Travel Postcard: 48 hours in Arctic Svalbard

Fri Jul 20, 2012 7:38am EDT
 
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By Balazs Koranyi

LONGYEARBYEN, Svalbard (Reuters) - The guide checked his rifle once, then again, before turning around to give a reassuring smile.

"We haven't seen many ice bears near town this year, they're not yet hungry," he said.

The Svalbard archipelago on Europe's northern edge is probably the remotest and wildest place in the Arctic with regularly scheduled flights, so get there quick before the crowds discover its crystal clear waters, glaciers and wildlife.

Reuters correspondents with local knowledge help visitors get the most out of a short stay in Svalbard.

7 a.m. - Although this guide is written for a trip in the summer, when the sun does not set, do consider visiting in the dead of winter, when darkness reigns, temperatures fall to minus 30 Celsius and the community comes together like a large, extended family.

Longyearbyen, the islands' capital, will be your base and though the town has done good work reinventing itself, it is still mostly a mining town and not really your main attraction.

Svalbard, roughly the size of the Ireland, boasts spectacular glaciers, pristine fjords, millions of birds that feed on the fish of sea, walruses that tan on the rocks and of course, polar bears, or as the locals call them: "ice bears".

Svalbard's 3,000 polar bears outnumber the human population so take warnings seriously: never leave Longyearbyen without a guide because you can encounter one of the 600 kg (1,300 pound) killing machines anywhere.   Continued...

 
A ship travels on the Isfjorden near Longyearbyen on the Norwegian Svalbard islands, June 1, 2012. The Svalbard archipelago on Europe's northern edge is probably the remotest and wildest place in the Arctic with regularly scheduled flights, so get there quick before the crowds discover its crystal clear waters, glaciers and wildlife. Picture taken June 1, 2012. REUTERS/Balazs Koranyi