Arkhangelsk Oblast

A real 'Russian Arctic'

The harsh and beautiful archipelago of Novaya Zemlya

15.08.2022// The Arctic has always beckoned travellers, remaining a harsh and inaccessible land. The Novaya Zemlya archipelago was visited over the centuries by the Pomors and brave seafarers of the Middle Ages, the northernmost maritime settlement of the Russian Empire was built there, and today these islands have become one of the most accessible Arctic nature reserves for tourists.

True, this does not mean the journey will be easy, even aboard an icebreaker.

The Novaya Zemlya archipelago is located in the Arctic Ocean between the Barents and Kara Seas. It consists of two large islands, Severny (North) and Yuzhny (South), separated by a narrow strait, as well as many smaller islands.

In the 20th century, people began to actively interfere in the life of Arctic islands, threatening northern nature. To preserve it, the Russian Arctic National Park was established on 15 June 2009 on Novaya Zemlya, including the northern part of Severny Island and adjacent islands. In 2016, the northernmost place considered Eurasian land, Franz Josef Land, where a federal nature reserve had been established in 1994, was adjoined to the park. The existence of land to the east of Spitsbergen was predicted by Mikhail Lomonosov, who also drew up the first plans for expeditions to these latitudes. In 1871, prince Pyotr Kropotkin presented his project for an expedition to the Russian Geographical Society, but the government refused to finance it.

The Russian Arctic Park is a place to forever stay in your heart. Tourists from all over the world flock to see the majestic icefall in Inostrantsev Bay off the shore of Novaya Zemlya and the Ice Harbour, Willem Barents' last resting place.

Each of the 192 protected islands has its own claim to fame. Hall Island boasts the hallmark of the entire archipelago, the bizarrely-shaped buttes of Cape Tegetthoff. Northbrook Island features surprisingly rich vegetation at Cape Flora, unusual for such high latitudes. The Champ Island provides the most original souvenir of all: its coastline is littered with round stones — some fit in the palm of your hand, while others can't be lifted by four people. A polar souvenir shop operates in Tikhaya Bay, where you can buy unique certificates with pieces of fuel drums removed from the islands during the big Arctic cleaning. The northernmost Russian Post office in the world operates there, too.

Travelling to the Arctic is a great adventure. It can only be reached by sea in an organised group on an icebreaker. The number of places to see the real polar region is limited, so you should plan your visit to polar bears and walruses well in advance. Timing is also an important feature of an Arctic vacation. Due to difficult ice conditions or weather conditions, any tour can be postponed, sometimes staying on the ship for several days.

Still, the main reason why tourists go to the Russian Arctic Park is, of course, to see the inhabitants of the North. One of the most visited places is the legendary Orange Islands with a walrus haulout and endless rookeries where white gulls and black geese breed. In the protected water area, bowhead whales and narwhales fatten up, and entire schools of Beluga whales furrow the sea. Also, it is no harder to meet a polar bear here than a dog in your town's central park.

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