74°N & 16°E – that’s where you can find fluffy, white polar bears in their element. Why not enter the world of these furry giants and see what they’re up to?
I’ve got a soft spot for furry animals and my quest for kawaii desu [extreme cuteness] brings me to the icy region of Svalbard, an archipelago that is part of the Kingdom of Norway, where you will most certainly be blown away by the sight of the mighty, white polar bears.
All Aboard the Polar Bear Express
One of the best ways to go polar bear watching is to take a cruise along a coast, observing the bears from a distance while relaxing on board. Plentiful cruise and travel agencies offer such tours, including National Geographic Expeditions (www.nationalgeographicexpeditions.com/expeditions/polar-bears-cruise/detail) and Polar Quests (www.polar-quest.com).
Most of these ships take relatively few passengers compared to your conventional cruises. During the cruise, you will also have a chance to take in the beauty of your surroundings – the icebergs and fjords (a long narrow inlet created by glacial erosion.
Magdalenefjord is a popular location (accessible by ship) for polar bear watching and just taking in the scenery and grandeur of the far North. You may also spot some whales, seals, walruses and seabirds here amidst the picturesque expanse.
Zipping Away on a Snowmobile
Another way to visit the wildlife in Svalbard’s scenic wilderness is on snowmobile. Zip across a white wonderland where a quilt of snow pelts your surroundings.
Look out for the polar bears with a keen eye. Be careful not to miss them as they can camouflage against the blankets of snow.
Day trips are available from many locations in Svalbard, including Longyearbyen and Barentsburg, the two largest settlements. One of the tour companies you can consider is Poli Artici (www.poliarctici.com), which provides not only snowmobile tours but also hikes and ski tours.
As hungry polar bears who suffer from repeated unsuccessful hunts have been known to turn aggressive, it is perhaps wise to maintain a safe distance from these great beasts, especially if they appear gaunt and emaciated. Otherwise, the “white king of the artic” can be quite friendly, sometimes even approaching nearby ships.
When the Time is Right
The best time to visit Svalbard is from June until September, when the ice melts. However even during this summer period, the average temperatures can be as low as 5°C, so be sure to pack many sets of thermal wear and a sturdy jacket.
You may also be interested to know that there is a chance to witness the midnight sun during the summer months in Svalbard, a natural phenomenon whereby the sun remains visible in the night sky at midnight.
Still, the grand polar bears are biggest draw. I know, upon sight of these majestic creatures, I’ll instantly be reduced into an adoring mess of “awww”.
Svalbard is a Norwegian archipelago in the extreme North, home to much flora and fauna. Other top destinations for polar bear expeditions include Greenland, Alaska and Churchill, Canada.
By Samantha Phey