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HomeSpits­ber­gen infor­ma­ti­onArc­tic tra­ve­ling – some prac­ti­cal hints → Spits­ber­gen – dif­fe­rent ways to tra­vel

Spitsbergen - different ways to travel

Here, you will find some hints and ide­as regar­ding what you can do in Spits­ber­gen. Final­ly, it depends on your tas­te (and bank account…). You will also find links to tour ope­ra­tors in my link collec­tion.

For more, detail­ed infor­ma­ti­on: the Gui­de­book Spits­ber­gen-Sval­bard

Guidebook Spitsbergen-Svalbard

Tours to most parts of the Sval­bard archi­pe­la­go need to be regis­tered at the Sys­sel­man­nen (gou­ver­nor of Sval­bard). If you book a tour, then the tour ope­ra­tor will take care of this. Click here for fur­ther infor­ma­ti­on regar­ding rules & regu­la­ti­ons, safe­ty in the field etc.

  • Expe­di­ti­on style crui­ses will be an ide­al way to tra­vel for many. If you want to expe­ri­ence as much as pos­si­ble of Arc­tic (or Ant­arc­tic) natu­re, bring some adven­ture spi­rit and want to share your polar enthu­si­asm with like-min­ded fel­low tra­vel­lers, then you will pro­bab­ly enjoy this way of get­ting around:
    • Rela­tively small groups (depen­ding on which ship you use, often around 50 pas­sen­gers) on ves­sels, which are ‘swim­ming youth hos­tels’ if you com­pa­re them to ‘real crui­se ships’. In other words: if high cabin stan­dard with gol­den toi­let seats, seven-cour­se-meals etc are important to you (more important than the natu­re expe­ri­ence), then you should rather book a voya­ge on a lar­ger crui­se ship. On an expe­di­ti­on ship, ever­ything is rather func­tio­n­al than luxu­rious, but nevertheless – star­va­ti­on is unli­kely to be a pro­blem on board… and it is defi­ni­te­ly much more com­for­ta­ble than cam­ping!

Expe­di­ti­on ship M/V Pro­fes­sor Mul­ta­novs­kiy (which used to be my second home in the Arc­tic).

Expedition ship M/V Professor Multanovskiy in Hinlopen Strait

    • Don’t expect to have a lot of time to relax during the voya­ge. Two Zodiac excur­si­ons per day are nor­mal (dura­ti­on most­ly clo­se to three hours), and in the mean­ti­me you can see some­thing from the ship. You have to be able to walk for a cou­p­le of hours over wayless ter­rain, this requi­res some phy­si­cal fit­ness. If you like an occa­sio­nal walk of more than five kilo­me­tres along the beach or through the forest at home, then you will enjoy the excur­si­ons. If you rather take a car than walk to the baker’s around the cor­ner, then an expe­di­ti­on crui­se is not for you. Plea­se con­si­der that the medi­cal faci­li­ties on board are rather basic and the next hos­pi­tal may be far away (in some are­as out of heli­co­p­ter ran­ge), you have to be in good medi­cal con­di­ti­on.
Hiking at Bruceneset, Raudfjord
    • The atmo­s­phe­re on board is casu­al – no dres­sing-up for din­ner, but rub­ber-boots and bino­cu­lars are requi­red. The bridge is usual­ly open for pas­sen­gers.
Worsleyneset
    • Expe­di­ti­on crui­ses are no pho­to safa­ris for cer­tain wild­life spe­ci­es (‘polar bear safa­ri’), but usual­ly want to deli­ver a lar­ge varie­ty of polar impres­si­ons and expe­ri­en­ces. If you do not want to see anything but polar bears, then you could con­si­der Chur­chill in Cana­da (ori­gi­nal quo­te of a tra­vel­ler: ‘polar bear and wal­rus – I don’t care about the rest’). We get to see the ‘big guys’ (polar bears, wal­rus) on almost every trip, but the­re is no gua­ran­tee.
    • During excur­si­ons, we will usual­ly split up into several groups to accom­mo­da­te dif­fe­rent inte­rests and wal­king abi­li­ties. In Spits­ber­gen and East Green­land, the­re will be a gui­de with a rif­le with every group. Indi­vi­du­al excur­si­ons without a group are not pos­si­ble becau­se of the polar bear dan­ger. If you can’t live with that, then you should not book an expe­di­ti­on crui­se in Spits­ber­gen or East Green­land.

Polar bear guard

Spitsbergen - different ways to travel - Worsleyneset

    • Board lan­guage is most­ly Eng­lish, but check with your tra­vel agen­cy if several lan­guages are spo­ken during brie­fings, lec­tures etc.
    • Important infor­ma­ti­on regar­ding the iti­nera­ry which you will pro­bab­ly recei­ve from your boo­king agent. The­se usual­ly read like ‘On day one, we are here in the morning and do this, and in the after­noon we are the­re and can see that…’. For­get about the­se day-by-day-iti­ne­raries, they are only the­re to give you an idea about what could hap­pen befo­re the voya­ge. You can assu­me that during the voya­ge an expe­ri­en­ced expe­di­ti­on lea­der will design an indi­vi­du­al iti­nera­ry to make sure you get as much polar expe­ri­ence out of the time on board that you have got. This will be very fle­xi­ble, depen­ding on ice con­di­ti­ons, wea­ther, wild­life and other fac­tors (inclu­ding pre­sence of other ships, which we try to avoid in the field). As expe­di­ti­on lea­der, I do hard­ly every read the day-by-day-iti­ne­raries issued by various boo­king agents (in Spits­ber­gen and East Green­land). Usual­ly, your expe­di­ti­on lea­der will know the area bet­ter than the guy who wro­te the ori­gi­nal iti­nera­ry.
  • Stay­ing in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. It is easy to stay for a cou­p­le of days in Lon­gye­ar­by­en in one of the hotels or on the cam­ping site, and you may be sur­pri­sed regar­ding the varie­ty of things you can do and see – polar bears and wal­rus are very unli­kely, but other than that, almost ever­ything is pos­si­ble. If you stay for some days and keep your eyes open, you are likely to see rein­de­er, fox and a num­ber of dif­fe­rent bird spe­ci­es (pos­si­b­ly inclu­ding ivory gull, litt­le auk, ptar­mi­gan etc.). The­re is a huge varie­ty of day trips you can book in your hotel, the tou­rist infor­ma­ti­on or with the local tour ope­ra­tor (see links). If you are inte­res­ted in bird­watching, then you can easi­ly spend two rewar­ding days in and around Lon­gye­ar­by­en in the ear­ly sum­mer – hire a gui­de with rele­vant local know­ledge and a rif­le!
  • Indi­vi­du­al hiking and trek­king tours. The­re is an end­less num­ber of opti­ons, from day­t­rips around Lon­gye­ar­by­en to several-week long trek­king tours which have expe­di­ti­on cha­rac­ter. Care­ful pre­pa­ra­ti­on and phy­si­cal fit­ness and some expe­ri­ence with hiking in nort­hern ter­rain without any tracks are obvious sti­pu­la­ti­ons. On several-day long tours, you will most likely have more than 20 kg in your ruck­sack (tent, sto­ve, food sup­plies,  slee­ping back, rif­le with ammu­ni­ti­on, polar bear alarm fence which you need to put up around your tent during the night etc., for fur­ther infor­ma­ti­on on regu­la­ti­ons and safe­ty in the field, see here). Hiking and trek­king tours enab­le you to get an inten­se expe­ri­ence of Arc­tic natu­re and land­s­cape and the exci­ting fee­ling to be expo­sed to the ele­ments, to live in the natu­re. And the­re are few nicer things in life than the first piz­za after a long tour …

The plea­su­res of living in a tent.

Rolf Stange - Fulmardalen

  • Orga­nis­ed Trek­king: Simi­lar­ly as invi­di­du­al trek­king, you will be able to expe­ri­ence Arc­tic natu­re and silence with ple­nty of time when you par­ti­ci­pa­te in an orga­nis­ed trek­king tour. You will make expe­ri­en­ces, which some peop­le will love, other ones may hate (slee­ping in tents without the oppor­tu­ni­ty to take a sho­wer etc). You will have to accept pace and rhythm of the group and you are unli­kely to be able to influ­ence the iti­nera­ry. But the­re is defi­ni­te­ly a num­ber of advan­ta­ges: often less lug­ga­ge to car­ry becau­se the­re are usual­ly depots in the field, much less orga­ni­sa­ti­on and pre­pa­ra­ti­on, solid plan­ning, the group expe­ri­ence (which is most­ly nice). Make sure you know what kind of trip you are boo­king and that you are phy­si­cal­ly rea­dy for it, be rea­listic when it comes to your hiking abi­li­ties, other­wi­se your par­ti­ci­pa­ti­on may beco­me a strain for you and a pro­blem for the group.
  • Canoe/Kayak. The open canoe (‘Cana­di­an’ canoe) is not an opti­on in Spits­ber­gen due to the lack of calm waters (the few lar­ge rivers have ple­nty of shal­lows). Qui­te a lot can be done with robust expe­di­ti­on kayaks, from day trips to long tours with expe­di­ti­on cha­rac­ter. Orga­ni­sa­ti­on is qui­te exten­si­ve, star­ting with trans­por­ta­ti­on for all your gear. The­re are spe­cia­li­sed tour ope­ra­tors in Spits­ber­gen. This way of tra­ve­ling is attrac­ti­ve and can offer dif­fe­rent per­spec­ti­ves and expe­ri­en­ces than land-based tra­ve­ling, but is also stre­nuous and has its spe­ci­fic risks. The­se inclu­de the unpre­dic­ta­ble wea­ther and long stret­ches of coast­li­ne, whe­re it is impos­si­ble to land (steep cliffs, gla­cier fronts etc.).
  • Crui­se ships. If you are con­tent with a few land­s­cape impres­si­ons from the pan­ora­ma lounge and a visit to Lon­gye­ar­by­en or Ny Åle­sund and you appre­cia­te good food and com­fort, then a trip on one of the lar­ger crui­se ves­sels will be a good choice for you.
  • Dog sled­ding. Tra­di­tio­nal Arc­tic tra­ve­ling, as it can­not get any nicer. The­re is hard­ly anything bet­ter than a several day dog-sled­ging tour from cabin to cabin or using a tent. in Spits­ber­gen, snows­coo­ter traf­fic is still a pain, des­pi­te being more and more regu­la­ted, but the­re are are­as whe­re snows­coo­ters are not allo­wed. Day­t­rips or half-day trips are popu­lar and free of any risk in case you are worried about cold and dis­com­fort, after a few hours you are back in town. The sea­son is main­ly March to ear­ly May. Spe­cia­li­sed ope­ra­tors will also arran­ge lon­ger trips if you are our for some adven­ture. You will hard­ly get a more inten­se, more inti­ma­te expe­ri­ence of the Arc­tic than during a several-day dog-sled­ging trip! Of cour­se, you will have to live with a cer­tain lack of com­fort (cam­ping in tem­pe­ra­tures which may be well below zero), but if you are wil­ling and able to accept that (it is actual­ly gre­at fun for the litt­le adven­tu­rers amongst us), then you will be rich­ly rewar­ded. Your tour ope­ra­tor will assist you with infor­ma­ti­on and equip­ment. Ano­t­her fac­tor is that dog sled­ging is an envi­ron­ment­al­ly friend­ly way of get­ting around (no CO2-emis­si­ons, no noi­se) and crea­tes jobs in remo­te com­mu­nities of a sort which enab­les local peop­le to keep their pri­de and some of their tra­di­tio­nal tech­ni­ques ali­ve. Enjoy!

Dog sledge in East Green­land

Dog sledding

  • Cross-coun­try ski­ing. In a way, this pro­vi­des a simi­lar expe­ri­ence as dogs­led­ging, as far as natu­re and sce­ne­ry are con­cer­ned, alt­hough the dogs are mis­sing. Ski­ing trips are much easier to orga­ni­se indi­vi­du­al­ly, as dogs­led­ging requi­res rele­vant expe­ri­ence and, of cour­se, dogs and sledge. On the other hand, ski­ing with a lot of lug­ga­ge is very stre­nuous. The who­le ran­ge of cross-coun­try ski­ing, from easy day-trips to deman­ding, week-long trips with expe­di­ti­on cha­rac­ter, will pro­vi­de spor­ti­ve, adven­tur­ous peop­le with a once-in-a-life­time expe­ri­ence.

Cross-coun­try ski­ing in the Arc­tic: gre­at plea­su­re for spor­ti­ve peop­le.

Cross-country skiing in the Arctic: great pleasure for sportive people

  • Snow­mo­bi­le. If you want to race through the Arc­tic, then snow­mo­bi­les can pro­vi­de you with this expe­ri­ence. The natu­re expe­ri­ence will be rather limi­ted becau­se of speed and noi­se. This is not exact­ly an envi­ron­ment­al­ly friend­ly way of tra­ve­ling, as fuel con­sump­ti­on is high and the noi­se dis­turbs wild­life (rein­de­er during the dif­fi­cult spring sea­son, when food is scar­ce) and peop­le. If you want to expe­ri­ence the Arc­tic in the win­ter, why not con­si­der dogs­led­ging?

Can be motor ‘sport’ than natu­re expe­ri­ence, depen­ding on how it is done: snow­mo­bi­le trips.

Snowmobile

  • Heli­co­p­ter: The use of heli­co­p­ters for tou­ris­tic pur­po­ses is not per­mit­ted any­mo­re in Spits­ber­gen, neit­her ‘flight­see­ing’ nor lan­dings in the field. The Sys­sel­man­nen (gou­ver­nor) may grant per­mis­si­on for heli­co­p­ter use for sci­en­ti­fic or jour­na­listic pur­po­ses. Becau­se of the high fuel con­sump­ti­on, heli­co­p­ters are more or less the least envi­ron­ment­al­ly friend­ly way of get­ting around (even worse is only the use of nuclear-powe­red ice­brea­kers for tou­ris­tic pur­po­ses – any sug­ges­ti­ons regar­ding safe dis­po­sal of nuclear was­te?).

The fol­lowing is non­sen­se:

  • Bicy­cle. Most­ly non­sen­se, as the­re are no roads or tracks out­side the sett­le­ments, and off­road bicy­cling is not an opti­on, as ero­si­on and dama­ge to the vege­ta­ti­on cover would be tre­men­dous. But so-cal­led fat­bikes with very thick wheels can be a nice way to get out eit­her on vege­ta­ti­on-free ground such as river beds or when the tun­dra is fro­zen solid.
  • Cam­per. First­ly, you won’t get it up to Spits­ber­gen, second­ly you can’t do anything with it up the­re due to the lack of roads out­side the sett­le­ments.
  • Bus tours. Dif­fi­cult as the­re are no roads… sight­see­ing by bus wit­hing Lon­gye­ar­by­en (and, to some degree, Bar­ents­burg) is pos­si­ble, for examp­le for crui­se ship pas­sen­gers.

I have com­pi­led all infor­ma­ti­on publis­hed on my web­sites accord­ing to my best know­ledge, based on 10 years of expe­ri­ence in the Arc­tic. This com­pi­la­ti­on is not at all com­pre­hen­si­ve, it can­not always be com­ple­te and up-to-date, and the­re may be mista­kes. I do not accept any lia­bi­li­ty for inju­ry or dama­ge which may ari­se as a result of impro­per use of the infor­ma­ti­on I pro­vi­de on my web­sites. I empha­si­ze that all tra­vels to polar are­as requi­re tho­rough pre­pa­ra­ti­on and pro­per equip­ment. Plea­se make sure you are awa­re of all rele­vant infor­ma­ti­on and that both you and your equip­ment meet the stan­dards which are requi­red for your inten­ded acti­vi­ties. Plea­se remem­ber that you have to noti­fy the Sys­sel­man­nen (gou­ver­nor of Sval­bard) in advan­ce about trips to most parts of the archi­pe­la­go.

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last modification: 2014-10-28 · copyright: Rolf Stange
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