From the history:
In May 1596, two Dutch ships left Amsterdam and sailed northwards. It was the third year in which Willem Barentsz was in search for the Northwest Passage. This time they attempted a route directly to the North Pole. After the explorers hit the ice edge, they followed it to the south-east and located land again on 17 June at about 80° north. They described the terrain as “nothing but mountains and sharp peaks, so we called the new land (het nieuve land)… Spitsbergen”. The first travellers to Spitsbergen were struck by the enormous numbers of whales, seals and walruses. In the centuries that followed, systematic plundering was carried out, particularly by England, France and the Netherlands. The sad climax came between 1669 and 1778, when a total of 58,000 whales were caught and butchered. The elimination of whale stocks has not recovered significantly to this day.

Today’s Spitsbergen presents itself to the visitor as extraordinary, lonely and arctic. 1300 kilometres from the North Pole and with an annual average temperature of -7.5°C, there are currently around 2700 inhabitants from 50 nations living on Spitsbergen. The three largest towns, Longyearbyen, Sveagruva and Barentsburg, are not connected by roads, which makes the supply and communication quite exciting. In general, there are only 40 kilometres of roads around Longyearbyen, so the best way to travel is by ship.

Travelling on the Noorderlicht:
My journey began in Longyearbyen, the capital of Spitsbergen. As soon as I arrived, I was impressed by the clear, cool air and the breathtaking scenery. The small town exudes a unique blend of modern convenience and Arctic adventure. I had a day to explore the area and visit the university with the Svalbard Museum before leaving to the harbour and embarking on my home for the next 8 days, the Noorderlicht. The Noorderlicht is a former lightship, which was built in Flensburg in 1910 and served as a “lighthouse replacement” for decades. The converted ship now combines old sailing tradition and modernity and is perfect for exploring the bays and glaciers around the many rough fjords of Spitsbergen.

Glaciers are unforgettable places and I don’t know anyone who hasn’t been fascinated and impressed by this mighty spectacle of millennia-old elemental power. During the trip, we were repeatedly inspired by the fragile beauty of the Arctic tundra with its fascinating plants and animals. The adaptability to these extreme conditions is amazing. I often wondered about the motivation of people to live here all year round. Whether it’s total darkness and cold for over 4 months or all-day sunshine in the polar summer. Many of the old whaling stations and trapper’s huts tell similar stories and fates and yet the challenge and fascination for this extreme and harsh environment seems unbroken.

The unforgettable memories of the untouched nature, the fascinating wildlife and the unique landscapes will remain a lasting memory. I only hope that prudent development will also give the next generation the opportunity to experience the beauty and wonder of the Arctic. 


>>> Willem Barents

>>> The Noorderlicht

>>> Ralf Stange – Svalbard 

>>> Sea Ice Portal