History of Spitsbergen Tours and terra polaris

Images of the "wild" first years: This "Caravan Keb 3" tent, one of the top models at that time, was the start in 1986, accomodating us on our first combined hiking and paddling tour in the Isfjord. Here on the camping-site, not knowing by then that we would take over this northernmost regular campsite of the world some 10 years later.
... Spitsbergen Tours was founded in 1987, for the first years with just a summer base on the camping site and a winter information office in Germany.
Then, an office container and a tiny cabin in Longyearbyen were used by us, before moving to more normal all-year premises in Longyearbyen from 1991 onwards.
1993: our first cars - an old VW minibus and an even older Mercedes MB207, which was dubbed in Longyearbyen the "hippie car", due to the daring colouring applied by the previous owner. Given away after some years as a present to the Russians in Barentsburg, it served there (picture) for some more years as an additional shuttle bus to the heliport.

For the first time, I visited Spitsbergen during a long summer in 1986, filled with hiking and paddling tours. Inspite of thorough preparation, I soon had to realize the limits of such tours on one's one in a wilderness of this size without almost any infrastructure. The airport existed only a couple of years. The few tourists on land at that time were regarded by the locals rather as a kind of exotic entertainment, than as a business for a settlement almost totally orientated on coal mining. The only possible accomodation was the camp site in summer, and there was almost nothing to buy in town, where the population was supplied directly by the almighty coal company, which looked upon tourism rather as a potential disturbance factor.
However, inspite (or maybe even because) of these limitations, this huge wilderness, incredible difficult to imagine for a Middle European, had already captured me.

At that time, there was not one single local tour opperator in Spitsbergen. After my second Spitsbergen Summer 1987, I decided to register the first touristic company based in Spitsbergen:"Spitsbergen Tours", in the commercial register in Tromsö, which was in charge of Spitsbergen at that time, too. In the following winter the first issue of my "Spitzbergen Handbuch" (in German) was issued in the Conrad Stein Verlag, still with a modest number of 150 pages.

During the first three summers, our base consisted merely of a couple of tents on Longyearbyen Camping and the program offered mainly challenging and long trekking tours. From 1989, we added activities in late winter and established gradually settled premises. In addition, the first English edition of my Spitsbergen guidebook was issued by Bradt Publications and we organised logistics for film and scientific projects.

Only as late as 1989, Norway changed its Spitsbergen policy, away from the former "coal only" to a more varied range of activities, including also the official development of a controlled tourism. In the following time, more tourism specialists developed and the first touristic accomodations were built. At the same time, the requests for other types of travelling, apart from trekking, were increasing, not only for Spitsbergen, but also for Greenland, Antarctica and soon the russian Arctic as well.
In my opinion, nobody can do everything in overall good quality. At the same time it is difficult for a traveller not only to gain an overview over the offers of all the small specialists for polar travel, but also to evaluate them and make a choice. Have you tried to ask for example for "Trekking in Spitsbergen?" at the tourist agency around the corner and, instead of getting a qualified answer,  you were looking in a big-eyed face with questionmarks in it? Or have you been fighting with bulks of websites that were difficult to rate and in addition not really helpfull?
Specialised - and based in the Arctic: we know what we talk about. The idea of terra polaris was born: a specialised agency for polar destinations, only, working with and pooling various specialised tour operators (including the tour offers of Spitsbergen Tour). This in itself is nothing unusual: of course, there are a lots of travel agencies, some even specialised on the North. But our point is: we are not just salesmen. We are first of all personally attached to the Arctic and we know more about polar themes than just merchandising our products. We spend a good deal of our time living and working in the polar regions, not just selling them. Each of us is also practically involved - by guiding, lecturing, doing logistics in the Arctic, running the campsite in Longyearbyen. This kind of first hand competence and expertise is especially important for our ccustomers when travelling to such remote and unusual destinations. Therefore we are based in high arctic Spitsbergen, not somewhere far away from the polar areas in a city.
Out of reach ? Not at all in the times of the worldwide web, Longyearbyen having one of the best internet connections of the world. And in addition, we can provide further support to our European customers by our information office in Germany.

Wide range of activities: While terra polaris is our specialised agency for polar travel, this is supplemented by our other activities: Spitsbergen Tours is our tour operator part in Spitsbergen, focussing on own programs on the archipelago, including curtailed special arrangements, logistics for media and scientific expeditions, land arrangements for cruise ships and cruise services (lecturing, expedition leaders, polar bear guard). Furthermore, we are engaged in Longyearbyen Camping, the northernmost regular campsite of the world., and you may know already one of the guide books on Spitsbergen by Andreas Umbreit. Finally, we have a huge collection of pictures of Spitsbergen and other polar regions, and a well-sorted collection of polar literature for background research.
Small is nice: At the same time we like to maintain the charm of a modest family business with its personal atmosphere -  economic growth is not a purpose in itself in our opinion.

Read more: philosophy of terra polaris.

In the beginning, long and demanding trekkings were our main focus ...
... but with increasing demand for less backpack weight, programs with stationary wilderness tent camps were added, ...
... finally followed by winter programs.
Since 1988, we are involved in research projects with consultance and logistics ...
and since 1989 also in film and other media projects, here for a BBC production with David Attenborough.
Since 1991, after the start of terra polaris, we have extended our touristic activities by including the marketing of expedition cruises on smaller vessels, and since 1998, we provide polar cruises further services (expedition leaders, lecturers, polar bear guards, land arrangements).

Last Modification: 31.08.2009