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The magical Arctic is like no place you have ever seen. From majestic glaciers and vast expanses of flower-speckled tundra, to remote islands and pristine fjords clogged with creaking icebergs – it's a feast for the senses.
The wildlife experiences are truly spectacular. Be spellbound by the ghostly beluga whales and prowling arctic foxes. Watch in awe as polar bears hunt for seals. See hulking walruses, wandering reindeer at one with their natural habitat. And take in the overwhelming noise and rhythm of gigantic colonies of seabirds.
An exploration of this great land reveals so much. Adventurous encounters with giant volcanoes will inflate your senses. Or perhaps you prefer paddling through ice floes while curious whales swim around you? Life can't get more exciting than this.
Walruses in Svalbard Photo: Aurora Expeditions
One of the most thrilling wildlife experiences in the world is coming across a polar bear in its natural habitat. And one of the best places to do this is in Svalbard, a cluster of glacier-dominated islands located midway between mainland Norway and the North Pole. You might see adults with their cubs here, searching for seals on the pack ice. Or in groups, feasting on the carcass of a whale sniffed out from up to 30 km away. On Spitsbergen, the largest island of the Svalbard archipelago, you can trek through lush tundra sparkling with early summer flowers. Look out for reindeer, arctic foxes, and cliffs bustling with nesting puffins, auklets and guillemots. Nearby Moffen Island is a sanctuary for walruses.
Another polar bear hot spot is a remote archipelago called Franz Josef Land. It's located inside the Russian Arctic National Park. "If you want to see polar bears then this is a top destination," says Robyn Mundy, Arctic expert and expedition leader for Australian-owned Aurora Expeditions. "We can take the ship as far north as we can into the pack ice and see polar bears with their cubs, hunting seals. It doesn't get more natural or primal than that."
With very few operators allowed to land here, you could be one of the few people in the world to have ever set foot on this land. The seabird colonies are immense, and you have the opportunity to see walruses, arctic foxes, beluga whales, elusive bowhead whales, and the unicorn of the Barents Sea – the narwhal.
Midnight sun, Greenland Photo: Aurora Expeditions
For giant icebergs and spectacular glacial scenery there's no place like Greenland. A giant ice sheet separates the east of the island from the west, meaning that expeditions generally take in one side or the other. "There's one place called Iceberg Alley, where you can kayak or Zodiac between icebergs bigger than the ship," Mundy says.
In East Greenland the scenery is truly astonishing. Here you'll find a backdrop of towering mountains, vast areas of wilderness, huge glaciers, countless icebergs, and sea cliffs banded with layers of purple, cream and blue. Hike across the tundra on the trail of arctic hare, arctic fox, and musk ox. Paddle among sculptured icebergs in the world's largest fjord system. And meet Inuit locals in Greenland's remotest and northernmost inhabited settlement.
In West Greenland you can experience the clamour of seabirds, the crackling and popping of sea ice, the splash of harp seals, and the thunderous roar made by giant slabs of ice as they tumble into fjords teeming with whales. In Nuuk, the northernmost capital city in the world, the Greenland National Museum showcases the 500-year-old Qilakitsoq mummies, dressed in animal skins and feathers. Take a stroll among the brightly-coloured wooden houses that hug the edge of the fjord. Stop off at the rustic local market, where stallholders sell the daily catch and local delicacies and produce.
Crater pool of Krafla Volcano near Lake Mývatn, Northeast Iceland Photo: Aurora Expeditions
Being an island, the best way to see Iceland is from the sea. A circumnavigation takes in a landscape dominated by broody volcanoes, thundering waterfalls, and beaches as black as squid ink. Kayak through remote fjords. Hike to giant seabird colonies and sulphurous mud springs. Relax in natural geothermal baths amidst clouds of steam. And see the remnants of houses buried by a volcanic eruption. Don't miss Vatnajökull National Park. It's home to Europe's largest glacier, as well as glacial lagoons, colourful mountains, and herds of reindeer.
There's more volcanic scenery on Jan Mayen – a remote Norwegian island dominated by impressive glaciers and the massive Beerenberg Mountain. It's the world's northernmost active volcano. Be one of the rare few to hike across rugged Jan Mayen. Highlights include an abandoned whaling station, and large colonies of breeding fulmars. On approach to the island, look out for fin whales and dolphins, and harp seals breeding on the pack ice.
As the Arctic is a difficult place to reach, an itinerary and the right mode of transport will ensure you enjoy experiences that last a lifetime. A small-ship expedition cruise with Aurora Expeditions will give you more opportunities for shore excursions to get up close and personal with the amazing natural world.
Founded by the well-known explorer and mountaineer Greg Mortimer, Aurora Expeditions is an Australian-owned company with over 27 years specialising in small group expedition-style travel to the polar regions and other wild locations. With a history of pushing the boundaries of expedition travel, different voyages offer adventure options such as mountain climbing, ski and snowboard touring, sea kayaking, snorkelling, photography and camping in various locations; while Aurora's expert naturalists, historians, staff and crew help to unlock the wonders of these special places. Plan your Arctic adventure of a lifetime here