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Meet a Svalbard Guide

Meet a Svalbard Guide

Guide Nanna Gajik tells her stories from the High Arctic

Meet a Svalbard Guide

The guides in Svalbard have a burning desire to take guests out in the Arctic wilderness. This is where they enjoy being best of all, which rubs off on the guests, who are certain to have a meaningful experience. The guides have expertise in sustainable tourism, safety, environmental protection and how to communicate this, so you can rest assured you will be well taken care of. For instance, if they see a polar bear, they know exactly what to do – and what not to do. They also have plenty of exciting stories about Svalbard to tell, including about our history, nature and animal life.

Nanna Gajik visited Svalbard for the first time in 2014. She is employed as a guide at Svalbard Wildlife Expeditions, one of the oldest tour operator in Svalbard. She takes tourists on kayaking trips, hiking trips and ski trips. She has a bachelor degree in outdoor recreation from Telemark University College, and chose to write her bachelor thesis in the Arctic. We asked Nanna some questions, which might help you to plan your trip to Svalbard, and maybe look even more forward to your trip!

What was your first meeting with Svalbard like?
My first visit to Svalbard was wonderful. On the first three days I was here, I went on a snowmobile safari. We had a whiteout most of the time, which was an experience in itself! When it eased a little and we could finally see what was around us, it was untamed nature and wonderful mountain formations. There was bright sunshine on the two days I had in Longyearbyen, which was in keeping with the Sun Festival in March. There was no doubt that Svalbard was a place where I wanted to live in.

Jarle RøsslandWhat’s your favourite trip to guide?
My favourite trip must be Svalbard Wildlife Expeditions’ wilderness camp in Ymerbukta, as well as Blomsterdalshøgda because that’s a hiking trip that’s simple and which everyone can manage. 
Ymerbukta is a multi-day trip where the guests try kayaking a safe distance from the Esmarkbreen glacier, walking on the actual glacier and a hiking trip. This trip involves several elements and you really get to feel Svalbard’s nature casting a spell on you – and you will be bitten by the Svalbard bug. There’s always a chance a seal will come into the bay, there’s a rich bird life and you can often see foxes and reindeer.

Have you ever met a polar bear?
Yes, I met a polar bear in Ymerbukta when I was there with guests last year. As soon as I was sure that my guests were safe, I walked over to a man who was camping alone not far from our camp to warn him that there was a polar bear in the area. At the very moment I spoke to the camper and he emerged from his tent, the polar bear popped up suddenly from behind a ridge of moraine just 60-65m from us. Fortunately, it turned around after one shot of the signal pistol! The dog I had with me was more interested in the dead crab in the sand than the polar bear, so I experienced that it’s fair to say she’s not suitable to provide warnings of approaching polar bears!
 
What is important for the guests to consider before registering for an activity in Svalbard?
The most important thing is to read the tour description carefully and ask if there’s something you wonder about. Don’t register for a trip that’s too challenging for you, especially in terms of physical form and equipment. It’s never fun to go on a trip without enough clothes and, unfortunately, it’s often clothing than many people get slightly wrong. Wear good footwear (preferably mountain boots) and enough warm clothes (woollen hat and mittens) regardless of the season.

What’s your favourite season and why?
I love winter and the cold. It’s great to go on longer ski trips pulling a pulk. I have become very fond of the peace and tranquillity that winter brings. It’s obviously fun to drive a snowmobile a few times, but I prefer skiing and dog sledding.
It’s nice in March when there’s ‘normal’ day and night and the possibility of seeing the Northern Lights (in night time). Sitting under the Northern Lights is a magical experience every time!
 
What’s the best nature-based experience you have had in Svalbard?

It’s a tie for first place between my first polar bear encounter last summer and paddling a kayak with beluga whales (white whales). It was completely magical to sit in a kayak with a pod of 50 or more beluga whales swimming round the kayak. Close-up experiences with such large animals are completely unrivalled.
 
What’s the most unusual place name you have experienced?
I think Rånerbreen (literally ‘Boy racer glacier’) and Grisungen (literally ‘piglet’) are a bit funny! I associate råner with where I come from. They drive fancy, lowered Volvos and play thundering music. Or Tommeliten (Tom Thumb), a small hill on the Finsterwalderbreen glacier.
 
What do you believe is a guide’s most important task?
My most important task as a guide is to give the guests a good experience and show them the nature in a nice and, not least, safe manner. Svalbard nature is beautiful, but also fickle, so safety always comes first. I think it’s also important to share knowledge about environmental protection, to look after the nature and protect the untouched nature from rubbish and destruction.

What’s your favourite thing to do in Longyearbyen?
After a long day outside, it’s always nice to go to a café with friends, to the pub or light a fire on the seashore.

See you in Svalbard!

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