A large male Polar Bear makes his way to the edge of the pack ice trying to pick up the scent of any unsuspecting seals. Finding an Ice Bear in this pristine Arctic wilderness is one of the best experiences in the natural world. As you travel further north in Svalbard, you start to hit the summer drift ice. This is the realm of the Polar Bear and drifting quietly along in a boat, watching for any signs of these iconic predators is a superb experience. Natures Images has organised trips in the past to this pristine archipelago and it has been our goal to arrange something again. It has taken us six years but we are delighted that we have now secured the services of a very special charter that is equipped to take us back into this vast Arctic wilderness. The boat we are using has worked with the BBC on their flagship programs like frozen planet and the hunt. The crew knows the islands and knows what it takes to get us into the best locations and best positions. Together with our own experiences and knowledge of Svalbard we feel this is one of the best ways of visiting from a photographer’s point of view. The group size is small with only 10 guests and we have at our disposal two metal skiffs which can be launched at very short notice, so no waiting around. Our main Goal for this trip is to find Polar Bears. There are estimated to be around 3,000 Polar Bears in the Barents Sea population and approximately half of these reproduce in the Svalbard archipelago. We will of course be looking for other subjects and enjoying the splendid scenery of this wonderful place. Svalbard has a huge draw and our aim for this trip is to show you it at its very best.
Itinerary Open +Close -
Day 1: Fly to Longyearbyen Airport, Norway (recommended flights for booking will be advised as soon as SAS finalise their schedules for 2018).
We will arrive in the evening and we will board the Havsel to enjoy a welcome dinner and first night’s rest in the harbour before we set off in the morning.
Days 2-13: This trip by its very nature in terms of just how wildlife photographic opportunities come about here as well as the extremely variable conditions that will change throughout the trip and cannot follow any precise or fixed itinerary as such.
Our basic programme is to head as far north as the season’s pack ice will allow us in search of the best and most dramatic locations for polar bear photography. Precisely where we end up and how long it takes to get there will very much depend on the ice conditions and what we find on the way in terms of photographic opportunities: we will be looking to visit a couple of regular walrus haul-outs such as poolepynten, a little auk colony, spectacular breeding seabird cliffs such as Alkerfjellet, (which also offer good opportunities for arctic fox encounters), dramatic glaciers such as 14th July and Monaco which are great areas for mass gatherings of feeding seabirds and individuals floating on calved icebergs, but every trip here brings something different in terms of opportunity as well as conditions so we will need to remain flexible.
There will be a few land-based excursions at some of these and other locations (all adhering to the very strict and necessary protocol in polar bear country) but these will be weather and safety dependent at all times. Our priority though will be polar bears on ice and there will therefore be times when we will be on board for several days continuously so we can get to the right locations. We will also be visiting many different glaciers because at this time of the year there should be lots of ice which again is great habitat for hunting bears. Lots of other wildlife will also be encountered in front of these dramatic glaciers too.
At all times throughout our 13 days at sea, safety is our number one priority, so all decisions made by our extremely experienced captain and crew in terms of where and when precisely we are able to sail must be respected at all times and borne in mind in terms of how precisely the trip unfolds.
On the evening of 12th of July we arrive back at Longyearbyen for a last night before catching return flights from Longyearbyen airport on the 13th July to our final destinations.
We’ve classified this trip at Level 5 (our highest) in terms of fitness rating – not because of any excessive hiking/climbing involved as this is optional and not a core part of the trip, but 2 weeks of living in the relatively confined space of a boat, the personal flexibility required on board and also accessing the occasional zodiac excursion ashore, and the challenges of working in a season of 24 hour sunlight brings certain challenges.
The Havsel is a first class boat to work in these Arctic waters and has full safety equipment including immersion suits for each passenger, lifejackets for any zodiac expeditions you may embark on and a highly experienced captain and crew. There is power on board for re-charging camera batteries and laptops. Please note though that your mobile phones won’t work here and there is no Wi-Fi there will be a satellite phone for emergency use only available on board.
The weather in this area is very changeable. You should expect it to be no more than -15 degrees Celsius and more often than not around zero degrees. Wind chill on deck is another factor here so you should come prepared in terms of clothing, but we will send out a full briefing document on what to bring in plenty of time before the trip, but do feel free to ask about anything on that front. Sea conditions are unpredictable – we have experienced both rough days and flat calm periods on previous trips: if you do suffer from sea-sickness you will need to come suitably prepared for this.
We will be travelling in a remote area, so it is also essential that you advise of any pre-existing medical conditions that require regular or on-going medication upon booking. This will be treated in complete confidence but is very much to ensure your own safety and comfort as well as that of the group as a whole.
The trip is primarily aimed at the serious wildlife photographer where there will be unparralled opportunities afforded for photography which are not available on the larger expedition cruise ships. We will have the advantage of flexibility and stealth working with a small group (12 people, 10 guests) and shall take maximum advantage of light conditions and sightings as they occur and as weather conditions dictate. This is the realm of the ice bear king of the Arctic and to see and photograph this impressive predator in this wild and remote region of Svalbard is our ultimate aim and as we head further north our chances of fantastic opportunities are greatly increased. Watching a polar bear hunting along the ice flows or resting on a floating Iceberg is a dream for most wildlife photographers and on this trip we aim to achieve this dream and once found we will be under no pressure to move on to the next location. Walrus are also top of the agenda and we will be visiting haulout sites and also our chances of bumping into this huge animal resting on Ice flows are very high. We also plan to undertake stops at a number of locations to photograph the huge seabird colonies like little auks and brunnick guillemots.
The itinerary will be largely determined by the ice conditions at the time and we shall be monitoring this closely as we progress into the higher latitudes. In the event of our planned route not being possible due to heavy ice then we shall follow an alternative route that will be decided at the time. It is also more than likely that we shall have to alter our plans from time to time due to the presence of polar bears in areas that we planned to walk.