Norway – safari through Europe’s unspoiled wilderness
by Matthew Beattie
From glaciers and snow-capped mountains to the northern lights and the midnight sun, Norway is a stage for some of nature’s greatest spectacles. Its pristine landscape, coastline and islands are sanctuaries for some of Europe’s most exceptional – and toothiest – wildlife.
Rugged mountains look down upon white sands and crystal clear waters at Ramberg beach in Lofoten. The sun never sets during the summer months, when the islands become a paradise for hikers. (Photo: CH/visitnorway.com)
Home to only around 5.2 million people and covering 385,155 square kilometers, Norway is one of Europe’s least populous countries – and one of its last unspoiled wildernesses. Step beyond the country’s charming and friendly cities, and you find yourself in a peaceful and pristine landscape of fjords and mountains that has barely changed since it was forged by the last ice age.
The solitude and splendor of the Norwegian wilderness is rivaled only by the sheer diversity of the wildlife to be found there. From wolverines and lynx to herds of reindeer and elk, Norway is one of the best locations in Europe to witness nature in all its glory. It is also a place where you will find living natural history. Norway is one of the few places on Earth where you can still find musk oxen – a vestige of the last ice age. By far the best way of seeing wildlife and experiencing the stunning landscape of Norway is to take a nature safari. Whether you are a keen ornithologist looking to go in search of white-tailed eagles or a passionate whale-watcher, this Scandinavian nation has a safari to suit every taste and sense of adventure.
Bears, wolves and lynx are just some of the wildlife to be found roaming Norway’s unspoiled wilderness. This tame lynx is one of six at Polar Park, an Arctic wildlife centre around an hour to the north of Narvik. (Photo: CH/visitnorway.com)
Northern lights and polar bears
Svalbard is an archipelago of islands, around 800 kilometers north of the Norwegian mainland and well within the Arctic Circle. It is the world’s most northerly settled area of land. In this frozen and glacial landscape, there is one undisputed king of the natural world: the majestic, beautiful – but also famously lethal and bad-tempered – polar bear. On the largest island of Spitsbergen, polar bears outnumber people and locals stepping beyond the main settlement of Longyearbyen are obliged by law to carry arms to protect themselves from possible bear attacks. The climate is frigid and inhospitable; however, Spitzbergen is one of best places in the world for catching a glimpse of this ferocious but endangered predator. Being just 1,300 kilometers from the North Pole, it is also a superb location to witness one of planet Earth’s most spectacular aerial displays: the ethereal, shimmering curtains of green and violet luminescence known as Aurora Borealis or the Northern Lights.
Polar bears are more common than people in Svalbard. These formidable predators are increasingly drawn to populated areas, as climate change shrinks their natural hunting grounds on the sea ice. (Photo: Asgeir Helgestad/Artic Light AS/visitnorway.com)
Horsepower vs. dog power
Running between February and May, when the ground is thick with snow, snowmobile safaris are an unforgettable way of experiencing the Arctic landscape and glimpsing its wildlife. Under the expertise and protection of your guide, you will speed out across the snow, before stopping on the sea ice for an expedition lunch in the shadows of the mighty Heuglinbreen and Hayesbreen glaciers. See arctic foxes, walruses – and possibly polar bears hunting in their natural environment – as you race across a frozen landscape. Alternatively, why not swap engine power for a more traditional and furry alternative? A dogsled is an exhilarating and unique way of travelling that allows you to truly take in the grandeur of the scenery, as well as to appreciate the lovable and tireless enthusiasm of huskies.
Over the following nine months, she would earn more than $350,000 (equivalent to 21 million dollars in today’s money) from her concerts. She donated much of the proceeds to charities, principally for the endowment of free schools in Sweden. The American people fell in love with her voice, demeanor and devotion to charities – so much so that she and her newly wedded husband, Otto Goldschmidt, had almost no privacy. They became exhausted as fans and the press constantly invaded their private life. To resolve this issue and keep his investment healthy and happy, Barnum designed the first ever private railroad car.
The giants of the ocean
Around 1,000 kilometers southwest of Svalbard – but still within the Arctic Circle – the climate becomes less severe and the wildlife less aggressive. The islands of Lofoten and Vesterålen, situated just off the Norwegian mainland offer stunning scenery, attractive fishing villages and a pristine maritime environment. Thanks to the influence of the gulfstream, the weather is warmer and better than one might expect for such northerly latitudes, whilst the ocean waters team with marine life. As a result, this coastal region of Norway is one of the best places in Europe for seeing cetaceans (whales, dolphins and orcas).
Make a difference
Numerous tour operators in the region offer shorter whale-watching trips, and such is the abundance of whales, your chances of spotting one are about ninety-five percent. However, if you are passionate about whale conservation, you might prefer to experience a truly immersive whale research safari. The Earthwatch Institute offers eight-day packages during which you can become an active member of a cetacean research team. Whales, dolphins and orcas are hugely important to the marine environment, and the success of their populations can provide a valuable insight into the wider health of the planet’s oceans.
There she blows!
The safari experience begins with a tour of Andenes and the opportunity to get to know your fellow researchers. Your time as a researcher begins in earnest on day two, when you will visit a museum to learn about the various species you will be observing and receive training. This newly acquired knowledge is then put to the test, as you take to a boat or climb to the top of Andenes Lighthouse to scan the fjord for the telltale water spurts and splashes of surfacing whales. You will make observations about behaviors, catalogue species and even have the opportunity to record the sub aquatic clicks of sperm whales communicating with one another. A vital part of the project is identifying individual cetaceans by taking photographs and crosschecking them against an extensive database. This helps the research team to track the movements of cetaceans, thereby enabling them to assess population numbers and the success of different species.
This safari will not only give you a deeper understanding of cetaceans, it will also leave you with some incredible memories – and the knowledge that you have made a contribution to the protection of our precious and fragile marine environments.
A white-tailed eagle swoops to catch a fish from the clear waters of a Norwegian fjord. The coast of Norway is home to Europe’s largest population of white- ailed eagles. (Photo: Asgeir Helgestad/Artic Light AS/visitnorway.com)
Experience Norway for yourself
For more information about Norway, as well as great suggestions for other nature safaris and unforgettable experiences, visit www.visitnorway.com
Book your Svalbard adventure at www.svalbardbooking.com
Visit www.svalbardhusky.com to discover an array of thrilling dogsled expeditions.
Play your part in protecting cetaceans and preserving our precious marine environments by booking your whale research expedition www.eu.earthwatch.org/expeditions. The website also offers you the opportunity to fund other research projects by making a donation online.