Category Archives: Scandinavia

Wild Norway: magnificent marine life

Norway is known for its sweeping landscapes, glittering fjords and breathtaking glaciers but beneath the surface there is much to see too – the Arctic Ocean is home to some of the most magnificent animals on the planet. Plus, the Northern Atlantic boasts many species of plankton, and where there’s plankton, there’s whales.

In summer and spring, Hurtigruten run Explorer Voyages up to Svalbard and as well as disembarking to explore the fascinating landscapes, you can spot local interesting marine life from the outer decks and comfort of the onboard panorama lounges.

The Walrus

The Norwegian walrus is a unique animal that is the largest seal species in the Arctic and second largest in the world – only the Elephant seal is bigger. With distinctive tusks that can reach up to one metre long, male bulls can weigh 1,500kg – a newly born walrus pup alone weighs 60–85kg!Walrus Explore More

In late Spring, leading into the Summer, walruses can occasionally be seen at the shorelines of the fjords around the capital of Svalbard, Longyearbyen. Walruses are very social animals and it is highly unusual to see one by itself. They are normally seen in groups of up to 20.

Most of the walrus population in Svalbard is female with their cubs, while male walruses are found closer to Spitsbergen. This is largely due to the walrus hunting by Europeans around Spitsbergen that almost led to their extinction in the 1950s – nowadays though, there has been evidence of walrus cows returning to Spitsbergen.

Another great way to see these unique animals is on a Shore Excursion up to the colony on the Southern tip of Moffen, in Svalbard.

The Ringed Seal

Ringed Seals are a lot smaller than walruses and can also be spotted up in the Svalbard archipelago. They are named after the ring-like Seal EXPLORE MOREmarkings all along their coats, which is a silver-grey to brown colour.

They grow between 110cm and 160cm and will weigh from 50 to 100kg. These lithe creatures are the prey of polar bears, killer whales and sometimes walruses. They are the only northern seal that can create and maintain breathing holes in the thick sea ice and they breed on land-fast ice in the fjords of Svalbard.

To make a quick getaway, the pups are able to hold their breath under water for over 10 minutes and can dive down to about 90m. They can be seen from aboard the Hurtigruten voyage up to Svalbard or on one of the smaller boat safari excursions.

The Harbour Seal

All along the coast of Norway one can see the harbour seal. From Seal EXPLORE MOREonboard a Hurtigruten Coastal Cruise voyage, these seals can be seen in groups of 10 to 20 seals on beaches, intertidal areas and rocky outcrops.

They feed on a variety of fish and are generally quite playful in the water as they hunt. The pups can swim as soon as they are born and they are about 150cm in length and weigh around 100kg.

The Beluga Whale

Beluga whales, or white whales, are found in the Northern reaches of Norway up near Svalbard. They can grow up to 5m long and weigh around 1,500kg. Usually they can be seen from the ship in pods ranging from 2 to 20 whales, although astounding numbers of up to 100 have been recorded.

Whale WatchingThe actual number of white whales in Svalbard is not known but they are the most commonly observed whale in the area. The best time to see these whales is outside of winter months, as although little is known about their migratory behaviour, pods have been documented moving further into the Arctic circle leading into winter months, where 90% of the land is ice floes.

In other Beluga populations, the whales are very vocal – so much so, that they have earned the moniker canaries of the sea. The whales around Svalbard however, are remarkably quiet, a mystery to locals. The crew onboard the Hurtigruten ships have a wealth of knowledge about the marine life in the Arctic waters, so maybe they will have some theories to share with you as to why!

The Killer Whale

Killer Whale Explore MoreThe famous killer whale, the King of the Ocean, grows up to 9.9m in length, weighing in at up to 5.5 tonnes! They often work together to catch prey, herding fish into tight balls and then pouncing. They also feed on seals and other larger marine animals.

There are thought to be 3,000 killer whales living around Svalbard but you’ll be lucky to see one from on deck!

The Sperm Whale

Sperm whales are a common sighting on the Classic Coastal Route during the Summer. Sperm whales feed mostly on squid, of both the colossal and giant kind, but will eat various other fish too.
A sperm whale’s huge blunt head takes up a third of it’s body – that can be over 5m (they grow up to 16m)! They also have the largest brain on earth and can hold their breath for up to 90 minutes at very deep levels.

Sperm Whale EXPLORE MORE

Female whales are highly social and usually live together – it’s not unusual to see 10 or 12 out at sea in a pod. Sperm whales were historically highly prized for hunting and thousands were killed every year. Nowadays, they are protected in Svalbard and can be seen in pods during the Spring and Summer months.

It is unknown how long the whales can live for, but there are some who are believed to be up to 70 years old!


Whether on land or sea, Norway has an abundance of wildlife to spot. With Hurtigruten ships especially equipped with viewing areas and even photography centres to develop your snaps, there is no better way to embrace Wild Norway.

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.

The Midnight Sun

Scandinavia is famous for its polar night, the winter months of the year where the sun hardly makes an appearance and the Northern Lights flash across the sky. The less spoken of but no less exciting time of year is the opposite – the Midnight Sun over the summer months. Locals make the most of the extended daylight hours to spend more time outside and basking in the sun.

What is the Midnight Sun?

The Midnight Sun is the phenomenon that occurs in and around the Arctic Circle and the Antarctic Circle where the sun is still visible at midnight because of the tilt of the earth. This phenomenon can be experienced in Canada, Russia, Norway, Iceland, Finland, Greenland, Sweden and the USA (Alaska). The closer to the poles, the more sunlight there is – this means a quarter of Finland has 60 days of sun without setting, while Svalbard in Norway has no sunset from the 19th of April to 23rd of August.

Although the Midnight Sun only shines above and around the Arctic Circle, in truth the nights are ‘white’ throughout much of Scandinavia. During the summer solstice, the sun is visible for a full 24 hours but it is the days leading up to and following on from this mid June date, the white nights, where the sky is most fascinating, with sunset colours dominating as the sun briefly dips below the horizon then comes back up again. The line between night and day blurs and Scandinavians sleep less, spending their long days outside exploring.

It is at this time of year that much of the native flora and fauna of the Arctic begins to flourish. Having been dormant for the many winter months, wildflowers begin to bloom in the Arctic tundra and wildlife such as polar bears, elk, arctic foxes and migratory birds can be readily seen.

The cultural importance of the Midnight Sun

The Midnight Sun is culturally significant in old Norse legends, although how exactly it was understood is unclear. The Icelandic Snorri Sturluson attempted to compile Norse legends about the 12th century and although his compilation has been shown to be far from reliable, the legends about the sun and moon seem to be reasonably accurate of what the Norse people believed, coupled with many early artworks and artifacts.

The story goes that Sol (old Norse for Sun) and Mani (old Norse for Moon) were two beautiful siblings, a sister and a brother. The gods were so outraged that their parents had called them such powerful names that they condemned them to drive one chariot each across the skies, one pulling the moon and one pulling the sun, one after the other. These chariots were pursued by wolves and every once in a while the wolves would catch up with the brother or sister and devour them – thus there would be no sun (polar night) or no moon (midnight sun) until Sol or Mani were reborn.

Another classic Norse legend is that young women looking for love should collect seven flowers on Midsummer’s Eve and place them under their pillow that night. Then, in her dreams of the next few months, her future fiance will appear.

In more contemporary history, the famous Norwegian painter Edvard Munch depicted the golden lit Midnight Sun in his famous (and influential) work, ‘The Sun’ (1909). This wall mural occupied the University of Oslo’s Assembly Hall and was a symbol of the creativity and productivity of the Norwegian people under their golden Midnight Sun.

The best ways to experience the Midnight Sun

Norway

Known as the land of the midnight sun, there are some wonderful ways to experience the extended daylight hours of the summer in Norway. Consider a coastal cruise or some outdoor adventures to make the most of your long days.

  • Commonly mistaken as the most Northern point on the European Mainland, the North Cape is technically situated on an island. It is however a wonderful place to feel rejuvenated by the Midnight Sun with only the sea and Svalbard between you and the North Pole.
  • Take a cable car ride up 656metres in Narvik where you can behold stunning views of the fjord, the town, the islands and surrounding mountains including the famous Sleeping Queen. You can even hire a mountain bike to go back down into town!
  • Alternatively, take a cable car ride in the northern town of Tromso – although only 421 metres above sea level, the attraction affords amazing views of the peaks of Ringvassoya Island where the Midnight Sun hovers. Open well after midnight in the summer, this is the perfect way to make the most of the eternal summer days.
  • Visit Trollstigen National Tourist Route and admire the UNESCO listed Geirangerfjord from the  Flydalsjuvet rest stop.
  • Longyearben, Svalbard opens up in the summer time and is a wonderful place to visit. The most Northern Norwegian settlement, Svalbard enjoys the longest period of the Midnight Sun from 22nd April to 20 August.

Sweden

Visit Kiruna, in the Swedish Lapland to experience the Midnight Sun at it’s best along with famous Swedish hospitality. The Midnight Sun phenomenon lasts in Sweden from late May to mid July but the further North you go, the longer the season.

  • Play well passed midnight at the famous Bjorkliden Arctic Golf Course. 250km north of the Arctic Circle, this is one of the most scenic golf courses in the world and is open 24hours a day.
  • Indulge your inner artists in an Ice-Sculpting course at the ICEHOTEL, or ski into Midsummer’s Eve high up in the mountains.

Finland

A quarter of Finland is within the Arctic Circle and so the Finnish Lapland experiences about 70 consecutive days of constant sunlight.

  • The Midnight Sun film festival occurs every year in Sodankylä, located approximately two hours northeast from Lapland’s capital, Rovaniemi. The five day festival was founded in 1986 and has gone from strength to strength in each year since, with an international mix of filmmakers and film-lovers. Screenings run 24hours a day from 15 to 19 June and the highlight is the silent film concerts, always packed out.
  • Jutajaiset Folklore Festival in Rovaniemi is a celebration of the coming together of Lappish, Sami and Finnish culture in music, dance and performance. The program is both fun and educational, with the opportunity for anyone to participate in the National Course for Accordionists and an art camp designed specifically for children.

Iceland

Although outside the Arctic Circle, Iceland experiences the ‘Bright Nights’ due to refraction of the sunlight.

  • Explore the Land of Ice and Fire from inside a magma chamber at Thrihnjukagigur volcano. This amazing place is only open for May to September and is an unforgettable experience!
  • Make the most of the bright night and enjoy a late night dip in one of Iceland’s many hot springs.
  • Tackle a guided glacier hike in stunning surrounds during the afternoon and there is no need to hurry back for sunset as the days draw out.

Greenland

Experience the Midnight Sun in Greenland’s Northernmost towns – Qaanaaq, Upernavik and Uummannaq.

  • Take a boat ride among the ice flows and admire the awe-inspiring Ilulissat Glacier, above the Arctic Circle.
  • Even further south in Greenland, locals enjoy Bright Nights with nearly 20 hours between sunset and sunrise. In Qaqortoq and Nanoralik, nightlife and daytime activities merge and there is something for everyone to enjoy.

Discover the Midnight Sun on our small group tour Follow the Midnight Sun or contact an agent for more ideas to make the most of this amazing phenomenon.

Wild Scandinavia: Polar Bear facts

The polar bear is the king of the Arctic, known for its white fur and jet black nose. We run cruises up into the Arctic Circle where you can spot these majestic beasts – but before you go, here are a few interesting facts!

1. The longest recorded swim without stopping a polar bear has ever made is 685km over nine days straight! During the swim, the female bear lost 22 percent of her body weight. They have large paws that are ideal for paddling and their body fat helps them to stay afloat and acts as insulation in the freezing waters.

2. The Latin name for polar bears is ‘ursus maritimus‘ which means maritime bear. In Inuit mythology, the polar bear is called Pihoqahiak, the “ever-wandering one”.

3. Translations of the Arctic names for polar bear are quite varied but all impressive, including Lord of the Arctic and Old Man in the Fur Cloak.

EXPED_CircumnavRealmPolarBear_600x4504. Female polar bears usually give birth to two cubs, although it can be up to four. The cubs stay with her for more than two years until they can hunt and survive on their own. Females receive no help from their solitary male mates.

5. The average adult female weighs about 260 kilograms. When pregnant, they can be as heavy as almost 500 kilograms. They are usually 1.8 to 2 metres in length. A fully grown male weighs around 450 kilograms and are about 2.5 metres tall.

6. The average lifespan of a bear in the wild is 15 to 30 years. The world’s oldest ever polar bear in captivity, Debby, lived for 43 years and ten months.

7. Polar bears are extremely threatened by global warming and climate change with their icy habitat literally melting beneath their paws. Studies have predicted that the bears will need to swim longer distances in the future due to the shrinking ice caps.

8. Seals make up most of a polar bear’s diet.

9. They are the world’s largest land predator and biggest member of the bear family.

10. Their blubber gets up to 10 centimetres thick. Under their fur polar bears have black skin to better soak in the sun’s warmth. Fur even grows on the bottom of their claws to protect them against cold surfaces and for traction when walking across slippery ice.

11. The fur of a polar bear is not actually white but is transparent, lacking in pigment completely. It appears white because of light being refracted from the clear strands.

EXPED_RealmOfThePolarBear_600x45012. Although most polar bears are born on land, they spend the vast majority of their time at sea. Without sea ice, polar bears could not survive. Two of the Arctic’s most important habitats for them are the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.

13. Polar bears are the only type of bear considered a marine animal.

14. While polar bears look fluffy and cuddly, they are predators that rarely fear humans, which makes them dangerous. In Svalbard, you are required to carry a firearm for protection when leaving any settlements.

15. These arctic kings have no natural enemies or predators, although they have been hunted by the Arctic’s indigenous people for centuries.

Beautiful and Mysterious Svalbard

The Arctic frontier, the Svalbard archipelago is the playground of intrepid travellers looking to immerse themselves in the land of our most pioneering explorers. One and a half times the size of Denmark, the archipelago is sparsely populated but thrives still, used since the 1700s by whalers and walrus trappers from all over the world.

One of the few pockets of Europe that is more wilderness than civilisation, Svalbard archipelago is home to the Arctic adventure you have been dreaming of. With soaring mountains, sheer icebergs, rare wildlife and colossal ice fields, an escape to Svalbard combines history, wildlife and the welcoming hospitality of Norwegians to create an enriching Arctic experience.

A brief history

Once the domain of intrepid whalers, it was not until the 1920 Svalbard Treaty that Norway gained sovereignty of the archipelago. When coal was discovered in the area the Hurtigruten ships transported supplies, people, freight and mining equipment regularly to the little inhabited land. During the 1920s both Norway and the then USSR established more permanent communities in the area.
Today, the Hurtigruten ships that visit the area in Spring and Summer time carry important cargo as well as the many guests who wish to explore this fascinating archipelago. With an abundance of wildlife and a captivating history, a voyage aboard Hurtigruten offers unique insights into this remote region.

Wildlife roams free in Svalbard

Spitsbergen polar bearsCurrently the population of Svalbard sits at about 2, 700 people with at least 3, 000–3,500 polar bears. In fact, the prevalence of polar bears means that it is illegal to go out beyond the realms of the small towns without a gun for protection!

A visit to Svalbard is truly a nature lovers dream with many examples of unique Arctic flora and fauna to be seen. Walruses, Arctic foxes, reindeer (and of course polar bears) roam the land, while in the sea many species of whales including the beluga, sperm and killer whale can be seen.

During the Springtime, Arctic ringed seals nest on ice floats in the sparkling fjords, ready to spring away at a moments notice when a polar bear comes into sight. There are also a number of puffin colonies that guests on Hurtigruten can see from onboard or up close on one of the Shore Excursions.

Spitsbergen, the largest island

In the Springtime and leading into Summer, while the Midnight Sun hovers above the horizon for two whole months, wildflowers appear on the islands, dotted around year-round glaciers. 60% of the archipelago is covered in glaciers and the largest island is called Spitsbergen, which literally means pointy mountain, after the (yes, you guessed it) pointy mountain that dominates the island.

Longyearbyen is the largest settlement and most guests to the archipelago choose to stay here. One of the most peculiar facts about the people of Svalbard is that they can’t die on the island – in Longyearbyen it is illegal. The last burial in the graveyard was about 70 years ago, nowadays if you are ill you are flown off the island to the mainland. This is largely due to the practicality of the ground being permafrost and the effect this has on bodies decomposing.

Graveyards aside, many activities such as snowmobile safaris, snow shoeing and boat trips out to puffin populations run out of Longyearbyen, so it is a good place to have as a base to explore this sparsely populated land.

The ghost town of Pyramiden

In 1936, the Soviet Union acquired the rights to use Pyramiden, a small settlement at the base of a large pyramid shaped mountain, for their coal mining industry. And so a little slice of the USSR was born, in the far northern reaches of the world! Today the town stands as a relic of the Soviet world, once offering everything a small town would need.

“It was meant to be an ideal Soviet society. It was a town where any foreigner could come without a visa, so it served as an exhibition of the best of the Soviet Union.”

PyramidenStill owned by the Russian state-run coal company, the town has been abandoned since the late 1990s. A village frozen in time and hinting at apocalyptic disaster, the first visitors to Pyramiden could see books still on shelves, sheets folded neatly on beds, and hand fashioned coat hangers waiting for a coat. It has been named by National Geographic one of the top ten ghost towns in the world and provides a fascinating look into recent history.

In the Springtime, a large lawn grown out of imported soil still thrives, dominating the central square, replete with the most northerly bust of Lenin, and flowers that spring up in the often barren icy surrounds. The architecture is classic brutalism and all guides must carry a shotgun thanks to the visiting polar bears.


Whatever you choose to do, Svalbard is at once beautiful yet remote, a wild frontier that will bring you close to the North Pole without the hardship of an Arctic expedition. Hurtigruten runs voyages up to Svalbard through Spring and Summer and still is one of the best ways to see this region – by ship, just as the first polar explorers did.

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!

Dark vs. Light: cruising in Northern Norway

 

Norway is beautiful all year round, but there are some especially magical and unique moments that are all down to weather. Or more precisely, the light, or as is this case in November to February in northern Norway, the lack thereof.

Deciding when to go on your epic Arctic adventure is a tough one, so we have composed an easy list of some of the highlights of not each season, but the Arctic phenomena of eternal day or eternal night.

Seeing in the Dark

The Polar Night usually spans from November until February up in Spitsbergen while in Tromsø it lasts for about six weeks over the New Year. The Polar Night comes about because of the inclination of the Earth – when Winter comes around, the Northern Hemisphere is the furthest from the sun and so right up at the Earth’s most northerly tip, the light is very limited.

In truth, not all towns are thrown into complete darkness and the further from the North Pole you are, the more the darkness is that of a Polar Twilight. Instead of complete darkness, places like Tromsø have gorgeous sunset-like colours smeared across the sky for hours on end to the south, while to the north, they sky is a deep ocean blue. In Svalbard there is a period of ‘true’ polar night around Christmas, with the islands thrown into complete darkness for a few weeks.

Highlights of the Polar Night:

  • The Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, are the biggest drawcard of choosing to travel during the Polar Night period – beautiful waves of green, reds and pink light up the sky in nature’s ethereal light show! And with Hurtigruten’s Northern Lights Promise, you are guaranteed to see them from onboard.
  • Experience cultural life with an abundance of events and festivals – there are many festivals on in the winter months such as the Northern Lights Festival in Tromsø in the last week of January; the Tromsø International Film Festival; and for the really active, the Polar Night Half marathon (spikes essential!).
  • Taste delicious and warming local produce – the spawning cod swim in close to shore and feature in many local delicacies, as well as in Hurtigruten’s onboard menus.
  • An abundance of snow adventures – excursions such as dog sledding safaris, snow scooter trips, snow-shoeing, sleigh rides, and the list goes on!
  • All things Christmas – visit one of the many Christmas markets and enjoy classical Norwegian Christmas traditions.

Bath in the Light

In May to August in some parts of Norway, there is very little to no darkness. This is known as the time of the Midnight Sun and presents many wonderful opportunities to travellers. There is no longer enough ice and snow for skiing or sledging up north but instead other wonderful activities are available – without your thick winter jacket on!

Similar to the Polar Night, in the bridging days leading up to complete lightness, the sky is awash with streaks of reds, blues, purples, oranges and it is truly the day that never ends. It is an equally enchanting phenomenon and has inspired artists for years.

“Night was coming on again; the sun just dipped into the sea and rose again, red, refreshed, as if it had been down to drink. I could feel more strangely on those nights than anyone would believe…”

Knut Hamsuns in Pan (1894).

Highlights under the Midnight Sun

  • See wildlife in a different light – the Spring to Summer months are the perfect time to see amazing wildlife, from polar bears in Svalbard, to puffins at the Vesterålen archipelago, to sperm whales all along the Norwegian coast.
  • Cruise into Lofoten – and just try to stop your jaw dropping as you behold the world’s most beautiful archipelago. Photography opportunities abound!
  • Take a midnight hike across a glacier – in Svalbard, where the sun doesn’t set from April until late August, there is an abundance of once-in-a-lifetime excursions to experience. If you’re not afraid of a little cold, you can even take a dip in the ocean.
  • Admire wildflowers blossoming as the tundra comes alive – get out amongst nature on a trekking excursion and marvel at the beautiful colours of summer blooms.
  • Feel the rhythm at one of Norway’s many music festivals – from pop to folk to rock to metal to jazz there are many festivals and cultural events to enjoy. The Olsokdagene is one particularly charming cultural festival. In 1030 C.E., Norway’s first Christian king, St Olav, was killed in battle and so every year on 29 July (and the six days prior) many historical pageants and plays are held.

Embrace your inner explorer all year round

No matter what time of year you visit Norway, onboard a Hurtigruten voyage, you’re guaranteed the chance to embrace your inner explorer!

Friluftsliv: an ancient way of life

 

Friluftsliv (n.) direct translation ‘open-air-life’; a Scandinavian philosophy of outdoor life.

As the midnight sun casts a soft glow on the fir trees around us, we lean in close to the warmth of the camp fire. Warmed to our core with a cup of coffee in our hands, it is impossible not to be overcome by a sense of serenity, a feeling of symbiosis with our natural surrounds. As the evening draws close, we lie down in the heather and sigh, ‘This is the life!’.

The Norwegian philosophy of outdoor living

It’s hard to capture in words the Norwegian connection to nature – so much so that the great playwright, Henrik Ibsen, coined a new term to describe this yearning to connect with Mother Nature on both a spiritual and physical level. That concept is “friluftsliv”, a deep ingrained association Scandinavian’s have with the natural world around them. In any Norwegian’s closet, you’ll find a backpack, a sleeping bag, a fishing rod and a tent ready to go at the drop of a hat. And during the holidays, they are more likely to meet their neighbours by a mountain stream than in the street they live in. Their urban shopping strips are quiet as they venture out into the great outdoors to live their best lives and take their best pictures.

This longing to be outside is an essential element of their very DNA – they are brought up to believe that they will be happier outdoors. Come every Friday afternoon and long queues of cars snake their way out of the cities, heading off to the family cabin or for a hike in the wilderness.

Although Norwegian in origin, Friluftsliv is not a feeling unique to Norwegians – it is that longing that has you looking back at a map and planning your next adventure, even just after the previous one has finished. At Hurtigruten, we share with you this experience of getting back to nature – after all, not so long ago, we were all hunter-gatherers. This philosophy really embodies the Hurtigruten vision to have every one of our guests connect with their inner explorer.

Cruise your way into the heart of nature

Norwegian national hero Fridtjof Nansen told King Haakon that the best way he could win a place in the hearts of our people was if he learnt to love skiing. Skiing, hiking, fishing – anything outdoors endears you to everyone of us.

Slowing down and embracing nature is an essential Norwegian trait and holds endless appeal. Nansen believed in it and so did Norwegian philosopher, Arne Naess – connecting friluftsliv to our origins, to our health and to our very sense of identity. We want you to embrace your inner sense of friluftsliv and directly experience the natural world; nature for nature’s sake. Hurtigruten wants to bring you along for a uniquely Norwegian experience with our coastal cruises; we want to satisfy that restlessness or longing we all experience at some point in our lives.

As more and more of us live in the comfort of city life, reviving our connection to nature takes on an even greater importance. Although we cannot guarantee clear skies and perfect weather, we can guarantee that with Hurtigruten you will be genuinely immersed in Norwegian outdoor activities. And we’re sure you’ll find that once you experience friluftsliv for the first time, you’ll be coming back for more.  

 

Match Made in HEL(sinki)

Once again, Match Made in HEL took the impossible and made it possible. In May this year, seven of the most fascinating designers from Europe and Asia came together at Helsinki Airport to put on an extraordinary event – a fashion show on a real airport runway.  A world first, Match Made in HEL was a grand success exhibiting designers from China, Denmark, Finland, Japan, Korea, Sweden and the UK, and fashion-influencers from the world over.

“Helsinki Airport is a key hub for Asia-Europe travel, and every day thousands of people transfer through the airport on their journey between these destinations. The airport, located along the shortest route between Asia and Europe, is a constant inspiration for us, and on May 24th fashion designers from both the West and East will meet here for this special runway show “, said Katja Siberg, Vice President, Marketing and Business Development at Finavia, the Finnish airport operator.

A unique collaborative project, HEL originated in 2014 when Helsinki Airport converted into a giant skate park and this year, HEL took on the fashion world. This campaign celebrated the unique location of Helsinki as the physical and creative midpoint between Europe and Asia.

Visit the wonderful Helsinki to be witness to a truly once off experience like this.