It’s the height of summer so there’s no pack ice near Svalbard, we will have to sail on beyond 82 degrees north to locate it this year. But the archipelago has it’s own charm anyway with its ice cap providing an abundance of glaciers that tumble down towards the sea. It’s capital Longyearbyen, provides the world’s most northernmost university and brewery and now that the coal mining here has all but finished it is education, research and tourism that power this town of 2,000 permanents. It’s no longer the frontier town it once was with families forming the core of this population. The most odd aspect of life here – from an outsider’s point of view are the signs at the shop doors that invite customers to leave their guns outside as none of the island’s 3,500 polar bears are kept on the premises.
Apart from its 2 or 3 small settlements the islands here remind me pretty much of the sub-antarctics beyond New Zealand, little to no human habitation, the remnants of old hunting camps (whales, bears, foxes) littering some of the shorelines. Being further north than our subs are south however the vegetation is more tundra-like, glacial icebergs float in the fjords, and the fauna of arctic foxes, reindeer and polar bears ensure the birds don’t have it all to themselves.