As a young child, I was always fascinated with nature. Mostly the extreme aspects such as the Arctic, Antarctic, deserts, etc. Partly because I grew up in a suburban land of oversized SUV’s and after school sports practices around a 400 meter track or in a 25 meter pool, and partly because I find large mammals mesmerizing.
exhibit a & b:
I also showed an interest in photography from a very young age due to my family’s ability to travel to exotic places. I wanted to capture the feeling I felt while being anywhere. After learning how to develop my own film, I studied the theory of photography and ended up just pursuing it as a passion project (like all of instagram’s 1.5 billion users).
There is something beyond romantic knowing expeditions to destinations that seem untouched still exist on our oversaturated planet. Raw beauty is what it comes down to. Animals are vulnerable in every way shape and form, from the way they move, act, eat, and even reproduce. They are not effected by a society of social influence, just the will to survive. The combination of the ocean, mountains, people and weather; together it's often a beautiful disaster, and that is what I find so beautiful. Svalbard (a map for those who want a little bit of context pictured below) is a place that fulfills any explorers dream of the wilderness. It combines the extreme weather conditions of the mountains, surrounded by the ocean with a small population of people, and an even larger population of animals (now we're talking).
svalbard: 78.2232° N, 15.6267° E
After moving to Tromsø (250 kilometers North of the Arctic circle), it did not feel extreme enough (which is 100% okay, I am not trying to live in the wild). The 3 months of darkness, and the 3 months of lightness is still pretty out there, but when push comes to shove I want to see polar bears, blue whales and wild walruses roaming around. Just like the books and documentaries I read about as a Child, and even as an adult.
When the opportunity arose to venture to Svalbard on board Duen III, a 72 foot 2 mast sailing ship that is working with Pukka Travels I was the first one to jump on board (pun intended).
4 months went by after purchasing my plane ticket and was beyond excited for the adventures to come. With more polar bears than people inhabiting Spitzbergen, and zero phone reception outside of town, I did not even know what to expect.
Day 1: Downtown Longyearbyen & The global Seed vault
The flight is 2 hours North of Tromsø, and my god make sure to get a window seat. The raw beauty started right as we started our decent into Longyearbyen (the capital of the island).
With 24 hours of sunlight to spare, we were in no particular rush to explore the city before the sunset, though to be honest there is not much to explore in a city with not even 2000 inhabitants.
First thing I noticed (other than the 1 luggage belt at the airport), was that we could not walk into town without a gun, yes a gun. Everyone here strolls around town with a shotgun on their back (think: modern day wild Wild West, Arctic style). So we waited for my friend to pick us up and drop us off at Duen III, our magical chariot for the week and then stolled into town.
The grocery store is seemingly modern, the town has stylish cafe’s and boutiques (even a sushi restaurant), and everyone is incredibly kind. How could you not be when all of Santa’s Letters end up in this post box:
As the evening progressed, we decided to grab a gun and walk to the Global Seed Vault. For those who are unaware, the global seed vault is a project built in the late 2000’s by Cary Fowler. It’s goal is to house all of the seeds in the world in case a global catastrophe… also known as the solution for when dooms day walks into our life and wipes everything off the planet. It has been a dream of mine to stand outside this magical bean stalk of a chamber for quite sometime, and it was almost surreal once we got there.
After walking home it was nearly midnight with the sun directly overhead. We decided to call it quits and explore some more in the morning.
Day 2: Coffee shops & horse riding
With the weather not particularly on our side, we braved the wind and strolled into town after a nice sleep in and breakfast onboard Duen III.
After working for quite sometime, I decided to call a horseback riding place in town to ride one of Svalbard’s 4 horses. On such short notice, we were able to ride for an hour or so on melting permafrost. We passed birds that just arrived from Antarctica, and desolate shipping yards. It was by far one of the coolest riding experiences I have ever had.
Day 3: Glacier Hunting in Sveabreen
The weather decided to behave in a more mature manner on day 3, so we decided to set sail to Sveabreen. A glacier that anyone can go to on a day tour with Pukka Travels (shameless promotion). As we approached the glacier we couldn’t get over how stunning it was and when the sun started shining on it magical does not even begin to describe the sparkle in the sky.
Day 4: Icebergs & city escapes
We woke up bright and early to not a cloud in the sky, the sea was calm and the birds were soaring over the icebergs in search of an early morning breakfast.
As we sailed back to Longyearbyen, we stopped to marvel over the icebergs greeting us along the way. I could not help but to hum Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On… Jack is that you?
Day 5 Weekend Prep:
Robert left for the airport bright and early on Friday, and 24 hours later Alice arrived; The last crew member for our weekend expedition to get footage for Pukka Travels (the reason for our trip for those who are wondering).
Day 6 The sound of silence:
After showering (which felt so good), Alice arrived just after midnight where we decided to sail to the glacier in the wee hours of the night, luckily it doesn’t get dark. After catching up, I decided to hit the hay. A few hours later, I was the first to rise and completely forgot where we were. The view of this glacier will never get old and I was seemingly like a little kid on Christmas morning. Mother Nature, right in the backyard.
A few hours later, we prepped our camera equipment and took the dinghy to get closer.
At over 100 meters / 300 feet tall, the epic beauty of this glacier was what I was talking about in the beginning. The stillness of the water, the carving of the ice, and the sound of our heartbeats (okay and maybe the buzzing sound of a drone). Our Earth is spectacular, and I feel honored I can witness it in such a way.
After getting the shots we needed, we slowly made our way back to the boat where the crew had fired up the hot tub, yes did I forget to mention there is a hot tub on board, that you can drive the boat from?
It was a striking moment for all of us. This is what life is about, and this is why we do what we do.
Day 7: Walrus Island + WHALES
So far, everything I could have possibly imagined was ticked off of my list of things to do/see. Horseriding, Glaciers, Sailing, Seed Vault - but wait there is more they said. Walruses.
Giant, blubbery, adorable, whisker-tusk-faced WALRUSES. Can you tell how excited I was to experience such a phenomenon? Wild. Wild. Walruses.
We anchored the boat quite far away, took the dinghy ashore and sat in silence while watching these 1.5 ton creatures bathe, roll around in the sand and act similarly to humans on the beach; lazy.
Even though we easily could have watched for another 5 hours, we decided to respect their privacy and be on our way to the last stop in the Pukka Svalbard Tour, Cole’s Bay.
Day 7, Part II: A desolate Russian mining town in the middle of no where
A few months back, I was doing a lot of research on Cole’s Bay, a desolate mining town in the middle of nowhere that was abandoned back in the 1970’s. I would not be lying when I tell you there is pretty much NOTHING on the internet about this place, which made me think 1 of 2 things. 1. Its going to be amazing to photograph such a place, and 2. It must be haunted and no one wants to go there.
While sailing, the boat was rolling on the waves which put pretty much everyone to sleep. Olli and I sat in the upper saloon in search of wildlife since there had been rumors of blue whales and seals in the area. Hours and hours passed with no luck.
And then all of a sudden the wind stopped. The clouds cleared and the water was like glass. The ocean was reflecting like a mirror, and that’s when a magical moment occurred. Olli saw the ocean spray from a whale far far in the distance. We were going to pass courses in just a couple of moments. In order to capture the moment, Anton got the drone ready and I got my camera out and ready to go.
Everyone was out on deck, the sun was shining and a whale started splashing right outside of Duen III.
The crew went inside to check the footage and I sat outside with my face soaking in the arctic rays for a few more moments. I opened my eyes and can not even comprehend all of the beauty that I was surrounded with. How lucky I am I thought to myself.
A few hours later, we arrived at Coles Bay with the same perfect weather. 6 buildings, a factory, a sunken ship and a torn down pier was in the distance. We loaded the gun, I loaded a memory card into my camera (that was the only thing I planned on shooting even if a polar bear decided to pop by) and we were on our way.
The Island instantly eluded an eerie feeling, almost as if we shouldn’t be there. A cold goose egg, bones of deceased animals and empty buildings. Oh joy.
With Russian receipts, cans of tuna and even pants left behind this place was straight out of an episode of any horror movie or even a black mirror episode.
We stuck together since we were scared, met a few hikers along the way and enjoyed the sunshine.
After an hour or so of exploring, we decided to go back in and make our way to Longyearbyen.
I am 35,000 feet flying south to Tromsø, where wildlife still roams free. It Is hard to digest everything we witnessed over the last week, but I can honestly say there are not many places on this earth like Svalbard. With a strong sense of family and community no matter where you walk, and endless wildlife and nature, I hope just one of you reading this take the time to travel here one day in your lifetime.
next up is the midnight sun half marathon in Tromsø.
Really looking forward to the summer season both in Norway and in Svalbard. So if anyone is in the area who wants to join a tour just email me and we will make it happen <3, also bookings for 2018 are now open and filling up fast (sail to ski in Lyngen is nearly sold out).
And thank you to Duen III & their phenomenal crew for hosting us <3