot yet fly and will then swim all the way to the coast of Greenland.

We woke with a start the following morning by the ships movement through the ice. We had reached the pack and were making headway through the loose floes. The weather was variable, with azure blue skies being blocked out intermittently by thick banks of fog. As one of the curtains of fog peeled away, a fogbow formed before our eyes in a pastel coloured arch over the sea ice.



It was here that the Arctic really showed us her wonders as ghostly ivory gulls floated gracefully around the ship. Like small white angels, they danced in the air and plunge dived for food as the ice was disturbed by the ships passing. Kittiwakes and fulmars joined in the feast and I marvelled at how close they were alongside the ship. Glaucous gulls were a menacing threat and a sleepy walrus barely noticed our passing.

Before long, the shout came down from the bridge that there was a bear ahead. This first one was a large male, but was a little shy and moved away. By the end of this day, we had seen seven different bears, two of which came close to the ship giving us spectacular views, one female and one very large male. I had joined this trip to see polar bears. Never in my wildest dreams did I think we would get to see them this close. I still find it difficult to describe what we saw, so I hope the photos tell the story.

Without giving too much away, the remainder of the trip was just as spectacular, with new highs every day in varying forms. From a young polar bear swimming out to the ship and trying to get onboard, two humpback whales cloud netting shrimp amidst a flurry of kittiwakes to even closer encounters with Walrus than the first one and a half hour spent in the company of two of the cutest Arctic fox cubs you could ever imagine. Add to this the spectacular scenery, the rich history of exploration in the region, wonderful company and probably the best ships crew I've ever sailed with and you have the recipe for a holiday that will be imprinted on your mind forever.



27/10/2012 7:30 PM

Hi there! These images just make me want to retrun as soon as possible. It is now making a year since I have been there with Pete and all the Portuguese toast monsters , and it really seems that new things can and will be done. Hope next year the snow comes again and let me revisit some great spots, and try Halladale, that the huge snow didn't allow us Well, enjoying Nature as it is makes us want to be in constant touch with places, species, and keep trying over and over for some new, different and original work. And I honestly believe that the path is the one you are in, Pete.Just keep the good work!Rfaben Neves

Shaun Stanley

19/9/2012 8:00 PM

Wow what an amazing trip and fantastic picture to accompany the article! This is definitely somewhere that is high on my to-do list!

Mel G.

19/9/2012 7:01 PM

Fabutastic photography!!! Actually amazing that the polar bear didn't come out blurred. I surely would have shaken with excitement and probably fright as well. Great read as well. *applause*

Robin Grimwood

19/9/2012 10:30 AM

Fabulous photographs and a great read! I will definitely have to go there sometime!

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