Fight or flight. It’s a physiological reaction that occurs when stressful, possibly even harmful, events threaten your well-being. Pandemics certainly cause this response. Fears about your health, family, and community trigger anxiety and panic. Sometimes you want to hide in bed until concerns pass. Other times, you wish you could run as far away as possible. Which way are you leaning right now?
Your gut is telling you to leave at the moment. You want to escape the madness before your city shuts down and you’re quarantined in your apartment for weeks, if not months. A remote island sounds good. A remote Arctic island sounds even better. You’d be surrounded by polar bears and seabirds. Most importantly, there’d be very few people.
Novaya Zemlya fits the criteria. The archipelago sits in the Arctic Ocean. It’s part of Russia and is an extension of the Ural Mountains, a range that starts in Kazakhstan. It’s also considered the easternmost point in Europe. This location gives the two main islands, Severny and Yuzhny, an interesting history. During World War II, they became a secret seaplane base for Nazi Germany to monitor the Allies’ shipping route to Siberia. During the Cold War, they were designated as a nuclear testing site. The Russian Armed Forces still use and highly restrict access to the area.
So why are your sights set on this highly controlled territory? It all comes down to Russian Arctic National Park. The national park covers the northern part of Severny, Franz Josef Land (a relative neighbor), and a large area of the Arctic Ocean. It was established in 2009 and expanded in 2016. A visitor center in an old weather station will open on Cape Zhelaniya this summer. It’ll be accessed by cruise ships and allow people to see ice caps and glaciers. It’s home to one of the largest bird colonies in the Northern Hemisphere, seal and walrus rookeries, and polar bear habitats. While bowhead and gray whales live in the frigid waters. Even an isolated protected area in Russia sounds downright heavenly during these uncertain times.