Polar Bears in Svalbard
It may be useful to think of Svalbard expeditions as the midway point between those offered in Baffin and Churchill, what with the combination of incredible scenery and sheer remoteness with comfortable ship-based accommodation and abundant wildlife. However, while Svalbard does indeed provide a fantastic option for those seeking a little more adventure than Churchill and a little less roughing-it than Baffin, Svalbard expeditions are anything but middle of the road.
Firstly, however you choose to experience Svalbard, there is no escaping the remarkable natural wonders on show, from fjords and glaciers to snow-topped mountains and lush green tundra blooming with Arctic wildflowers (depending on the season). The variety of landscapes here is almost overwhelming, and a photographer’s dream. You may also get the chance to photograph bears hunting for seals on the pack ice – a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Svalbard also offers a greater ranger of wildlife than Baffin and Churchill. In addition to polar bears, the Arctic archipelago is home to seals, whales, walrus, Arctic fox, numerous species of seabird (as well as the land-dwelling Svalbard rock ptarmigan) and an endemic subspecies of reindeer, the Svalbard reindeer. While Churchill is not particularly conducive to photography and Baffin presents a test for the skilled photographer, it would be more difficult to return from Svalbard without fantastic pictures of wildlife!
With trips departing from spring through to autumn, Svalbard even offers the greatest variety of possible departure dates when compared to Baffin and Churchill. Exploration is possible as soon as the pack ice thaws enough to permit ship traffic through a good portion of the region’s waterways, with voyages occurring throughout the summer – when the midnight sun never dips below the horizon – until daylight hours begin to drop significantly as September approaches. With so many departure dates available, Svalbard is a good option for those who may not be quite as flexible with when they can head off on holiday.
In addition, the time of year greatly dictates what kind of vistas you’ll witness in Svalbard, with pristine snowfall carpeting the land early in the season and greenery becoming more and more prevalent as the months tick on. Photographers will be able to choose which month suits them best, and by speaking to one of our Destination Specialists, you can time your arrival to coincide with the arrival of newborn wildlife, from polar bear and Arctic fox cubs to reindeer calves and walrus pups.
Comfortable expedition ships provide a brilliant base to explore from. Thanks to hot showers and fantastic food prepared on board, there’s no roughing it here. Sea-based expeditions aren’t for everyone though. While most ships don’t encounter rough seas, staying on a ship for the greater part of a day may not be ideal for those who haven’t found their sea legs. Also, Svalbard trips must perforce be longer than Baffin and Churchill trips due to the sailing required to voyage through the area in search of the bears. As a result, Svalbard is not a good option for those with limited time to spare, nor is it ideal for families – the minimum age on the M/V Kinfish, for example, is 18. (Note that select Churchill trips do allow you to bring your kids.) But for the landlubber willing to step offshore and set sail for new horizons, Svalbard offers so much to discover.