Svalbard: A Life-Changing Experience

Tony Cresswell

13 Apr 2018

NWS client TOny tells us what made his Svalbard expedition so special

My wife and I were extremely fortunate to secure places on the M/S Expedition for what happened to be the first trip of the season out of Longyearbyen in Svalbard. This decision was not undertaken lightly for a number of reasons, not least of which was the cost of this most unusual trip.

My wife Lou's lifelong wish to see polar bears in their own true environment would never be sated by having money in the bank, and thanks to expert guidance from experienced staff at Natural World Safaris the decision was made and before long we were on our way back to Svalbard.

I say "back" for we had made a solo visit beforehand to experience the remarkable polar winter. While that was a tremendous experience, the area was in its winter lockdown, and to see the full wildlife a return had to be made to witness the contrast and the summer explosion of activity. It is now one year since we made our booking, and our subsequent expedition; the point being that a sensible report could not be compiled immediately afterwards as the lauding and praises for the entire experience would barely have made sense, it was so overwhelmingly remarkable. Now, a year on, I have to say that little has dwindled, and we still think of that incredible experience, every, single, day... Upon our return, I told Natural World Safaris that it had been a life-changing experience, and it remains just that.

If you are sitting contemplating this venture and whether or not it is worth it, please do not pause a moment longer. Just do it! If money is a problem, sell the house, sell anything, everything, just do it...

I truly mean this, that every day we think of what happened for us last year, and I cannot stay out of the image files we hold. We cannot imagine not returning again someday soon but this will have to wait until we manage to visit the other end of the world, the Antarctic, hopefully in the same vessel. We would not be unusual in this, for some people on our trip last year were returning customers. We have in fact just returned from a wonderful solo venture in Patagonia during which we spotted an individual clad in his polar jacket, having just returned from his trip in Antarctica - another friendship was born! These are the doors that open when taking this kind of adventure.

It really is a life changer.

And yet in this report I have not referred to instances at all, but we did get our magnificent polar bears and much, much more besides, some of which even had the experienced crew gasping in wonder. Strangely for me, stood on deck as we sailed north into the pack ice... that horizon to horizon of white before us, and we were going straight into it... will remain forever in my memory.

Take us back to 80 degrees North - any day!

The story behind the image

Jonathan the expedition leader had stated that morning what was intended, and a suitable temporary berth against a likely and suitable stretch of ice was being sought for us to have the experience of walking on sea ice, and at over 80 degrees north, less than 500 miles from the North Pole... Wow! We nudged up against the ice and the ship's occupants excitedly scattered back to their cabins to dress for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. While we all got ready, outside (and coincidentally on our side of the ship) the scouting team landed, armed and prepared on high alert to check out the surroundings.

We watched from our window where we could see these prints and I had said to Lou that these prints might mean we would have to move on elsewhere - indeed if alight at all. Despite what we could see, the permission for us to go onto the sea ice was given and these prints prove to be the main attraction! We all took our turns photographing at the sea edge, where in fact the bear (they estimated within the last hour or two) had hauled out after a swim. Even the ice was dappled where it had shaken the water off its coat and trooped off to the south across the ice. As well as the huge size of the paw prints, clearly visible were its claws, at the front of each print showing the direction of its route, into wind, so it could not therefore sniff us (thankfully) so, we went ahead with the landing.

Quite incredible, and we were advised later that we had unknowingly drifted some two miles during the period of our time on the ice, without knowing of course.

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