Epic by name, astounding by nature, the Arctic Circle is both figuratively – and literally – about as far off the map as destinations come. A pristine natural Eden of mighty mountain peaks, awesome glacial structures and pretty much every shade of blue known to man, this winter wonderland is often almost too beautiful to be true. Polar bears, whales, reindeers and walruses dot the ice-strewn land and seascapes, while wildflowers bloom on the inland plains, and, come the seasonal equinoxes, Aurora Borealis throws up its dazzling display of lights. Enchanting, stark and utterly removed from human civilisation, the Arctic really is ‘poles apart’ from the typical travel experience.
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Articles on the Arctic region
About The Arctic
Best time to Visit
Due to the North Atlantic Stream, the climate in Norway is noticeably warmer than what might otherwise be expected. During the summer season, temperatures hover between 4C and 6C, which is a good 20C higher than what one would typically encounter at similar latitudes in Canada or Russia. Mid-May to mid-August is the best time to go, while October through to April are the coldest and rainiest months. The Northern Lights are visible from parts of Norway, with September to April usually presenting the optimal conditions for viewing.
Geography and Environment
The Svalbard region of the Arctic is a sparse and rugged landscape of craggy mountain peaks and gorges. Much of the land is covered under snow and ice year-round. The only kind of vegetation on the island is a brownish green moss that sprouts up in patches across the mountainsides, as well as some quite beautiful Arctic flowers that bloom during the year’s warmest months.
Top 5 Arctic Wildlife to Spot
The iconic symbol of Svalbard, the polar bear is not only the largest bear going around, it’s the world’s largest land carnivore. Some 500 polar bears are thought to inhabit the island at any one time. But don’t limit your spotting skills to land. As exceptionally good swimmers, polar bears spend more time at sea than on land, and have even been spotted paddling about in open seas 300 km from shore.
2. Arctic Fox
Spotting these fleet-footed puppies is thankfully easier during the summer months, when its snow-white fur turns to a dusty grey. Often living in a complex network of burrows, housing multiple generations, they have remarkable hearing that enables them to detect and dig through to prey scurrying about under the snow.
3. Sperm Whale
Despite having been hunted almost to extinction during the 18th and 19th centuries, these days sperm whales can often be spotted trawling the archipelago’s waters for their diet of fish and squid. The largest toothed whale in the world, it can grow to 18 metres in length, and possesses the largest brain in the mammalian kingdom. Because females and their young usually travel in pods of up to 20 whales, if you see one of them, you’re likely to see a lot of them.
True blubber-boys of the animal kingdom, the Arctic’s walruses can weigh up to 1,700 kg, thanks to a six-inch layer of insulating tissue. Often spotted lolling about on the icebergs and rocky shores, they’re conspicuous by their sizeable tusks, which they use - icepick style - to help haul their blubber butts out of the water and over land.
5. Svalbard Reindeer
With a population currently pegged at approximately 10,000, this is the smallest subspecies of reindeer. Despite their slight size, these animals are highly mobile, often travelling up to 5,000 km in one year - the greatest known distance of any land mammal.
FAQs on The Arctic
Tipping is done on a voluntary basis in Norway and at the discretion of the customer. If the service in a cafe or restaurant is good, feel free to leave spare change or round up the bill.
Several public internet terminals exist in Longyearbyen, all with very good connections. Do not expect internet connectivity elsewhere.
There is good quality telephone coverage in Longyearbyen, though do not expect it elsewhere. Ensure you have global roaming activated before leaving home if you wish to use your mobile phone.
Western-style, flushable toilets are the standard around Svalbard, though at very remote outposts a pit toilet will likely be the go.
Beer = 50 NOK
A pizza = 80 NOK
Meal at a mid-range restaurant = 120 NOK
The tap water in Svalbard is considered safe to drink. Surface water should be boiled before consumption because it could possibly contain tapeworm eggs.
Credit cards are accepted in Longyearbyen, though don’t rely on them for small purchases.
There is one ATM in Longyearbyen’s post office. It's best to withdraw your money on the mainland, however, in case it's out of order.
Absolutely. All passengers travelling with Intrepid are required to purchase travel insurance before the start of your trip. Your travel insurance details will be recorded by your leader on the first day of the trip. Due to the varying nature, availability and cost of health care around the world, travel insurance is very much an essential and necessary part of every journey.
For more information on insurance, please go to: http://www.intrepidtravel.com/booking-intrepid/our-services
Svalbard celebrates the same public holidays as the rest of Norway.
Health and Safety
Intrepid takes the health and safety of its travellers seriously, and takes every measure to ensure that trips are safe, fun and enjoyable for everyone. We recommend that all travellers check with their government or national travel advisory organisation for the latest information before departure:
Go to: http://www.voyage.gc.ca/
Go to: http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/
Intrepid is committed to travelling in a way that is respectful of local people, their culture, local economies and the environment. It's important to remember that what may be acceptable behaviour, dress and language in your own country, may not be appropriate in another. Please keep this in mind while travelling.
The Arctic travel tips
Top responsible travel tips for The Arctic
1. Don’t use aircrafts, vessels, small boats or other means of transport in ways that disturb wildlife, either at sea or on land.
2. Don’t feed, touch, or handle birds or seals, and don’t approach or photograph them in ways that cause them to alter their behaviour. Special care is needed when animals are breeding or moulting.
3. Don’t damage plants – for example, by walking, driving, or landing on extensive moss beds or lichen-covered scree slopes.
4. Don’t take ‘souvenirs’ of rocks or flora off the island.
5. Don’t use guns or explosives. Keep noise to the minimum to avoid frightening wildlife.
6. Don’t bring non-native plants or animals into the Arctic, such as live poultry, pet dogs and cats, or house plants.
7. Know the location of areas that have been afforded special protection and observe any restrictions regarding entry and activities that can be carried out in and near those areas.
8. Don’t damage, remove, or destroy historic sites or monuments, or any artefacts associated with them.
9. Don’t interfere with scientific research facilities or equipment.
10. Always dispose of litter thoughtfully, including cigarette butts.
Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez
The Ice Museum: In Search of the Lost Land of Thule by Joanna Kavenna
The Call of the Wild by Jack London
Cold: Adventures in the World’s Frozen Places by Bill Streever
The Solitude of Thomas Cave by Georgina Harding