Existence at the extremities: a journey through Svalbard, Norway
Svalbard is as human as the northern Arctic gets: as far north as you can venture without joining a scientific expedition, and the furthest north mankind has ma…
Guided tours are big business on Svalbard and you can choose anything from hiking and snowmobiling through to kayaking, ice-caving, dog-sledging, Zodiac boat trips and wildlife safaris, not to mention trips into a former coal mine and stays on a converted Dutch schooner moored in the polar ice. The winter season runs from December to late May, while June to November is the season for “summer” activities. Your first point of contact should be Longyearbyen’s official tourist office, Svalbard Tourism, which presents a fairly thorough overview of everything you can do on the island. Next, select a tour operator – some of the best ones are listed below; prices tend to not vary too much. Note that in addition to the tours below, most of the operators run day-trips to Barentsburg by snowmobile or Zodiac, and some do overnight trips as well, with a stay in the hotel.
You can, of course, book a whole holiday with an operator back home (see Tour and holiday operators) or even take pot luck when you get there, but be warned that wilderness excursions are often fully booked weeks in advance. And finally, note that if you are determined to strike out into the wilderness independently, you first have to seek permission from, and log your itinerary with, the governor’s office, Sysselmannen på Svalbard, Postboks 633, N-9171 Longyearbyen (t79 02 43 00, wsysselmannen.no) – and they will certainly require you to carry some form of weapon (see To bear arms).
t79 02 46 00, wbasecampspitsbergen.com. Svalbard’s most innovative adventure company, whose offerings include an evening snowshoe trip to see the northern lights (590kr), a three-day dog-sledding trip out to a century-old Dutch schooner (now an atmospheric floating hotel) moored in the ice (15,900kr) and five-day skiing expedition to the glacial peaks of Oscar II Land (12,900kr). Also operates the boutique Isfjord Radio guesthouse several hours southwest of Longyearbyen.
t79 02 17 05, wpoliarctici.com. Run by an affable Italian outdoorsman, this smallish specialist operator is one of the best in town, offering snowmobiling, boating and hiking tours from 690kr. They also rent out small apartments in Longyearbyen, and have a cottage out at Van Mijenfjorden, some 65km away, that’s available for stays during the winter.
t79 02 61 00, wspitsbergentravel.no. One of Svalbard’s largest outfitters, they run hotels, restaurants, safaris and can even rent out weapons and clothing. Their amazing four-day summer cross-country ski expedition (9700kr) heads out to the north of Spitsbergen, passing through Ny Ålesund.
t98 87 16 21, wsvalbardhusky.no. A solid dog-sledding group with around 50 huskies based about 10min outside of Longyearbyen in Adventdalen. A 4hr winter husky tour costs from 1090kr. In the warmer months, the dogs pull sledges outfitted with wheels (790kr).
Svalbard Maxi Taxi
t79 02 13 05, wtaxiguiden.no. This local taxi company offers informative guided tours twice daily of Longyearbyen (275kr per person), which take in the Global Seed Vault, Adventdalen coal mine and Longyearbyen church, among other sights.
t79 02 46 61, wscooterutleie.net. Manned by a gang of consummate Norwegian adventurers and maintaining scores of vehicles, this is one of your best options for snowmobiling adventures. A 3hr journey through the polar night starts at 1350kr; an 8hr day-trip to Barentsburg costs from 2050kr.
t79 02 10 68, wwww.terrapolaris.com. One of the most hard-core of Svalbard’s adventure companies, this place specializes in extended journeys out to some of the archipelago’s more remote spots. Pick from a skiing expedition to Newtontoppen and Atomfjella (15 days; 22,500kr), a tour of Spitsbergen and eastern Greenland (13 days; €4500), or a visit to Franz Josef Land and Novaya Zemlya by Russian ice breaker (12 days; 45,000kr), among many other journeys. Owned by Svalbard expert and guidebook author Andreas Umbreit.
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