In pursuit of adventure, travel and the natural world...

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Arctic expedition

Even though it was three months ago that we packed our ski jackets and thermal underwear, I can't start this blog without reminiscing on our Nordic adventure earlier in the year. 

Months of planning took us on an unforgettable trip to London - Bergen - Oslo - Svalbard- Tromso - London. 

Norway is the land of fjords, snow peaked mountains, waterfalls, lakes, the aurora, nature. It's one of the most beautiful countries on the earth. 

Svalbard is, of course, home to Iorek Byrnison. It's an archipelago of untouched arctic wilderness, located halfway between Norway and the North Pole. 60% is covered by glaciers and its home to one-sixth of the world's polar bear population. I can only describe the experience of visiting there as being on another planet entirely. 

Below are some tips and recommendations for anyone planning a trip to this part of the globe. 

1. If you find yourself in the city of Bergen, take the funicular railway up to Floyen Mountain to explore the hiking trails. On the way back stop off at the fish market in town to sample the delicious fish soup - excellent winter warmer if you happen to be visiting in the colder months. 

2. If you are travelling between places, make the Bergen-Oslo rail journey. We went through all seasons just travelling through the Nordic landscape. Scenes from Narnia passed us by on our six hour journey, as well as endless beautiful fjords with the sun beaming down on them. 

3. In Svalbard, go on a husky sleigh ride over the frozen lakes to explore the landscapes. As a bonus you get to cuddle the huskies before and after your trip. We booked our travel with Svalbard Villmarkssenter, I would recommend using this tour operator. We also got chocolate cake and warm blackcurrant afterwards - bonus!

4. If you are adventurous, go for a hike up the Sarkofagen and descend down the ice cave in Longyearbyen. You have to go with a guide as they carry guns (there are more polar bears than people in Svalbard so you can't be too careful). The cave is beneath a glacier and the ice has been there for thousands of years - it's pretty spectacular. 

5. If you are staying in Tromso, stay at the Red House - Arne is an excellent host and gave us lots of advice for seeing the Northern Lights - and we did based on his recommendations! It's in a perfect location for exploring the area. You will need a car for all the stunning drives you can do. 

6. Places that I would recommend visiting around Tromso are Grotfjord (beachy inlet - very pretty), Sommeroy (find the cliff path rope and ascend to the top - well worth it for the views), and the Lyngen Alps (you get to ride a ferry over there which is fun!) 

7. Northern Lights hunting - you need complete darkness so drive away from the city and find a quiet spot up near the mountains. It needs to be clear skies or you're not going to see much. Be patient as they might not appear until 2am. 

Take a warm flask of drink, some snacks, as well as some car games to entertain yourself. Wrap up warm if you are going in winter. We spotted several satellites, Mars, Saturn, and endless stars when keeping watch for the Northern Lights. It's a cosmic stake-out! 

Check the Trip Advisor forums for updates on the Northern Lights. This was an invaluable source of information for us. There are also lots of apps you can use to see what the activity is like each evening.

Fact: Norway's surface is 50% mountains and a quarter lakes, rivers and forests.