8 reasons to visit Arctic destinations Svalbard and Jan Mayen

By Australian Geographic | November 5, 2018

The Arctic Ocean is home to a number of uniquely beautiful destinations, but there are two stand-outs: Jan Mayen and Svalbard, two of the closest islands to the North Pole, rarely visited and a challenge to conquer for a willing adventurer.

1. The wildlife is one-of-a-kind

The Svalbard Archipelago is teeming with unique wildlife. Land animals such as magnificent polar bears, arctic foxes and the world’s smallest species of reindeer Rangifer tarandus platyrhynchus, more commonly referred to as the Svalbard reindeer can be seen eating throughout rich tundra. Then there’s the incredible bird life. Spot the rock ptarmigan and the Arctic tern gliding across the skies, the perfect photographic subjects. And of course, look out for the walruses that are permanently parked on Moffen Island.

2. The perfect photographic destination

Svalbard’s abundant wildlife makes it the perfect place for an avid photographer to capture one-of-a-kind images in a remote, rarely visited location. The natural landscape  – ice-capped mountains, glaciers, and rugged coastline– also make for the perfect photographic subjects. Take a hike through the northern parts of Svalbard for the best photo opportunities.

(Image credit: K Povey/Aurora Expeditions)

3. A storied past

Jan Mayen island, while a nature destination, has a rich history, especially for those passionate about polar exploration. In the 1800s, the Austarcro-Hungarian North Pole Expedition used the island as a base, successfully mapping and resehing the area, and, one of the main financial backers of the expedition, Count Johann Nepomuk Wilczek established a polar station on the island that still stands today. If you travel from Jan Mayen to Spitsbergen–  the largest island of the Svalbard archipelago– you’ll be following tin the footstep of Dutch explorer Willem Barents who discovered Spitsbergen and the Barents Sea.

4. Remoteness

Visiting Jan Mayen Island automatically makes you one of the first people on earth to do so because, until relatively recently, no one was allowed to step foot on the island, other than those that work at the weather station. This means that the area is unspoiled by large amounts of tourist activity. The island is considered to be for the more adventurous traveller which means that you still encounter few people

5. A natural wonderland

Jan Mayen Island is unlike any other place on earth. Beerenberg volcano, the world’s northernmost active volcano, is a whopping 2,277 metres high. Connecting the north and south parts of the island is a rugged isthmus. To cross it would be a great challenge for a keen adventurer. Dotted along the isthmus are two magnificent lagoons, Sørlaguna and Nordlaguna, as well as magnificent, baby blue glaciers and icy domes.

Jan Mayen Island. (Image credit: Aurora Expeditions)

6. Go on an Arctic Tundra hike

If you’re a hiker, a trip to Svalbard is a must. Travelling across the Arctic Tundra, up mountains and through valleys, is a one-of-a-kind experience. Kongsfjorden (Kings Bay) situated in Northern Svalbard is one of the best places to explore. Not only is there a 140ha bird sanctuary– another perfect opportunity to get your camera out– there’s also a vast fjord that’s surrounded by mountains covered in beautiful tundra and glaciers.

7. See Svalbard’s unique plant life

You may think that being so close to the North Pole, the flora on Svalbard may be limited, but thanks to warming from the the Gulf Stream, it’s home up to 170 species of flowering plants. Some of the most magnificent is the Svalbard poppie, Purple Saxifrage and the Mountain Avens, which typically bloom in the summer.

(Image credit: Henrik Lovendahl)

8. Travel with experienced adventurers

The logistics of experiencing this sprawling, pristine polar wilderness alone can be challenging; but package tours are available to take care of the details while you make unforgettable memories in one of the most picturesque places on Earth.

Aurora Expeditions, one of the only providers permitted to land on Jan Mayen Island, offers an 11-day expedition of Jan Mayen Island, that includes visits to Svalbard and Iceland aboard the ship Greg Mortimer for just AU$8,200, and offers both sea kayaking and photography workshops.

The expedition is led by experienced adventurers who are remote area specialists, privy to the challenges of travelling across Jan Mayen Island and Svalbard, either by trekking or kayaking. To see the full itinerary, click here.

This article was written by Australian Geographic with the support of Aurora Expeditions.