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.