Category Archives: Excursions

Leisurely Lofoten: discovering pure nature

The Lofoten Islands are one of the most beautiful places in Norway, or arguably, even the world. From pristine white-sand beaches and crystalline fjords to jagged tooth mountains and small fishing villages, Lofoten runs at its own pace and is a wonderful place to just breathe.

Sometimes when we feel the world is closing in around us with work, family, friends and, well, living, we need to go somewhere that will recharge our batteries. Lofoten is the perfect place to escape to,  where you can sit back and relax. Or, if your idea of relaxation is the exact opposite, you can partake in thrilling excursions with the temperate weather encouraging you to get outdoors no matter what time of year.

An escape from reality

On a northbound Hurtigruten Coastal Voyage, travellers approach from Bodo, bringing them under the most dramatic view of the islands. The towering peaks of Lofotenveggen (Lofoten Wall) stretch 160km like the splintered maw of a giant sea monster. On closer inspection, the mountains are separated by fjords and channel but this feeling of otherworldly awe at the alluring nature, stays with visitors throughout their time on the archipelago.

In the summertime, travellers can make the most of the Midnight Sun with excursions by horseback, bicycle and guided mountain hikes to soak up the beauty-drenched sights of Lofoten.

All year round, try water sports in one of the many beautiful bays or fjords, such as on an RIB Safari or a kayaking adventure. A Highlights of Lofoten or Lofoten Islands excursion takes in the very best of the region, or admire the local wildlife on a Sea Eagle Safari.

From February to April every year, cod spawn off the coasts of the islands and winter night time fishing comes alive under the Northern Lights. Fishing (and tourism) sustain the communities, as evidenced in the many cod salting frames that dot the shores of each village.

For a real escape from reality, travellers can journey back in time in a visit to a traditional rorbuer (fishing hut) with freshly caught fish cooked over a log stove and Norwegian legends shared. The quality of Arctic light is such that artists have been attracted through the ages to the islands and there are many studios and galleries dotted amongst the rorbuer, including the house of the famous Gunnar Berg.


Visit the incredible Lofoten on your Hurtigruten Coastal Voyage itinerary or talk to us about today about tailor-making your stay on this incredible are of natural beauty.

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!

Wild Scandinavia: Puffin facts

 

Did you know that this cute Atlantic bird is also known as a ‘clown of the sea’ or a ‘sea parrot’? With their almost comically large beak and head, striped in a distinctive red and orange fashion, seeing a puffin in the wild is a quintessential Arctic and sub-Arctic experience.

On a Hurtigruten voyage to Norway, Iceland or Greenland you’ll have the opportunity to spot these beautiful birds and even join one of our bird watching safaris. Some 60% of puffins nest on Iceland, so on a visit to Reykjavik, make sure you check out the not to distant nesting grounds. Before you head off on your Arctic adventure, here are a few interesting facts about these cute little critters:

12 Puffin Facts:

1. Puffins get their name from their puffed-up appearance. Puffins are only about 25cm tall and have thick down to withstand the freezing waters. Their thick black and white feathers give them the appearance of roundness, like they have a little belly. When puffins fight they raise their feathers in an attempt to look more intimidating to the other puffin. To the human eye though, in combat these birds look perhaps even cuter.

2. Puffins are extremely effective flyers and by flapping their wings at about 350–400 beats per minute, they can reach speeds of up to 88 km/h!

3. Puffins don’t always mate for life exclusively, but they do rarely change mates, prompting many people to describe them as monogamous. When a puffin is 3 to 5 years old, they will choose a life mate. Every year, they return to the same nesting grounds with their mate and perform a mating dance, where they rub their beaks together. This is known as billing and will often draw an excited crowd of puffins to watch. They then make a nest in a burrow and lay just one egg, for which they share responsibility, including when the chick hatches out of the egg.

4. The puffin’s Latin name, Fratercula means ‘little brother’. The name refers to the sea bird’s black and white plumage, because it was said to resemble the robes that friars (or brothers) once wore.

puffins_fish_600x4505. A puffins main diet is fish and sometimes crustaceans. Similar to penguins, they are incredibly skilled divers and hunt for prey by diving. They can stay underwater for up to a minute at up to 60m of depth searching for fish, but usually only spend 20–30 seconds in the water at a time. Puffins are able to carry an impressive number of fish in their beaks at once – they usually catch around 10 or so per hunt, but have been known to carry more. According to Project Puffin, the record for fish held at once was 62.

6. Puffins spend most of their lives at sea, resting on the waves when they are not swimming. They will drink seawater to maintain energy between hunting prey.

7. A puffin’s beak changes colour during the year. In winter, the beak has a dull grey colour, but in the springtime, in time for mating season, it becomes bright red or orange. The vibrancy of the colour is thought to indicate the puffin’s health and therefore attractiveness as a mate.

puffins_chick1_600x4508. Puffins have waterproof feathers specifically effective for open sea. It is extremely important that they keep their feathers clean to maintain the waterproofing so learning how to do this is essential for young chicks, or pufflings. Although a puffling will not leave the burrow until they are able to fly, at the mouth of the burrow will be a toilet area, away from the nest to maintain cleanliness.

9. In the wild, puffins live up to 20 years and their main predator is the great black-backed gull, which will catch the puffins while they are in flight or swoop in on them when they are on the ground.

10. There are a few collective nouns for puffins, but our favourite has got to be a Circus of Puffins (because they’re also known as “clowns of the sea”)

11. Ever wondered what sound a puffin makes? When they’re flying they make a high screeching noise, and when they’re in their burrows they make a muted sound a bit like a cat purring.

12. Puffins are not classified as endangered but they are threatened by over-fishing in some areas, as this is their main food source. Climate change also poses a threat to puffins as they are ideally built for 0–20°C  waters and cool water fish.

 

See these incredible sea parrots for yourself with us on one of our expedition cruises or excursions!

Origins of Dog Sledding

 

You’ve booked in your dog sled excursion and you turn up expecting to see a black and white husky with blue eyes and a pink tongue lolling out the side of its mouth, right? Hollywood has definitely trained us novices to think of these dogs, and these dogs only, as huskies.

In reality, the name ‘Alaskan husky’ refers to a mixed breed dog developed in the early 1900s as the ultimate sled dog. The idea that huskies solely have blue eyes and black and white fur is quite a myth – in fact, there is no predominate markings or colourings in the breed. While 20% of huskies eyes are blue, 60% have brown eyes while the last 20% have one blue and one brown.

History of Sled Dogs

Despite the presence of people in the Arctic region for centuries, competitive dog sledding is a relatively new concept. The Sami people and Inuits of the Arctic had a number of dogs that they bred for different purposes and while these Lapphunds were sometimes used for sledding, they were generally more bred to be stocky guard dogs and reindeer herders.

Siberian Huskies today are not only extremely active, energetic and resilient dogs, but they are loving and friendly.

siberianhusky-1_600pxThe Siberian Husky is one of the oldest breeds in the world, part of a family of dogs directly descended from wolves. Used for hunting and reindeer herding, the Chukchi tribe selectively bred these dogs to be agile and strong, and they were attached to a sled side by side in pairs. These dogs were loved and respected by the Chukchi people, sleeping in shelters with families and being fed even in times of famine. They would accompany adults on hunting trips; obey voice commands; or even stay at home to look after young children.

The Alaskan Husky is a cross breed that finds its roots in the Canadian Eskimo Dog, the Alaskan Interior Village Dog, the Siberian Husky and many European hound breeds. In the early 1900s during the Alaskan goldrush, the demand for sled dogs was enormous to carry mail, freight and for recreational racing. Pioneering Europeans had noticed the Mahlemut Eskimos’ large, kind and almost inexhaustible dogs, now known as Alaskan Malamutes. However when Europeans tried to purchase these dogs they invariably failed because of their beloved position in Mahlemut communities.

greenlandhusky-1_600pxThe Greenland husky is a dog bred by Inuits for transportation and hunting in Greenland in the wintertime. During the wintertime, Inuits would rope up 10 to 14 dogs in a fan formation with a clear leader in front of a sledge. As the dogs were often left on isolated islands in summer months to fend for themselves, survival of the fittest ruled and they are now quite difficult to train and aggressive, particularly to other dogs.

Instead, Europeans began to breed their own variation of sled dogs to their purpose. It was this selective breeding that produced the Alaskan Husky, a wiry, less stocky animal that is nevertheless quite strong and resilient to running long distances.

Husky heroes

The Seppala Siberian Sled dogs were developed and then trained by Leonhard Seppala, a Norwegian-American trainer, for the first Roald Amundsen polar expedition and this strain of the breed is still around today. He was also one of the mushers in the famous 1925 serum run to Nome, also known as the Great Race of Mercy, transporting diptheria antitoxin 1085km in 5.5 days – a journey that usually took 25 days. 20 mushers and 150 sled dogs raced through blizzards, suffering from frostbite in the icy winds. This incredible feat is commemorated each year with the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, along the same route of the serum run.

Dogs have also been a huge part of many famous explorations and pioneering expeditions in the Arctic (they have been banned in Antarctica since 1993), acting as the only reliable means of transportation.

Sled Dogs Today

With all of this variation in breeding, the type of dog that will be pulling your sled depends on what country you are in. These are working dogs who are trained from four month old puppies to pull sledges and not a pet or lap dog. Having said that, some of the dogs will love petting and a cuddle – but always remember to check first!

“I highly recommend this to everyone, especially to dog lovers as you get to visit doggy heaven before you go riding!”

The huskies used on Svalbard are friendly and love cuddles, as they are a mix breed of the hardy Greenland dog with the more social Siberian husky. However, the huskies used in Greenland, although often mixed breed, are more independent and less friendly and do not want to be petted by strangers. In Alaska and Russia, Alaskan Malamutes are commonly used in sled dog formations and are kind-natured dogs.

Responsible Mushing

Mush with P.R.I.D.E. (Providing Responsible Information on a Dog’s Environment) is an organisation offering the only internationally recognised industry standard to ensure that Mushing Kennels keep their dogs in a safe and happy environment. Specifically bred to run, these huskies love regular exercise and stick to a strict training schedule and diet. The voluntary standards also include inspection of dog’s living spaces, diet and access to water; their demeanour in the pack and around humans indicating their general well-being and happiness; and responsible breeding programs. Most owners absolutely love and respect their dogs, working everyday to make sure their dogs are well cared for and integrating pups into the pack with light sledges and wheeled carts in the summer months.

Where you can dog sled

Dog sled safaris can range from two hours to five days and are available through Bentours in Finland, Northern Norway, Svalbard and Sweden. An exhilarating experience, a dog sled safari is also a magical way to enjoy the Northern Lights. A dog sled safari excursion can easily be integrated into a Hurtigruten voyage and many of our package holidays feature such safaris. With the assistance of our on ground team we are also able to tailor-make a dog sled safari just for you!