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Svalbard in the beginning of August

by UnaUnso Online Now Jun 13, 2009 at 2:40 PM

Hej alla på Svalbard!

I'm seriously thinking ;-) about visiting Svalbard for few days in the beginning of August.

It's quite easy to get in (for me, from Stockholm), and as I see there is even a choice of mid-expensive hostels present (Guesthouse 102 & Spitsbergen Guesthouse) - about 330 NOK/night.

However, what disturbs me most is that almost all kind of organized activities present at official tourist website are outrageously and furiously expensive, from 500NOK for few hours hike to 1500 NOK for a boat trip around the corner.

From other point of view, it would be stupid to come so far away to such exotic nature and spend all the time inside of a village, which is not so different (as I heard) from other Norwegian villages.

So, here comes THE QUESTION:
is it possible to do some nice day-trips around Longyearbyen by yourself, without tourist agency???

I bought a book about Svalbard which I thought should help me - "SPITSBERGEN: Svalbard, Franz Josef Land, Jan Mayen (Bradt Travel Guide Spitsbergen)"
It's a nice book with very thick chapters about history of Svalbard, about nature in general, about other places of archipelago which are almost impossible to reach, but when it comes to explaining immediate surrounding and suggesting some trekking routes - absolutely nothing inside!
No wonder, because the book is written by an owner of a travel agency, and everywhere you just between the lines - pay money to agencies, don't go alone.
Even very thin section about Svalbard in LonelyPlanet Norway was more useful: they recommended to walk to Mine #3 on Burma rd., Platåberget, Nordenskiöldsfjellet, Longyearbreen and so on.

I know of cause about polar bears danger, but still: renting a gun for protection is only about 100kr, which is much cheaper than hiking offers from agencies.

Another things which makes me crazy about the agencies - in description of many activities it's written: "do not require any physical demand, totally suitable for everyone" - which often means: walk for 45 minutes to a nearest hill, two hours of stories from a guide and walk back.
I'm not eager to pay 500 NOK for this kind of "arctic experience". But I can understand - Svalbard is such an expensive place, so only rich pensioners can afford to come, and then activities needs to be suited for their abilities.

I pre-selected some more-or-less realistic activities for myself:
1) Boat trip to Barentsburg and the Esmark glacier, 1400 NOK

2) Sarkofagen - Hiking trip in glacier landscape, 590 NOK

3) Hiortfjellet - an arctic challenge, 1100 NOK

4) Kayak tour on Adventfjorden, 890 NOK

Are they nice? Maybe they are, but it's very expensive for me to buy all of them.
Which one is recommended to skip and go around on my own?

Another question: my flight back to Oslo is going to depart at 04:50 in the morning. How to get to the airport at this time? Or can I come to the airport about midnight, and stay there until departure? Is the airport open in the night?

Thanks for reading this long request.
I would be very grateful for any advises!

Sincerely, Andriy
PS: sorry for being so sceptical about tourist agencies...

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2 Answers
  • Donna_in_India's Profile Photo

    Re: Svalbard in the beginning of August

    by Donna_in_India Online Now Jun 14, 2009 at 6:10 AM

    Hi - we were in Svalbard just at the end of the winter season so our excursions were snowmobiling and dog-sledding - both had to be booked through an agency and both were great. Because of the time of year (polar bears) we were warned not to wander off on our own. We did do some hiking (towards the mine) but it was absolutely freezing! I think you will be able to do a little more hiking on your own during the summer though. You may consider waiting until you get there to see if you can find things to do without going through an agency. By the way, the main agency is really just the middle-man. They really don't do anything but the booking for you.

    I think Spitsbergen is not like any other Norwegian village - it is very small!! You won't want to spend much time hanging around there!

    You shouldn't have any problem getting transportation back to the airport. Check with your hostel/hotel - they should be able to arrange for the bus pickup.

    Have a great time - it's a very cool place!!

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  • Saagar's Profile Photo

    Re: Svalbard in the beginning of August

    by Saagar Online Now Jul 1, 2009 at 12:34 PM

    Hi, Andriy, and welcome to VT. I notice that you are fairly new to VT. Thus, take your time and read about the independent tips and facts from other people who have been to Svalbard. Some of your questions will be answered there.
    Svalbard is definitely a polar destination, therefore time of day or night doesn't matter so much, and the flights really run at odd hours. That is also linked to saving money for the airlines (using the aircraft at odd hours, less costly airport fees at off hours etc). There is an airport bus in Longyearbyen that comes by your hotel at every flight dropping people and picking up; fixed fee. You can also preorder a taxi, but do not bother. From Stockholm to Svalbard is the same as Stockholm to Madrid or so in distance; it is really far away, and the cost level reflects the distance, even if it is exempt from Norwegian VAT - everything is quite expensive. Plus you have the opportunistic travel agencies.
    If you read my pages you will find there is a double layer of agents/booking systems; Svalbard Reiseliv is the general tourist portal (do not get confused with Spitsbergen Travel), and below there you find a host of more or less specialized agencies. Some of these collaborate and buy each others services etc. But as far as I gather there is no hanky-panky. You get what you purchase, just beware what you purchase.
    You will see a run-down on these on my pages.
    If you look at a map of Svalbard (see my pages for references) you will notice that the islands are divided into management areas. Nordenskjølds Land around Longyearbyen, Barentsburg and out to Kapp Linne as well as south to the next fjord system is the only area where you can - in theory - go on your own. Bradt's is a good book on Svalbard, but a better one came out a couple of years ago, ; by Norwegian authors, can't remember the title now (I am on a holiday) and do not have my references handy. Still, that one will leave you evenso frustrated. Mark my words - there are no trekking routes on Svalbard, but some advice is available on general directions.It also means there are no trail markers, nor bridges, no emergency huts, no phone coverage - just nothing. That may be nice and exciting, but the trouble is changable weather (much worse than coastal Norway and northern Sweden), generally low temperatures (early Aug will be around 3-8 degrees)and danger of hypothermia, glacial rivers and polar bears. many people have described what you need for camping in polar bear territory, to recap: tripwires and flares around your camp site, signal pistol (non-deadly), and 7.62 mm or higher caliber high powered rifle. You need to have night a watch system at night.
    For day trips around Longyearbyen you will do fine with a rifle and pistol (not pistol alone)and given the long days, you can get around quite a bit. You can get a taxi to take you to the end of the roads and you walk a circuitious route back to Longyearbyen.
    Nordenskjold Peak above Longyearbyen is a nice hike, and you may not need to cross glaciers to get there and back.
    Platåfjellet above Longyearbyen toward Bjørndalen and Bjørndalen itself (take a taxi as long the road goes) are nice hikes.
    The LP-recommended walk to Mine 3 on the Burma Rd should not be done unarmed or without a bear-proof polar dog. If going on a mine tour, visit No 7 which is still under operation. Much more interesting.
    The hikes around Longyearbyen are not just another hill, but stony, gravelly, morene, glacier and permafrost-wet mountains, some quite sizeable (given you start from sea level). Sign up for a tough trip and you will get one.
    I have not gone kayaking on Svalbard myself, but have been looking into doing it. The multiday Isfjord kayak tours are what I would do. The safety of a group, and the acceptable cost. I would also do a boat trip, but I would choose carefully. A short cruise up the west coast is expensive, but worthwhile. You can write directly to the travel agencies and ask directly for a specific trip that you want to take. An apparently fantastic trekking trip is an 8-10 day hike on Kong Karls Forland on the west coast.
    There are legal obstacles to trekking that involves camping; these are described in some of the references and tips that I give on my pages. You will soon find out that you are embarking on an expedition!If you do not do as they direct, you will have to finance any rescue operation that you may cause, nothwithstanding your regular travel insurance. Two reasons for this: 1)Svalbard is by and large a national park with fairly strict rules and very primitive polar conditions, 2) the polar bear danger. I wouldn't be frantic about the last in August (most bears are in the east then), but it is still a factor to recon with.
    Longyearbyen isn't like any other Norwegian village, it is a utilitarian mining and science community in the Arctic, and a very odd place. After tree days you begin to feel a bit claustrofobic as a tourist, though... and you want to get out and about. Good luck!
    All the best, Olav

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