The picturesque Bear Island is the southernmost island of the Svalbard Archipelago. The island is a sanctuary of untouched wilderness and home to a variety of Arctic wildlife, including puffins, seabirds, Arctic foxes and seals. On occasion, visitors may even spy a polar bear or two. The island’s rough coastline and dramatic, high cliffs make for excellent photographs.
Visitors can experience the extraordinary isolation of Bear Island, which is uninhabited aside from the workers at a meteorological station. Whales can often be seen when cruising around the nearby Barents Sea and at the right time of year, the area is an excellent place to view the stunning northern lights. The phenomenon, also known as Aurora Borealis, explodes colour across the northern skies, attracting tourists from all around the world hoping to witness its surreal beauty.
Several cruise companies include Bear Island in their Arctic itineraries, including Fred Olsen Cruise Lines, Lindblad Expeditions, Quark Expeditions and Silverseas Cruises.
The remote Bear Island is located in the Barents Sea, approximately 450 kilometres north of Norway. It sits about halfway between Spitsbergen and the North Cape. The island has a small harbour, which is located on its northern coast where Herwighamna, the meteorological station is situated. There are also a number of anchorages and landing points around the island.
As Bear Island is virtually uninhabited, there are no facilities on the island. It’s best to rely on your cruise ship for your necessary amenities, as well as food and drink requirements.
How to Get Around
The mountainous nature of Bear Island’s landscape, as well as its lack of settlement, means that hiking and snowshoeing is the way to get around. A level of general fitness is therefore usually required to traverse this terrain, as you will have to be able to walk for several hours a day. Bear Island is best accessed by sea, so make it a stop on your cruise itinerary. You can also take a boat from Longyearbyen on the Svalbard Island of Spitsbergen or from Tromso, Norway.
- Currency – As part of the Svalbard Archipelago, the official currency of Bear Island is the Norwegian Krone (NOK), but as the island is virtually uninhabited, you’ll most likely purchase what you require on-board your vessel.
- Time Zone – Bear Island utilises Central European Time (CET), which is 1 hour ahead of Universal Standard Time. The Svalbard Archipelago switches to daylight saving, setting the clocks forward 1 hour at the end of March until October. The number of hours of daylight that Bear Island sees each day depends on the time of year. As it is so far north, it experiences the phenomenon of ‘midnight sun’ at summer solstice, when the sun never sets, as well as the 24 hours of complete darkness at winter solstice.
- Weather – Bear Island has a cold climate, with temperatures averaging around -6 degrees Celsius in the coolest months of December to February. It can be warmer in the summer months (June to August), when temperatures can reach as high as 15 degrees Celsius.
- Bird watching – Bear Island is a protected nature reserve. It’s the perfect spot for bird watching as it is home to one of the largest sea bird colonies in the northern hemisphere. Approximately one million sea birds nest on the island during the nesting season. The most common species on the island is the Guillemot, though perhaps the most striking is the friendly puffin. Hikes or snowshoe walks, organised by the cruise or expedition ships docking there, are the best ways to see the wildlife living on Bear Island. However, striking scenes of birds nesting atop cliffs can be observed from the sea.
- Ice cruising – Bear Island is so close to the pack ice of the North Pole that ice cruising in the area is particularly spectacular. Cruising around also offers sightings of Arctic marine life, such as whales in the sea, or seals and walruses on ice floes.The rough, dramatic coastline of Bear Island is also incredibly picturesque.
- Northern Lights – The surreal phenomenon of the northern lights is a magical life experience. The spectacle of Aurora Borealis paints vibrant colours across the night skies in a breathtaking natural light show. Though unpredictable, Aurora Borealis is most frequent between September and March, with the best viewing times between 6pm and 1am when the skies are dark. To maximise your chances of witnessing Aurora Borealis, plan to stay in the far north region for as many days as possible.