Category Archives: Arctic

Wild Norway: unique land animals

The Arctic Circle has some of the most unique wildlife in the world. At Bentours, we want to give all of our guests the chance to see these unusual animals in their natural habitat, and there is no better way to do that than getting up close with a Hurtigruten voyage.

As well as traversing the Classic Coastal Route, Hurtigruten run voyages over the Summer deeper into the Arctic Circle. Here, under the Midnight Sun, guests can spot polar bears, arctic foxes and elks. But what makes these animals so special?

The Polar Bear

Probably one of the most recognised animals in this part of the world is the polar bear. These magnificent bears can weigh between 300–700kg and are the largest species of bear. In the Svalbard archipelago, polar bear sightings from aboard a Hurtigruten ship aren’t unusual as the polar bears outnumber the people! With about 60% of the land mass covered in glaciers, there are approximately 3,000 polar bears to the 2,700 people.

Hop aboard one of the smaller landing ships and have fun on a snow mobile safari or a skiing expedition – our Shore Expeditions are the best chance to see one of these bears up close and personal. At the end of the day though, it is important to remember that as cuddly as they look from a distance, polar bears are wild animals and you should always follow the advice of your specialist guide on any of our Shore Excursions.

The Arctic Fox

These furry critters are perfectly camouflaged in winter with their
snow white fur. In the summer months, their pelage (coat) darkens and they become a little easier for us keen wildlife enthusiasts to lay eyes on! Arctic Fox_WildlifeThey live in the northernmost parts of Norway and build low mounds, eskers, in the Arctic tundra. Interestingly, these mounds will often be used by generations of the same pack of foxes for hundreds of years with many different entrances.

Creeping up on one of these guys is a bit tough due to their incredibly sensitive hearing which they use to locate prey, even with the deadening effect of sound due to the snow. Remember to ask your specialist guides if a den is nearby your snowmobile safari route and you might be able to spot a fox or two.

The Elk

The elk, elg in Norwegian, or moose is one of the easier animals to spot in Norway. There are many elks around the archipelago of Vesterålen, a stop on Hurtigruten’s Coastal Route.

Summer is the best season to spot elk, either from onboard a ship or on one of the coastal excursions. The best time of day to see an elk is during twilight.

The Reindeer

Similar in size to elks, reindeer are an iconic animal of the North. There are about 30,000 reindeer living in Norway with 10,000 in the Svalbard archipelago. These reindeer are closer genetically to the reindeer of the Canadian High Arctic and sometimes one can even spot reindeer with Russian tags, having roamed across the ice to Norway. The reindeer of Svalbard are shorter and fatter, with more white in their fur.

Reindeer are very social animals and live in large herds – they can be seen at Santa’s Village or on a stay in a glass igloo, where they graze in the nearby forest. The majority of the northern reindeer are owned and domesticated by the indigenous Sámi who are traditionally reindeer herders.  Leading the reindeer migration can often be a long and difficult task, as you can see below on the difficult river crossing captured by BBC Earth.

Interestingly, in the height of winter, a reindeer’s coat thickens, so much so that they even grow fur over their antlers.

The White-Tailed Sea Eagle

The White-Tailed Sea Eagle can be easily seen from the Classic Coastal Cruise route with Hurtigruten as their eyries are dotted all along the Norwegian coast. They are the largest European bird of prey, with a wingspan of 2.4m. Like many birds of prey, they are monogamous and remain in their pairs for life; hunting, living and breeding.

It is not uncommon to see such an eagle gliding in the air above your ship, training their keen eyes on the ocean to pick themselves up a seafood meal.

The Puffin

The puffin, with their clown-like faces and colourful beaks, are always popular sightings with everyone – for the Young Explorers to the older guests! Small groups of puffins are often seen in the summertime on the fjords of Svalbard but seeing a lone puffin, floating atop a piece of ice is the goal for many a budding Arctic explorer.

There are puffin colonies around the Vesterålen archipelago that can be seen from aboard a ship or on a puffin safari excursion. They breed in late Spring and will either nest in burrows in the ground, or out among rocky crevices. Around this area, there are usually about 150,000 pairs nesting in the Summertime, where the eggs have been incubated by both parents for around 40–45 days. You can learn more interesting facts about puffins here.

Puffins are a beloved bird in Norway and on the island of Lovund, the 14th of April is a day of celebration as the 200,000 puffins return to the island to nest until mid August.


Norway boasts many other amazing land animals, these are just a few. And of course, the marine life in Norway’s waters is just as unique – keep a eye out for our next Wild Norway post!

Arctic Legends behind the Northern Lights

The Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, have baffled people for centuries, sending bright waves of red and green streaks of colour across the sky. From warring gods to shoals of fish the aurorae were seen as being both good and bad omens. Interestingly, mythology surrounding the phenomenon often aligned between people who were thousands of kilometres apart.

We have collected a few of our favourite explanations to share with you. However, it’s not until you’ve actually seen this natural light show that you can truly understand why so much mysticism arises around it! We offer a particularly special Northern Lights Astronomy Voyage for those who have dreamed of seeing this sight for themselves.

Legends have not only come about because of Aurora Borealis, but also the less viewed Southern Lights (Aurora Australis) that can be seen (sometimes) in southern Australia and New Zealand. Look out for an up-coming article World Mythology about Aurorae to learn more.

The Northern Lights in the Arctic

Greenland

In Greenland, children born during the Northern Lights are thought to be more intelligent. The Inuit of Greenland believed that the lights were spirits trying to communicate with the living, while another legend told of dead spirits playing a game across the sky with a walrus skull.

Alaska 

Flipping that last legend on its head, the Cup’it Eskimo of Nunivak Island believed that the game was played by walruses with a human skull. Other Alaskan tribes were very afraid of the lights and would throw dog faeces and urine in to the air to make them go away.

Canada 

Hudson Bay communities believed that the lights were a celestial farewell, being torches of dead spirits as they made their way up into the heavens.

Russia  

The Chukchi see the Lights as an area of Heaven rarely seen, the home of those who died a violent death. Russian texts as recent as the 15th century discuss the Northern Lights as heavenly armies fighting.

Iceland

The Lights are said to relieve the pain of childbirth as long as the mother does not look at them while giving birth. If she does, her child will be born cross-eyed.

Finland

Perhaps one of our favourite myths, the Lights were believed to be created by a celestial firefox, that runs so fast across the snow that his tail showers sparks into the night sky. The word for the Lights in Finnish is revontulet which means firefox. The Sami of Finnish Lapland believed the lights were spumes of water from whales.

Sweden 

The Lights were seen as heralding good news, indicating a good harvest or being the reflection of a large shoal of herring that would now fill the ocean. They were also said to be benevolent gods providing warmth and light through a distant volcano.

Norse Mythology

There are disputed claims as to whether the Vikings had any stories behind the Northern Lights, particularly because there is evidence to indicate there was very low solar activity at that time and so the Lights would have been weaker, rarer and mostly red. One of the most popular myths is that the lights were reflections off the armour of Valkyries, peering down at earth to decide who would leave a battle and who would die. This has been disputed for the lack of evidence within Viking texts, as it only comes into existence in more modern writings on the Vikings.

The more accepted myth is that the Lights were believed to be the Bivfrost Bridge, a glowing pulsating arch that led fallen soldiers to Valhalla (although some believe this was describing a rainbow and not the Lights).


Contact Bentours today to book in your Northern Lights adventure! We have many great itineraries to offer or perhaps better yet, relax and admire the view on a Hurtigruten Coastal Voyage with our Northern Lights Promise.

Cruising into Canada

Follow in the wake of Viking legends and travel to the High Arctic in Canada. Home to the first European settlements in North America, this journey will encompass some of the most beautiful national parks that Canada has to offer.

Along a number of different routes through the Canadian Arctic, guests will have the chance to visit L’Anse aux Meadows, a sleepy fishing village that holds secrets to a Viking past. In the 1960s, the Norwegians Anne Stine and Helge Ingstad, together with their daughter, Benedicte, made the discovery of an ancient Viking settlement on this land. Perched on the northernmost tip of Newfoundland, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1978 and dates back to about the year 1000 C.E.

“Guests have a chance to follow in the footsteps of the first Viking explorers.”

This site has been linked with Vinland the attempted settlement of North America by pioneer explorer Leif Erikson. Benedicte Ingstad is now a 72 year old professor of medical anthropology who has spent her life devoted to research, and joins guests on some of the Hurtigruten voyages to Canada, to recount her family’s discovery of the site.

Learn about Canadian wildlife and culture

Hurtigruten expedition voyages emphasise activities, adventure and gaining insight into the wilderness around us. The Canadian Arctic voyages are no exception. From the ‘floating classroom’ guests will have the chance to learn about the fascinating Viking history, the Indigenous people of Canada, zoology, botany and environmental science. Plus Hurtigruten ships are perfectly equipped for adventure with lecture halls, a photographic and optics centre and are an optimal size for manoeuvring up close to the shore and all the action.

Canada is an exciting area to explore with a combination of beautiful nature and fascinating history. On some Canadian routes, guests get close to the Torngat Mountains national park, an Inuit homeland. The park is 9700 square kilometres and of great spiritual significance to the Inuit people – a place where they have lived, hunted and harvested for thousands of years. From onboard the ship, guests can admire sloping glaciers and keep a look out for polar bears and North American caribou.

Another UNESCO World Heritage site, the fishing village of Red Bay is on the itinerary. Guests can wander among picturesque streets and learn about the history of the Basque whaling operation that took place on the nearby Saddle Island.

Also along some Canadian routes are Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, small towns that preserve the strong French influence over parts of Canada in fashion, food, fine wine and delicious cheese. Nearby is Gros Morn, a national park of soaring mountains that are geologically unique. At The Tablelands, a plateau 600m above the sea level, guests are invited to hike on ancient stone that was pushed up from the Earth’s core after a collision of tectonic plates millions of years ago.

Conquer Iceland and Greenland…

Follow the trail of Vikings further with exploration of Iceland and Greenland. From Reykjavik in Iceland, guests can see the bird cliffs where Vikings would hunt. Take in the best of Iceland at sea, visiting archipelagos and the famous volcanic island of Surtsey.

Some routes may also visit the southern tip of Greenland, where the Norse Chieftan Eirik Raude is said to have lived or even the stunning Ilulissat glacier  on the Western Coast.

Itineraries include Exploring the Arctic Land of the Caribou, Baffin Island – High Arctic Jewel and Crossing Baffin Bay, plus many more cruise expeditions.


These incredible new routes will enable Hurtigruten guests the chance to discover Canada in the same way as the Nordic Vikings did many years ago. With Hurtigruten’s trademark hospitality, amazing cuisine and a number of Shore Excursions, a trip in the Canadian Arctic promises to be unforgettable.

Arctic Adventures in Sisimiut

40km north of the Arctic Circle, Sisimiut is Greenland’s second largest town and a gateway to Arctic adventure. Try hiking, skiing, fishing, hunting, kayaking or dog sledding – if you can think of any Arctic activity, it’s probably common place in Sisimiut!

Although only established as a town in 1756, the area has a rich history and has been inhabited for some 4 500 years. There are countless artifacts of the Inuits of the Saqqaq culture who occupied the area almost five centuries ago while the majority of the population is descended from the Thule people, who settled the area nearly one thousand years ago.

Hurtigruten Greenland Expedition

Aboard a Hurtigruten journey, you can explore the coast of Greenland, seeing incredible glaciers, fjords and oceanside towns. Some towns of the island are so isolated that they can only be accessed by boat and most aren’t connected to each other by roads. Sisimiut is one of the larger towns the voyage stops at – specifically chosen for its charm and the wealth of opportunities it presents to adventurous souls!

Summer – Hiking, Fishing and more

In the summertime, take advantage of the midnight sun and hike amongst the mountains any time of day. Crest the summit of the Palasip Qaqqaa – from the peak on a clear day you can see the long Greenland coast snaking off into the distance. With the stunning views of the ocean and Nasaasaaq mountain, it is well worth the climb.

The back country of Sisimiut is where the original people of this land have walked for centuries. Participate in an organised guided walk to see early Inuit artifacts and ruins along the trail or buy yourself a map and find your own way.

Fly fishing is also a popular summer past time, with Arctic Char abounding in the rivers. There are also opportunities for big game hunting, mountaineering and kayaking.

Winter – Skiing, Snow Shoeing and Sleds

In the wintertime, do as the locals do and ski! Back country skiing offers fresh powder off-piste almost daily. Each year the strenuous Arctic Circle Race takes place from Sisimiut. At 160km, this race is the toughest cross-country race in the world but unites locals and travellers alike, all challenging themselves to an ultimate test of endurance.

Dog sledding is a must do, heading off into the back country for the afternoon or perhaps for a longer three day adventure. Bunk down in log cabins each night, eat fresh Greenland produce and try some cross country snowshoeing.

All year – Cultural Experiences and Fresh Produce

Visit the fascinating Sisimiut museum, housed in historic 18th century colonial buildings, with an entrance gate decorated by an intricately carved whale jawbone. Here, you can learn of the history and traditions of the region, as well as examining artifacts from the Saqqaq settlements, an exhibition of modern and traditional dog sleds and hunting tools, plus explore a reconstructed traditional peat house.

A trip to the local handicraft market is fascinating, where art is made out of reindeer antlers, seal skins and walrus tusks. A popular souvenir is a tupilaq statute – a monster traditionally carved into an animal bone but now more often out of antler or tusk, that Inuits would use to take revenge on their enemies.

For those not keen on any strenuous outdoor activities, Hurtigruten also offers a leisurely boat excursion, where you can admire the mix of modern and traditional in the town, with its brightly coloured colonial houses and new cultural centre.

To try the local fare, you can’t go past the central fish and meat markets, where there is casual dining on the very freshest ingredients. Just be aware that most of the market (and the museum) will only accept cash, so have some with you.


Contact an agent today to book your Bentours adventure with Hurtigruten up the stunning coast of Greenland!

Antarctic vs. Arctic: where should you go?

Both the Antarctic and the Arctic offer incredible adventures & once in a lifetime experiences that you won’t find any where else in the world. Despite often being categorised alongside each other, the Arctic and Antarctica are very different places to visit – so which is right for you?

The polar regions of the world have drawn the most daring among us for years and today they are more accessible than ever. Bentours runs Expedition Cruises to both of these destinations offering many incredible and varied excursions so guests can truly discover these sparsely populated lands. But what are the key differences?

Culture and History

Antarctica was entirely uninhabited by humans until the establishment of research stations in recent years.

SamiThe Arctic on the other hand has been inhabited for many years and interesting history has played its way across Arctic lands. The Sami indigenous people of the Arctic region, still occupy the area and in spite of hardships faced at the hands of various governments, continue to live in a semi-traditional way. Sami culture is rich with nuances and individuality thanks to the Arctic environment, such as the long practice of reindeer husbandry and the construction of lavvos, Sami huts. Hurtigruten offer shore excursions to learn about this unique culture.

The Arctic region is also famous as the land of the first polar exploration. The Vikings of Scandinavia colonised Iceland and Greenland in the Middle Ages while Russian monks set out an outpost monastery on the Kola Peninsula in the same period. Then of course the Golden Age of exploration in the 19th century saw many pioneering expeditions through the area. You can take a  guided walk in Tromsø to the Polar Museum to discover more about this history of exploration.

In contrast, Antarctica was not explored in ernest until the early 20th century, with many of the expeditions leading to death and injuries. Norway’s own Roald Amundsen was the first to reach the South Pole, ending a dramatic race with the British Robert Falcon Scott. His ship, the Fram, was inspiration for Hurtigruten’s modern expedition ship, MS Fram.

Landscape and Wildlife

Another key difference between the two polar regions of the world is the landscape. The Arctic is made up of many islands, including land of Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, the United States (Alaska), Canada, Denmark (Greenland) and Iceland.

Technically the Arctic is a large frozen sea surrounded by continents, while the Antarctic is a massive ice covered continent surrounded by oceans. Not as cold as Antarctica, there is a great variety in the environment of the Arctic, with fjords, mountains, glaciers and green areas in the tundra replete with trees and plant life. Due to the more temperate climate, there are many land animals that can be seen including reindeers, arctic foxes, elks and, the Kings of the Arctic, polar bears.

Penguins AntarcticIn comparison, the Antarctic land mass appears quite barren but there is something undeniably beautiful in this barrenness. The continent is the most remote in the world and is covered in ice, punctuated by towering ice mountains and rock. The wildlife here is all water based, with penguins, whales, seals and many other marine animals to see. Given the isolation of Antarctica, the excursions available tend to be more limited but no less exhilarating – just imagine yourself kayaking surrounded by incredibly shaped ice formations!


Where ever you decide is right for you, you are guaranteed to create life-long memories on an incredible trip in one of the polar regions of the world. And who knows… you might like the Arctic so much that you feel you have to visit the Antarctic to compare (or vice versa)!

 

Christmas Wonderland

The North Pole may not be as easy to get to as some Hollywood films portray but you can get to the next best thing this Christmas – Rovaniemi, Finland. Known as the home of Santa Claus, Rovaniemi is high in the Arctic Circle, and although beautiful at any time of year, it really comes into its own at Christmas time.

We offer a unique Christmas experience for those dreaming of a winter wonderland this festive season – but hurry the last rooms are filling fast.

Christmas in Lapland

Over five days, experience the holiday of a lifetime with the perfect family Christmas experience. Whether you are someone who counts down the minutes until Christmas or someone for whom it usually passes you by, you cannot help but be swept up in the romance of a winter wonderland in Rovaniemi, Finland at Santa’s Village. Tailored to suit the young, old and everyone in between, this unforgettable journey will take you up beyond the Arctic Circle in under the magical aurora borealis or northern lights.

December 23rd guests will be welcomed with open arms by your Christmas hosts to beautiful Rovaniemi, surrounded by snow laden forest and beautiful alpine villas. Perhaps enjoy a moolight snowmobile safari for your first night in this incredible part of the world, or stay tucked up and cosy inside, watching the snow drift to the ground outside. Christmas Eve sees a day full of thrilling snow activities in the Snowfun park from a forest tour by four-wheeled scooter, kicksledding or skiing. For the more adventurous among us, there is ice-hockey, ice-fishing and ice golf, while for those who prefer a more relaxing experience, the open fire beckons in a traditional Sami style tent. After a day laden with activities, guests will be served a delicious Christmas feast – and don’t be surprised if Santa pops in to say hello!

Christmas Day and Boxing Day more exploration awaits, peppered with relaxation in cosy surrounds. Travel deeper into the majestic Finnish forest; decorate a tree with Santa’s Helpers; gain your International Reindeer’s Licence; and explore the Arkitikum, an internationally renowned museum and science centre. December 27th marks the end of you amazing experience among the forest in Santa’s Homeland.

The last rooms are quickly running out for 2017 – book in your Christmas adventure with Bentours now!

 

Reasons to visit Greenland in 2017

Greenland: remote, wild and rugged.

For many years, travel in this country has only really been possible for the more adventurous traveller, willing to hitch a ride aboard a freight ship from Iceland. However in recent years, Greenland has opened its arms wide to tourism and now offers some of the most unique experiences of the Arctic and sub-Arctic to those thirsting for somewhere new to explore.

2017 is the year that Greenland comes into its own. With the growing tourism industry, there are enough resources available for you to see the country in comfort without the hordes of tourists. If you are a nature lover, Greenland is the place for you to visit and with Hurtigruten running expedition voyages up the Greenlandic coast in 2017, there is no better way to experience this incredible country of ice.

Trek…

… around the edges of the prehistoric ice sheet that dominates the interior of Greenland – in fact over 80% of the country. Ice sheet is perhaps misleading: there are many ice mountains, frozen freshwater formations and fauna. This ice sheet represents 10% of the world’s fresh water supplies and is 14 times the size of the UK.

Why 2017? A Nature Climate Change study has shown that the Northeast Greenland Ice Sheet is melting at a rate of 10 billion tons of water per year since 2003 and shows no signs of letting up.

See…

… the Ilulissat Icefjord, incredible and probably the most famous natural site of Greenland. Sermeq Kujalleq is the largest glacier outside of Antarctica and the whole area has been listed as UNESCO World Heritage.

Why 2017? As the popularity of Greenland grows, in 2017 you can see the glacier in many different ways – by boat, helicopter or even on foot, hiking around the edge of the glacier with experienced guides.

Relax…

… in one of the hundreds of hot springs scattered around Greenland. On the islands of Uunartoq and Disko there are many natural springs to choose from, ranging in temperature from 38 to 60 degrees celsius!

Why 2017? Many natural springs around the world have turned into luxury resort locations, which are lovely in their own right but a totally different experience. You’ll find none of that in Greenland yet, so come and enjoy pure, unadulterated nature at its finest.

Capture…

… the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis on camera, visible from Greenland as they are from other Arctic countries. The green and red streaks will appear dancing across the sky between September and the beginning of April. A common tale in Greenlandic mythology is that the lights appear when the dead are playing football with a walrus skull across the sky!

Why 2017? Greenland has very little light pollution due to its sparse population and from a Hurtigruten ship, the Northern Lights can be seen with the greatest clarity. Plus due to the predicted solar cycle, 2017 is perhaps the best time to see the Northern Lights for the next decade.

Spot…

… polar bears! From January to April take a sled shore excursion to see polar bears where they hunt off the North and Eastern coasts of Greenland. You can also see reindeer, musk oxen, eagles, ptarmigan, lemmings and perhaps even the rare arctic wolf. From Ittoqqotoormiit in Northeast Greenland, you can access the remote but abundant interior national park with safaris to see both polar bears and walruses.

Why 2017? With the melting ice sheets, polar bears’ natural environment is being threatened more and more as the years pass. Plus the emerging tourism industry means that tour groups are smaller and more personal, so you can get right up close (but safe) to these incredible predators.

Watch…

… whales. Marine life in Greenland is abundant, so is it any wonder that the land has been inhabited for 4, 500 years!? See the gentle giants of the ocean with some summer whale watching. From Narsaq Minke whales can be spotted, while in the Nuuk fjord sometimes the huge humpback whales will appear.

Why 2017? Because why not?! Surely we have already given you enough reasons to visit this incredible part of the world this year!


Discover Greenland and all the natural wonders it has to offer in 2017 aboard a Hurtigruten voyage. Contact Bentours today to organise the Arctic trip of a lifetime!

Svalbard SolFest Week

March 8th marked the beginning of Sol Fest week in Svalbard – a celebration of the return of sunlight to the archipelago! Locals gather at the old hospital’s stairs in Longyearbyen to watch the ‘solas return’, or return of the sun. When the sun’s rays light up these stairs, the sun is declared to have returned for the year.

The celebrations span from 3 to 12 March and the whole of the community gets involved, inviting visitors along to their events too. Events include a tour of the North Norwegian Art Museum with a historical collections from 1800s to today and painting in the snow with food colouring for primary and kindergarten children as the new sunlight basks the land. There are many musical and cultural events on offer, from rock to blues bands and even a Neon party replete with glowsticks & glow in the dark paint and salsa classes.

If you are lucky enough to be in Svalbard, check out this link (translated from Norwegian) for a list of events.