Svalbard Polar Bear Photographic Expedition - April 2019
This photographic expedition, is co-organised by Iconic Images International, Australia and C4 Images & Safaris, South Africa.
UPDATE: THIS EXPEDITION IS FULLY BOOKED AND HAS A WAITLIST OF 12 PEOPLE. WE WILL BE RUNNING THE SAME EXPEDITION ON 12 – 22 MAY 2020. IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO JOIN US IN 2020 PLEASE SEND AN EMAIL TO ME.
As there is accommodation for a maximum of fourteen (14) participants on the expedition, registrations will be accepted strictly in the order they were received. A minimum of nine (9) participants is required for the expedition to proceed. In view of the popularity of the MS Freya with polar region photographers and the advance booking time required to secure the vessel, this expedition is likely to sell out quickly.
The tour leaders are Denis Glennon AO, Founder of Iconic Images International, Shem Compion, Owner of C4 Photo Safaris and Kyle de Nobrega, Professional Photographer and Safari Guide with C4 Photo Safaris.
Shem is the founder and owner of C4 Images and Safaris and we have co-led many photographic adventures over the last ten years, including several to polar regions. You will appreciate his knowledge of wildlife and the experience he has of Svalbard. He will get you to the best photographic locations and introduce you to the best photographic opportunities in the icy waters of Svalbard. His photographic eye and excellent naturalist knowledge enable him to capture unique and compelling images be it in the Arctic or in the deserts of Namibia. The diversity and amount of awards he has won are testament to his versatility as a global wildlife photographer. This will be Shem’s 7th trip to the Arctic. We chose to use the same crew and Expedition Leader in the Arctic to ensure continuity and be satisfied that we are working with the best team while in amongst the pack ice searching for polar bears.
Kyle, a professional naturalist guide, a wildlife photographer has dedicated his life to wilderness regions and the natural world. He is constantly on a mission to explore, find and share the photographic jewels of nature. He is one of the leading young creative photographers in Southern Africa. His eye for a striking image is well honed and coupled with his deep naturalist knowledge he will assist you capture many compelling images. Shem and Kyle have guided together many times and have formed an excellent working relationship. In 2016 Kyle and his partner Ruth Nussbaum paddled the length of Lake Tanganyika to raise US$50,000 to fund the translocation of an endangered black rhino to the sanctuary of Botswana. This self supported adventure took 6 weeks and when they returned, the required funds had been raised! The rhino is now happily residing safely in the Okavango Delta- a direct result of Kyle and Ruth’s passionate endeavours. Kyle is C4’s in house photographer in Maun, manages C4’s operations in Botswana and guides photo safaris throughout Africa and elsewhere.
At this stage, I have a clash of travel commitments in early April 2019, which I am endeavouring to change. If for some reason, I cannot change the clash, the expedition will be led by Shem & Kyle.
MS Freya – the vessel we have chartered for the 2019 expedition is a smaller, extremely strong vessel (originally constructed as a lighthouse building vessel and ice-strengthened to the highest ice classification, 1A) and along with its experienced captain and crew is acknowledged as being “one of the best ships” in the Svalbard Archipelago. She was built in 1981, as a lighthouse building vessel in the Åsiverken shipyard, Amal, Sweden. Since then she has been used by the Swedish Coast Guard for environmental protection purposes; as a research ship by the University of Umeå, and has also spent time as a diving vessel. She has recently undergone a full refit and with space to accommodate 12-18 expedition passengers and 3 experienced expedition leaders on board, it will feel more like being on board your own private vessel than an Arctic expedition ship. MS Freya is a marvellous piece of maritime history. No wonder she is loved by so many and is so hard to book!
The owner, Captain and crew of MS Freya have extensive experience in running photographic expeditions in this region. All crew members are great enthusiasts of the region’s unique wildlife and unspoilt nature too, so do not be surprised if you unexpectedly see the chef ashore taking photographs or studying birds, whenever time permits. The genuine curiosity of the crew is a prerequisite for successful expeditions of this kind. A trip on board MS Freya in the pristine waters of this polar region is an experience of a lifetime.
The High Arctic
The high Arctic is a place to inspire the imagination and is most accessible from the archipelago of Svalbard, in Norway, located deep in the Arctic Circle.
Nowhere else can polar bears be found more reliably in their natural habitat. Photographing these magnificent animals in this austere environment is for most photographers, a “once-in-a-lifetime” experience.
Spitsbergen (Svalbard) is a place of extraordinary beauty, dramatic scenery and rich wildlife. These Arctic islands are amongst the last remaining great water wilderness areas on earth. They are in a remote land where glaciers are mirrored in pristine waters and the largest predator of the arctic – the polar bear – roams the vast expanse of pack ice. Finding and photographing them is the main mission for the expedition. Whilst you will spend a lot of time photographing the other bird and mammal species found in the region, it is the polar bears that will be our dominant focus
What will small ship expeditions in polar regions be like in five years?
The ongoing development of stricter regulations by the IMO (International Maritime Organisation) and the reviewing of the Polar Code will likely create increased standards and costs for the operation of vessels in polar regions. One outcome is that all vessels wishing to operate in polar regions will require “Polar Ship Certification” and this is anticipated to become effective between by 2018. The review of the Code addresses ship’s construction standards, polar safety equipment, and the requirements for a qualified ice navigator. A major objective of the new Code is the existence of international, comprehensive, and non-discriminatory standards for Arctic ships in the near future. It is anticipated that all ships, will inevitably face increased costs to gain and maintain the whatever new form of certification becomes mandatory. For photographers, who enjoy the more intimate small ship experiences with polar region wildlife, landscapes and seascapes, such as that offered on MS Freya, the new Code may curtail the current access we have to these magnificent remote regions. With the usual high demand for MS Freya we expect the demand to become even higher with the new regulatory requirements on the horizon. If you are a dedicated wildlife or nature photographer and you plan to travel to one of the last true wildernesses before access to it changes, this photographic expedition is designed for you.
The highlights of the expedition are:
- You will enjoy an almost private charter of the best vessel, MS Freya, to work the waters of the Arctic seas in search of polar bears and other wildlife.
- You will be part of a small group who has chartered the vessel for its exclusive use, offering a completely flexible itinerary dedicated to photography and the best possible chance of maximising polar bear encounters on the pack ice. Your group can decide what it wants to do and how long it would like to spend in any given location. There is no pressure to ‘tick off” species or locations on this photo expedition. If a sighting is unique or it is considered desirable to stay overnight, the group has the freedom to choose to do exactly that. This personalised flexibility is not possible on other, larger vessels in Arctic waters.
- Because of the knowledge of the captain and the capabilities of the vessel, you will be able to: (i) enter into and stay in thick pack ice for prolonged periods of time as pack ice is the polar bears’ favourite habitat and thus their inclination to spend time in this habitat and (ii) enter shallower waters than most other vessels. This means you will steam into fjords that other vessels cannot get to, giving a true expedition and unrivalled sense of Arctic exploration.
- Having sailed these waters for 25+ years, the Captain has extensive experience and knowledge of the entire archipelago. Drawing on this experience he will continually give you the best advice and skipper you to unrivalled locations every day. Most polar bear photography may be done from the deck of the ship. If a polar bear is spotted ashore then people are not permitted to land.
- Two zodiacs and two guides are available for your group. This means there will be a maximum of 7 clients per zodiac which are usually are filled with 10-12 people. You will have more space and freedom to use your longer lenses.
- Photographing from zodiacs allow you to experience the Arctic waters at a more intimate level. As there is likely to be great light, sufficient time will be dedicated to landings to capture stunning landscapes, as well as wildlife including walrus, seals and a number of seabirds.
- The expedition takes place in Spring. For photographers this means the sun is higher in the sky and the quality of the light is excellent. Contours in the landscape are revealed and dramatic portraits of the animals are possible. The sea ice will not have retreated and in these conditions the expedition will be totally dedicated to the interests of nature photographers.
- All in all, this expedition is designed specially for a small group of nature and wildlife photographers who will have nine nights on board the best small ship in the Arctic, offering the best opportunities for polar bear and Arctic photography.
- You will benefit from our combined knowledge and experience on this rather special expedition. As well as providing every assistance with your photography, there will be two experienced Arctic guides and naturalists who will help lead the group and assist with natural history talks; sharing their intimate knowledge of this wonderful wilderness.
- Travel in the most amazing light scenes created by the sun moving just above the horizon giving amazing light conditions almost “24/7″. In April the sun ranges between 6 and 28 degrees above the horizon – great light conditions!
Why Select April?
By the end of October the arctic sun will have shed its last rays for the year and Svalbard heads towards a period of darkness, known as the “Dark Winter”, or polar night when the sun does not rise at all. Between mid-November and the end of January, darkness prevails around the clock. In contrast, the period March to May is known as the “Light Winter” in Svalbard. As the light returns the activity and energy levels on the islands increase – for both the people and the wildlife. Everyone wants to get out, to see and explore! The days become increasingly longer, and by the middle of April, the midnight sun has returned to warm a winter white landscape. The seals and the polar bears enjoy the sun’s rays from the fjord ice and the landscape is still a winter wonderland, an exceptional backdrop for photography (compared to the brown landscapes found later in the year, when the majority of the snow has melted). April, being one of the driest months, is also at the start of the Spring season with plenty of new life starting to emerge and tens of thousands of migrant birds commencing their return to the shores to start courtship.
Most people select to travel to Svalbard in the peak season of late May/June/July/August when the surrounding seas traditionally experience less ice, making it easier to navigate amongst the islands. Over the last few years the pack ice surrounding Svalbard has been opening up earlier in the year. It has been possible to navigate Svalbard, in the right vessel, as early as May yet also have plenty of pack ice available, especially in the East and North.
The king of the Arctic is the polar bear. They are at the top of the regional food chain, the largest bear species in the world, are marine animals who swim and walk great distances. Their true habitat is the dense drift ice and the fast ice of the frozen fjords and bays. This pack ice is the home of the polar bear and there is nothing more beautiful than seeing a polar bear or a bear and cubs, walking across a floating ice wonderland in the Arctic region. While only the hardiest of Svalbard’s wildlife can be seen in winter, the island’s animals come out to play in spring. March/April is the peak breeding time for polar bears, and groups, including mother and cubs (who then emerge from their dens for the first time), can frequently be seen together at this time of the year. Also, the bears will have seen no vessels for the entire winter and so are more curious. In April they are not ‘harassed’ by vessel after vessel seeking to get close to see them, as occurs in June/July/August when the number of cruise and expedition ships increase dramatically. In April, the bears are generally more relaxed and approachable. Having only a small group (14 maximum), in two zodiacs, makes approaches to bears and especially to bears with cubs, less threatening, compared to ten or twelve zodiacs from the vessels which carry in excess of a hundred passengers. Using a smaller vessel at this time optimises opportunities for getting closer to walruses from both shore and zodiac.
The polar regions have a short but very productive breeding season and the expedition is planned to coincide with the commencement of the breeding season. It is designed to offer you the best of both worlds in terms of finding polar bears on pack ice and experience one of the wonders of nature – Spring in the high Arctic, one of the most magical places on the planet.
Finally, typical wind speeds in April, vary from 1 mph to 15 mph (light air to moderate breeze), rarely exceeding 27 mph (strong breeze) making it very amenable for photography from a smaller ship like MS Freya.
Itinerary – no set itinerary for the expedition
Please note that the tour starts and ends on the MS Freya.
It is advisable to arrive in Longyearbeyn at least one day earlier (two days are preferable).
On the night of the 7 April 2019 there will be a pre-tour “meet and greet” and information talk at the Raddison Blu Hotel, in Longyearbyen.
8 April 2019: Board MS Freya in Longyearbyen harbour at 16.00 hrs.
Closer to the date of departure we will advise you on transfer arrangements from your hotel to MS Freya in Longyearbyen Harbour.
When on board will be a “meet, greet and enjoy a drink”, followed by an evening of orientation before retiring. The ship will sail as we sleep.
9 April 2019: On board MS Freya.
Heading along the west or east coast of the archipelago MS Freya will continue to sail until it reaches the pack ice where the quest for polar bears begins. The actual itinerary, selected by the captain, will be determined by the sea, wind and most importantly by the conditions prevailing at the time of planned departure from Longyearbyen. Both the eastward and northward passages provides many photographic opportunities.
If the light obliges, we should have spectacular ice landscapes over the wilderness. Every endeavour will be made to spend extended periods photographing polar bears as they hunt, rest and play on the pack ice. Be aware however that polar bears are not easy to find and there may will be extended periods with little polar bear activity. After spending the allotted time in the east and or north region the vessel will begin its return voyage to Longyearbyen arriving approx. 9.00am on 17 April 2019.
There will be no set itinerary for the expedition. Please view the above information on the itinerary as a guide only; the sail plan and program will vary depending on ice and weather conditions–and the wildlife you encounter. Flexibility is the key to a successful expedition. The vessel will head north and east of Svalbard to find the pack ice, which, at that time of the year is the most likely place for polar bear activity.
If ice and weather conditions permit, the vessel will visit the spectacular ice cliffs of Ausfonna, an incredible spectacle. On occasions the ship will operate continually over twenty four hours. At other times the engines will shut down at night in the ice or in a sheltered harbour. This can often be an attraction for bears and frequently they are found close to the ship in the early morning.
17 April 2019: Return to port with an anticipated time of disembarkation at Longyearbyen harbour of 09.00 hrs.
- MS Freya Cabin Layout
All cabins have on floor bunks/beds and private facilities and all are the same price/person. Please nominate a preferred cabin number from the deckplan and we will endeavour to allocate it to you. If it has already been booked when we receive your Registration Form and initial deposit, we will allocate a cabin to you.
Cabins will be allocated strictly in order of receipt of completed registration forms and payment of initial deposits.
Inclusions & Exclusions
What is included:
- Shared cabin on the MS Freya (unless the additional single supplement of US$2,000.00, is paid for an un-shared cabin).
- All meals and soft drinks during the sea voyage.
- Lectures on the area’s flora, fauna and history by MS Freya staff specialist.
- Arctic naturalist who will present talks and share his extensive knowledge of this wonderful wilderness.
- All shore excursions and activities in zodiacs.
- Continuous assistance/tuition with your photography.
What is not included:
- Flights to/from Longyearbyen.
- Hotel stopovers en route to Longyearbyen.
- Airport transfers.
- Travel and cancellation insurance.
- Travel visas.
- Optional gratuities to ship’s crew.
- Personal expenses e.g. private purchases in on-board shop.
Costs, Terms of Payment & How to Register
US$9,950.00 per person – sharing a cabin.
A single supplement of US$2,000.00 applies for an unshared cabin, if specifically requested.
Please note this single supplement is payable, in full, at the time of registration.
Due to the limited space on the ship there are only two unshared cabins available. Requests for unshared cabins must be clearly indicated on the Registration Form.
TERMS OF PAYMENT
1. Shared Cabin: A non-refundable deposit of US$3,350.00 per person, together with a completed Registration Form, on or before Friday 30 March 2018.
2. Unshared Cabin: A non-refundable deposit of US$5,350.00 per person, together with the completed Registration Form, on or before Friday 30 March 2018.
2. The balance of US$6,600.00 is payable on or before Friday 27 January 2019.
As there is accommodation for a maximum of fourteen (14) participants on the expedition, registrations will be accepted strictly in the order they are received.
HOW TO REGIST
To register please click the REGISTRATION FORM & C4 TERMS & CONDITIONS button in the sidebar, download the Registration Form PDF, print a copy, complete all sections of the form and follow the instructions for return of the form and payment of the initial deposit to C4 Photo Safaris. If you wish to read C4’s Standard Terms & Conditions of booking, you can download the second PDF and peruse its contents.
Pre-departure Information & Checklist
To assist you prepare for this photo tour I have compiled a comprehensive, downloadable and printable PDF.
It contains helpful information on:
- The region of Svalbard.
- Travelling with and looking after photographic equipment in the Arctic.
- Downloading and backing-up images every day.
- Power supply on MS Freya for charging batteries, laptop, mobile phone, etc.
- Accommodation & meals on MS Freya.
- Zodiac etiquette and consideration for fellow photographers.
- Immigration and Customs at Longyearbyen Airport.
- Arrangements to meet you on arrival at Longyearbyen Airport.
- Travel documents, personal items & clothing checklist
- Personal medical items checklist – a layperson’s checklist.
- Camera equipment checklist – this is a comprehensive list and you should not be overwhelmed by its contents.
- Guide to paying gratuities on the photographic expedition.
- My choice of cameras and lenses and other camera equipment for this expedition.
- Frequently asked questions by newcomers to polar regions.
The information in this PDF will help you with packing your camera equipment and other essential items so that you return home with a great collection of iconic images, and many magnificent memories.
A copy of this Predeparture Information & Checklist will be forwarded to registered participants, approximately sixty days before commencement of the expedition.