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Ice, ice everywhere but not a bear in site

In September I headed deep into the Arctic ice pack off the coast of Spitsbergen aboard the sturdy M/V Plancius in search of polar bears. Originally built in 1976 as the MS Tyeman for oceanographic research. She has been refurbished and reconditioned to become a comfortable expedition vessel, now plying her trade in both Arctic and Antarctic Oceans taking intrepid passengers in search of wildlife and wilderness.

Sea ice

The captain was obviously enjoying himself as we bumped and crunched our way into the ice, with a clang and a shudder we edged our way through picking the easiest leads. I spent hours on deck watching the huge sheets of ice as they cracked and slid out of our way occasionally riding up on each other like the continental plates. The ice reduces the swell when you are deep in the pack but reaching the edge this created a mesmerising ripple effect. The disturbance of the water creates turbulence below pushing plankton to the surface attracting many birds including a good number of ivory gulls, which are normally quite rare. Delicately swooping down to the surface to snatch up the specks of food, accompanied by the nosier Kittiwakes who scrapped and squabbled amongst themselves. Fulmars were also constant companions, flying right alongside the ship often so close you felt you could reach out and touch them.

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We did see the occasional seal, mainly ringed but certainly not enough of them to keep a big predator such as a polar bear well fed particularly with around only a 10% success rate. We spent over two days around 81°16.5’N / 020°06.4’E searching in vain for bears but were rewarded with beautiful vistas, fog bows and blue whale’s and despite the disappointment of not seeing a polar bear I loved every minute of it. In an area where the ice was more broken we launched the zodiacs to see the ice from a different perspective and the variations of form. This year’s sea ice was just forming in greasy patches while other pancakes were made up of multi-year ice where the distinct layers of snow fall and freeze could be seen. Amongst the sea ice were large chunks of glacial ice, mini icebergs in weird and wonderful shapes formed by wind and water erosion. Before returning to the main ship we landed on a large flat pan of ice, careful to anchor the zodiac well we gingerly climbed out onto crunchy surface to be served hot chocolate and rum, not your average afternoon.

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USA National Parks Day

Today is the centenary of the USA National Parks Service.

To celebrate their 100th anniversary we champion the unsung heroes; national parks around the world that match the A-lister’s natural splendour but not their footfall. 

The space and wilderness of these protected places and National Parks are what inspires us all to travel. Support these areas of natural beauty by visiting them with us and share your images and experiences on facebook, instagram and twitter#nationalparkscentennial

British Airways
The British Airways Worldwide Luxury SALE is now on. Get into the great outdoors and take advantage of savings on selected fares worldwide. Contact us inspire@steppestravel.com or call on 01285 880980 to find out more.

USA

USA Lake Powell & Yellowstone

Ok so Lake Powell isn’t a national park itself but we love it as it is close to all five of Utah’s national parks – Canyonlands NP, Capitol Reef NP, Arches NP, Bryce Canyon NP and Zion NP. Get into the great outdoors and swim, fish, snorkel or canoe your way across her waters.
WHY WE LIKE IT: Mind-blowing scenery, huge horizons and solitude. 12 days from £7,350 pp | VIEW HOLIDAY

UNSUNG HEROES WORLDWIDE

 

India Dudhwa NP walking tiger

Near the Nepalese border sits Dudhwa National Park. Tigers and leopards roam here as well as the Indian rhinoceros. The park is also a stronghold for the rare Barasingha deer which makes it one of the best wildlife destinations in India.
WHY WE LIKE IT: Less visited and all the better for it – safari away from the crowds of Central India. 10 days from £2,300 pp | VIEW HOLIDAY

Special Offer: Fly to Delhi with BA and receive a complimentary upgrade to World Traveller Plus on your return journey*
Email inspire@steppestravel.com or call us on 01285 880980 to find out more.


*Subject to availability and terms and conditions of BA Worldwide Luxury Sale.

 

Georgia Stone faces of Kazbegi

Borjomi -Kharagauli National Park dates back to medieval times and is a protected area in the Lesser Caucasus. Join our new group walking tour departing in September 2017 and see this undiscovered gem for yourself.
WHY WE LIKE IT: Natural beauty, historical monuments and rich flora and fauna. 14 days from £2,445 pp | VIEW HOLIDAY

Tasmania Maria Island

The marbled Painted Cliffs that form the rugged coastline and pristine beaches around Maria Island National Park resemble Ayers Rock in their colours and spiritual heritage. Spot the resident wildlife from possums to penguins and Fur Seals and perhaps a Tasmanian Devil?
WHY WE LIKE IT: Small and secluded – you are more likely to bump into a kangaroo than another visitor. 16 days from £7,495 pp | VIEW HOLIDAY

Uganda male gorilla in Bwindi NP

Kidepo Valley National Park is home to the famous Karamojong warriors (Read Chris’s blog below) as well as jackals, aardwolves and cheetahs – found in no other parks in Uganda.
WHY WE LIKE IT: Like the Masai Mara, but ringed by jagged mountains and full of game, not tourists.
14 days from £8,995 pp | VIEW FLYING SAFARI

Leopard Sri Lanka

Encounter leopards in Yala National Park and whales off Sri Lanka’s east coast. 15 days from £4,745 pp

Colombia Tayrona National Parkl

Discover remote archaeological sites and take a jungle trek in Tayrona National Park. 15 days from £3,995 pp

Iceland Vatnajokull National Park

Vatnajokull National Park is both the second largest National Park in Europe and the largest glacier in Europe outside of the Arctic. Explore this photographer’s paradise on our Iceland Photography tour with Tim Mannakee.
WHY WE LIKE IT: Raw beauty.
9 days from £5,245 pp | VIEW PHOTOGRAPHY TOUR

Madagascar Andasibe Mantadia

Spot lemurs and listen to the sounds of the rainforest as you walk through the Andasibe-Mantadia Park. Followed by a relaxing time on the shores of Anjajavy Peninsula where the baobab’s meet tropical beach.
WHY WE LIKE IT: Unique indigenous wildlife.
11 days from £3,450 pp | VIEW HOLIDAY

Chile Northern Patagonia Park

Patagonia Park covers 200,000 acres in a remote part of Aysen, Chile. Once overgrazed land it is now becoming one of the best places to see rare and threatened species such as the Andean condors, huemul deer and puma.
WHY WE LIKE IT: Join Hilary Bradt, founder of Bradt guides.
14 days from £5,495 pp | VIEW GROUP TOUR

ON LOCATION 

The Karamojong of Kidepo Uganda

“Our tiny plane flew over the rugged mountains bordering Kidepo Valley National Park. In the foothills of these mountains, patches of red earth scratched out from the surrounding greenery showed small manyatta’s and villages, isolated by distance and home to the Karamajong people…”  READ BLOG

Get in touch to learn more about our wildlife holidays. Email inspire@steppestravel.com or call us on 01285 880980.

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An early triumph for Iceland at Euro 2016

Despite not being able to boast any Icelandic heritage my heart was swelling with pride last night as the Iceland players, staff, and supporters sang their national anthem at the opening game of their Euro 2016 campaign.

The sound was immense and the passion and patriotism palpable. The sense of humour, calmness and happiness of the Icelandic people also shone through. So far removed from the violent clashes between ‘supporters’ and the police, ugly scenes that have marred the tournament thus far, this was a breath of fresh Icelandic air. 30,000 fans travelled from Iceland to support their team in their first major tournament. 30,000 people equals 10% of the entire population. Staggering support.

Another statistic, if I may. There are 50,000 Icelandic males aged 20-40 so this means if you are one of these Icelandic males you have a 1 in 2000 chance of making the national team. Portugal’s population by comparison is just over 10 million. But far more importantly they count Cristiano Ronaldo among their number who wouldn’t hesitate in calling himself the world’s best player and in many ways this is a justifiable claim. Ronaldo has scored over 50 goals a season for the last 6 seasons playing for Real Madrid. Yet the Iceland players, to a man, stood tall and threw themselves in front of everything. They blocked, tackled, harried, and ultimately frustrated the Portuguese with the game ending in a deserved stalemate. For a group of players from a country with the same population as Dudley, and who as youngsters learning their trade have to train in ‘football houses’ inside over winter as the ground is often frozen solid, this is an absolute triumph.

Iceland is a fascinating, beautiful, raw country home to a people with an unbreakable spirit and a wonderful low-key sense of humour. I fell in love with the country on my first visit and had to go back again the following year. If I could I would go every summer as the landscape, fresh air, and sense of nature laid bare is awesome. Even more awesome than the national pride and togetherness on display at last night’s football match.

ajok sunset1

ajok1

horsie

ajeep

ajump selfie

Get in touch to learn more about our holidays to Iceland. Email inspire@steppestravel.com or call us on 01285 601 753.

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Iceland – A weekend away with Steppes Travel

Hard breath steams through our mouths as we step out onto the tarmac. Sheets of rain and sleet come down like shards of glass stabbing into our cheeks, our heads lower, our pace quickens as we head to the terminal building to escape the weather. Inside we instantly warm from both the blast of the heaters and the welcoming nature of the local people where most of the men seemingly stand tall as giants.

Its 2:30 but already it’s getting dark outside, with low grey skies the landscape is littered with dark volcanic rocks reminiscent of melted candle wax crowned with green moss. Through the emptiness we journey like explorers on an ancient trail where mountains dominate the skyline and plumes of steam seep from the surface of the earth. Pools of turquoise shimmer at us from the roadside while the fluorescent white light of geothermal power stations – or cloud factories as we are told – beam like beacons on the horizon. This is the land of ice and fire.

By the time we reach Reykjavik it is dark, but with the glimmer of Christmas lights hanging from chocolate box houses make this a wonderfully cosy sight. As we wrap up warm and wander the streets our guide Magnus tells us more about this fantastic land. To learn that Iceland’s network of geothermal-heated greenhouses have allowed the country to become Europe’s biggest producer of bananas is astounding. Couple that with a sheep population double that of the human population and a country that is growing by 2cm a year – give it 10 billion years and it will cover the globe – and you have yourself some invaluable pub quiz trivia.

Mornings are a surreal time as the darkness continues exactly the same as the night before. With just four hours’ worth at this time of year you can see why. Our journey today will see us scratch the surface of the golden circle, heading towards our transport we dance our way over the sheets of ice which have crusted the kerbside from the cold night.

Off we trundle through this epic land, passing more idyllic looking towns and villages which dot the valleys. We stop on an icy plateau where a waterfall more splendid than anything we have seen before crashes from a multitude of different angles, we walk closer to take a look only to be fended off by the icicles of water vapour that are frozen instantly and blown towards us in a wintry gale.

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We continue into the wilderness, our chariots mounted on enormous wheels to cope with the shoulder deep snow. We drive to a cabin at the base of a mountain where snowmobiles and bright orange winter suits are waiting to be donned. Our local guide could not be more Viking if he tried, with a thick set ginger beard and a personality to match, standing tall towering close to 7ft, he briefed us on our latest Icelandic adventure. Off we went in a procession of orange and red, brightly lit headlamps and the hum of the snowmobile engine out into the snowy white fields, passing glaciers and mountains, out once again into the beautiful Icelandic wilderness.

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Travel to Iceland for a long weekend as our Steppes Travel team did in December 2015 or combine with Spitsbergen and Greenland for holiday beyond the ordinary in the Arctic Circle. Call us on 01258 787 419 or email inspire@steppestravel.com.

Iceland - Short Break

Short Break to Iceland

5 days from £2,995pp

View Holiday Idea

Arctic - Spitsbergen, East Greenland & Iceland

Arctic – Spitsbergen, East Greenland & Iceland

14 days from £5,275pp

View Holiday Idea

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Big 5 Bear Facts

To celebrate Bear Appreciation Week, we bring you our favourite 5 bear facts. We’ve even added some jokes that make us giggle. Share your facts with us on Twitter or Facebook or test us on our bear knowledge.

1. Grizzly bears give birth in their sleep and can run up to 35 mph (not whilst asleep).

2. Brown bears tend to be fussy eaters and only eat the most nutritional parts of the salmon (eggs/brains/ skin) and disregard the remainder of the body unless they are desperate for food. This behaviour is referred to as “high-grading”.

3. Polar bears do not have white fur but hollow clear hairs that reflect the white surroundings.

4. A Sun bear is the smallest of all bears, residing in the tropical forests of Asia. Surprisingly despite its size, its tongue can be up to 25 cm long.

5. If you eat a polar bear liver, you’ll die. Humans can’t handle that much vitamin A.


Do you know your bears?

Here’s a handy info graphic from our friends at Peppermint Narwhal to help you remember.
Bear Species


our favourite bear jokes.

Q. What would bears be without ears?

A. Bees.

Q. What do you call a bear with no teeth?

A. A gummy bear.

A grizzly bear walks into a bar and says to the bartender “can I have a gin……..and tonic please?” The bartender says “why the big pause?” And the bear says “Because I”m a bear!”

If you would love to see bears in the wild and learn more about them, join one of our bear wildlife group tours. Call our Travel Experts on 01285 880980 or email inspire@steppestravel.com for more information.

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Disengage in Iceland

I like to be in control and know what I am doing. It has served me well in my many travels around the world yet on arrival in Iceland I was denied this basic tenet. I found it difficult to let go. Well, at first, for I quickly realised that I was in more than capable hands.

The gleaming motor yacht awaiting us at Reykjavik harbour was testament of the calibre and class of the hands in which I had blindly put my faith. As we slipped our moorings and powered out in the harbour I was handed a chilled glass of Chablis and given a selection of mouth-watering nibbles that further emphasised the taste and tenor of my hosts. This was an outfit that more than understood exclusivity.

After a short cruise, that hinted beautifully at the opportunities of whale watching given more time, we disembarked at the private island of …….to be met by our next mode of transport, a helicopter. To say that Iceland is a spectacularly beautiful island is bordering on understatement. So varied and extreme is its scenery that there are many ways from which to enjoy it, nevertheless, helicopter has to be paramount. It was invigorating, exhilarating to fly in a helicopter but to do so over such dramatic scenery was a sheer delight. To fly over the tear in the crust that separates the American tectonic plate from the European tectonic plate was very special.

We landed in the central highlands and were taken to a most unusual house. It is not fair for me to say much about it but it is not for everyone.

From there we ticked off some of the main highlights of Iceland. I sound casual and dismissive about them but they are far from everyday phenomenon. I suppose that my lack of enthusiasm was clouded by the weather and for the first time of the day we had to share the sights with other tourists. When I say share I am only talking about a handful of tourists and none of the trappings of tourism that so pollute other sights around the world.

The day ended with a most relaxing spa session at the Blue Lagoon.

Yesterday had ended with arguably Iceland’s most visited site; today was all about a region the Central Highlands – where few dare to tread. When I say tread I am not referring to walking but rather the size of the tyres on the vehicle which pulled up outside our boutique hotel. My initial response was how ridiculous but hours later I was more than appreciative of their size as they had

Disengagement is the art of enjoying Iceland.

It is a harsh and difficult country, the only natural inhabitant of this incredible island is the Arctic fox.

Understanding of nature, the weather and elements is part of the national psyche. This is a country in which they say that if you don’t like the weather wait five minutes and it will change. One has to understand that you do not visit Iceland for the weather, in fact the opposite, the weather is not great yet this in it very self brings opportunities. Not necessarily for the better but it will be different. An umbrella is seen as being an affront to their make up.

Here Vulcanology is not the preserve of universities but forms part of the primary school curriculum. This is a country which has the largest glacier in Europe, a glacier that is the size of Denmark.

The road twists and turns taking the path of least resistance with each twist a new and equally dramatic scene – this is a photographer’s paradise, a geographic smorgasbord that

Rendered speechless by the extravagant scenery. Below Hevla the volcanic aftermath a black, desolate but weirdly beautiful reminder of the regularity – every ten years, which in the timeframe of geology is impressive t say the least –

Humans have an apologetic role and two-thirds of them have retreated to Reykjavik

“I’m always surprised by how many people have been to the moon,” remarked my laid back and dry guide, Anton. I laughed with him but then I tried to think of how else to describe this most unusual landscape. It is so different and so surreal that it is not surprising that most of us revert to the outlandish, have to describe it as being something not of this earth.

Icelandic humour is dry, ironic and playful – I like it – and perhaps summed up by a joke Anton told. It was of an Icelandic farmer visiting a farmer in Texas. True to type the Texan farmer was boasting of the size of his farm and that in one day it would not be possible to drive the whole extent of his farm. The Icelandic farmer retorts, “Yes, I had a car like that once.”

Famed for its women, strong men and hard drinking – a dangerous cocktail – there is much more to this magical island than stereotypes. Yes I was impressed by the sheer natural beauty of the country but what really impressed me was the insightful and interesting service and guidance that we received throughout.

This intriguing land of geysers and volcanoes, which has also carved a reputation for chic bars and cutting-edge cuisine, is now at its most affordable.  The collapse of the Icelandic kroner make it a great time to discover Reykjavik, the most northerly capital in the world, as well as the natural wonders of this charismatic island.

At first glance, Reykjavik is quaint and quirky – you would not associate the motley collection of gaily-coloured tin-roofed buildings with a capital city. It is laid-back and welcoming, not dissimilar to its people who are more akin to Brits than Scandinavians. The Vikings scooped up Celtic women en route to Iceland and their descendants are, as a result, more ironic and less inscrutable than other Nordics.

But like its people there is more to Reykjavik than meets the eye. In terms of accommodation, the Hotel Borg is an art deco jewel with elegance and service. For something a little more hip, try the ultra contemporary 101 Hotel, my base for my stay.

In spite of whale and whale and puffin being a menu staple, seriously good food is on offer.   Take for example, the Seafood Cellar, one of the many fusion restaurants in the city and reputedly one of the finest restaurants in Scandinavia, which specialises in an idiosyncratic take on all things fishy.

Reykjavik is relatively straightforward, the interior less so, especially given that I wanted to avoid the coach tours, wanted something a little more private. The gleaming motor yacht awaiting me at Reykjavik harbour dispelled any doubts. As we slipped our moorings, I was handed a chilled glass of Chablis and given a selection of mouth-watering nibbles that further emphasised the taste and tenor of our team on the ground. This was an outfit that more than understood exclusivity.

After a short cruise that hinted at the opportunities of whale watching, we disembarked to be met by our next mode of transport, a helicopter. To say that Iceland is spectacularly beautiful is bordering on understatement. So varied and extreme is its scenery that there are many ways from which to enjoy it, nevertheless, helicopter has to be paramount. It was invigorating, exhilarating to fly in a helicopter but to do so over such dramatic scenery was a sheer delight, not least over the tear in the crust that separates the American from the European tectonic plate. (For the more adventurous you can actually dive between the plates at Silfra Thignvelir.)

We arrived at Geyser to see Mother Earth in full action, her heart pulsating, her chambers rumbling below. In yellow ochre pools of steaming water, the earth breathes slowly before exploding high into the sky. Nearby the waterfall at Gullfoss is impressive, the ice blue glacial waters thundering over the black rocks below.

From arguably Iceland’s most visited site – the Geyser – to a region where few dare to tread, the Central Highlands. When I say tread I am not referring to walking but rather the size of the tyres on the Super Jeep which pulled up outside the 101 hotel. My initial response was how ridiculous but hours later I was more than appreciative of their size as they had allowed us to access some truly magnificent scenery that rendered me speechless.

Everywhere you looked was a geographic smorgasbord of contrasting colours. An artist’s mixing pallet with the added effect of cauldrons of steam seeping from the crevasses. Ribbons of lime green moss streamed down the volcano sides as pockets of white glaciers nestled between the black lava.

We continued into the interior to Hekla, Iceland’s most active volcano. The volcanic aftermath was black and desolate but a weirdly beautiful reminder of the regularity – every ten years, which in the timeframe of geology is impressive – with which the volcano erupts.

Their banks may have hammered our pension funds,  but Icelanders are giving something back this year — at least to visitors. This fascinating land of geysers and volcanoes, which has also carved an urban reputation for hot clubs, cool bars and cutting-edge design is now at its most affordable in a decade.

Devaluation — theirs — plus low-cost flights make this a great time to discover Reykjavik, the most northerly capital in the world, as well as the natural wonders of the nearby Golden Triangle.

Not that you would identify this motley collection of gaily-coloured tin-roofed buildings as a capital at first sight.

Reykjavik today is almost as tiny, laid-back and villagey as when I was sent to knock on the door of the parliament 20-odd years ago and ask if the president could come out for a chat.

She did, and that ad hoc newspaper interview was a salutary introduction to the accessibility and friendliness of these people who are more akin to Brits than Scandinavians.

The Vikings who arrived 1,000 years ago scooped up Celtic women on their way west and their descendants are, as a result, warmer, funnier and less inscrutable than other Nordics.

Their wild and woolly heritage — which Icelanders have only recently begun exploiting — is quite fascinating and worth checking out while in the capital.

Lifelike figures star in audio-guided vignettes of how this young civilisation was formed at the Saga Museum in Perlan, a striking exhibition space at the top of the town.

Above the museum is a revolving restaurant aimed at the fine dining crowd, while the casual café has a scenic terrace which offers fabulous city views.

The bright buildings and coloured rooftops of Iceland’s capital Reykjavik make it resemble a town built from the Lego bricks made by the Danes, who once ruled the island

In the heart of town, an old Viking long-house was recently discovered during excavations, and a picture of life circa 1,000 has been engagingly mounted on the site at the Reykjavik Settlement Exhibition.

But having explored the past, there is much to be seen during a weekend break of what today’s Iceland has to offer the tourist.

Fashion and design shopping tempt at every turn, notably on the main shopping street Laugavegur and the more exclusive Skolavordurstigur which leads up to Hallgrimskirkja, the distinctive, tall, white modernist church which is the city’s main landmark. Check out Spaksmannsspyarir, Steinunn and the more affordable E-Label on Laugavegur and Galleri 21 on the stroll up to the church.

Down by the harbour, Gaga has wonderful one-off garments and some enviable sweater pins. In the unpromisingly-named Iceland Gift Shop nearby, M-Design’s wonderful long Icelandic wool cardigans are on sale at the best price in town.  It’s worth noting that 15 percent VAT refunds on purchases over about £20 are available instantly at the tourist office.

Tempting cafés everywhere provide an opportunity to rest the feet, and seriously good food is also on offer.   Sjavarkjallarinn, aka the Seafood Cellar, beneath the tourist office is one of the finest restaurants in Scandinavia, dispensing a quirky modern take on all things fishy, including  sushi as you’ve never experienced it before.

Less pricey is the Fish Company across the road, a good place to try the creamy seafood soup which is a Reykjavik speciality, though not every version is for the observant.

It would be hard to find a more central and comfy perch than the Hotel Borg, an art deco jewel with astonishingly good service and an excellent buffet breakfast served with elegance.   There is also a pukka design hotel in town, The 101, a little more hip and cutting-edged.

Don’t leave town without spending a couple of hours at the Blue Lagoon, the largest and most luxurious of Iceland’s many natural hot springs.  The Lagoon also fields a full-service spa, an enticing shop and formal restaurant, since many visitors linger into the evening.   The Lagoon is more than halfway to the airport, and many bus companies offer the chance to make a visit the last — or even first — stop in Reykjavik.

It is really worth spending an extra day or two to get a glimpse of Iceland’s natural glories, and the most popular trip is the so-called Golden Triangle. This takes in Geysir, named for the eponymous spouting hot spring, Gullfoss, a thunderingly magnificent waterfall, and the breathtakingly beautiful Thingvellir National Park.

The park — the site of Iceland’s first parliament, formed by the clan chieftains who instigated law-making gatherings here in the 10th century — is integral to Iceland’s history.  But what attracts visitors is the thrilling geography: the massive rift valley marking the point where North America separated from Europe, and views of the distant brooding Skjaldbreidur volcano.

After marvelling at the shifting earth, the smouldering lava cone, the bubbling hot springs and the rushing water — a microcosm of the wonders to be found all over Iceland — wind down by getting up close and personal with another of the country’s magnificent legacies — the beautiful horses which have stayed true to their breed since being introduced 1,000 years ago.

Although they can be seen roaming freely in the countryside, the family horse display near Geysir allows visitors to learn about their special attributes as they’re put through their paces in an arena, and then after, to pet their beautiful noses in the stables.

Coach tours covering all these high points in a single day are available at the drop of a hat, but it’s worth driving yourself, or taking a private guided tour, to get the most out of the experience and be able to spend as long as you want in each place.

Jon Baldur’s Isafold tours in rugged, four-wheel drive vehicles offer the chance to get off-road in this magnificent terrain and go for some extra thrills. Fording rivers and driving on the glaciers of Iceland’s south coast are both on offer.

 

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A Close Encounter With Bob

Do you know that a polar bears tongue is blue/black?

I do, because I just looked into a polar bears throat, just a foot from my head.

You know as a child at the zoo you have that desire to poke your face up against the wire and do everything your parents tell you not to and try to make the animals look at you?

Well Bob, our friendly polar bear, obviously had the same urges, having laid down a few meters from the wire of the compound vying for us to give him attention.

He had his back to us in that quintessential legs stretched behind polar bear pose, every so often raising his head to turn and look back at us and sniff the air. After an hour most people had gone back into the warmth of the lodge and I admit I had thoughts to myself that I would follow them shortly, so I crouched by the fence for those last few shots.

With just 2 of us out there Bob got up and walked right up to the fence and mouthed the wire right in front of us. The adrenaline was pumping but he didn’t seem aggressive, just curious, continuing to mouth at the wire pushing his nose right through and even managing a dainty burp.

It is an emotional moment when a wild animal makes the initiative to connect, we were definitely the exhibit in the zoo and he was the curious child, checking to see where his boundaries were. An encounter that will be etched in memory forever. It’s a shame that the weather has come in again and we may not get to leave today, however I have never been so pleased to have a flight delay, leaving us to have such an incredibly lucky close encounter with Bob.

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Now is the time to see the Northern Lights

A double peak ‘Solar Max’ is expected in late 2013 and again in 2015 so if you have always dreamed of seeing the Northern Lights, now could be the time to plan your trip and see some of the most spectacular aurora displays.

A Solar Maximum is a period when sunspot activity is at its greatest levels and this tends to happen approximately every 11 years. A sunspot is a dark patch appearing from time to time on the sun’s surface. These cooler areas appear dark by contrast with the surroundings and are prone to eruption which cause solar flares across the surface of the sun. These flares release charged particles into the solar system, which are the catalysts of the northern lights.

During a time of Solar Maximum sunspots are more prevalent which can result in some of the most frequent, dramatic and stunning Northern Light skies. We can help with travel to a number of destinations where the Northern Lights can be seen including Iceland, Spitsbergen & Canada.

We are also excited to announce a new tour by Luxury Train between Moscow and St Petersburg, over the Christmas and New Year period, when you can see the Northern Lights in the Russian Arctic.

For further advice or information contact our specialists on 01285 651010.

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Big 5 wow moments in Greenland

1. That first moment you hear over the ship’s intercom, “right folks, if you’d like to make your way portside, we’ve spotted a polar bear eating his kill on the sea ice”. You squeal at whoever you’re with before rushing as fast as you can through the ship to where everyone is lined up along the edge watching a polar bear just a few metres away. Here you remain for 2 hours which feels like 10 minutes.

2. The moment you’re sat quietly on the side of a zodiac next to a 4 storey high glacier, when the booming crunch of an iceberg calving hits your ears and a bus sized chunk of ice slides off into the sea before your eyes, creating a big slow wave that lifts the zodiac and gently puts it back down again. It’s nature at work like nothing else you’ve ever witnessed.

3. The moment you’re sat in the ship’s bar late at night moored off the north coast of Iceland on the last night of your voyage and a crew member strolls in nonchalantly stating “you can see a bit of aurora up there”. Eyes widen momentarily before you grab hat, coat and gloves and practically run up to the flying bridge where you lie on your back watching the lights dance until they fade away.

4. The moment a fluffy little Arctic fox trots across the tundra and through the middle of your group, passing about 2 feet in front of you gazing inquisitively around in search of food. He loops you a few times before wondering off and another two appear; bright white against the green shrubby tundra.

5. The moment you’ve been hiking up a hill, iPod in, picking and eating blueberries all the way up, and suddenly you reach the top of a ridge and spot a mother and baby musk ox staring at you, backed by the ice capped mountain range and still lake down in a valley. Incredible.

To hear more about our trip or for further advice about planning your own cruise in the Arctic, please contact our specialists on 01285 880 980.

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A weekend in Iceland – Ice and Fire

This was my first visit to Iceland and with much anticipation and excitement of spending 3 nights discovering the Infamous Land of Fire and Ice; I set off from London Heathrow on a short three hour flight to Reykjavik, the capital.

Seeing the Northern Lights, is high on my “To do list” and for the next two winters, they are promising to be more spectacular than ever and whilst never guaranteed, are likely to be more frequent and more vivid than usual. I just hoped that luck would be on my aside this trip and I would get to see them!

As I travelled during the winter months, Iceland only gets 5 hours of daylight, with the sun not rising before 10:30 and at best, just hovering temptingly above the horizon before it starts to set again around 3:30pm. I landed in Reykjavik, greeted by our ground agent, in a sleek black Mercedes; and then whisked off in style to the city, just 40 minutes away. My hotel for the night was the 101 hotel, a design hotel located in the fashionable 101 district where you can find a plethora of restaurants, bars and shops on your doorstep.

The next morning my guide met me at 10am to start my tour, accompanied by a huge 4×4 super jeep, the best type of vehicle to use once you enter the interior, as the driving becomes more rugged. Driving in Iceland is actually very easy as they only have two main roads and most traffic is centred in Reykjavik, so once you get out of the city, the roads are pretty much your own – a perfect self-drive holiday.

After just an hour we came to our first stop, Thingvellir National Park, a site of historical, cultural and geological importance. It was here that the first Parliament was established. Within the park you can find the largest natural lake in Iceland and a rift valley that marks the crest of the Mid-Atlantic ridge. You can actually see where the two tectonic plates are moving apart from one another, slowly splitting the country in two.

If you are feeling particularly brave, you can dive down between the ridges as the water remains at a constant 3 degrees. Stepping out of the super jeep at minus 15 degrees, with frozen paths all around me, I couldn’t help but be taken aback by the sheer beauty of the area. A photographer’s paradise, even for amateurs such as myself!

We then continued on to the Gulfoss and Geysir district to see the famous hot springs and geysers, followed by the impressive Gulfoss waterfall. There is free reign to wander around the hot springs, touching the boiling water if you dare. Strokkur, which is the second biggest geyser, will erupt tons of water and steam into the air every couple of minutes, an absolute thrill to see, if a tad smelly!

Other highlights over the two days were the beautiful waterfalls (one of which you can walk behind) and an off road excursion over one of glaciers. You can get a real taste for what it must be like to be in the Arctic, surrounded by nothing but snow, ice and mountains, yet only an hour’s drive back to the main road to Reykjavik.

My hotel for the night was at Ranga Lodge, the best place to stay to see the Northern Lights in all their glory – as there is no light pollution. I also tried one of the Icelandic delicacies here, reindeer Carpaccio, which was extremely tasty along with the Icelandic staple – vodka! The lodge has a Northern lights ranger who will knock on your door during the night if the lights make an appearance, so there is no danger of missing them but unfortunately for me, better luck next time!

The real beauty of Iceland is that there is something for everyone. Diving, kayaking, whale watching, fishing, golf, spa resorts, the list of activities is endless. All of that combined with the picturesque scenery, makes it a perfect destination for a city break or longer stay.