Fantasy Islands: Svalbard Archipelago, Arctic Norway | Adventure Kayak Magazine | Rapid Media
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Fantasy Islands: Svalbard Archipelago, Arctic Norway Photo: Tara Mulvany

Kayaking the more than 2,000 kilometres around the main islands of Svalbard

Ready for adventure? We’ve roamed the world’s oceans and lakes to compile this look at eight of our favorite island escapes, from lounging in the palm trees of the South Pacific to paddling with whales in the Bay of Fundy and gazing at grizzlies in Alaska. We’ve also included one escapade that’s so daring, it may never be repeated. 

Tears streamed down my face. Through the fog I watched the faint outline of my two companions moving further and further away from me with each passing hour. I battled with every stroke, struggling to stay awake, my mind exhausted and my hands numb with cold.

For centuries, explorers and dreamers have been drawn to the icy waters and barren landscapes of the Arctic. Inspired by romantic no- tions of the Land of the Midnight Sun, where polar bears roam across ice and tundra and glaciers plunge into the ocean, early adventurers journeyed on quests ever further above the Arctic Circle. Many of those bound for the North Pole departed Svalbard, a cluster of isolated islands anchored roughly midway between mainland Norway and the pole. Time passed, and although those pioneering days slowly faded into history, the magnetic attraction was not lost. It was deep inside of me.

So, on a foggy day in late June 2015, Jaime Sharp, Per Gustav (“PG”) Porsanger and I left on our own quest—to paddle more than 2,000 kilo- meters around the four main islands of Svalbard. The route around this desolate Arctic archipelago was, despite the passage of time, a circumnavigation that remained unclaimed.

Seven years earlier, two paddlers—Alon Ohad and Tim Starr—set off from the colorful settle- ment of Longyearbyen on the largest island, Spitsbergen, and paddled north, their kayaks loaded with what they hoped would be enough supplies to get them around the first-ever circumnavigation of the archipelago. Passing tumbling glaciers and windswept landscapes they worked their way towards the 80th parallel. On the coast of Nordaustlandet—the northernmost island and the crux of the circumnavigation, guarded by a 160-kilometer stretch of glacial cliffs and the highest numbers of Svalbard’s infamous polar bears—they were trapped in sea ice. After five hours of hauling their 200-pound kayaks across the shifting ice mass, a back injury forced the pair...

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