Finnmark in Northern Norway is an area larger than the whole of Denmark but with only about 72,000 inhabitants. We, a group of 8 tour operators, were invited to spend 5 days enjoying the sights and experiences that Alta and Magerøya (a large island in the northern most part of Finnmark connected to the mainland by an undersea tunnel) has to offer.
Dressed for the cold, in winter overalls complete with balaclava and helmet, we stepped out into the night ready for an evenings snowmobiling, hoping that we might catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights but the cloudy skies did not bode well.
After a brief instructional talk (push the throttle in slowly to start, take your thumb off the throttle to slow down, use the handlebars to steer etc.) we set off in a long line following our guide into the dark; our way lit only by our headlights and the (very) occasional star. At first we went slowly to allow everyone to get used to driving the snow mobiles (which was a good thing as it was harder than I thought it would be to accelerate up a hill and turn whilst attempting not to hit any hidden bumps!) then as the group grew in confidence and the trees thinned we started to speed up and were soon racing through the night the wind whipping in our faces chilling the parts which were not covered by our balaclava.
We would occasionally stop to make sure that we were all still together and that no one had been left behind; on one of these stops (in the middle of nowhere on a frozen lake) our guide pointed to the sky at a cloud that had a slightly green colouring to it and told us that it looked like there might be some Northern Lights that night if the cloud ever cleared. For some of us this was our first (albeit not that impressive) sighting of the Northern lights!
After snowmobiling and with all the excitement (and the travelling) of the day we were all pretty tired and ready for our beds. Which as we were staying in the Igloo hotel were, like the room and building itself, made of ice. The rooms were almost completely silent, due to the sound cancelling nature of ice, and were a cool -4oC but as we were provided with 2 sleeping bags (one to sleep in and one to use as a blanket) which were suitable for use down to temperature of -30o so it was surprisingly toasty during the night!
After breakfast (where the choice ranged from toast to fish to waffles and everything in between), we set off for our days dog sledding trip.
We were going to be trying both a small sled (one between two) with 4 dogs and a larger sleds which could take up to 4 passengers with 6 dogs so we could get a taste of what it was like on different sleds. On arrival we were met by Trine our guide and the kennel owner and were provided with snow overalls and winter boots. Outside we were given instructions on how to control the sled and the dos and don’ts of dog sledding (the main “don’t” being taking photos whilst driving the sled). We were given a card with the names (and sizes) of our dog team so that we could find and harness them.
My team were Mentos, Stilla (my lead dogs) Trusti and Tøffen; Trusti could only be harnessed just before we set off as he had a tendency to chew his harness otherwise!
Once the dogs were ready and attached to the sleds we were off (my dogs somewhat unwillingly) and were soon out in the open running on the frozen river. I found remaining balanced on the sled was quite easy, but the turning (by shifting your weight from the centre to side you wanted to turn towards) was a little harder, however I managed to keep the sled upright and neither myself nor my passenger fell off! After a while we swapped so that I became the passenger, which allowed me more time to take in my surroundings and to take photos.
When it was time to swap the larger sled I chose to drive and found that having two extra dogs meant that, even though the sled was larger, you could go a lot faster! All too soon it was time to take our dogs back to the kennels, to un-harness them and take them back to their own individual kennels for a well deserved rest and for us there was time to sit by a camp fire and have a cup of coffee and discuss the dog sled trip.
Following dinner we got into our bus to look for Northern Lights with Trygve who was to be our Northern Lights guide for the evening. After checking the weather (and therefore cloud) report for the surrounding area we decided that the weather looked most promising to the South West. So off we went everyone’s eye glued to the windows ready to shout if we saw any hint of green through the covering of cloud. After a few stops for (what turned out to be) wispy clouds we eventually spotted some stars in a growing clear patch in the sky and then a wisp of green appeared faint at first then growing stronger. We stopped and got out of the bus by this time there were more pale green wisps moving across the sky through the thin covering of cloud. Trygve then set about taking pictures of each of us with the northern lights (using a tripod for stability, an initial to get us in the picture and then a long exposure to get the Northern Lights) for which you had to stand still for about 30secs whilst the picture was taken which is harder to do than it sounds! The picture showed the Northern Lights much better than we could see them with just our eyes, but what we could see of them was still very pretty!
Picture by Glød Explorer
We departed Alta for Honningsvåg, the northern most town in Norway, principle town if the island of Magerøya and where we would be staying for the next few days. The drive took around 3 hours but the scenery we past thorough was enough to keep us entertained as we drove up and over mountains and then along the coast.
From Honningsvåg we went Gjesvær from where we set sail on a boat trip to see the Bird rock and to sail beyond Nordkapp (North Cape, the most northerly point on mainland Europe). At first despite there being a fairly large swell the sea was pretty calm due to the shelter of the Fjord. We reached Bird rock which was covered in Cormorants that seemed to be black from a far but as we got closer shimmered green and yellow.
As we sailed past bird rock and entered open water the sea became a lot rougher, the bow of the boat seemed to plunge over the tops of high waves coming down on the other side with a crash! I seemed to one of very few who were enjoying the large waves and the rolling of the boat with some members of our group having turned a little green. It was therefore decided that it would probably be best not to go out further to sea where we might see whales but the waves would be a lot larger and instead turned back towards harbour. As we sailed back into harbour with the sun setting and past Bird rock again we were lucky enough to see a pair of Sea-Eagles flying gracefully around the rock.
After a morning spent walking around Honningsvåg taking in the sights and visiting the North Cape Museum, we hopped on to our bus to catch the convoy going up to Nordkapp. During the winter the road to Nordkapp is only open at certain times as to get up the road you need to be following a snow plough to make sure the road clear enough to drive on as even with winter tires or chains the road (being so exposed) can quickly become impassable if it starts to snow or the wind is blowing. If the weather is really bad then even the snow plough won’t go up!
Once at the Nordkapp visitor centre, after looking around at the facilities, which includes a chapel, we braved the cold winds and went outside to take in the view from the most northerly point in mainland Europe and have our pictures taken with the famous Nordkapp globe!
The evenings entertainment was a show called Our Northernmost Life performed by a small group of local actors. The musical told the history of the Honningsvåg area from the earliest Sami seasonal inhabitants to what it is like living modern day Honningsvåg and included the infamous Christmas 1974 when local fishermen got a little “exuberant” with foreign fishermen and as dawn broke the next day the town awoke to find the local Police car upside down! The songs were very catchy and as we walked back to our hotel some of us could be heard humming them (I still now on occasion find myself humming them!).
The Last day of our trip dawned bright and sunny and the morning was spent visiting the fishing villages in the area around Honningsvåg and learning more about the fishing industry and it importance to the area.
All too soon it was time to say goodbye to the beautiful sea views and mountains as we checked in for our (first of three) flight back to England.
The Nature Travels team