After Barentz put Svaalbard on the map in 1596 hunting of whales, seals and walrus soon followed. Because of over-exploitation populations and profitability soon declined. From about 1715 the Russians began trapping for the fur trade. Norwegians soon followed. Coal mining began soon after 1900, one mine is still in operation. Tourism is now the main driver of the economy.
As you walk around Longyearbyen the various threads of its history are still apparent. Old mine buildings are dotted about, you can buy furs or even a stuffed polar bear. If you are going off the beaten track you should take a rifle but please don’ take it into the post office …
The buildings are modern, there are several hotels, some restaurants, a small but fairly busy port. There is a supermarket, tourist shops and sporting goods stores. It is snowing heavily at the moment but in the valley the ground is mostly free of snow, the snow mobiles are parked now and unlikely to be used until summer is over. It’s after 10.30pm but it’s as light as it was at midday.
It is a very strange mix of a place, it’s the furthest north that people live and work but it doesn’t remind me of Greenland, Iceland, Alaska or northern Canada. It’s polar frontier meets Europe. I feel about as far from Australia as it is possible to get.
Click on any of the pictures to enter a little gallery put together over the last few days …
Half way between Norway and the north pole and well inside the arctic circle there is an archipelago discovered and named Spitsbergen by the Dutchman Willem Barentsz in 1596. He failed to recognise that it was a group of islands. Since the 1920s Spitsbergen has been the name of the largest island, the archipelago as a whole is known as Svaalbard and is politically part of Norway.
It was a true terra nullius when Barentsz found it but it is now the world’s most northerly full time settlement. There is some mining, tourism and it is the home of the world famous seed bank. Wikipedia tells us that soccer is the most popular sport and that there are three football pitches. It’s not surprising then to find that the population is only small. In July 2017 it was estimated to be 2,583. The population growth rate is -0.03%, they won’t be needing an extra soccer pitch any time soon. The largest town and administrative centre is Longyearbyen. It is a free trade and demilitarised zone.
arctic, tempered by warm North Atlantic Current; cool summers, cold winters; North Atlantic Current flows along west and north coasts of Spitsbergen, keeping water open and navigable most of the year.
About 60% of the land surface is glaciated.
Tourists obviously don’t come to buy ice cream and football boots. Mostly they come to see polar bears, whales, walruses and sea birds, reindeer and the northern lights. The latter will not be in evidence until the sun sets next …