A decade after they wowed TV audiences with scenes of snowy landscapes and hardy creatures surviving in sub-zero conditions, Sir David Attenborough and the BBC’s Natural History Unit are back with the six-part series Frozen Planet II, on BBC One.
Although it took four and a half years to gather shots in some of the world’s most remote locations, it is possible for travellers inspired by the footage to set out and have a polar adventure of their own. As the expedition industry grows in size and travellers develop an even greater appetite for bucket list adventures, destinations such as Svalbard and South Georgia are becoming more accessible.
Yes, costs are high and they’re a big investment, but these are once-in-a-lifetime trips to some of the most fragile places on our planet. And as climate changes continues to threaten and reshape the environment, these are memorable experiences you won’t want to put on ice.
Whales, fjords and mighty bergs
Where: Greenland and Iceland
Largely covered by ice, Greenland is almost impossible to traverse overland. Cruising the coastline is the best way to explore the environment, meeting local Inuit communities, watching for whales and weaving through a sculpture gallery of icebergs. While most voyages head west, this expedition explores the east coast, stopping at Thule settlements in Frederiksdal and Sydkap and exploring the beautiful fjord system of Scoresbysund, arguably the most beautiful fjord system on the planet. For added value, the trip starts in Iceland in the equally offbeat Westfjords, home to Europe’s largest bird cliff at Látrabjarg – a must for ornithologists – and a chance to keep an eye out for the Northern Lights.
How: Intrepid (intrepidtravel.com) offers a 14-day Greenland and Iceland Northern Lights trip, costing from £7,225pp (three sharing). Departs Sept 8, 2023. Excludes international flights.
Dog sledding into the wilds
Where: Svalbard, Norway
Once considered a remote wilderness, Arctic archipelago Svalbard has become much more accessible in recent years. But there are still plenty of icy nooks and crannies offering adventure. Travelling by dog sled, this three-day trip starts from the Advent Valley outside the remote town of Longyearbyen, and explores valleys, mountains and glaciers in a land with no roads high above the Arctic Circle. Accommodation is simple trapper-style cabins where everyone gets involved with chopping wood for the oven, melting snow for drinking water and looking after the team of eager huskies who pull the sleds. Additional excursions are available - whether that's a wilderness safari on silent electric snowmobiles or a guided electric bike ride that operates in winter and summer.
How: Regent Holidays (regent-holidays.co.uk) offers a five-night trip from £2,495pp (two sharing), including flights, transfers and all meals. Various departures in January and February 2023.
On the path of emperors
Traditionally, most voyages to Antarctica head along the west coast of the Peninsula. But as temperatures rise and ice shifts, the Weddell Sea is becoming much more accessible. Earlier this year, conditions allowed scientists to uncover explorer Shackleton’s lost ship, The Endurance, and several tourist ships made it as far south as Snow Hill. Quark Expeditions’ Ultramarine vessel aims to visit the remote island, a gateway to one of the few accessible emperor penguin colonies. If conditions allow, a helicopter will transfer guests inland to hike across sea ice and observe the world’s largest penguins and their chicks.
How: Discover the World (discover-the-world.com) offers a 14-night trip from £29,654pp (two sharing), excluding international flights. Departures on November 12 and 24, 2023.
An icy wildlife extravaganza
Where: South Georgia
Everyone obsesses about Antarctica – with good reason – but true wildlife aficionados head to the sub-antarctic islands. For starters, the penguin species are plentiful: find magnificent kings, entertaining rockhoppers and slightly ridiculous looking macaronis. The birdlife is also excellent. In the company of an expert team walk through albatross rookeries and marvel as their enormous wingspans cast jumbo jet shadows, or listen to the birdsong of the South Georgia pipit – a species saved from extinction. Wildlife Worldwide will be hosting a trip at the beginning of the season when it’s possible to see belligerent elephant seals embroiled in noisy and bloody jousting brawls, fur seal and albatross. Travelling on the state-of-the-art, custom-built Magellan Explorer which accommodates up to 96 passengers in comfortable ensuite cabins, the majority with private verandas, the trip allows visitors, weather permitting, to take take Zodiac trips to view the region's birds and mammals at closer quarters. Departing in 2025, there’s plenty of time to save up for a once-in-a-lifetime trip.
How: The Travelling Naturalist (naturalist.co.uk) offers a 15-day Festival of Wildlife Falklands and South Georgia trip, from £9,995pp (two sharing) on the Magellan Explorer, excluding international flights. Departs October 11, 2025.
Taking the small ship polar plunge
Where: North Spitsbergen, Svalbard, Norway
Expedition sailing is best done on smaller vessels, allowing intimate encounters and the possibility of navigating waters where big ships can’t go. Sailing on a 33-person schooner, this newly-launched voyage aims to combine exploration by land and sea. Along with observing walrus and polar bears from a safe distance, guests can snowshoe on shore and admire the ‘spikey’ landscape that initially earned Spitsbergen its name. Sailing in the summer when the sun never sets, there’s plenty of time to stay up late to enjoy the scenery and search for whales, whose numbers have been steadily increasing.
How: KE Adventure (keadventure.com) offers a 10-day trip from £4,870pp (two sharing), including flights, accommodation and all meals. Departs June 7 and 17, 2023.