Twin polar bears in the Arctic.
Cruising the Arctic.
Sorrel takes in the splendour of the Arctic.
The amazing Arctic.
Join Sorrel again as she takes us on the second part of her cruise through the Arctic. The splendour and excitement are unparalleled.
Two thousand kilometres north of Oslo, Norway's capital, is the remote island of Spitsbergen or Svalbard. It is within the Arctic Circle and is one of Europe's last wilderness areas, inhabited by polar bears, reindeers, walruses, arctic foxes and millions of migratory birds. While 60 percent of its land is covered by ice, the rest is covered with flowering tundra, and polar desert.
Spitsbergen and the adjacent islands of Franz Josef Land and Jan Mayan are dependent on mining, but tourism is slowly becoming an income source for their tiny populations.
Spitsbergen is a territory under a joint Norwegian and Russian treaty system. Norway has more say, but both countries have some sovereignty. It is made up of nine islands, though some of the smaller ones are nothing more than enormous domes of ice.
The tiny coalmining town of Longyearbyen, where the Arctic cruise begins, is on the edge of a wilderness where temperatures can drop to 40 degrees celcius below zero. The little town is home to about a thousand miners and their families, jovial people who generally speak good English. Their houses are brightly coloured and everywhere you see lots of sleds and snowmobiles.
Aurora Expeditions has 11-day cruises to this exciting part of the world on board the 2240-tonne Professor Molchanov. It motors north overnight into the Arctic ocean and the high Arctic Circle.
By lunchtime you will see the magnificent pointed mountains which gave Spitsbergen their name and the breathtakingly beautiful Magdelene Fiord.
On the first shore excursion the pioneering feeling still exists even though the real pioneers were there over 400 years ago. You'll see a windswept beach, once the site of a thriving whaling industry. Dutch whalers were there in 1611, but eventually they found they could extract the valuable blubber onboard their vessels, so the site was abandoned.
As you journey further north and come within 1000km of the North Pole, the expectation of polar bear sightings becomes almost palpable and the splendour of the Monaco glacier adds to the excitement.
Once the huge white mammals decide to make an appearance, those adventurers brave enough board a zodiac and a guide paddles towards the bear until he feels you are close enough. These enormous creatures have been known to kill humans, so all care must be taken. The feeling of fear and excitement at being 10m away from a huge white bear, licking its lips, is beyond description.
The bears have a 12cm layer of blubber under their hollow fur and their jet-black skin absorbs and retains heat from the sun, so nature has really looked after them. They are generally born as twins and mature at about five. Those lucky enough to survive are ready to face their white world alone at about two-and-a-half years of age. Depending on where the seals are, bears wander over thousands of kilometres. They have an extremely acute sense of smell and can sniff something edible through a metre of snow or over a kilometre away.
It doesn't take long for the midnight sun to rob you of all sense of time. The distraction of kayaking through the ice, seeing and hearing the birds all the time hoping to spot more families of bears makes it hard to realise that it could possibly be 3am.
As you journey to the other side of Spitsbergen the landscape changes dramatically it is stark polar desert country. A zodiac trip to Alkafjellet in the Hinlopen Strait takes you to a craggy outcrop with tens of thousand deafening guillemots, the penguins of the Arctic. They can fly, though somewhat clumsily, and as the Arctic fox finds their eggs to be quite delicious, they take the precaution of laying their eggs on dolerite towers possibly not the most comfortable place to roost, though comparatively safe.
There is no shortage of walruses in the Arctic, you'll see lots of them lazing in the sun. They have few natural predators, so will come quite close and be very curious about who is visiting. They pretty much live on clams, but it takes many kilos of them to satisfy the appetite of a walrus.
This adventure is sure to impress even the most seasoned traveller so close to flora and fauna which is seen nowhere else on this planet, while the vastness of the icy desert has to be seen to be believed.
The cruises are suitable for people of all ages and the ship carries medical staff. There are lectures, films and videos to help you appreciate the area even more.
The cruise itinerary is subject to weather conditions and the movement of the ice and may vary from trip to trip.