Polar Cruise Vessel The Spirit Of Enderby Jewel of the Russian Far East
Mike Unwin, travel and nature writer based in Brighton UK. Voted UK Travel Writer of the Year by the British Guild of Travel Writers. 
Mike Unwin, travel and nature writer

Mike Unwin is a freelance travel and nature writer based in Brighton UK. He writes regularly for the Telegraph, Independent, BBC Wildlife and numerous other publications, and is the author of more than 30 books for both adults and children. In 2013 Mike was voted UK Travel Writer of the Year by the British Guild of Travel Writers.  

Here Mike gives us a brief account of his experience on an expedition cruise aboard the Spirit Of Enderby with Wildfoot Travel.

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Summer Land Based Arctic Adventures – Season End Approaching

Our most popular location for exciting Arctic land-based trips is Spitsbergen, in the Svalbard archipelago – a pure white wilderness that is easily accessible from Europe and the rest of the world.

Although at Wildfoot our main focus has traditionally been on luxury cruising through some of the world’s most enthralling destinations, you may not realise that we also have a large portfolio of thrilling land-based Arctic adventures that offer just as much excitement as you would find on a cruise voyage.

For many people, a luxury polar adventure tour is the perfect way to see this incredible part of the world in total relaxation, but for others a cruise does not quite fit the bill. Be it the fear of seasickness or the desire to be more “out in the open” with the frozen wilderness. That’s why we’ve put together some genuinely awe-inspiring land-based Arctic adventure trips for those looking for an even more authentic experience.

As mentioned above, our most popular location for Arctic adventure land-based trips is Spitsbergen, in the Svalbard archipelago. This white wilderness is easily accessible from Europe and the rest of the world, making it a great destination for your first polar adventure. Located approximately midway between mainland Norway and the North Pole, Spitsbergen is teeming with an abundance of flora and wildlife (including polar bears), as well as stunning glaciers and fjords.

Wonderful Wildlife

While our Arctic adventure tour is guaranteed to offer opportunities for thrills and excitement, with many land-based activities to choose from, another huge draw to this magical region is the wildlife. From mighty polar bears to beautiful beluga whales, Svalbard is a hub of activity thanks to the wide variety of creatures that call this part of the world home. 

Svalbard itself is located in a frozen desert with its own unique ecosystem and habitats. A tour of this remote archipelago is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see some of our planet’s most incredible animals. Here is just some of the wintry wildlife that you might spot on your Arctic adventure.

Humpback Whale

Let’s start with one of the biggest of the bunch. These magnificent mammals can grow up to 50 feet in length and weigh in at a huge 40 tonnes. You can identify these whales easily, thanks to their distinctive hump that sits at the front of their dorsal fin. Despite their size, they tend to feed on small fish and krill before heading to warmer climes for the mating season. Although they were once hunted to near extinction, their population has made a huge comeback and they’re often spotted around Svalbard, so be sure to keep your eyes peeled for them!

Arctic Fox

A smaller, but no less magnificent animal, this fox, also known as the polar, snow or white fox, appears like a magical snow ghost, with its pure white coat and stealthy demeanour. But despite their delicate appearance, they are extremely hardy, surviving temperatures as low as minus 50 degrees Celsius. They also have the ability to change their coat colour, which varies throughout the year – from a bluish hue to something more yellow. Although they are becoming rarer, their population is improving in Svalbard, so be on the lookout for one during your Arctic adventure.

Svalbard Reindeer

While we’re on the land, let’s introduce you to the local reindeer, which have been native to this archipelago for the past 5000 years. Thanks to their prevalence, you’ll have an excellent chance of seeing this beautiful beast. Their appearance shows how well they’re built for this harsh climate, with a small head, stocky neck and legs, and a thick coat – all designed to keep the cold out and the heat in. Again, this is one of the many animals that were nearly hunted to extinction, but thankfully today the populations are thriving. 

Polar Bear

These are arguably the ‘main players’ of this terrain, because they certainly attract many visitors to explore the region. Known as “ice bear” by the locals, polar bears are counted in the hundreds in this area, which means you’ve got a great chance to see one during your Arctic adventure. Seals form the main part of their diet, so if you spot seals there’s a good chance that a polar bear is nearby. Witnessing one of these animals in the wild is an unforgettable experience.


Today, there are thousands of these lumbering giants on the polar archipelago, so your chances of seeing the friendly-looking mammals are high. If you do spot some, they’re likely to be fully grown males, which can weigh a whopping 1700kg. They’re impressive creatures, with large tusks and huge rolling bodies. They often congregate in groups and can be seen chilling on the ice after scrounging for mussels on the seafloor.

Beluga Whale

In contrast to the humpback, the beluga whale is one of the smallest whale species, measuring about 13-20 feet in length and weighing 1-1.5 tonnes. Their distinctive high-pitched call and pale, greyish colour give them a ghostly presence. Since these whales are pretty social and hang out in groups not far from the land, you’ve got a great chance of seeing them.


Last but by no means least, it’s the pretty little puffin. Also known as “sea parrots”, these small black and white seabirds are known for their bright orange and yellow beaks. Unfortunately, they’ve now been deemed a vulnerable species, and while there are colonies present in Svalbard, it’s hard to know the exact numbers. They spend most of their time at sea, hunting alone, but will return to land to breed and raise their young.

From Huskies to Wilderness Hotel Luxury

Spitsbergen is the only permanently populated island in the archipelago, which means that it is a thriving area for polar expeditions catering to a wide range of people – from those who simply want to enjoy the experience, to those who really want to immerse themselves into the wilderness.

From three-hour trips to five-day all-encompassing adventures, there is something to suit every desire and budget.

For example, if you’re already in Spitsbergen or Svalbard and you fancy setting off into the wilderness for a few hours, we would recommend a thrilling Spitsbergen dog sledding trip, where you’ll get to man your own team of Alaskan huskies to take you on the journey of a lifetime.

The Ultimate Arctic Adventure: Dog Sledding

Exploring this frozen part of the world on a dog sled is an unforgettable experience. Through icy valleys, across vast snowy plains and into the mountains – you just have to sit back and let the sound of the sled on the snow and the dogs’ feet lull you into a dream, while the magical landscape flies by. If you’re looking for the ultimate holiday, then you’ll want to add dog sledding to your bucket list.

Apart from the thrill and beauty of this activity, there’s an extra level of sentimentality in taking part in something that has been done in this part of the world for thousands of years. The origin of dog sledding dates back all the way to 6000 BC, when dog sleds were an important mode of transport. Today, it’s most commonly seen as a competitive sport, but explorers and communities still rely on their dogs as a way to get around the frozen tundra.

When it comes to the actual sledding, you have a few options to choose from. While many people are happy to have a driver as their guide, there are opportunities to drive your own dog sled. It all depends on the route you take, as some will require more experience than others. Each sled can carry two or three people, and the number of dogs will vary depending on the weather conditions (usually from six to twenty dogs). As for your itinerary, this will depend on whether you choose to take an overnight camp or just a day tour. 

Finally, the most important – and the cutest – aspect is the dogs themselves! These incredibly fit, strong, and adorable teammates will be a central part of your excursion. The tail-wagging team is usually made up of a mixture of breeds, including Siberian Husky and Alaskan Malamutes, each with their own desirable attributes. Witnessing these incredible dogs working together as a team is a very special experience. Not only can they reach speeds of 25-30km/h on journeys, but they show amazing intelligence and stamina.

Spotlight on Sled Dog Breeds

Every dog sled team requires a few key features: stamina, endurance and grit. They also need to be able to withstand the harsh environment in the polar regions. This means that it’s not a job that any dog can do, but there are a few that are built for this harsh environment. Alaskan Malamute, Samoyed, Chinook and Siberian Husky are some of the most famous and skilled breeds used for sledding.

The history of dog sleds goes back thousands of years, when they were used as an important communication and transportation tool. In fact, it’s such an important part of life here that some scientists believe that settling in such difficult terrain would have been impossible without the help of our four-legged friends. The peak “Era of the Dog Sled” occurred between the late 1800s and early 1900s, before air-travel and better transport links made them a less efficient option. Today, it’s a popular recreational sport and a great activity to try.

In terms of famous dogs, Balto is probably the one that comes to most of our minds. He was the renowned black husky who led a sled team in the final relay to carry diphtheria serum during the 1925 epidemic. Balto and his team would have had all the trademark qualities of an ace sled team, and the standards are similar today. A great sled dog should have excellent feet to handle the tough terrain, a hearty appetite, and a healthy coat. It sounds simple, but these features are essential.

Authentic Experiences at Nordenskiöld Lodge

For those looking for a deep digital detox and a return to nature, Nordenskiöld Lodge is the perfect place. Set at the foot of the imposing Nordenskiöld glacier, off the beaten tourist track, you’ll find an oasis in a beautiful pine cabin that runs on firewood only. It’s a hidden gem that blends into its mighty surroundings. Although the accommodation is luxurious and inviting, the only connection you’ll find here is with yourself and nature. That’s right, there’s no WiFi and no electricity, which means that the only disturbance is the sound of the glacier and a crackling fire.

During your stay, you can explore the glacier moraine on foot, allowing you to fully take in the majestic surroundings. After a day of exploring, you’ll be welcomed back into your cosy cabin.  As night falls, you’ll share stories of the day over dinner. Absolutely magical.

Kayaking on an Arctic Adventure Tour

Alternatively, if you want an Arctic adventure that will last a bit longer, why not try this thrilling 6-day Spitsbergen Kayak Expedition, where you will kayak through the icy waters in search of adventure, encountering a plethora of wildlife and stunning landscapes along the way. Visit intriguing towns such as the ghost town of Pyramiden, and finish off each day with beautiful meals in the fantastic Nordenskiöld Lodge, Spitsbergen’s northernmost hotel – it offers a truly unique experience.

Kayaking is a unique and breathtaking way to explore this frozen wonderland. Not only does it offer an extended excursion, but you’ll get to see the polar region from a completely new perspective. You’ll get to explore remote parts of the coastline, getting close up to floating ice and even closer to the local wildlife. 

However, perhaps the most magical part of this experience is the silence. This part of the world has a special kind of quiet and, during a kayak excursion, all you’ll hear is the sounds of your paddles in the water, the occasional crack of the ice around you, or a seal splashing in the sea.

There’s also the added thrill of camping under the stars. After a day of exploring, you and your group will set up camp in the wilderness, choosing a new location every evening. Kayaking offers the best chance to truly immerse yourself in the frozen wonderland, as well as offering an authentic feel. You might even be asked to keep a lookout for polar bears!

If you’re looking for a touch of luxury after a long day of exploring the wilderness, we thoroughly recommend a trip that includes Isfjord Radio, a stunning eco-lodge that offers unprecedented luxury one might not expect from such a remote location. Plus, it’s the only full-scale boutique hotel outside of the capital of Longyearbyen.

Luxury at Isfjord Radio

This incredible hotel sits at the gateway to the white wilderness and offers an absolute treat if you’re looking for something different. Delivering luxury living in the heart of isolation, Isfjord Radio is set in Kapp Linne, which is located right at the edge of Svalbard’s west coast. From here you can watch the Northern Lights flicker across the sky, bask in the midnight sun and watch some of the most beautiful sunsets you’ll ever see.

In this picturesque location the opportunity to observe the wildlife is ever-present. Reindeer frequently walk past guests’ windows, and you might even spot an ice fox hunting for bird eggs in the snow. But the best part of this unique hotel is being able to disconnect from daily life and be truly present at what feels like the end of the earth. A stay here provides an experience unlike anywhere else.

Of course, Spitsbergen isn’t the only area that’s superb for polar land-based adventures, but we think it might just be the best! So, if you fancy keeping your feet on dry land get in touch and our polar experts will be delighted to help find the perfect tour for you. But hurry – the summer season will be ending soon!

Contact one of our friendly polar experts today to start planning your once-in-a-lifetime trip.

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At Wildfoot, we are a team of experienced travellers with a passion for adventure. Not only are our friendly staff excited to help you create the holiday of a lifetime, but they have a wealth of experience that’s incomparable. We pride ourselves on our passion and vast knowledge, which will guarantee your holiday is an extraordinary experience.

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Northern Passages & Glacier Bay

With a focus on glaciers, this trip is full of activities. You can expect breathtaking scenery and plenty of opportunities for wildlife spotting, thanks to visits to Glacier Bay National Park and Tongass National Park. There are also plenty of chances to explore the waters with sea-kayak excursions and paddleboarding.

Scotland to Svalbard via Jan Mayen
A mixture of home and away is on offer in this itinerary: from the lush Shetland Isles to the beautiful Faroe islands and the landscapes of Svalbard, this will be a memorable journey. As well as the mesmerising scenery, you’ll be able to search for all kinds of wildlife, including seabirds, reindeer, whales and maybe even polar bears. As well as lots of cruising, there are chances to explore on foot with planned nature walks and hikes.

The Icebergs in Greenland's Disko Bay

Jewels of the Arctic

This is for the explorers. A voyage that highlights the best of this fascinating region, from Svalbard’s frozen coast to Greenland and a bit of Iceland. Every day promises unforgettable moments, including rare wildlife sightings and thrilling activities, such as glacier kayaking.

Iceland Circumnavigation

Explore a remote volcanic island of Iceland that showcases the stunning landscape, wildlife and culture of this fascinating country. You’ll explore diverse terrains, from hot springs to waterfalls, and immerse yourself in this island with exciting hikes and Zodiac cruises.