Going far back into history and historic accounts, it seems that we as a race, have long been wanderers. From desert landscapes to icy mountain slopes, from vast grasslands to thick forests, people have carved a life for themselves in every habitat on Earth.
The need to discover new destinations, explore the unknown and experience the diversity of our Earth’s natural heritage seems to be ingrained within us. With this in mind, it’s little wonder that our progression is to continue this exploration to destinations that have always captured our own imagination, this time with camera in hand.
Between mainland Norway and the North Pole you will find one of the world’s northernmost inhabited areas – a group of islands that until recently, have only been accessible to travel in summer. Towering glaciers and dark-coloured mountains break up and surround this frozen tundra, making this Arctic world one filled with scenic mysteries and visual delights.
From the deck of our expedition ship, the Akademik Sergey Vavilov, we will be taken on a Svalbard photography adventure that connects us with our history as explorers as we discover sights and sounds that we have heard about, but have not had the thrill to experience. Aboard this ship, we will be taken close to the frozen Islands that shelter the winter-white beasts of the Arctic; the Polar bear.
Our zodiacs will take us even closer, and where safe, onshore.
Roaming, sea-swimming Polar bears, cunning Arctic foxes and Svalbard Reindeer are just some of the few quintessential mammals that are sheltered in these Islands. And that is just what we see on land during our Svalbard photography tour.
When breeding, Brunnich’s Guillemot form clouds around cliff faces on a scale that truly needs to be seen to be believed. These seabirds breed in dense colonies all over the Svalbard Archipelago, and a total 142 colonies are known there. Searching through flocks of Common Eider, one is sometimes fortunate to catch sight of the spectacular King Eider – a large and exquisite duck of Arctic coastal waters. And then there are the lovely Ivory Gulls.
The Ivory Gull is distinctive not only for its smaller stature relative to other gulls, but mainly for its striking, brilliant white plumage. Indeed, the adults are at their most impressive when they are on land and blending beautifully into their icy, Arctic habitat. Photographing these gulls is always entertaining; from fast shutter speeds to ‘freeze’ the motion of these birds in flight, to slow shutter speeds for a more creative interpretation. This species has a habit of attending Polar Bear kills, and it is at such a time that we become privy to a scene where fearsome hunter and dainty scavenger can been seen side by side in a juxtaposition of raw power and elegance.
The ocean and its mysteries are, and will always be, intriguing and captivating as it is one of the many habitats that we haven’t fully adapted to. It is only through the advancement in technology that we have been able to explore some of its vast depths, and even then, there is so much yet unexplored and undiscovered. As is often the case with exploration, we can never be certain what the ocean will turn up. A Polar Bear is hoped for, and certainly Svalbard is the best place to photograph wild Polar Bears.
White-beaked Dolphin, Harp and Hooded Seals, and the long-toothed and whiskered Walrus are other spectacular marine creatures that contribute to the faunal interest in this Arctic world, and it is the latter that is a perpetual favourite amongst photographers.
With such beauty, and richness of photographic opportunities underlying every facet of the Svalbard, it is no wonder that we, as wanders, are continuously pulled back to these Islands of ice and magnificence.
~ Penny Robartes