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Polar bears, melting glaciers – and a blues competition: my wild week on Svalbard | Norway holidays



Don’t fear,” says our information Charlotta, flashing her rifle. “I’m actually fast if I have to be.” My 12-year-old daughter glances across the Arctic wilderness anxiously. As a lot as she liked Philip Pullman’s armoured bears, one of many causes she longed to go to, our proximity to the true factor is beginning to daybreak on her.

There are street indicators throughout city warning us in regards to the threat of polar bears. They quantity round 3,000 right here, in comparison with 2,500 or so human inhabitants – which is why the Svalbard authorities insist you stroll past the principle settlement solely with an armed information.


Consequently, assaults are extraordinarily uncommon – round 5 because the Seventies – the purpose being for people and bears to work together as little as potential: they’re protected by regulation and it’s a criminal offense to hunt, feed or disturb them.

Dog tired: a sled on wheels, Longyearbyen.
Canine drained: a sled on wheels, Longyearbyen. {Photograph}: Eveline Lunde/Hurtigruten Svalbard

Charlotta isn’t taking any dangers this morning. She hundreds 4 bullets into the gun’s barrel, clicks it shut and slings it throughout her shoulder. “Proper, let’s go,” she says and we comply with her throughout the frozen tundra as she tells us in regards to the lifetime of the trappers greater than 100 years in the past, searching foxes and polar bears, typically alone and a number of other days from civilisation.

We stand silently absorbing the dimensions of this unforgiving panorama. A profound sense of isolation and solitude hangs over us in a land the place traditionally solely the hardest survive: hardy adventurers, hunters and explorers. But it’s this harshness that makes it so interesting, and exquisite, too. It’s a spot of extremes with temperatures that may plunge to -20C in winter and within the lengthy polar winters there is no such thing as a noticeable distinction between night time and day. It’s additionally the time you’re most definitely to see the northern lights.


We land over the past remaining hours of daylight and our first sight of Svalbard is a bleak vary of black spiky mountains swathed in cloud, a peach solar hanging under the horizon.

Polar night: Longyearbyen.
Polar night time: Longyearbyen. {Photograph}: Xinhua/Alamy

The Norwegian archipelago is about halfway between Norway and the North Pole, and it’s one of many world’s northernmost inhabited areas. There are three primary islands and Spitsbergen is the most important. Longyearbyen, the place we’re staying, is its primary settlement, populated largely by tour guides, vacationers, lecturers and researchers.

There is just one street: Foremost Road, a brief, snowy avenue that places my native excessive avenue to disgrace. Their native retailer (Coop Svalbard) has a powerful vary of contemporary produce in addition to a drinks aisle stacked with champagne, gin and beer – they’ve their very own brewery close by (“The world’s northernmost craft brewery”). We cease for a tasty smoked salmon sandwich at Café Fruene throughout the street. Reverse is Nordover, their arts cinema (“The northernmost arts centre on the earth”). There’s additionally the Karlsberger Pub, often called KB to the locals, open till 2am most evenings. It’s surprisingly straightforward to spend cash right here: there’s a tempting array of retailers promoting outside equipment and Scandi knitwear, and one among Norway’s most interesting eating places, Huset, is right here, too, with a concentrate on Nordic delicacies.


We keep nearer to house, consuming at Barentz gastropub (you’ve guessed it, “The northernmost pub on the earth”) hooked up to our lodge, the Radisson Blu Polar. The menu is diversified and attractive; between us we take pleasure in a caramel milkshake, a glass of riesling and home made pizza. The rooms are trendy, cosy and heat, whereas the Scandi buffet breakfast is a spotlight; scrambled eggs and smoked salmon within the morning with views throughout the mountains is difficult to beat.

Just chilling out: Longyearbyen.
Simply chilling out: Longyearbyen. {Photograph}: Svalbard/Eveline Lunde/Hurtigruten Svalbard

Tempting as it’s to lounge within the lodge – there’s a sauna and outside Jacuzzi – Svalbard is all about its outside actions. First cease is a glacier cruise aboard a hybrid electrical catamaran, a greener approach to discover the fjords with propellers that minimise noise and vibration.

“Welcome to nature’s cathedral,” says Sam, our information, as we set off. Sam, a marine biologist, is enthusiastic about his topic. “That is the place we watch local weather change in actual time.” For Svalbard, actual time is accelerating at an alarming fee – maybe extra swiftly than anyplace else on the earth. Analysis suggests this entire space is warming six occasions sooner than the worldwide common. Some predict that within the subsequent 70 years, its glaciers will lose ice at twice the present fee. He exhibits us a sequence of Nasa photos that illustrate the dramatic fee of ice and glacier decline. The one manner ahead, he believes, is collective participation via science. “Become involved’,” he enthuses to us. “Citizen initiatives in your native space is an effective approach to begin. We want extra eyes, counting birds, researching, collaborating.”

The temper is sombre as we strategy the glacier entrance of Nordenskiöldbreen. They flip off the engines and we stand on deck, soaking within the silence and the extraordinary sight in entrance of us: an unlimited glacier, round 25km in size and 11km in width, glowing blue from layers of ice compressed over time. The engines swap on as we make our manner house and Karl, a historian, regales us with creepy tales about adventurers out at sea. He factors to a superbly preserved cabin – Svenskehuset – crouching on a snow financial institution the place a bunch of 17 seal hunters mysteriously died throughout one lengthy winter in 1872. The final man keeled over simply because the rescuers arrived – the one clue as to what had occurred was a diary one of many males stored, stuffed solely with mad scribbling. Round 130 years later, researchers decided to unravel the thriller returned to search out their buried our bodies nonetheless intact within the permafrost. Samples taken revealed excessive ranges of lead – additionally discovered within the sealant of the tin cans they’d been heating as much as eat from. The acute results of lead poisoning had killed them having despatched them loopy first. Svalbard is filled with unusual tales and information like these. For example, nobody provides delivery on Svalbard as a result of there’s just one hospital and no maternity providers, so pregnant girls are flown to the mainland shortly earlier than their due date. Nobody may be buried right here both – permafrost means our bodies can’t decompose, resulting in fears that viruses and infections may be preserved, too. And cats are banned as a result of they may hurt the wildlife, specifically the hen inhabitants.

Fireside chat: a Wilderness Evening at Camp Barentz, Spitsbergen.
Fireplace chat: a Wilderness Night at Camp Barentz, Spitsbergen. {Photograph}: Svalbard/Rene Bjerregård

Again on dry land, our ultimate journey is dog-sledding with eight keen huskies pulling us alongside via the Arctic night time. The spotlight for my daughter is assembly the puppies afterwards. Then we head for Camp Barentz within the wilderness and sit in a cabin round a fireplace, consuming, consuming and listening to tales about Dutch navigator Willem Barentsz, who found Svalbard in 1596.

We spend our ultimate night watching a blues band in a neighborhood bar. It’s packed and there’s a celebration ambiance, dancing, singing and excessive spirits. It’s a part of their annual Darkish Season Blues competition which marks the lack of daylight for the remainder of the season. Svalbardians aren’t daunted by the extremes of dwelling right here and the challenges of the polar winter forward. As an alternative they show pride and rejoice it – and you’ll see why.

A five-night break in Svalbard prices from £599 per individual, together with B&B lodging on the Radisson Blu. The Wildlife and Glacier cruise is £208 per grownup, £112 per little one, and husky on wheels is £120 per grownup, £60 per little one. Wilderness night is £108 per grownup, £57 per little one. To guide, go to: For extra info, go to

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