December 20th, 2021

The Arctic Bug

December 20th, 2021

Written by

Audun Lie Dahl

CEO of Nansen Polar Expeditions

Tailor your own journey to the remote Arctic. Come on Up!


Tailor your own journey to the remote Arctic. Come on Up!

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Introducing guest author Audun Lie Dahl, CEO of Nansen Polar Expeditions

Audun has led tours all around the world since 2010, focusing on the colder regions such as Svalbard, Arctic Norway and Antarctica. In more recent years, he has been renowned as one of the premier wildlife photographers in the world and awarded accolades such as GDT European Wildlife Photographer of the Year, NHM Wildlife Photographer of the Year and Nature’s Best. Now he welcomes guests onboard MV Villa on Nansen Polar Expeditions. We asked him to share his knowledge on Svalbard - through all seasons.

Laying between mainland Norway and the North Pole is Svalbard, an expedition to this remote area is a bespoke experience that will stay in your heart forever

When I was 11 years old, I visited Svalbard in the Norwegian Arctic for the first time though I did not realise then how hard I had been bitten by the Arctic bug.

In early 2010, I returned to Svalbard and realised how totally in love I was. After visiting these remote areas, I soon realised that whilst the Norse name Svalbard loosely translates to “the cold coast” or “the cool edge”, there is so much more to this Arctic archipelago than ice and untouched wilderness. A season on Svalbard with one of our expedition yachts lasts between five and six months, during which time the ever-changing conditions make each and every expedition different and unique from the last.


Springtime in Svalbard...

..means most of the archipelago is frozen and covered with snow and ice, but you can see how the transition has already started. Within a few weeks this frozen world will be the home to millions of migrating birds; long before the snow has melted the birds are already in their colonies and patiently, they are waiting for the snow to melt so they can lay their eggs.

The whales are also returning to the north to feed in the rich arctic waters. The seals, mostly bearded seals, harbour seals and ringed seals, are present year-round here, but now the fjords are opening up and they are all gathering around here as well to feed in the nutritious waters created from meltwater from the glaciers.

It is during these times we have the first expeditions with our vessels in the Arctic. The hours of daylight are increasing rapidly, and by late April the sun will not go below the horizon before late August. In between these months is the prime time to visit Svalbard, and every expedition gives you a new opportunity and a new place to visit.


..is the busiest season for the wildlife and fauna. The flowers are colourful and when you find yourself crawling on the ground you forget you are almost at 80 degrees north. Underneath the bird colonies, there are flower beds with numerous species of alpine plants. The birds are feeding their growing chicks. If you are lucky, you might even see a beautiful Arctic Fox patrolling the cliff for a snack. The seals are sleeping on ice, calved from the impressive glacier fronts you can find more or less in every fjord around Svalbard, of which there are hundreds. The difference between day and night is almost impossible to notice - only by the position of the sun.

At this time of the year the drift ice north of Svalbard has retreated, and this opens up the opportunity to visit the hostile east coast of the archipelago. Wherever you visit in the summertime you will see wildlife in the form of whales, seals, birds and more. The Svalbard reindeer feed on grass and spend their days fattening up before the winter sets in.


Autumn starts early in the Arctic..

..and it’s already noticeable in August when you see that the sun gets lower on the horizon, the temperature starts to drop, and the presence of bird life is decreasing. This doesn’t halt expedition operations, fantastic colours blanket the landscape as the degrees Celsius dip below zero, the fjord ice begins to freeze, and the smell of the fresh, crisp, autumnal air pleases all.

The many mountain tops appear sprinkled with flour, as they have a fresh layer of snow. By the end of August, the first sunset after four months of constant daylight arrives, turning the sky into an explosion of orange and red tones impossible not to appreciate.

The Polar Bear - King of the Arctic

The King of the Arctic, the etymology of Arctic is from the Greek word ‘arktikos’, which is drawn from ‘arktos’ meaning bear – believed to refer to the constellations Ursa Major and Ursa Minor – the “Great Bear” and “Little Bear” respectively, but the Polar Bear rules in Svalbard, and has earned their right to do so. The population of Polar Bears outweighs the human population considerably, whilst humans reside on the largest island, Spitsbergen, the Polar Bears travel by land and sea across the archipelago.

A sighting is something truly unique and special, these enormous, creamy, thick-furred animals, can weigh up to 1000 kg and stand out against the blue shades of the ice. Witnessing these giants in their natural habitat is an experience that has never failed to give me goosebumps, and I am overwhelmed each time by the deep respect for these powerful creatures living in the harsh environment of the Arctic.

Whether it’s spotting a bear laying on the sea ice observing their kingdom or traversing a cliff edge; expertly hunting their next seal meal or feasting on a beached whale carcass; a mother and cub play fighting or jumping and swimming through the waters more gracefully than you would ever expect, each experience seeing these majestic apex predators changes you, for the better.


Joining a small ship expedition around Svalbard provides an experience like no other, it is the perfect destination for an unforgettable polar journey and no better way to explore than from the sea. Before departing Longyearbyen, the administrative centre of Svalbard, your Expedition Leader and Team will update you on the upcoming weather and ice conditions expected, which will determine the journey – a rough outline is communicated to all, and then the rest is left up to nature to provide the special encounters with the majestic wildlife.

You can always guarantee two certainties about an Arctic expedition – there will be changes, and you will want to return, consider yourself bitten!


Nansen Polar Expeditions

Considered the largest wilderness area in Europe, Svalbard is a jewel for Arctic wildlife and icescapes, and the perfect destination for an unforgettable polar journey. If you want to experience Svalbard with the Nansen Polar Expedition Team - as a journey on its own or combined with an Up Norway journey in Norway, get in touch. The Up Norway Team will assist with travel planning & booking as well as flights.

Expedition dates in 2024 can be found here. Rates start at NOK 62 000 (approx. USD 7250) per person for 7 nights / 8 days.

For more Svalbard inspiration, read about 'Next Level Svalbard' in our 'Up Guide to Norway' here.

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