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A Last Minute Trip To Svalbard

My Incredible Last Minute Polar Bear Expedition by Anouska Hamilton

14 JUN 2017

I love travelling and had been thinking about seeing the Polar Bears in the Arctic for a while, and made some enquiries thinking I would go next year. I called Natural World Safaris and spoke to the lovely Gemma, who answered all my questions, and I was so excited about the sound of it all, I decided to book my trip to Svalbard the very next day, which meant I had little over a month before I was due to go!

On arrival on May 24th, we were on the first trip of the season. We explored the West coast of Spitsbergen over the next 8 days.

Our home for the week was the very lovely ship ‘Freya’, which was so comfortable, and luckily we all had a cabin to ourselves. The bed was unbelievably cosy.

There were 10 passengers including myself, 2 guides Ronald and Annette, a trainee guide Miriam, and a very lovely Swedish crew. We quickly got settled in, and then went out on the Zodiac Boats that very same evening for a ‘quick’ trip out.

Well this ‘quick’ trip out extended to 2 hours, because we saw ……. A POLAR BEAR!!

It was absolutely incredible to see this truly majestic animal up so close. He was a young male, weaned from his mother that year, so he still had quite a bit to learn. He was watching a seal and her pup swimming tantalisingly past him, but he wasn’t patient enough, so launched himself into the waters on 3 occasions to try and catch the seal, but he was no match for the seals swimming abilities. Our group which was split into 2 Zodiacs, were all in absolute awe watching this unfolding before us, and we were silent (except for the clicks of the cameras). The Bear knew we were there, but was not overly fussed about us at all, and our guides informed us we were about 15 meters away from this beautiful animal. Eventually he realised he wasn’t getting dinner that night, so sauntered away.

We went back to warm up on the Freya (absolutely freezing by this point), but the buzz of excitement was electric. How could you top that on the very first day?

We saw several more Polar Bears during our trip, on the ice packs, which is really what I always envisioned to see Bears on. Picture postcard perfect. David Attenborough eat your heart out!

The rest of the week was outstanding, every day bought new experiences, wildlife and wonders. We saw Walrus on a beach, where we were so lucky for them to approach us only feet away. They were very inquisitive and were intrigued to know what strange species we were, especially as we looked like astronauts in our snow suits (which were a life saver against the cold). The Walrus bobbed along for ages infront of us, before casually swimming off again. What a beautiful and close encounter!

We visited bird cliffs where we saw Puffins, Guillemotts and Kittiwakes galore. We also saw Reindeer (including a new calf), and Arctic foxes. These were probably my favourite. Arctic Foxes are the size of a domestic cat, and they were transitioning from their glorious white fluffy winter coat, to their rather more straggly brown summer coat. Incredibly cute!

SVA Cl Svalbard Kinfish June Credit Alex Stead

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We wrapped up in our snowsuits and were out on the zodiac several times a day, out looking at wildlife, glaciers and caves. I have never seen landscape as beautiful or pristine as Spitsbergen. I couldn’t get over the absolute silence of the place, or the hue of the blue sky and ocean. We felt like we were the only people on the planet, and we managed to go for little treks and stretch our legs on the frozen sea ice and also the tundra.

What made it such an outstanding trip was the passion of our guides. Ronald, Annette and Miriam had so much enthusiasm, and truly love what they do, they are 100% committed to getting the passengers the best sightings possible, and they took it in turns to scout for wildlife. They would knock on our doors and get us whenever they spotted anything, which included whales in the middle of the night, but that’s what this trip was about, savouring every moment, sighting and experience that we could. They were fantastic.

I cannot fault this trip In any way. It was worth every penny. I have travelled to lots of different places all over the world, but I have to say, this was definitely one of my favourite trips, I couldn’t stop smiling.

I can’t leave this without also mentioning how lovely our Group was, a wide range of ages and nationalities, all with the same passion for wildlife. The crew were so friendly, and the Chef was out of this world. We all wanted to take him home by the end of it.