Welcome to Svalbard !
Let us take you out into the Barents Sea, directly north of the sea-whipped islands of Troms, to the final frontier of human existence - Svalbard. Experience the changeable light, fog, drift ice and glaciers which cover large parts of the archipelago. The islands have a surprisingly rich plant and animal life. Once you have been here, you will never forget it! It is no longer such a challenge to visit Svalbard there is now an airport with regular flights.
The Vikings must have known about the islands because they are mentioned in ancient Ice landic writing. The Dutch man Willem Barents re-discovered the islands in 1596. The sea south and east of the archipelago was named after him in recognition of his feat. For 250 years, various European nations hunted around the islands. In the mid-1800s, scientific research commenced on Svalbard and vast coal reserves were discovered. Just before the turn of the century, mining started and with it the battle over sove reignty of the islands. In 1925, it was agreed that Norway should administer the area.
The District Governor of Svalbard is the Norwegian government's highest authority there. Svalbard is unique in many ways. Geologically, the islands are one of the most interesting areas in the whole world. The mountain formation has been turned on its side like a giant archive emerging from the ground. Here, geologists can run through prehistory from pre Cambrian to the Quaternary period. In 1973, around half of Svalbard's land area was protected. Three national parks and two large nature reserves were created.
Svalbard means "the land with the cold coast", and the name is very apt. 60% of the land is covered by snow and ice, all-year-round. Permafrost can go down to 500 m, only the upper 2-3 meters thaw out in the summer. Nevertheless, there are some particularly hardy plants which cling to the soil in the coastal regions. The growing season is only a few weeks in the summer. As compensation, they can exploit the sunlight 24 hours a day. Here we are at the absolute climatic limit for plant life.
Besides Norway, only Russia has a permanent population and industrial operations on Svalbard. They have their own community and mine coal at Barentsburg and Pyramiden. Times are changing, but there are still one or two hunters who spend the winter in isolation, far from the permanent community - a lonely but exciting existence at the final frontier!
Svalbard is both larger and further north than most people realise. The archipelago is located about halfway between Tromsø and the North Pole. Did you know that Longyearbyen is the northernmost place in the world that you can visit on a regular scheduled flight?
The name Svalbard refers to the group of islands stretching from Bjørnøya in the south to Rossøya in the north that represent Europe´s northernmost point at over 80 degrees north. Around 60 per cent of the islands in the archipelago are covered by ice. Even though people have been visiting Svalbard for years, it was not until 1990 that the Norwegian authorities permitted general tourism. Today we have daily flights, first-class hotels and restaurants and many exciting activities for visitors. For our guests, it is important to differentiate between "The remote and untouched Svalbard" and "the Svalbard of Longyearbyen".
TOURISTS ON SVALBARD
"As long as you leave no trace of your visit behind after your stay on Svalbard, you are welcome to return". Nature is very sensitive and vulnerable on Svalbard, not least of all because of the permafrost. You must remember nature at all times whilst travelling. Svalbard´s cultural history is relatively young, and artefacts that you may not think of as very unusual on the mainland are strictly protected on Svalbard. All old building materials are historical artefacts, as are sites previously used to slaughter walrus and polar bears.
Many of the places we visit on our tours have been designated as national parks or nature reserves. The authorities manage these on the basis of a "management plan for tourists" and according to special "tourist guidelines", which, for example, require tour operators to keep the relevant authorities informed about their activities and to provide financial guarantees in case rescue operations are required.
Svalbard's position means that the archipelago "wanders" through several types of northern lights during 24 hours. As a result, Tromsø University in cooperation with the University of Alaska has established a northern lights station at Adventdalen. An extensive international co-operation programme is planning an extension of these studies at Longyearbyen. During the summer, daily boat excursions are organised on the Isfjord. We visit Russian mining towns and take a closer look at magnificent glacier fronts. You can also do trekking, go kayaking or enjoy a host of other recreational pursuits under the watchful eye of our tour guides.
During the winter months, you can climb down into deep glacier crevasses and do a walk inside the glacier, or ride out on snowmobiles across the great Arctic expanse. In Longyearbyen itself, you will find a museum and a gallery exhibiting a wealth of cultural artefacts, and there are also several hotels, restaurants, pubs and shops.
Longyearbyen is the administrative centre on Svalbard. This is the site of the airport and it is from here that the District Governor controls the tiny Norwegian community of around 1.100 people. The majority of the population travelled here in connection with the coal mining run by the Store Norske Spitsbergen Kullkompani. The town provides important social functions such as postoffice, schooling, health centre, church and bank. Previously, the mines at Ny Ålesund were also operational but the place has now become a centre for scientific research.
In summer, around 120 people from different nationalities travel here. Longyearbyen enjoys the midnight sun from 20 April to 22 August, and the sun retreats from 27 October to 15 February. The period of time we call "Arctic Night" lasts from 14 November to 29 January, during this time the sun is lower than 6 degrees below the horizon and we experience night-time conditions 24-hours a day.
Gallery Svalbard displays a number of artworks made by Kåre Tveter featuring wonderful Svalbard motifs. Svalbard’s resident artist Olaf Storø has a permanent sales exposition in the gallery. The gallery also houses a unique map and book-collection - the "Svalbard- Collection" and the "Recherche-collection", paintings from the great expeditions. Thomas Widerberg has photographed and put together a collage of images on the topic "Arctic Light Over Svalbard" (out of function nov. 2003). Occasionally the gallery organises temporary exhibitions and concerts. There is also an art centre at Gallery Svalbard where artists produce handicraft items as well as other artwork.
In addition to the regularly scheduled church services, Svalbard Church is also used for a number of other activities. A large and cosy fireplace lounge in the church is open daily. A couple of evenings a week, you can stop by for a cup of coffee, delicious, Norwegian waffles and daily newspapers. Both concerts and lectures are offered from time to time on the church premises. Svalbard Church also organises excursions featuring outdoor church services.
In what used to be the pigsty in Longyearbyen, you will find the small, but substantial Svalbard Museum. At the museum, you can get an insight into everything from the discovery of Svalbard, 17th century whaling history, expeditions, winter trapping techniques, the war on Svalbard, flora, fauna, and geology and not least of all mining history. As of the autumn of 2005, the museum will relocate to Svalbardporten. In connection with the relocation, many objects will be transported back to Svalbard to be included in the museum expositions. There are also smaller museums in Barentsburg and in Ny-Ålesund.
In connection with Svalbard Museum there is a very characteristic building which houses the funicular railway that was used in earlier times to transport coal in Longyearbyen. The building now features a mining exhibition.
All over the archipelago you will find a number of monuments and historical sites. More information about this can be found in brochures and literature available at the Svalbard Museum. Please take the time to read about the special rules regarding the protection of historical sites on Svalbard (see section on Nature and Environmental Protection). Communication about conservation of Svalbard’s cultural heritage is of vital importance. In collaboration with Svalbard Tourism, the Governor of Svalbard has prepared five brochures on the historical monuments, which describe the locations of historical monuments and sites on the archipelago. The brochures can be purchased at several places in Longyearbyen, for example at the Tourist Information Centre.
THE REMOTE and UNTOUCHED SVALBARD
During the summer, you can travel out into the unspoilt Arctic nature by joining cruises along the coast of Spitsbergen. You will see vast wildlife areas where there are hardly any other humans. Our cruises take you into magnificent fjords and to the foot of majestic mountains. You can experience ragged glaciers, drift ice and polar bear regions, as well as ancient, weather-beaten heritage sites. In the untouched Svalbard, you can also take a closer look at the unique flora and fauna that exist at the outer edges of biological viability.
During the winter months, this remote Svalbard is less accessible. However, by snowmobile and on skis it is possible to experience parts of this winter wonderland. Svalbard in blue and white is a truly unforgettable experience.
POLAR BEARS AND SAFETY
Polar bears are perhaps the principal symbol of Svalbard as a wilderness area, and it is quite something to see a polar bear in his natural habitat. Polar bears normally do not attack humans, but they can be extremely dangerous. Bears can pop up anywhere, and anyone travelling outside the settlements on Svalbard should carry firearms and know how to use them. Our tour guides have rifles and weapons training.
You are not allowed to bring your own weapons on our organised tours without special permission. Tour guides also carry with them safety equipment, such as signal pistols for scaring away bears. At the campsites, you will often have to take part in bear watches to keep an eye out for the king of the north.
We must also ensure that our guests respect heritage sites, flora and fauna, and that our tour guides have the necessary training about nature, the environment, and laws and regulations on Svalbard. Svalbard Polar Travel believes that the environmental dimension is extremely important for the future of the travel industry on Svalbard, and we are working hard to achieve the objectives set out in the guidelines.
NATURE and ANIMALS
To protect and preserve the environment and animals on Svalbard, around 60 percent of the archipelago has been designated as national parks, nature reserves or as bird or plant sanctuaries. There are only three land mammals on Svalbard - polar bears, Svalbard reindeer and the Arctic fox, but there are a number of sea mammals, including walruses ring seals, bearded seals, Greenland seals, hooded seals, white-nosed dolphins, and various whales such as narwhal and killer whales. More than 100 species of birds have been identified in the area, and the number of plants is far higher than might be expected so far north.
On Svalbard it is claimed that there are 160 species of birds with a much smaller number of mammals. The bird numbers are dominated by seagulls, but differ ent types of eider ducks and geese also nest here. During the short Arctic summer, the birds have to hatch their eggs and rear their young. The need for adjustment is great. The most impressive example is the polar bear. While cousins around the world live off plants, the polar bear eats only meat. The seal, a sea mammal forms the main part of his diet, and the polar bear has developed a talent for hun ting that is equally effective in the sea as on land.
The Gulf Stream keeps the west coast of Spitsbergen open for sea traffic during the summer season and makes this one of the northernmost ice-free zones in the world. During the summer, the temperature usually stays above zero, with 6 degrees Celsius above freezing as the average. There is very little precipitation, but the humid air from the sea often causes fog and light drizzle. The winters are mild for this latitude, with March being the coldest month (average temperature 14 degrees below zero).