Travel expert Thidara Udomritkul, shares her experience of traveling to the Arctic, as part of a cruise by Quark Expeditions, our partner. Read on for expert tips and recommendations based on her personal experience.
Author: Thidara Udomritkul
It was my first visit to the Arctic and nothing could have prepared me for the stark landscapes and its raw, untamed beauty. I embarked on the Spitsbergen Highlights: Expedition In Brief trip organized by Quark Expeditions, and set off on the maiden voyage of our ship, the Ultramarine. It was an incredible experience where we took in the sights of electric blue icebergs and snowy mountains in one of the harshest and most fragile environments in the world. Before I go deeper, here are fun facts and details to give you a fair introduction to the region.
Good To Know
- Spitsbergen is the largest island of the Norwegian archipelago, officially called Svalbard.
- The best way to get there is to fly to Helsinki, Finland, or Oslo, Norway, and then, board another private chartered flight to Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen’s largest settlement.
- Longyearbyen is actually a city where the streets have no names. They are only numbered.
- Polar bear protection is mandatory if you’re venturing beyond city limits. Svalbard is believed to have more polar bears than human beings, and their survival is threatened due to climate change.
- The weather is unpredictable so things may sometimes not go according to plan. It is important to bear that in mind while exploring the region. There is no fixed itinerary when you’re traveling here, as each trip is subject to changing weather and ice conditions. The route is chosen to provide the best conditions for exploring the wildlife, history and geology of Spitsbergen.
I had no idea what to expect when I decided to go on my first Arctic expedition, but it was a magical experience right from the start. After embarkation in Longyearbyen, we explored western Spitsbergen and its stunning fjords. The itinerary took us to Smeerenburg and the July 12 Glacier. Not only did I get an opportunity to revel in the beauty of the region, but I also learned a lot through the course of the trip. Here are some of my top tips and recommendations based on my personal experience.
1Svalbard has a wealth of wildlife
Keep your cameras handy when you’re in Spitsbergen, as you can observe walruses, seals, reindeer, Arctic foxes and polar bears in the wild. Birdwatchers have a lot to look forward to here, as the islands are home to more than 30 species of birds. Look out for crab divers, thick-billed guillemots, kittiwakes or eider ducks.
I felt like I was in a completely different world. The silence, the powder-white snow, the Arctic mountains and the wildlife…. there was something surreal about it.
2The cruise ship is an experience in itself
The latest luxury ship from our partner Quark Expeditions combines luxury, technology and sustainability for the quintessential Arctic experience. With four embarkation points at sea level, we were quickly ashore and thanks to the special design of the zodiacs, we were able to go deep into untouched regions. Two twin-engine helicopters were also available for excursions to experience the distinct beauty of the polar region from the air. The more adventurous among us could also book excursions by sea kayak.
The meals served aboard the cruise deserve special mention. It was fascinating that Quark Expeditions managed to prepare the most incredible meals every day in one of the most remote places in the world.
3Learn from expert guides
The Arctic cruise was a perfect mix of adventure and research expedition for me. Quark is a specialist in polar regions and it has many firsts to its name: it was the first shipping company to sail the Northeast Passage with expedition guests, and the first circumnavigation of Antarctica was also reserved for its guests.
Our trip was led by an expert expedition team with experienced ornithologists and geologists on board. The experts provided us with a lot of valuable information about the region’s landscape, wildlife, its flora and fauna. Polar bear guards ensured that we were safe at each mooring. My personal highlight includes snow hikes and trips to the Arctic Ocean. In the process, we got very close to the walruses, which was fascinating!
4Pack well for the expedition
The climate here, as you know, is incredibly cold, even in the warmer seasons. In summer, the average temperature ranges between 37°F and 44°F, while in the winter months the thermometer can drop to an average of -9.5°F. So you have to be prepared to handle the temperatures and cold winds at any time of the year.
However, you don’t need professional equipment for a trip to Spitsbergen. You just need to dress up in layers – thermals followed by fleece or knitwear, and an outer layer made of windproof and waterproof material. And, of course, do not forget to carry a scarf, hat, gloves and sunglasses with UV protection.
From the shipping company we received a warm parka (a coat with a hood), which we were allowed to keep after the expedition. Rubber boots were made available to us on loan aboard the ship.
5The tour is mindful of the environment
At Enchanting Travels, we believe in taking an eco-considerate approach to travel, and Quark Expeditions shares our belief.
Quark Expeditions is a member of IAATO (International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators) and AECO (Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators). Both societies are dedicated to a sustainable Arctic and Antarctic cruise program. Our ship, the Ultramarine, was equipped with an innovative system, the Micro Auto Gasification System (MAGS), which converted waste into energy directly at the point of generation in an environmentally neutral way.
Furthermore, Quark Expeditions contributes a minimum of half a million US dollars each year to support important environmental research and sustainable development projects in the polar region. The shipping company has set a goal to reuse or recycle 100% of the waste on the ships. In my cabin there were large bottles of refillable personal care products to avoid plastic waste.
“Through this expedition, I discovered my interest in polar exploration and how it was possible for humans to explore such a barren, harsh and beautiful environment. I was so inspired that I visited the Polar Museum in Cambridge. The famous explorer Ernest Shackleton’s quote, ‘Optimism is true moral courage’ – has a deeper meaning for me now.”
Would you also like to follow in the footsteps of great explorers and discover the stark beauty of the Arctic? For me it was an absolutely eye-opening experience and I would encourage everyone to embark on a cruise around Spitsbergen!
If you’d like to go on an expedition to the polar regions, reach out to us, and we’ll make it happen!
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