Explore's Hanna Holmes has recently returned from an adventure to the Arctic on our Realm of the Polar Bear polar voyage. She shares her experiences here in the first of a series of blogs documenting the voyage.
"My first impressions on arriving in Longyearbyen - gateway town to Svalbard - were that the landscape is not only stunning but reminiscent of northern Patagonia with snow-capped mountains and colourful corrugated iron houses. After taking some photos it was time to board our ship - the M/S Expedition. We made our way out to the ship by Zodiac, which was the best way to appreciate the true size of the vessel and get a sense of the adventures to come.
The next day we headed to Magdelena Fjord which is the capital of the British Arctic and was also the main whaling centre. We were told that there were walruses nearby and that we would see them from the Zodiacs after our landing. Everyone was so excited - our first expedition into the Arctic.
We boarded the Zodiacs and headed towards the peninsula. As we arrived, we met the main expedition leader and she briefed us on where we could go. The scouting party had left the ship about 30 minutes before to set a perimiter that we could explore within. You don't want to meet a polar bear while on foot!
There were Arctic terns and lots of snow. It was amazing to wander along the tundra and experience the Arctic. This was also going to be the place we could take the dreaded polar plunge! They said we just had to get our kit off and run into the water from the beach. Easily said. So off came the many, many layers and I ran in to possibly the coldest water I have ever experienced. But I still did it - YEAAAHHHHH! I ran back on shore with the promise of the nice fluffy towel and was greeted by a tiny blue napkin thing. This thing covered nothing and dried even less. So I got my clothes back on, got into the zodiac, back to the ship and straight into the sauna. It was MUCH needed.
After we warmed up it was back out to see the walruses - I have totally fallen in love with these mammals. Most of them just laid around scratching and rolling but we also saw two in the water. Everyone loved them and we stayed there for ages. Who would have known that walruses were so cute?
That evening we had our briefing and recap and were told we would be heading north to find the ice and we all had the same thought - where there is ice there are POLAR BEARS! After the briefing we retired to the bar to talk about our days while we waited to see the midnight sun. The most striking thing about the 24 hour daylight is that as the hours tick by the sky gets lighter and lighter. This makes it very difficult to work out what time it is and creates a strange feeling because you feel tired when it's so sunny. Plus the best light for photography is from midnight onwards."
Read part two of Hanna's blog.