From Bellingen to the Arctic Circle, Bruce Jacups tells us all about the holiday of a lifetime – where he travelled and what made it so special. Swapping the Australian winter for a European summer and weeks of 24 hour daylight in Norway, he talks to FOCUS about what inspired the trip and some of his most memorable experiences.
Hi Bruce. You have recently been on an interesting holiday; can you tell us a little bit about it and where you went?
Well, I spent our winter in Europe. I’m a photographer, mainly of festivals and culture, so I travelled to experience and photograph parts of Spain, France, Germany, Poland, Austria and Svalbard (Norway) in the Arctic Circle (latt 74 – 81 deg).
What inspired you to travel through Europe to the Arctic Circle?
A number of reasons. I wanted to see the global seed vault, which is a secure seed bank in Norway. It was started by conservationists to preserve a wide variety of seeds in the event of a global crisis. I also wanted to experience and photograph the remote Arctic landscape and wildlife, and I really wanted to experience the “land of the midnight sun” – 24 hour daylight.
What was it like being without darkness for weeks on end?
I am usually in tune with navigating my day by the sun here in Australia, but this went totally awry in Svalbard. I had taped cardboard over the windows at my BnB, but that still didn’t help with the distraction of the sun. I didn’t sleep much whilst there, that’s for sure! You sort of feel like you are in some sort of time warp. I remember walking through the main town at 2 or 3am, and the only reason it felt different was due to the lack of people around.
What were some of the challenges you faced when travelling through the Arctic Circle?
For starters, you can’t just wander off outside settlements without a guide and/or a gun, for protection against polar bears. So that immediately challenged me and my tendancy to roam free. I love the cold; however, being in the Arctic (even during their summer, which is much colder than most of our Australian winter) gave me an appreciation of anyone or any wildlife having to exist within this cold, dry desert landscape. I’d also love to experience a long, dark winter there.
How was your experience with the locals?
The locals are great! There are three main industries of Svalbard … coal mining, tourism and research. NASA does research there, as do many other world scientists. There’s a mixture of Norwegian, Soviet and other European workers in all of the above industries. The population is only around 1,000 permanents. So you can’t get sick, be more than six months pregnant, or die on Svalbard! There are no hospitals or cemeteries. I was informed that the permafrost is not such a great place to bury the dead, as learned from past experience … Eventually the bodies rise to the surface due to the mechanical pressure, over time, of the frozen ground. I did many small eco tours and made some great friends with the fun, informative guides and operators.
Tell us about some of the cultural experiences you’ve had?
I’m the kind of guy who wanders around and stumbles upon new people and experiences … I went walking around the town of Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen Island, where I was staying and met a man tending to his Husky dogs in a compound. He invited me in and told me to come back in an hour and he would take me for a summer sled ride, as he needed to exercise his hounds. We did a 15 km run, where I got to control 10 vibrant, eager Huskies through icy streams and incredible landscapes … All at the drop of a hat! I also met some wonderful local tour operators, shopkeepers and teachers.
What were some of your most memorable moments and why?
Experiencing Blue Whales circle us in a small boat, it was so humbling being that close to one of Earth’s giants! Trekking Fuglefjella (Bird Mountain) with Phillip and his Malamute. Visiting Pyramiden, an abandoned Soviet mining town, and the dog sledding of course. These moments were so different to anything I’ve experienced at home here in Australia.
For anyone wanting to travel to the Arctic Circle, what advice would you give them?
Go, do it! It’s a world filled with life, death and wonders … You won’t ever forget it. It was such an incredible and unique experience.
Where do you plan to travel next?
I’d love to go back to the Arctic, maybe in Russia at a different time of year, to experience a different season and light. However, I think Sri Lanka beckons for early next year.
How does travelling affect how you feel about living here on the Coffs Coast?
I really appreciate living on the Mid North Coast. Seeing what it’s like to live in such a harsh environment makes me feel lucky to live where I do. On my trip I was inspired by some of the more clean/green infrastructure, which would be great to implement here, like making it much easier to cycle everywhere.