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Arctic Expedition Cruising with Hurtigruten

The global surge in interest in expedition cruising over the last decade has awakened adventurous Australians to the possibility of reaching unheard of places on the planet. Hands up if you know where Longyearbyen, Grindavík and Kangerlussuaq are.

An Arctic cruise can be as simple as a cruise to Greenland (with fjords like Kangerlussuaq), Longyearbyen (to see polar bears) or as heroic as an icebreaker cutting through the ice pack itself.

Generally speaking, there is more of the Arctic accessible to cruising than the Antarctic. More vessels travel more often to a wider variety of locations with a greater diversity of flora and fauna.

Any student of geography will know the northern polar icecap is not the huge, deep frozen landmass of its southerly equivalent. The entire Arctic Ocean is the world’s largest slushy, varying in size depending on the season.

The rim of this ocean is the entire northern coast of Russia, the melee of islands and waterways of northern Canada, and the uppermost reaches of Scandinavia. All of this, yes all, hosts ocean cruises of one sort or another.

Recent scientific reports about retreating glaciers and the thinning ice pack have created some urgency for visitors to this region as they attempt to see the great Polar Bear in its diminishing natural environment.

Most specialised polar bear cruises take place around the islands of Svalbard, the largest of which is Spitsbergen, just 600 miles from the North Pole itself. Much history also surrounds these islands, being the launching point for many polar expeditions such as the famous airship flights of the 1920s.

Often overlooked by adventure cruisers is the complex network of 35 Norwegian coastal ports served by the famous Hurtigruten cruise and ferry line. The 12 day roundtrip journey is a complete introduction to everything Norwegian and nautical. Beginning in the famous port of Bergen, you’ll travel through the renown coastal fjords that make Norway famous and almost to Russian border and the Arctic outpost of Kirkenes.

Highlights include the great gothic cathedral of Nidaros, crossing the Arctic Circle, the beautiful Art Nouveau town of Alesund and the summer stop at the Geirangerfjord, a UNESCO World Heritage site, to see the beautiful Brudesloret, Friaren, and the Seven Sisters waterfalls.

Hurtigruten, which translates as “Express Route”, was established in 1893 to formalise the coastal route and ensure regular mail, cargo and passenger services along the coast. Today the 35 ports are visited twice each day by a fleet of 11 vessels.

More recently Hurtigruten has responded to the growing demand for coastal leisure cruising and embarked on a major fleet upgrade, bringing into service ships much more in line with the needs of modern cruise passengers. On board a typical Hurtigruten vessel you’ll find creature comforts like spacious cabins and quality fittings alongside generous public areas, bars and restaurants. The later vessels have fitness rooms, Jacuzzis and the MS Finnmarken even has an outdoor pool.

Hurtigruten strives to deliver a ‘real’ cruise experience, an alternative to the traditional large ship itineraries, by introducing guests to life in the Arctic as lived by the authentic town folk of these remote communities.

The expedition-ready vessels have lecture theatres and meeting rooms with special themed cruises carrying lecturers and experienced guides for a total interpretative experience.

The 12,700-ton, 318-passenger MS Fram, introduced in 2007 is a true expedition vessel and is ice rated for such journeys as Greenland and the Antarctic, while the fully fledged icebreaker, MS Polar Star, carries up to 100 passengers in the frigid waters around Spitsbergen in search of Polar Bears and Walrus.

Themed cruises will follow a constant historical or natural thread. For example, some of the most popular such cruises are any of the Northern Lights Adventure Cruises which set out to bath under the natural neon-like phenomenon of the Aurora Borealis.

The Northern lights can occur year-round, but most often occurs from September to October and from March to April. These glorious displays are linked to much folklore and legend. The indigenous Sami people of northern Europe believed one must be careful and quiet when observing the northern lights (called guovssahasat in Northern Sami). Mocking or singing about them would cause the lights to descend on the mocker and kill them.

Away from the busier summer periods, these six distinct itineraries focus on a particular theme and include such novelties as snow scooter excursions and the fascinating Kirkenes Snow Hotel, where guests sleep in a room carved from ice and snow. Visit the picturesque northern fishing villages of Kjøllefjord, Mehamn and Berlevåg and meet the Sami in their traditional lands. You can stand on the most northerly point in Europe, North Cape, and visit the most northerly town, Hammerfest. From glaciers and fjords to ancient Stone Age ruins and Viking legends, these journeys are a true Nordic experience.

The unparalleled experience of Hurtigruten and their modern fleet, make Arctic cruising a genuine, safe and exciting adventure suitable for all age groups and physical ability.

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