Two Seasoned Travellers in Svalbard

Linda Hahn and Shawn Heinrich

28 Aug 2018

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An Arctic Circle Adventure

I consider myself a traveller, not a tourist—which is why, when looking for that “next unique adventure”, I selected the Svalbard Polar Bear Explorer expedition offered by Natural World Safaris; I was not disappointed and highly recommend this experience. Having already been on every continent and in more than 160 countries, I have become a very picky traveller. Several years ago I traveled to Antarctica; the Arctic loomed. When I decided to visit the Arctic Circle, the most northerly of the five major circles of latitude, I spent hours and hours—as travellers do—searching for the “perfect” experience. Being mindful of the changing environment, I knew I needed to plan this journey sooner rather than later.

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I try to never travel with expectations, but of course they do creep in. I had decided I would be happy seeing even one polar bear; never in my wildest dreams would I imagine seeing 35 bears. And not just bears lazing on the ice, but bears hunting for bird’s nests on high, rocky cliffs, bears with cubs, bears fighting for food, bears swimming, bears on ice and bears on land. I was able to add a blue whale and over 100 walrus in several viewings. And then there were the reindeer and the Arctic foxes.

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As an experienced traveller, I know for certain that these viewings did not happen by accident. The vast experience of our trip leader, Hadleigh, was in large part responsible for the wildlife-viewing success of our trip. Hadleigh was constantly charting, studying the weather and the ice, and was able to draw on his considerable experience of animal behavior in the Arctic. The other two members of the team—Pernille and Ben—when not in the water manning the zodiacs, were also constantly on the bridge, spotting, making certain we didn’t miss even one possible bear sighting.

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We had almost daily zodiac or hiking opportunities, complete with the local history of whaling and explorers. I would be remiss by not mentioning the captain and crew of the M/S Freya. I particularly wanted a small expedition ship; I found the Freya unusually comfortable and cosy for an expedition ship. The “open bridge” policy was much appreciated, as was the friendly, accommodating attitude of every single member of the crew. The chef was amazing; I will never understand how he could turn out such truly scrumptious meals from his small kitchen. The daily treats such as coconut macaroon cookies, gooey chocolate brownies and chocolate balls were a highlight after returning from a zodiac cruise.

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In essence, my expectations were exceeded in every way—animal viewing, professionalism and expertise of the trip leader and team, the welcoming, accommodating attitude of the ship’s crew and the chef’s creations. Without hesitation, I recommend the Svalbard Polar Bear Explorer adventure.

– Linda Hahn

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IMPRESSIVE NATURE; IMPRESSIVE ITINERARY; IMPRESSIVE PEOPLE

The idea of an Arctic adventure was basically my wife’s; I am usually more of a cultural/museum/city holiday type. Wishing to give my wife her desire to view polar bears, whales, walrus and Arctic fox in the wild, I agreed to the Natural World Safaris adventure.

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Imagine my surprise when the program actually included field lectures by the trip leader, Hadleigh, who has a personal passion for polar history and exploration. Several of our almost daily zodiac/land experiences included stops at former whaling camps, some with cabin and processing equipment still evident. These unexpected “on the spot” talks by someone passionate about the subject remain highlights for me.

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My wife and I both had our interests catered to—35 polar bear viewings, several walrus group visits, two Arctic fox sightings and even a blue whale, not to mention finding reindeer during several of the hikes. Even the weather was a surprise. We prepared for the worst possible cold, frost and rough seas; the trip started in sunshine and calm seas—and stayed that way for the first six days of the 10-day trip. We experienced only two nights of rough seas; there was no roughness during the day.

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The surprises continued. When we travel, we try never to have expectations, but of course we were curious about the ship. We packed for small cabins, but were pleasantly surprised by how roomy the cabins actually were. We had more than enough room for our duffle and rolly bags. There was always plenty of hot water. We brought snacks, but never opened the snack bag. The food was exceptional; each of us gained weight. Another pleasant surprise was the completely open-door policy on the ship; we were invited to spend as much time as we wished on the bridge, in the kitchen or even in the engineering room.

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The staff on board the Freya could not have been more friendly or accommodating. The three expedition staff were truly exceptional. The knowledge and expertise of Hadleigh was impressive; the enthusiasm and tenacity of Pernille was infectious, while her knowledge of the Arctic flowers and plants was never-ending; Ben’s expertise of birds and mammals taught us much about this unique part of the world. The daily operations of the zodiac cruises and land programs always ran smoothly; the staff never missed an opportunity to add to our experiences.

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The combination of the expertise and efforts of the expedition staff, the warmth of the ship’s crew, the spectacular offerings of nature, the never-ending variety of the food and like-minded travellers made our Arctic adventure one that we will always treasure and one that we are happy to recommend.

– Shawn Heinrich

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