Rachel’s Guest Story – Secret Atlas Review
I’ve always loved travelling far north, and after trips to Iceland, Greenland, Norway and Finland, going further north to Svalbard had to be next! I particularly wanted to see polar bears in the wild and after getting a very distant glimpse during a winter trip to Svalbard in 2022, I decided to go back on an expedition cruise in early summer 2023 to give myself a better chance of closer encounters and to explore much more of the area.
Travelling by ship has always been my favourite way to travel, and getting the chance to explore on a small ship with only eleven other passengers was ideal for this trip. The small size of the ship meant we could go to places some of the bigger cruise ships couldn’t, and the zodiac trips got us even closer to the epic Arctic scenery. Departing Longyearbyen on the first night we were all filled with a sense of anticipation of what was to come in terms of both wildlife and scenery. Due to the windy weather up north, our first couple of days were spent exploring the area closer to Longyearbyen – Isfjorden. We saw our first walruses, plenty of sea birds and even a very distant polar bear, just visible as a yellow smudge through binoculars, sleeping on the fast ice.
Then it was time to head north! Exploring beautiful fjords, glaciers, icebergs and mountains as we made our way towards the far northwest of Svalbard felt like such an adventure – a proper expedition. The bridge of the ship became the place to be (as one of the guests said – just like the kitchen at parties!), scouting for bears and other wildlife whilst enjoying the company of, and sharing stories with, fellow guests, guides and crew. We saw lots of polar bear tracks nearby and even a bear den, but still no sign of the elusive bears themselves. But we did see more walruses, seals, whales, reindeer, Arctic foxes and many types of birds. Making our way slowly through the drift ice to reach 80 degrees north at exactly midnight was a standout experience – the conditions that evening were stunning, with no wind making for a very calm sea, and a mix of fog and sun creating a beautiful fog bow that seemed to follow us as we moved through the ice. It would have been easy to stay up all night with the bright sunshine, but sleep was needed. We were woken again at 4 am as a bear had been sighted a few kilometres away on the pack ice, but sadly it soon decided to head away from the ship and was nothing more than a fuzzy blob on the horizon.
The next day brought another amazing experience – we all (guests, crew and guides alike) donned some old survival suits and had a play in the sea amongst the ice floes! A ridiculous amount of fun, and really quite surreal – floating in the sea at 80 degrees north, surrounded by ice whilst the snow fell around me is an experience I’ll never forget! It was then time to start the journey back south, exploring the coastline, fjords and glaciers all the way. A sighting of a large pod of beluga whales was a special moment, especially after learning about and seeing the aftermath of the whaling that happened in the area in the past.
We spent one final day trying our best to spot a bear, and we did find one, but although this was the nearest one of the trip, it was still some distance away and just a small spec at the bottom of the glacier face. Too soon it was time to head back to Longyearbyen after nine days of wonderful Arctic exploration and memories that will last a lifetime. Sadly, we did see any polar bears close up during the trip, but it wasn’t for lack of trying by the guides and crew – they went all out to find us that bear – but it just wasn’t to be this time, and my dream of seeing polar bears in the wild will just have to wait a little bit longer. The overall incredible experience I had means I will be back, and hopefully it’ll be third time lucky for me to find my polar bear!
Feeling inspired by Rachel’s story? Come join Secret Atlas for an epic adventure into the wild polar regions!
We can’t wait to have you on board with us!