Tag Archives: wildlife

Penguins of Antarctica

Although there are 18 species of penguin in the world, only 7 live in the Antarctica region. These adorable looking birds vary in size and markings although they all have the ‘tuxedo’ black and white feathers. With this colouring, when swimming through the water from below they look like the light surface of the water, while from the sky, they blend with the darker colour of the sea.

Bentours offers a number of packages that will take you on an expedition cruise to incredible Antarctica and the surrounding islands, where you can discover these seabirds for yourself.

Adélie Penguin

Adélies live in Antarctica all year round although the best time to see them is from spring to autumn, as in the winter they mostly spend their time in the water. Adélies were named by French explorer Jules Dumont d’Urville after his wife Adélie. They are the smallest Antarctic species and the male and female are impossible to tell apart in either appearance or behaviour – they both take equal share of the care-giving of chicks. Like many penguins, Adélies build their nests from stones stolen from the nests of rival pairs and can be quite territorial.

Emperor Penguin

Emperors are the largest and probably most recognisable penguin, with yellow or orange plumage on their heads. They are usually about 115cm tall (that’s about the size of a six year old!) and weigh around 23kg. Like Adélies, they stay in Antarctica year round although they rarely actually set foot on land in their lifetimes, instead breeding on the sea ice. Emperors can dive to depths of 500m and hold their breath for 22 minutes at a time!

Emperors do not build nests but rather, once the female has laid the egg, the male will look after it for up to two months on its feet. During this time it regulates the egg’s temperature with its collection of excess feathers that form a brood pouch.

Gentoo Penguin

Gentoos are the speediest penguin underwater, travelling at up to 35km/h. They are the third largest penguin and weigh in at about 5kg. Gentoos make nests from molted feathers, stones and vegetation (when breeding on islands around Antarctica). Probably most interesting about Gentoos is their ability to slow down their heartbeat on deep dives from 80-100 bpm to 20 bpm!

Chinstrap Penguins

As their name suggests, Chinstraps have black markings that make them appear to be wearing a helmet, with a strap under the chin. There are at least 8 million in the world making them one of the most common. Male chinstraps will race to claim the best nest in the breeding grounds and then wait for five days for his mate to arrive. If the female does not arrive in that time, the male may take a new mate. Watch out though if the original female finds her mate with ‘another woman’ – fighting ensues to win the affection of the male. Males who are unable to find a nest, may force other couples out of theirs.

Macaroni Penguin

Macaronis mostly live on islands surrounding Antarctica such as South Georgia and the Falkland Islands. They are very territorial and aggressive and fights between males are very common. They have bright spiky orange eyebrows (called crests) and lay two eggs, although usually only one develops.

Rockhopper Penguin

As their name suggests, Rockhoppers move very distinctively, jumping from stone to stone on the rockier north Antarctic islands. They make their nests between the crevices of rocks in rough terrain to deter predators. Rockhoppers have bright yellow or orange eyebrows that extend all the way to the crown of their heads and are known for having a rather erratic temperament. Like all penguins, they can rest on their bellies but they additionally cover their face with their flippers when they find a comfortable rock to snooze on.

King Penguin

Kings are the second largest penguin and, like the Emperor, do not create nests but use the same brood pouches to protect their eggs during incubation. King penguins have more a dark grey than black back and live in large colonies. During the winter time, they will often leave their chicks for weeks unattended, while during the summer they migrate to the South. When the chicks are fully grown but unfledged they appear bigger than the adult Kings – so much so, in fact, that originally they were mistaken as an entirely different species of ‘woolly penguins’.


Are you ready for the adventure of a lifetime? See these penguins in their natural environment on a Bentours expedition cruise – contact us today!

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!

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.

Explore More: Excursions for Nature Lovers

Hurtigruten offer Classic Coastal Voyages with so many excursions it can be hard to pick which ones will make your experience all the more unforgettable. So to help you out, we are featuring some of the most popular excursions according to what you love best!

Discover wild Norway on one of our nature and wildlife Shore Excursions on your Classic Norwegian Coastal Voyage. Norway is rich with fauna with amazing evolutionary quirks to allow it to survive the freezing Arctic conditions. Although there are opportunities to see this wildlife from the Observation Decks onboard your voyage, there is nothing quite like getting up close to animals in their natural environment.

The best excursions for Wildlife Enthusiasts

Whale Watching Safari

There are three types of whales that can be seen off the coast of Norway – the Beluga (or White) Whale, the Killer (or Orca) Whale and the Sperm Whale. This whale watching safari takes guests to a couple of local whale hot spots and out to the continental shelf where guests can spot sperm whales as they feed.

The tour also encompasses the Senja Troll where guides will tell guests old Norse legends of the area. In Norway, legend has trolls lurking at the base of every mountain, beside many a stream and within every cave. The Senja Troll is located in the middle of Senja Island in a troll park and is the largest troll in the world, so can be clearly seen from afar.

The whale watching safari includes breakfast and all the relevant transportation between bus, boat and ferry.

Bird Watching Safari

Norway’s coast is a wonderful place for both experienced and budding bird-watchers, with many different breeds to see. The bird watching safari takes guests of all ages – right down to the Young Explorers – across from Mageroya Island to the tiny fishing village of Gjesvaer.

From Gjesvaer, guests suit up in weather proof gear so no matter the conditions, they will be comfortable. They then take a boat trip to the Gjesvaerstappan Nature Reserve, an archipelago that has more than three million nesting birds.

More than a bird safari, this experience is majestic.

This Reserve is home to about 400 000 pairs of puffins as well species of Kittiwake, Common Guillemot, Razorbill and Gannet. Experienced guides are at your side to answer any questions and to point out unique species of the area. In addition to thousands of birds, you can catch a glimpse of seals, dolphins and perhaps even the King and Queen of Norway’s ship which anchors in this area!

Even if you’re not an avid bird-watcher, this is more than just a bird safari, this experience is majestic. Binoculars available onboard throughout the journey ensure you’ll see even the shiest of creatures. The boat will also manoeuvre close enough to the islands to clearly make out the different species.

Sea Eagle Safari

The Sea Eagle Safari takes guests across the dramatic Trollfjord in the realm of the mighty sea eagle. With a wingspan measuring 1.8m to 2.5m, these magnificent creatures are a marvel to see soaring above. On the Sea Eagle Safari in open water, your guide will throw fish into the air and sea eagles will swoop down close to catch it. With these amazing animals so close, this is an animal lovers dream.

The safari also gives you a chance to observe Trollfjord from amongst the mist, right down near the surface of the water. Trollfjord is a very narrow fjord in the Lofoten archipelago and is known as the site of the Battle of Trollfjord in the 19th Century – a trade war between local fisherman and the larger industry-based trawlers. There is a beautiful painting of this scene by Gunnar Berg located in Svinoya in Svolvaer.

This excursion is suitable for all ages and abilities.


These are just a selection of the Nature and Wildlife excursions on offer. Visit our Shore Excursions page for more or contact an agent for full listings.

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)!

 

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.

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!

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!