Journey to the Edge: Discovering Svalbard's Untouched Beauty from Glaciers to Polar Bears

Norway – Svalbard

Svalbard is a secluded archipelago located to the north of Norway. Renowned for its breathtaking arctic scenery, characterized by towering glaciers and blue ice, the region is also home to a diverse array of wildlife, including polar bears, reindeers, walruses, and whales. Beyond its terrestrial wonders, Svalbard offers the enchanting spectacle of the Northern Lights. It beckons explorers and naturalists seeking an extraordinary experience in a pristine and untouched environment.

Day 1 –  Longyearbyen to Nordre Isfjorden

Embark in Longyearbyen, which is the largest settlement and one of the world's northernmost permanent communities. It experiences extreme environmental conditions, including polar night and midnight sun, each lasting for about 4 months.

Take the short trip across the inlet to Nordre Isfjorden. This coastal tundra stretches across the Isfjorden north of Barentsburg. It comprises wetlands, lake and pond complexes and is great for light day walks and wildlife spotting. This wildlife includes eider ducks, pink-footed geese, ringed seals, arctic fox and Svalbard rock ptarmigan.

Day 2 – Pyramiden

Walking into Pyramiden is like walking back in time to the Soviet Union. This town was abandoned in 1998 and a very interesting place to spend half a day. To the east of Pyramiden, you have old ice glaciers to the east of Pyramiden so it is recommended to do a glacier ice walk in the morning then visit Pyramiden in the afternoon. These glaciers being formed of old ice means it flows very slowly and the ice is famous for being a deep blue.

Day 3 – New Alesund

New Alesund is a specialised research settlement on Spitsbergen in the Svalbard Archipelago, focused on international Arctic studies across various scientific disciplines. It is one of the northmost permanently inhabited places on Earth and lacks typical amenities like shops and restaurants. With a rich history, modern facilities and a unique environment, it offers scientists an unparalleled setting for research and stunning Arctic landscapes. Access is generally limited to researchers and those with special permissions. 

Day 4 - Nordvest-Spitsebergen National Park 

This national park features unique geographical elements such as warm springs and volcanic remains. It also holds historical significance with remains of 17th-century whaling stations, graves and remnants of Arctic expeditions, including the failed 1897 North Pole attempt by Swedish engineer S.A. Andree, launched from Danes Island.

The park is rich in fauna and serves as a habitat for a wide variety of species. It houses colonies of seabirds, Svalbard reindeer and Arctic foxes. It is also a hibernating area for polar bears and a habitat for walruses. About a third of the park’s area, primarily consisting of its sea cliffs, islands and other coastal features, is recognised as an important Bird Area (BA) by Birdlife International, for supporting breeding populations of various bird species like barnacle and brent geese, common eiders and black guillemots.

Day 5 - Indre Wijdefjorden National Park

Located in northern Spitsbergen and established in 2005, this is the longest fjord in Svalbard and the marine environment varies significantly from the fjords mouth to its inner-most sections, which reach the Mittag-Lefflerbreen glacier. 

The park is home to unique High Arctic steppe vegetation, dominated by grasses and very dry, basic earth. It has flora not found elsewhere in Svalbard making it one of the most ecologically significant areas in the region.

Day 6 - Storoya

The more you travel towards the glaciers, the higher the density of polar bears you will see. Storaya is an island located east of Nordaustlandet, separated by the strait of Storaysundet. The southern part of the island is covered by the glacier Storoyjokulen.

Day 7 – Kvitoya

Kvitoya is an island discovered by Dutchman Cornelius Giles in 1707, and gained historical significance as the final resting place of the Andree Arctic balloon expedition of 1897. Led by S.A. Andree, the expedition aimed to fly over the North Pole in a hydrogen balloon but was forced to land on pack ice and eventually reached Kvitoya on foot. The team settled on the only ice-free part of the island, now called Andreeneset.

The fate of the Andree expedition remained on the Arctic’s great mysteries until 1930, when their remains were discovered by the ship Bratvaag. Diaries, scientific logs and glass negative plates that were still developable were found at the site.

Day 8 – Stonehenge Rocks

A long journey brings you back to the main island of Spitzbergen, where on the Southeast coast on the main island of Spitzbergen is a unique geological feature known as the ‘Stonehenge’ of Svalbard.

Day 9 – South Spitsbergen National Park

One of the main attractions of visiting Svalbard is the wildlife and here, off the coast of Svalbard, is some of the best whale watching in the world. Cruise up the coast to South Spitsbergen National Park, a protected area and bird sanctuary established in 1973. Here you will find eider ducks, barnacle geese and several large seabird colonies. Large areas of the park are covered with glaciers and permanent snow and ice.

Day 10 – Nordenskold Land National Park

Travel overnight to Nordenskold National Park, which was opened in 2003 and includes Reindalen, Svalbard's largest ice-free valley where you will see features of moraines, rock glaciers, pingos and avalanche features. The valley has lush vegetation and the lower part is a wetland. The area is important for reindeer, Arctic fox, waders, geese and ducks.

Day 11 – Longyearbyen

Return to the town of Longyearbyen. An interesting fact of the town is some unique and strict laws due to its challenging environment. For example, it is illegal to die in Longyearbyen because the permafrost makes burial difficult, and seriously ill individuals are flown to mainland Norway for care. Also, anyone venturing outside the settlement is required to carry a rifle as a safeguard against polar bears, which are common in the area. 

Despite its remote and harsh location, Longyearbyen offers modern amenities such as schools, a hospital and shops. It also hosts a university center focused on Arctic studies and serves as a launch point for Arctic expeditions. Increasingly it is becoming a tourist destination with activities such as dog sledding, glacier hikes and boat trips.

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