The island of Spitsbergen (also spelt Spitzbergen), in the Svalbard archipelago, is polar bear country. Sitting north of Norway deep into the Arctic Circle, it is a remote, isolated place of extreme arctic beauty. Spitsbergen is the king of Arctic destinations - nowhere else in Europe is so far north, so rugged and so spectacularly remote.
In Spitsbergen, the elements are firmly in charge. It’s a place that hasn’t been spoilt by the human footprint and its few inhabitants live in the grip of nature. Covered with glaciers, immense sea cliffs and rugged mountains it’s a pretty inhospitable place – making it a natural haven for some incredible wildlife.
One of the last inhabited outposts before you reach the North Pole, adventure holidays here afford fantastic opportunities to see walrus, whales and the great colonies of birds that live on the sea cliffs. And of course, the elusive polar bear.
Arctic Adventure Holidays: Spitsbergen Wildlife Highlights
1 Polar bear country
The star of the show in Spitsbergen is undoubtedly the polar bear – getting to see these magnificent animals hunting on the ice floes is surely one of the world’s most remarkable wildlife sightings. Spitsbergen is one of the few places in the world where the ratio of humans to bears is roughly the same. With population numbers around 2,500, they thrive in this ice-locked environment.
One of the most exciting sights for visitors to Spitsbergen has to be the awesome seabird colonies that inhabit the cliffs around the island. Seeing 70,000 kittiwakes flying in and out of their breeding grounds is an unforgettable sight. Guillemots standing on ledges barely wide enough to hold them, while they nervously eye the gulls wheeling above looking out for a lone chick: - survival of the fittest in action.
3 Walruses and whales
Spitsbergen was formerly a whaling station, with hunters from all over Northern Europe docking there before heading out into the icy waters. For visitors these days the emphasis is very much on viewing these majestic mammals in their natural environment rather that catching them. The waters around Spitsbergen are a rich food source and whales sightings are common. A little closer to the shore, walruses are a regular sight. Rolling around on the ice and barking at each other in their peculiar way you get the definite feeling that they own the place.