Head to 78 degrees north and you will find an incredible island that is an explorer’s paradise!
Isolated and remote, ruggedly beautiful and technically defined as a desert, Svalbard is one of the last remaining true wildernesses of the North. And it is very, very far North. The furthest reaches of mainland Northern Norway sits at around 71 degrees North and the North Pole is at 90 degrees. At 78 degrees is where you will find the glorious island of Svalbard.
As you fly into Longyearbyen the approach is initially above and then through the very heart of a huge valley between gigantic, flat-topped mountains and above barren plains, which opens up to the mouth of the Isfjord and in turn extends towards the Arctic sea. You would be forgiven for thinking you were about to land on another planet altogether as the landscape is vast and empty until you are right above the city which appears suddenly near the mouth of the fjord. Upon landing the city is neither big nor busy but it feels alive with activity and everyone is very welcoming.
Svalbard is a destination that has been on Off the Map’s radar for quite some time but due to a lack of choice when it came to accommodation we had never been able to offer our guests the ‘full package’… until now! Existing hotels have benefitted from major revamps to look fresh and modern and other, more unique accommodation options, can boast that Michelin-trained chefs are now part of their team. All of this meaning that Svalbard is now the perfect place to combine a truly unique and exciting outdoor holiday with luxuries that make it entirely comfortable at the end of a day exploring.
Being so high in the Arctic Circle at 78 degrees north Svalbard actually follows the polar seasons rather than simply the Arctic seasons. This means they have 3 main periods within the year – summer, light winter and winter. Summer means the return of the Midnight Sun which rises on the 19th of April and does not set until the 23rd of August. This is the best time of year to explore the archipelago if seeing the local wildlife is your priority. You may see reindeer, Arctic foxes, many migratory birds on the huge bird cliffs and, if you are lucky, even beluga whales or polar bears. Other activities include hiking, boat trips, kayaking and even summer dog sledding.
The light winter is when the days are still light but there is snow on the ground. The locals love this time of year as the things to do increase ten-fold with the arrival of the snow. Dog sledding, skiing, snowmobiling and snowshoeing are all possible.
The winter, in contrast, is where the sun does not rise above the horizon. Otherwise known as the ‘dark season’ it is a time that many tourists may decide to avoid however it couldn’t be more perfect for someone looking to experience the Aurora without the crowds. In most Arctic destinations, even in the heart of winter, you are limited to seeing the Aurora at night due to needing a very dark sky. In Svalbard during the winter the sun is at least 6 degrees beneath the horizon and so you have the unique opportunity here to spot the Aurora all day long.
My trip here was at the very end of the summer – in fact, I witnessed the first sunset over Longyearbyen since it rose in April. I had been dreaming of visiting Svalbard for a very long time. I, of course, had (hopeful!) visions of seeing polar bears in the wild and taking part in some unique activities that are only possible in this area of the world. Honestly? Svalbard did not disappoint. I am returning home with some experiences that have truly blown me away – even for a fairly seasoned Arctic traveller who has been fortunate enough to witness some pretty amazing things. For me, the Arctic has always been a place that I have found very easy to feel an emotional connection with, and I have just created a new love affair with 78 degrees north.
Do you want the chance to experience Polar Bears in the wild? Or enjoy 24 hours of Northern Lights? Contact us today and we can help you plan your next Svalbard adventure!