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Katie's Journey to Svalbard – Secret Atlas Review

Katie’s Journey to Svalbard – Secret Atlas Review

Katie joined Secret Atlas on Svalbard Photo Tour in May 2023.

I came to Svalbard because I’ve always had a deep desire to see polar bears. I did my research and found that Svalbard was one of the best places to witness these magnificent creatures in a stunning natural environment. While there are other options like Churchill, Manitoba Svalbard offered a unique blend of breathtaking landscapes and the opportunity to observe polar bears in their wild habitat.

I chose Secret Atlas precisely because they prioritise environmental sustainability more than any other place I had come across. I didn’t want to feel like I was intruding upon this beautiful place or causing any harm or disturbance to the animals. Throughout this trip, I’ve been grateful for the respect and care that Secret Atlas show towards these concerns.

Virgil Reglioni with guest Katie in Svalbard

The fact that the ship was small and had a limited number of passengers contributed to minimising our carbon footprint in the surrounding area. This was great because every time we did something positive, it felt like we were rewarded by the animals and birds we encountered.

I particularly appreciated the idea of a small ship because it allowed us to navigate more easily through different areas, including the seas and fjords. Additionally, there was a sense of intimacy between the passengers and the crew. The ship’s flexibility in searching for animals and manoeuvering between locations was particularly advantageous.

We weren’t dependent on a large ship where the needs of a hundred people had to be taken into consideration. With only 12 passengers and a small crew, the small ship provided us with tremendous flexibility.

Zodiac cruise with Explorer in background in Svalbard

In terms of photography, we had two extremes. My husband is a professional photographer, but he wanted to explore a new area: animal and bird photography. Luckily, we had Virgil, an award-winning photographer on board. This allowed my husband to exchange ideas and learn from someone with expertise. As a beginner, Virgil also took the time to sit down with me and explain the basics of photography, such as aperture and ISO. Thanks to Virgil, I now have a greater interest and understanding of how these elements work. The small ship ensured that each passenger’s specific photography needs were met. Virgil was able to cater to photographers of different skill levels and interests.

Guests on a photo tour in Svalbard

The highlight, without a doubt, has been the polar bears. Seeing them up close, but from the safety of the boat, was a dream come true. I witnessed one of them devouring a seal, and it was both awe-inspiring and strangely gentle. The bear’s actions were part of nature, not violence for violence’s sake. The way it calmly consumed its meal had a unique beauty to it. It’s an experience I will never forget.

polar bear with seal in Svalbard

There are many things I would mention to my friends when recommending this trip. One of the main reasons is that I have full confidence in Secret Atlas. They take their role seriously, and it’s not just a business for them. The fact that people like Mette and John, who have received Nobel Peace Prizes for their work against landmines, are involved in this venture adds immense value. It’s not just about the photography; it’s about the exceptional individuals we are journeying with. I couldn’t imagine choosing any other place to go.

I wholeheartedly recommend it. On top of that, the food is excellent, the staff is wonderful, and the entire expedition team shares our common interests and values. The bond among the like-minded people on this trip has been remarkable.

I cannot recommend this trip enough, considering all the holidays I’ve had and my extensive travels as one of my passions. Out of all my experiences, this one has been the most exceptional and special so far, and I am immensely glad that I embarked on it.

group photo hike in Svalbard

As a passenger and guest on this trip, my desire was not just to learn and witness things, but to be able to take actionable steps after the journey. That, to me, is what makes it truly special. I believe that Secret Atlas and its passengers can become pioneers in promoting this kind of responsible tourism. Many tourist companies take people to various places and provide lectures to make them understand, but it’s not enough to merely comprehend the issues.

We need to take that crucial next step and apply what we have learned. We have had excellent teachers. Mette and John set a great example by undertaking incredible challenges, such as international treaties against landmines. John told me, “You just have to take a step. You can’t say it’s impossible. It will be impossible if you do nothing.” This resonates with me now, and I would like to say to Secret Atlas, it has been absolutely fantastic.

Guest on the bridge looking out for wildlife

For instance, we witnessed a whale carcass in the pack ice, which served as a valuable food source for the polar bears. However, the next day, it was gone. That would have been a crucial food source for the polar bears. Secret Atlas could collaborate with the authorities here and find a way to somehow preserve the whale carcass or what remains of it, ensuring it doesn’t sink to the bottom of the ocean. This is a tangible issue we observed, and it seems that there might be a solution. I don’t personally know the answer, but there could be someone out there who can find a solution. We saw the problem firsthand.

zodiac cruise in Svalbard

Inspired by Katie’s story? Let Secret Atlas take you on your very own voyage into the wilderness and experience the natural wonders of the polar regions.

We hope to see you on board!

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