The Arctic is as expansive as it is beautiful. Its frost-tinged boundary crosses into the northernmost points of many countries including Canada, Sweden and Russia.
If you’re looking to have your very own Arctic adventure, here’s what you can expect to see and do at different times of the year. You don’t see everything on every visit, but on every visit you experience something rare and special.
End of June/early July
In early summer, the Arctic is bathed by longer periods of sunlight and warmer temperatures begin to melt the snow onshore and the pack ice offshore. Our expedition vessels are able to push further north, to North Spitsbergen in Svalbard, to reveal what the Arctic has to offer. Great whales, minke, humpback and occasionally blue whales come by the coasts.
At this time of year, ringed and bearded seals raise their pups on the pack ice. Their gathering numbers attract polar bears who, after fasting for much of the winter, patrol the pack-ice in search of food. Walrus feed in the near-shore waters and rest on ice-floes and selected beaches. As the sun returns so to do enormous numbers of seabirds, like kittiwakes, little auks and guillemots, coming to feed in the rich waters and to breed on the coastal cliffs.
Ashore also, reindeer congregate to feed on peeking grass and the Arctic foxes, some still in their white winter coats, are out and about busily searching for a meal. The wild flowers begin to emerge.
Early summer in Scotland sees birdcliffs come alive with puffins, kittiwakes, razorbills, gannets and fulmars. Grey and harbour seals rest on rocky shores, and white-sided dolphins search through channels between the many islands.
Mid July/early August
By mid July, summer is in full swing and that means the Arctic is alive with activity and adventure. The western side of Svalbard sheds its icy sheath and the passage to Greenland opens, tundra flowers bloom and the landscapes become awash in pops of pastel colours. The amazing plant life, so well adapted to life in the freezer and such beautiful flowers, is a feature of summer in the Arctic.
Glacier fronts begin to move, with occasional colossal calvings – so always have your camera on hand! Ice sculptures in whites and iridescent blues soar high, creating impressive silhouettes and shadows at every angle. The shorelines of rocky, glacier-carved cliffs are spectacular.
Such beauty can be enjoyed whilst Zodiac cruising or hiking through the Arctic, where guests may see reindeer and Arctic foxes in Svalbard, or musk-ox in Greenland. Every visit brings a unique surprise.
All around the Arctic during this time, eggs are hatching and chicks are growing fast. The seabird cliffs are boisterous cities of activity with parents coming and going. Many species of geese and ducks are out and about surrounded by squadrons of sprinting chicks – now you see them, now you don’t. Stealthy Arctic foxes in their mottled-brown summer coats, are constantly on the search for a meal, occasionally with playful pups in tow. Keep a look out for polar bears – ALWAYS – all looking for food, mums teaching their cubs to hunt.
Near to shore, elusive belugas may be spotted as they mingle in the ice (narwhals are rarer but may be seen), while offshore, our ships may pass some of the area’s largest and most impressive sea creatures, minke, humpback, sei and occasional blue whales.
As well as being a great time of the year to spot incredible wildlife, mid summer also opens further great opportunities for hiking, climbing and kayaking.
Mid August/mid September
As the sun begins to retreat south, periods of darkness lengthen and the elusive aurora borealis occasionally comes out to play. The Northern Lights is a major draw-card for visiting the Arctic at this time of the year – especially in Iceland, south Greenland and northeast Labrador, Canada. It doesn’t come out every night, but if weather permits, lucky expeditioners can watch as the sky plays host to brilliant, dancing whites, greens, yellows and occasionally pinks.
Whilst keeping one eye on the sky, keep the other on the amazing wildlife. Reindeer are making the most of the full fields of vegetation, before they get covered in snow. The seabird cliffs are becoming quiet as adults and fledglings head out to sea in giant flocks. At this time of the year we may see polar bears roaming the pack ice and proud walruses showing off their offspring, ringed and bearded seals are about where some ice remains, and humpback, minke, sei and blue whales continue to feed in near-shore waters.
If you’d like to find out more about voyaging to the Arctic with AE Expeditions, get in touch with the team today.