Inside an extraordinary 'polar bear' cruise to the top of the world: Traveller ... trends now

Inside an extraordinary 'polar bear' cruise to the top of the world: Traveller ... trends now
Inside an extraordinary 'polar bear' cruise to the top of the world: Traveller ... trends now

Inside an extraordinary 'polar bear' cruise to the top of the world: Traveller ... trends now

Travel writer Jo Kessel filmed the ultimate polar bear cruise aboard Hurtigruten's 220-passenger expedition ship MS Spitsbergen. The film shows what expedition life is like, with passengers exploring on foot and in inflatable zodiac boats as they scout for wildlife and glaciers. Plus, there's exclusive footage of Jo being attacked by an Arctic tern, kayaking at the North Pole's ice edge and finding one very well-fed polar bear.

There are many animals most of us will only ever expect to see in a David Attenborough documentary, like tigers, gorillas and marine life from the depths of the ocean. 

For me, polar bears were firmly on that list, but then I learned of an expedition voyage operated by the Norwegian cruise line Hurtigruten. One of its itineraries circumnavigates Norway's northern archipelago of Svalbard, home to polar bears. 

And with the sighting of one practically guaranteed, it was too exciting an opportunity to miss.

The rugged, remote Svalbard wilderness sits halfway between Norway and the North Pole. The cruise sails roundtrip from its capital Longyearbyen, the world's most northern town, which is a three-hour flight from Oslo. This is where I meet the 220-passenger MS Spitsbergen, my home for the next ten days.

Travel writer Jo Kessel, pictured, filmed 'the ultimate polar bear cruise' aboard Hurtigruten's 220-passenger expedition ship MS Spitsbergen

Travel writer Jo Kessel, pictured, filmed 'the ultimate polar bear cruise' aboard Hurtigruten's 220-passenger expedition ship MS Spitsbergen

Jo's cruise circumnavigated the northern Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, home to thousands of polar bears

Jo's cruise circumnavigated the northern Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, home to thousands of polar bears 

The video begins with expeditioners wildlife-spotting on the ship's top deck, dressed in special expedition jackets. Many have brought along some serious paparazzi-style kit - telephoto lenses, telescopic binoculars and the like – which makes my iPhone seem woefully inadequate.

On board is an expedition team of guides specialising in the region's wildlife, geology and history. 

At an introductory meeting, they try to manage our expectations by showing us a photo of three very distant polar bears. 'If we're lucky,' they say, 'this is about as close to the bears as we'll get.' 

We're reminded that polar bears are dangerous predators, the world's largest terrestrial carnivore with top speeds of 25mph. 'Our job as your guides is to NOT get too close,' says the expedition leader. We're reminded that contrary to popular belief, polar bears are in fact yellow, so it's best to be on the lookout for distant yellow blobs as opposed to white.

The video, however, starts with birds. They live in colonies with thousands of them teetering on narrow cliff ledges, many with chicks waiting to fledge. First, it's guillemots; then kittiwakes. They're teeny, but their cacophony is deafening. We're warned to keep mouths firmly shut should we look up!

This is the perfect hunting ground for Arctic foxes and, unbelievably, I film one with a kittiwake in its mouth. 

But if this is hard to watch then the footage that follows is even harder. 

It features an Arctic tern, the world's longest migratory bird, which makes the mammoth journey from Antarctica to the Arctic every year. 

It's also one of the world's most aggressive birds during nesting season. 

They swoop and peck at visible threats (humans included) and we're advised to raise an arm with a closed fist should one approach. 

The camera is rolling when an Arctic tern makes a beeline for my head. It looks scarier than it feels and, even though its sharp beak pierces my gloves, it's hard to have anything but admiration for a bird that defends its young so fiercely.

'The rugged, remote Svalbard wilderness sits halfway between Norway and the North Pole,' explains Jo. 'The cruise sails roundtrip from its capital, Longyearbyen, the world's most northern town'

'The rugged, remote Svalbard wilderness sits halfway between Norway and the North Pole,' explains Jo. 'The cruise sails roundtrip from its capital, Longyearbyen, the world's most northern town'

The camera is rolling when an Arctic tern attacks Jo's head, as seen above

The camera is rolling when an Arctic tern attacks Jo's head, as seen above

Using a map to demonstrate where polar bears are found, Jo tells her viewers that they can 'pop up anywhere on Svalbard'

Using a map to demonstrate where polar bears are found, Jo tells her viewers that they can 'pop up anywhere on Svalbard' 

Jo describes 'a mad scramble to reach top deck' when a message on the ship's loudspeaker announces 'there's a polar bear starboard on the beach' (pictured)

Jo describes 'a mad scramble to reach top deck' when a message on the ship's loudspeaker announces 'there's a polar bear starboard on the beach' (pictured)

Up next is the ship. 

My mini-suite is beautifully decorated in light, Nordic pine and everywhere on MS Spitsbergen comes with a view, from the sauna to the gym, and from the hot tubs and lounges to the science lab, where samples can be put under the microscope to gem up on the flora and fauna.

Wherever we go we're accompanied by guides armed with rifles and flares to use as a last resort should a polar bear take us by surprise. 

A few days in and we see

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