Spending a fortnight in the Arctic, midway between the North Pole and continental Norway, is an unforgettable experience.
The main motivation for the 1,000 or so visitors who board an expedition ship each summer, to journey into uncharted territory on the High Arctic seas, is the wildlife; namely, the polar bears.
During my 11-day voyage, we hit two milestones:
- We became the most northerly vessel on the planet, at that time. Not bad in a world of 7.3 billion people! We were just 524 nautical miles from the North Pole at that moment, which is remarkable for an ice-strengthened ship.
- We became the first ship of the season to circumnavigate Spitsbergen, the largest island landmass in the Svalbard archipelago.
Most of my fellow adventurers, who’d travelled from China to Brazil to be in the Arctic, were here to see Polar bears and other Arctic wildlife. In this polar desert, the wildlife is shy and elusive so it took some searching by the on-board team of decades-experienced naturalists, scientists and researchers.
But once here, polar bears can quickly become sidelined. One morning we were in small inflatable boats watching a mother and bear cub atop the rim of a hill. Suddenly, we were engulfed by a rare and spectacular shoal of white beluga whales. They silently somersaulted right past our boats, grey babies in tow. It was a sacred moment of awe.
The wildlife is sensational – and well worth every second spent on deck, often in the biting freezing cold, scouring for movement. It was also a great reason to just stay on deck with a warm drink in hand absorbing the polar seascape, vast and mesmerising in it’s otherworldliness. Here, no internet, mobile or human connectivity exists. That’s the beauty. It is bliss surrendering to the most fantastical scenes one could witness: gigantic glaciers the size of cities, surging brilliant-blue icebergs the size of houses and blinding white ice floes flooding the Arctic Sea into the horizon.
Enjoy these images of some of the Arctic wildlife…
All images ©Anisha Shah
WHITE BELUGA WHALES