This week’s dream: a small-boat sa­fari in the Nor­we­gian Arc­tic

The Week - - Travel Leisure -

It is home to some of the world’s most re­mark­able crea­tures, and about as far “off the grid” as you can go. But though the Arc­tic is an ex­cep­tion­ally tough en­vi­ron­ment, it is also frag­ile. Go soon to see it be­fore global warm­ing changes it ir­re­vo­ca­bly, says Emma Dun­can in 1843 mag­a­zine – and es­chew cruise ships in favour of smaller boats, which let you get closer to the wildlife. The Freya, a re­cently-re­fur­bished Swedish class 1A ice-breaker, has com­fort­able beds, good food and guides who are “se­ri­ous” aca­demics. And on a tour of Nor­way’s Sval­bard ar­chi­pel­ago there is the chance to spot land mam­mals as well as sea crea­tures, and flora too.

There’s no guar­an­tee of see­ing po­lar bears, but chances are you will. De­spite global warm­ing and re­ced­ing ice, their numbers ap­pear to be bounc­ing back af­ter cen­turies of hunt­ing. The wal­rus pop­u­la­tion is also boom­ing, mak­ing for many sight­ings of these vast, Jabba the Hut-like crea­tures, with their knob­bly skin and im­mense tusks, which can grow up to a me­tre long. Less wel­come are the fre­quent ap­pear­ances by other boats and cruise ships: tourist numbers have nearly dou­bled in the past decade (with the Chi­nese lead­ing the charge). The “en­forced in­ti­macy” with fel­low pas­sen­gers on a small ves­sel can also be wear­ing. But the re­lax­ing ef­fect of be­ing “un­plugged” from the mod­ern world com­pen­sates, as does the “clear, silent bright­ness” of snow, blue sea and “stri­ated” moun­tains.

Each day, pas­sen­gers don “space­suit­type” pro­tec­tive cloth­ing and clam­ber into Zo­di­acs, rub­ber boats that act as sa­fari “jeeps”, for trips into fjords. There, you can get “thrillingly” close to glaciers, ice­bergs, birds and an­i­mals, in­clud­ing rein­deer, arc­tic foxes and seals. You might even want to join the lat­ter in the icy wa­ter fol­low­ing a sauna – gen­er­at­ing an en­dor­phin rush that will keep you on a high for hours. Nat­u­ral World Sa­faris (01273-691642, www.nat­u­ral­world­sa­ has an eight-day trip from £6,795pp, ex­clud­ing flights.

Smaller boat tours take in the Sval­bard ar­chi­pel­ago

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