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In an increasingly connected and over-travelled world, few places deserve the description ‘legendary’. But as the northern point of the earth’s axis of rotation, the geographic North Pole merits it more than any other.

To the surprise of many, it sits not on terra firma but on sea ice in the middle of the Arctic Ocean, some 700 kilometres from land. There’s no accommodation, no coffee shop and definitely no Wi-Fi.

But what there is cannot be underestimated — an extraordinary sense of achievement getting there in the first place and the knowledge that you’re treading on very special ground. So it’s not surprising that, as one of the least populated and least explored places on the planet, a trip to the North Pole is increasingly sought-after by travellers with a serious sense of adventure.

The frozen wilderness may be a legendary spot, but every year it’s only visited by around 1,000 determined and hardy souls. By way of comparison, the South Pole gets more than twenty times that number. That’s partly because the window for a North Pole visit by ice-breaking ship is just eight weeks — that is, the summer months of June and July. Don’t expect to pack your bikini, though, as the average temperature is a bracing zero degrees (but as in all polar regions, you should always expect the unexpected when it comes to the weather). Happily, you definitely get bang for your buck, as it’s the land of the midnight sun.

Outside of June and July, you can still visit the North Pole by helicopter, but the astronomical costs and logistics make it prohibitive for all but the deepest wallets. And in the winter months, it’s one of the darkest and coldest places on the planet, with a whopping 163 days of total darkness. So try to avoid that.

The nuclear icebreaker ‘50 Years of Victory’ is a popular choice for North Pole cruises. Image courtesy of Quark Expeditions

As for getting there, by far the best way is on board a hulking icebreaker, the most famous being the fabulously named 50 Years of Victory used by companies such as Quark Expeditions and Swoop. This red, 150-metre Russian beast is the world’s most powerful nuclear-powered icebreaker, one that can slice through ice up to 2.5 metres thick.

The itinerary for most visitors first involves getting to Helsinki, before flying to the Russian city of Murmansk on the edge of the Barents Sea.

The city of Murmansk on the Barents Sea is a common starting point for visitors to the North Pole. Image by aristidov / Wikimedia Commons

Thereafter, it’s a multi-day trip that takes you across the frigid waters of the Arctic Ocean. You’ll probably want to pack your seasickness tablets for the crossing, but on board there are amenities including a library, lecture theatre, sports court, gym, sauna and pool (thankfully, it’s below deck). There’s even an onboard helicopter to let you get the ultimate Instagram shots as you swoop over the icebergs below.

Finally, you arrive at 90 degrees north, where guests get to disembark, tread the hallowed ground and realise that everywhere you look is south of you. With everyone decked out in red survival suits, the tradition is to form a circle around the pole for those must-have snaps. The ship also brings out North Pole signposts, reminding you how far you are from London, New York, or Sydney — in case you fancy walking back.

A toast is raised to your achievement, a barbecue is held on the ice and, for the seriously hardy, there’s an option to take a polar plunge into the icy waters. For possibly the ultimate in bragging rights, there’s even a chance to take to the sky in a hot air balloon, floating across the surreal Arctic landscape.

However, there’s much more to the trip than the magnetic north, and the return journey in particular lets you discover the Russian Arctic region’s remarkable wildlife.

The Arctic polar bear is one of the Arctic ‘big five’. Image by Christopher Prentiss Michel / Wikimedia Commons

If you’ve ever taken a safari, you’ll know the importance of spotting the ‘big five’. Well, the Arctic has its own equivalent: polar bear, walrus, beluga whale, musk ox and narwhal. And the Russian archipelago of Franz Josef Land is also visited on the way to or from Murmansk, depending on your chosen expedition, meaning almost guaranteed sightings of polar bears in this important site for denning. That’s when pregnant mothers dig holes to create dens where they give birth, emerging three months. As a protected marine mammal sanctuary, it’s somewhere you’re likely to see some of the other big five too — as well as plenty of seals.

Franz Josef Land is a wildlife haven visited on many Artic expeditions. Image by Николай Гернет / Wikimedia Commons

A combination of permafrost and climate limit the development of soil, but in summer, wild grasses and flowers often carpet the dramatic landscape. Extensive bird life includes Arctic terns, unique in having the longest annual migration of any species: a mind-bending 30,000 kilometres as they move from the Arctic to the Antarctic.

Ultimately, a trip to the North Pole is truly like no other. It involves a  considerable investment in time and money — entry-level cabins for the trip start from around US$30,000 — but the reward is the ability to say that you've been somewhere truly unique, where very, very few of the human race have walked before you.