Standing on the deck of your ship, you fathom a form in the distance. A solitary polar bear, its large white form in perfect harmony with its icy world but dwarfed by an endless ocean, marauds in search of a meal in the frigid domain. As you stand stunned by the stupefying wonders that compose our amazing world, you realise that you haven’t merely entered a different sphere of endless amazement, but also crossed over to the realm of the ethereal.
You’ve slipped into a dream called Svalbard.
- 10 nights and 11 days on an exclusive chartered cruise for twelve exclusive participants for comfortable photography
- Comfortable accommodation on single occupancy (unless travelling as a couple) in exclusive cabins
- A great photography experience on board MS Origo
- An exotic experience in a truly untamed wilderness and amazing part of our planet
- A memorable time in the Arctic exploring the exquisite landscapes and subliminal wildlife of Svalbard
- Very likely excellent encounters with and images of polar bears, Svalbard’s flagship species
- Tremendous photography opportunities with Svalbard’s many other wild inhabitants
- A safe and immensely productive Tour guided ably by experienced professional photographers
- A wealth of photography and natural history learning from Toehold’s Jayanth Sharma
- Extensive practical assistance during the shoots to ensure maximum possible value
80 degrees north in the icy Arctic world lies sprawled its most gleaming pearl, Svalbard.
Constituting the northernmost part of Norway, it is an immense archipelago in the Arctic Circle, not far away from the North Pole. And it is one of the few turfs on our planet where man is still subordinate to the laws of nature, the wild remains untamed and infinity suddenly seems a very real concept.
Mountains with white wigs stand tall carrying glaciers in their laps, picturesque fjords bearing azure icebergs and drift ice cut prettily through the land; and wildlife thrives under the water, on the surface and in the air to remind you that this is not a desolate wilderness, but a living, throbbing wonderland.
Featuring an Arctic climate, Svalbard is not one of the things best served chilled, as its riches can be savoured mostly only in the summer, when the pack ice is coaxed to release its vice grip and reveal a part of our Frozen Planet that can cause a meltdown of your emotions.
The intoxicating, otherworldly landscape, molded in whimsical colours and shapes by the Polar sun, can give you a happy high even at breakfast time, and although the round-the-clock daylight can be a bit disorienting to even the nocturnal animals of the urban wild, the enchanting wildlife will keep you anchored at all times.
Prowling the vast expanse of its glacial world, an ivory-white polar bear in the flesh is a sight nonpareil.
If you consider that a male tips the scales at 700 kg, measures more than 8 ft in length and 4 ft in height, is insulated in 10 cm of fat, black skin designed to absorb heat and white fur for camouflage; and despite all this bulk can swim hundreds of miles, you get the mind-boggling picture of a very big, strong, smart, warm bear. And Svalbard is the best place in the world to see what makes it tick in the Arctic.
Watch as a big male marches with intent, as though shaking the very earth beneath his large hirsute pads; sub-adults play-fight; a female darts across the water with surprising speed, her enormous form almost entirely hidden beneath the water surface; or a pair of comely trotting cubs, white as the snow under them, strain adorably to keep up with their mother.
Or simply warm up to the ethereal sight of a bear, probably oblivious to its own beauty and the magic of the moment, snuggling up comfortably even as a wakeful sun ignites the background into a screen of resplendent hue you didn’t know existed. Truly, the polar bear is the Arctic’s biggest showpiece, and Svalbard its greatest showcase.
But, the flagship species is well bolstered by a myriad of other attractions, none of which is a minnow but a creature worthy of admiration.
Bearded and ringed seals – the polar bear’s staple diet – can be seen swimming and sunbathing in enviable environs, while Greenland seals are often encountered, and walruses – animals that can weigh twice as much as polar bears and yet fall prey to them on occasion – can be photographed from close quarters.
Whales, the giant aquatic mammals, include the humpback whale, the fin whale, the beluga whale and the mink whale, while the predatory orca can stun you into silence and a glimpse of the biggest of them all, the monumental blue whale – the largest living earthly creature – can cause you to hop on the deck in fitful spasms of uncontrolled joy.
Among the birds, the circumpolar Arctic tern turns heads, while the glaucous gull and the ivory gull give you the quintessential seabird scenes. fulmars, who always seem busy absorbed by themselves, manage to absorb you too with their interesting looks, and while Arctic skuas have been termed parasites and pirates for stealing food from other birds, it is the kittiwakes you must save your heart from, for cute as buttons, they threaten to swoop down on their angelic white wings and purloin it.
And just when you think there’s nothing more to see in the sky, black guillemots, looking like limited-edition pigeons, show themselves off, and the thick-billed murre, also called Brünnich’s Guillemot, flies the auk flag high as the sensational landscapes in the backdrop keep your eyes glued to the viewfinder for most of your wakeful time.
Ferrying you ably in this expedition is the beautiful and spacious MS Origo. Originally built for the Swedish Maritime Administration, this traditional ship was refurbished to a passenger expedition vessel.
And for photographers and exploration enthusiasts, it is the perfect vehicle in which to navigate the waters of Svalbard. Carrying 12 passengers in supreme comfort, in addition to 7 or 8 crew led by an experienced captain, and equipped with the best safety equipment, she goes where others cannot, from where further approach on Zodiacs – small inflatable rafts carrying 6 clients each – will ensure that you seldom have to keep away from the wildlife you wish to take a closer photograph of.
The twin Zodiacs themselves are very spacious and will be shared by only six photographers to provide ample space for everyone on board and their equipment.
The chef will serve an exciting and varied menu every day, but flexibility with timing will be exercised if existing photo opportunities dictate that the food can wait.
Please note: We assemble for this Tour at Longyearbyen, Svalbard, and depart from the same place. Travel between your home and Longyearbyen is not included in the Tour fee, but all requisite assistance with air travel will be provided.
Arriving in Longyearbyen, we assemble at a designated point and are transferred to our mobile home for the rest of the expedition, the MS Origo – a highly able, impressively furnished and comfortable expedition ship, at around 04:00 p.m. After everyone has arrived and completed the paper work, we board the ship and depart Longyearbyen. After settling down, we meet for an introductory dinner and discuss the strategy for the rest of the days while our vessel is cruising steadily in a northwesterly direction.
From this day onwards, there is no set itinerary for the rest of the Tour until our return to Longyearbyen eight days later.
The progress of the expedition will be largely dictated by the prevailing weather conditions and the sea ice distribution. Every day your Tour Skipper, along with other expedition leaders and the support crew, will monitor the conditions closely using ice maps and other tools, and determine the best strategy and routes to press forward in a safe and enjoyable way.
For most of our wakeful hours, we will stay on the deck and look out for all kinds of wildlife and landscape observation and photography opportunities, with the compactness of our ship, the Origo, allowing us to access an amazing network of wildlife-rich areas, and the relatively low viewing areas allowing us to feel united with the environment.
When any wildlife is spotted, after getting some preliminary photographs, we will attempt to approach it by climbing onto a Zodiac, if the leadership team finds the situation safe to do so for all parties concerned.
During these approaches, your and the subjects’ safety will be kept in utmost regard, and the expert oarsmen will manoeuvre the boat in a manner that minimizes stress to the subjects and the risk posed by icebergs and glacial edges. Using our Zodiacs, we can also land ashore and enjoy the rare privilege of exploring the islets on foot.
When you are not watching and photographing wildlife, MS Origo’s solidity and comfort will ensure you have a smooth time relaxing. The vessel features six cabins – all with private viewing facilities, quick access to Zodiacs, panoramic views from the bridge and outer decks, a small library in every room, and, for when you are not firing away with your camera, a ‘weather-sealed’ well-stocked bar atop the deck from where the local scenery can be mixed with foreign spirits and gradually absorbed for good measure. What’s more, it’s protected from the elements, too.
Scrumptious buffet meals feature elaborate vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes, and the special requirements of your palate can be satisfied to ensure that your stomach enjoys the experience of Svalbard as much as your eyes do.
Amidst all this, you will also ingest a lot of valuable knowledge through the extremely insightful, inspiring and enriching interactive talks and discussions delivered by the Tour leaders, including our famous ChaayaaChitra, ChitraTantra and Charchaaloka sessions.
These interactions not only offer a wealth of natural history nuggets and photography tips and tricks, but will also allow you to have your pictures reviewed frequently and take corrective steps if required to shorten the learning curve during just the course of an expedition, making your time indoors as productive as when you’re out spotting wildlife.
Meanwhile the crew will work hard to keep everything running smoothly so your experience of the white archipelago is a truly memorable experience.
After hopefully a highly productive time on the enchanting cruise, we return to Longyearbyen at around 09:00 a.m. a satisfied lot, from where we take our flights for home, yearning to share tales and pictures from an eventful Tour with friends and family.
- Per Person with Shared WC-Shower
- Per Person with Shared WC-Shower
- Per Person with Private WC-Shower
- Boarding and lodging in chosen accommodation aboard MS Origo for Tour duration
- All meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) and hot beverages (coffee and tea) for Tour duration
- All local fees
- All Zodiac excursions
- Services of a Photography Skipper
What’s Not Included?
- All airfare and transfer expenses
- Overnight accommodation prior to and following the trip aboard the ship
- Visa expenses
- Any kind of personal expenses or optional tours, extra meals and beverages ordered
- Insurance, laundry and phone calls
- Soft drinks and alcoholic beverages
- Tips and gratuities
- All applicable taxes
- Anything that is not included in the Inclusions list
- USD 2000 of the Tour fee as booking amount (non-refundable)
- USD 6000 of the Tour fee before 20 December 2019
- Remainder of the Tour fee before 20 February 2020
All figures per person.
- USD 6000 of the Tour fee between 31 December 2019 and 28 February 2020 (If two payments are made on time)
- 100% of the Tour fee on or after 1 March 2020
All figures per person.
Please note: The date of written (email) communication of intent to cancel is the date considered for calculation of the cancellation fees.
While Toehold Photo Travel is one of our most popular offerings, we work as a travel agency without bringing the photography guide element in to your travel. In short you would be using our travel experts service to just plan the vacation and execute it.
- Unlike a Photo Travel experience, your Vacation is completely personalised.
- The dates, style of travel, class of hotels and lodges, destinations, everything is tailor-made to suit your custom requirement.
- A Skipper or a photography guide doesn’t travel with you to guide you unless you decide to take our customised and guided photo travel experience.
So take advantage of the immense experience and field knowledge that we bring in to your Vacation’s planning without having to pay for our time and costs. Plus, we don’t charge an additional fee for our time and travel planning services.
Who should participate in this Tour? Are there any eligibility criteria?
Anybody interested in Arctic or general wildlife and/or wildlife, landscape or bird photography and is above the age of 18 (unless accompanied by an adult) can participate in this Tour. There are no eligibility criteria.
I am a newbie in nature photography. Am I eligible?
Absolutely! This Tour is meant for fledgling as well as experienced photographers. Beginners get all the advantages of learning on and off the field from Toehold’s eminent Skippers. In fact if you are a newbie, you should jump on this terrific learning opportunity and sign up right away! However, in order to make the most of the Tour photographically, we recommend that you be familiar with photography fundamentals. Please sign up for an Art and Science of Photography Workshop before the Tour.
I am not into photography. Would you still recommend this Tour?
Most certainly! While photographers will probably derive maximum value from this Tour, non-photographers will enjoy the expedition equally.
How cold will it be?
The weather is variable, but the average hovers between a few degrees below freezing at the minimum and around 2°C as the maximum. There will be considerable wind chill on the deck. Sea conditions may get occasionally rough, but the rugged construction of the ship usually ensures a largely smooth ride. You are advised to carry requisite medication if you suffer from seasickness.
What fitness level is required?
Although this is not a very physically intensive Tour, some basic amount of physical fitness is required, chiefly to withstand the cold, climb up and down the steep staircase between the hull of the ship and the Zodiac board, and to undertake short walks exploring the islets on foot. If you suffer from known illnesses, please consult your physician before signing up for the Tour.
By what mode will photography be done on this Tour?
Photography will be done from the cruise ship, the Zodiac boats and on foot when we occasionally alight on land.
How safe is this cruise?
Your safety is of paramount importance to us and every aspect of this expedition has been designed to the highest safety standards. Our cruise ship exceeds all the SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea) requirements and features state-of-the-art navigation and communication equipment. There are comfortably excess life vests, high-grade immersion suits and lifeboats on board the cruise, and lifejackets will be compulsorily worn during all the Zodiac rides. You are in very capable hands as the Tour Skippers have between them a total experience of 15 expeditions to Svalbard, and are well assisted by an expert crew who are consummate with local conditions. Together they will constantly monitor weather conditions and take suitable decisions to ensure a safe and enjoyable Tour for everyone.
Will you provide visa assistance?
Yes. While the Tour cost does not include visa expenses, all the assistance you require in procuring a visa will be duly provided.
How sure are you about photographing wildlife on this Tour?
Considering the meticulous attention to timing we pay while scheduling Tours and the local expertise we leverage, we believe that it would be extremely unfortunate if our sightings and photography were unsatisfactory. However, since we will be in an uncontrolled environment, we do not claim that sightings of specific species are guaranteed.
What equipment do you suggest on this Tour?
Svalbard is a land of beautiful landscapes, so a wide-angle lens is a must, with a fisheye lens being most welcome. For wildlife, a lens with a focal length of at least 400mm is considered necessary, with longer focal lengths being welcome. Telephoto zooms such as 70-200mm lenses can allow you to include your subject’s habitat in your frame. A bean bag as a support device is strongly recommended. Please talk to us for more specific advice on equipment.
I do not own appropriate equipment. What do I do?
If you do not own adequate photography gear, there is no need to fret. Toehold offers an exhaustive array of cameras and lenses for hire, so you can always hire what you need. Visit our Rental Store to see what we offer.. What’s better, you enjoy a 10% discount on all equipment hired on our Photo Tours!
How different are your Photo Tours from ordinary tours?
Unlike travel agents who plan your holiday from a remote destination to places they sometimes haven’t experienced themselves, Photo Tours offer a comprehensive toehold to experience a place through the guidance of a professional photographer. The common ingredients in all our Photo Tours are fun and a lot of learning and knowledge-sharing. Besides, most or all of our Tour participants are photography enthusiasts, which keeps the group in harmony and helps make your experience focussed.