6 months on a Polar Bear infested island
Pictures tell 1000 words it's true. When we came across Kristine Tofte's Instagram feed, every single one of those words was "Awesome".
Intrigued, we had to find out more...
Why are you living on a remote island in the Barents Sea?!
I had a hard time finding a job back home in Stavanger, Norway. My mum actually found the job application and showed it to me. I had heard a lot about the job from when I studied Meteorology and Oceanography at the University in Bergen and I had also seen the movie “Bear Island” by the Wegge brothers.
I thought it would be a great opportunity to challenge myself, enjoy the beautiful nature on a remote place and maybe surf where no one else had surfed.
I work here as a meteorologist. My main tasks include weather observations every hour, release of weather balloons four times daily and communicating the weather forecast over the radio.
How long are you there?
The job is only six months. I don’t think I could have done a full year so I’m glad it’s only half a year.
What have you learnt so far?
I don’t even know where to start. I have never learnt this much in such a short amount of time. Living on a remote island is very different than living on the mainland! We have no cars only two tractors, so I now know how to drive a tractor. We painted an entire house which was a lot of hard work but a good learning experience. I can now communicate over the radio both HF and VHF. I have learnt how to shoot with a rifle and to use safety precautions in regards to polar bears. I can just keep going, it’s a long list!
What does your daily routine look like?
My daily routine varies depending on if I’m working that day or not. When I’m working, I take hourly observations of cloud cover, cloud height, type of clouds, etc. In between shifts, I might go on a short walk, workout, sleep or eat. On my days off, I usually go on longer hikes. It’s been getting darker recently so we are now spending more time indoors. I usually knit, read, play around in the workshop, skate, cook or do some other indoor activity.
How’s the accommodation?
Everyone has their own room in the second floor of the stations. It’s pretty big with a bed, desk, fridge, closet, sink and mirror. We have two chefs that cook breakfast, lunch and dinner for us. Our bedrooms are not even a minute from the kitchen, work and gym. I would say the accommodation is very good.
How many others live on the island?
It’s only nine of us living on the island; However, during summer a few scientists from the Norwegian Polar Institute live and work on the island for about two months. They collect information about certain bird populations since thousands of birds come to the island every summer to lay eggs and hatch.
How are you at socialising, is it a bit intense?
For the most part we all get along but living like this is pretty intense yes. We all have different backgrounds, different personalities, in difference ages, with different habits and different lifestyles. Luckily, our employer, the Norwegian Meteorological Institute, ask us a bunch of questions during our interviews to make sure we have the right personalities to get along with each other for six months. I think they did a great job this season. I have definitely made some friends for life up here.
Are you missing anything from being connected to civilisation?
Haha yes there are definitely a few things that I miss. I miss my family and friends the most. I actually miss going to the grocery store and picking out exactly what I want to eat, and I miss cooking even though I’m probably going to regret saying that when I get back home. I also miss surfing. The waves haven’t been that great up here and I have surfed way less than expected. I do want to add that it’s worth it for six months and I love it here on the island.
As a photographer it looks an amazing place to be based, what’s your favourite spot on the island?
Yes, it’s such a unique place so I’m very fortunate to get the chance to run around with my camera up here. My favorite place is in the south. The south is where the mountains are and it’s so much greener down there. There is also more bird life during summer and polar foxes everywhere. The south tip of Bear Island is the best place to take photos with the tall mountains shooting straight up from the ocean.
What else is there to do? Are you reading a lot of books or spending a lot of time online?
The Norwegian Meteorological Institute make sure we don’t get bored so they have bought a bunch of stuff for the station. We have a huge gym with lots of equipment, two workshops, a pool table, several libraries, two saunas, a wood-fired outdoor hot tub, fishing gear, ski equipment, a slack line, three boats, five cabins, two snowmobiles, big kitchen, four TVs and a lot more. I really enjoy reading so I have gone through a few books already. We have also done two beach clean-ups and I usually pick a little bit of trash every day.
How do the long days/night affect your working routine? The golden hour must last an entire month?!
I really enjoyed the midnight sun, sunshine all day long, but I don’t like the polar nights that much. I definitely sleep more now that it’s darker and we do spend less time outdoors, which is a same. We haven’t had the best weather this season with lots of cloudy afternoons, so I haven’t experienced too many gold hours. However, the ones we’ve had have been amazing! The northern lights on the other hand have been downright mind-blowing. I’m absolutely in love with the green and purple colors that light up the night sky.
Which outdoor skills have you used most during your time there?
I have spent most my time hiking up here. The nature is so unique and special. I know my time up here is limited so I have tried to enjoy it as much as possible. We also have three huskies and they love hiking as well. I have also done a little bit of surfing, although not as much as I'd hoped as there haven't been many good swells. Luckily I brought my skateboard too, so I can skate inside the hanger.
What will you take with you from your time there?
I will take with me a greater understanding of meteorological observations. I have learnt so much about the different cloud types and the meteorological instruments up here. I have gained a better understanding of who I am as a person and how I interact with eight other people while living this isolated. My appreciation for the Norwegian nature has grown and I will take with me lots of good memories from all the hikes I’ve been on. Lots of gratitude and thankfulness for haven been given the opportunity to live here for six months.