Aurora Expeditions Offers Free Polar Bear Photography Workshops In The Arctic

polar bear For any traveler whose bucket list includes visiting the Arctic, Aurora Expeditions is giving you a reason to cross it off in 2013: free polar bear photography workshops.

From August 5 to 18, 2013, cruise, passengers will explore the Arctic areas of Spitsbergen and eastern Greenland before docking in beautiful Isafjordur, Iceland. During the trip, they will have the opportunity to take complimentary polar bear photography classes with Moab Master photographer Joshua Holko and professional wildlife and nature photographer Daniel Bergmann. All levels are welcome, and participants will also get the chance to take pictures of walruses, Arctic fox and reindeer. Prices for this trip start at $7,748 per person, with the trip departing from Longyearbyen in Svalbard.

The company will be also be offering a free wildlife photography workshop aboard their 54-passenger “Polar Pioneer” cruise to Antarctica from November 9 to 23, 2013, with opportunities to photograph seals, whales and penguins. The journey departs from Patagonia’s Ushuaia and ends in the Falkland Islands, giving photographers special access into areas usually restricted to scientific research. Passengers will also explore the Lemaire Channel, the Gerlache Strait and the geothermal Deception Island. The 14-night sail/fly voyage starts at $9,990 per person.

To learn more about Joshua Holko’s photography, click here.

[Image via Shutterstock]

Alaskan Town Invaded By Record Number Of Polar Bears

Polar bears near Kaktovik, AlaskaThe 250 residents of the remote town of Kaktovik, Alaska, have grown accustomed to living on the edge of the wilderness, but even they had to be a bit surprised at all the ursine visitors that came calling last month. In mid-September, the sleepy little community found itself over run with a record number of polar bears who came looking for food while they wait for the return of the pack ice.

Located above the Arctic Circle, the people of Kaktovik routinely supplement their meager supplies with an annual whale hunt, which provides meat for the lean winter months. Following the hunt, the carcasses of the whales are left on the beach for predators and scavengers to pick clean. Typically this attracts numerous polar bears that are looking for an easy meal, but this year there were far more bears than normal. On September 13, observers counted 80 polar bears in total, which broke the old record for the most spotted in a single day. The previous record of 65 was set back in 2004.

Researchers believe that it could be more than just the promise of a free meal that brought so many polar bears together at the same place and time. This summer saw the Arctic ice melt at an unprecedented level, which may have forced more of the creatures to head to solid ground while they waited for temperatures to drop and the ice to return. Unlike most animals, polar bears actually eat more regularly in the winter and look to their fat stores to get them through the leaner summer months. Any time they can get an easy meal it is a cause to congregate.

Lucky for the bears, the ice began to form once again on September 16 and now has started to thicken and spread across the Arctic Ocean. That means the animals will soon be able to head north once again, leaving Kaktovik behind for anther year.

[Photo credit: Loren Holmes]

5 Of The World’s Best Places For Viewing The Night Skies

milky wayIf you grow up in Southern California, school field trips to the Griffith Observatory are practically a requirement. For whatever reason, I always found the Planetarium more frightening than enlightening, especially in the sixth grade, when David Fink threw up on me on the bus ride home.

Despite many youthful camping trips with my family, I also can’t recall ever paying attention to the night skies (possibly because many of these trips were in the cloudy Pacific Northwest). Fast-forward 20-odd years, and to a solo camping trip on Kauai’s North Shore. It was my last night and the rainclouds had finally blown away. I stared up at the starry sky awestruck. It’s the first time l ever really noticed the stars, due to the lack of light and environmental pollution. I’ve been a stargazer ever since, and coincidentally, many of my travels have taken me to some of the world’s best locations for it.

Below, my picks for top-notch night skies, no student chaperone required:

Atacama Desert
, Chile

This stark, Altiplano region in Chile’s far north is the driest desert on earth, as well as home to the some of the clearest night skies on the planet. You don’t need anything (other than perhaps a great camera) to appreciate the stars, but a stargazing tour, offered by various hotels, hostels and outfitters throughout the town of San Pedro de Atacama, is well worth it.

I highly recommend the Astronomy Tour offered by the Alto Atacama Hotel & Spa, located just outside of San Pedro proper. For hotel guests only, this two-year-old program is led by one of the property’s guides, a naturalist and astronomer. The hotel has its own observation deck and a seriously badass telescope; you won’t be disappointed even if stargazing isn’t your thing. In addition to learning the constellations of ancient Quechua myth such as the Llama and Condor, you’ll have incredible views of the Milky Way, and be able to see telescopic images of Sirius and Alpha Centauri with a lens so powerful you can actually see a ring of flame flickering from their surface.

%Gallery-157717%alto atacama observatoryExmouth, Western Australia
Uluru (aka the former Ayers Rock, which now goes by its Aboriginal name) is considered Australia’s best stargazing, due to its location in exactly the middle of nowhere. In reality, the Outback in general has night skies completely untainted by pollution. But as I’ve discovered after many years of visiting Australia, the only bad places to stargaze are urban areas. The skies are also stellar above remote coastal regions, most notably in Western Australia (which is vast and sparsely populated).

The best skies I’ve seen are in Exmouth, located along the Ningaloo Reef. At Sal Salis, a coastal luxury safari camp, an observation platform and stargazing talk will help you make sense of the Southern sky. Be prepared for striking views of the Milky Way stretching across the horizon, seemingly close enough to touch.
mauna kea
Mauna Kea, Hawaii
In 1991, the year of the Total Solar Eclipse, hundreds of thousands of visitors flocked to the Big Island’s Mauna Kea Observatory – located at the top of the volcano – to watch the sky grow dark mid-morning. I was waiting tables on Maui, so all I noticed was a brief dimming, in conjunction with some of my tables pulling a dine-and-dash. A visit to the volcano, however, will assure you stunning views if you take a Sunset and Stargazing Tour offered by Mauna Kea Summit Adventures. Day visitors can hike, and even ski in winter.

Bryce Canyon, Utah
This national park, known for its bizarre rock spires (called “hoodoos”) and twisting red canyons, is spectacular regardless of time of day or season. On moonless nights, however, over 7,500 stars are visible, and park rangers and volunteer astronomers lead Night Sky programs that include multimedia presentations and high-power telescopes; schedules and topics change with the seasons.
aurora borealis
Churchill, Manitoba
Located on the southwestern shore of Hudson Bay on the fringe of the Arctic Circle, the village of Churchill is famous for three things: polar bears, beluga whales and the Northern Lights. Its location beneath the Auroral Oval means the “best and most Northern Lights displays on the planet,” according to Churchill’s website, and you don’t need to sign up for a tour to enjoy the show. Save that for the polar bear viewing.

[Photo credits: Atacama, Frank Budweg; Mauna Kea, Flickr user sambouchard418;Aurora Borealis, Flickr user Bruce Guenter]

Explorer Ben Saunders gears up for North Pole speed run


This fantastic video provides a glimpse into the equipment and preparation necessary for a solo speed run to the North Pole. Ben Saunders, a world class athlete and explorer, will attempt to break the North Pole speed record on his 487 mile journey from Cape Discovery in Canada. No stranger to the pole, Saunders has seen his share of polar expeditions and will be setting out completely unsupported. He was the last solo explorer to reach the pole in 2004 from Russia.

Aside from polar bears and -50 degree weather, Ben must contend with the most dire of hurdles – equipment failure. His last two expeditions to the top of our world were stymied by such setbacks. For this trip, called North 3, he has provided this video to showcase the gear and tech that goes into a solo polar exploration. Shotguns for bear defense and custom made meals for snacking are two of the gear staples for this polar adventurer.

From bensaunders.com:

Ben Saunders is a professional endurance athlete and a pioneering polar explorer. He is one of three in history to ski solo to the North Pole (from the Russian side of the Arctic Ocean, in 2004), the youngest to do so by more than ten years, and holds the record for the longest solo Arctic journey by a Briton (1,032km). Ben is an Ambassador for The Prince’s Trust and a Patron of the British Schools Exploring Society, and is an acclaimed public speaker (the TED conference called him a ‘master storyteller’). He has been a global brand ambassador for Land Rover since 2009.

Ben Saunders – North 3 from Ben Saunders on Vimeo.

Ben Saunders – Living on Ice from Ben Saunders on Vimeo.

Explore the Arctic with Hurtigruten Tours

Spitsbergen is the “last stop before the North Pole,” a cold, remote landscape of snow, ice, and arctic wildlife. And you can explore it with Hurtigruten, an adventure tour company.

While some of their longer tours may be prohibitively expensive for a lot of travelers (9-day tours cost around $5000 per person). they do offer a much more affordable 6-day Polar Encounters cruise starting at just over $1300 per person, plus airfare.

Passengers on the cruise will go ashore twice per day with an experienced guide, looking for glaciers, fjords, seals, whales, walruses, and polar bears. Stops include the towns of Longyearbyen, Barentsburg and Ny-Alesund, which vary in size for two thousand to less than two dozen residents.

Hurtigruten also offers cruises around Norway, Greenland, Antartica, the Baltics, and Western Europe.

[via Camels and Chocolate]