This week’s dream: a small-boat safari in the Norwegian Arctic
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.naturalworldsafaris.com) has an eight-day trip from £6,795pp, excluding flights.
Smaller boat tours take in the Svalbard archipelago