Niki from the Nature Travels Team went on a recent trip to showcase some of the delights of Arctic Europe.
We were to arrive at Ivalo airport early on the Monday to start our whistle-stop tour of northern Europe, so had arrived into Helsinki late the previous evening and stayed at a hotel near the airport before an early start and we flew up to Ivalo the following morning.
Even though it’s in Finland, Ivalo is one of the convenient airports you can travel to for our Aurora Husky Adventure in Finnmark (Norway) and new for next season, there are direct flights from London Gatwick to Ivalo with Finnair between 14th December and 22nd March on Sundays and Thursdays.
After being collected from the airport, we headed straight to Inari, around 45 minutes away from the airport, where we were going to stay for the night. Inari is a small town with around 500 inhabitants and often people stop there en route through Finland to North Cape to break up the journey, but there are lots of day activities available and would also be a fun place to stop if travelling between Ivalo and Karasjok. We were lucky enough to be staying in the Aurora rooms at our hotel, which had their own sauna and a lakeside view!
That afternoon we met Tuula and her husband, who showed us around their reindeer farm and taught us a little about the life of the Sámi. We fed the reindeer lichen, which they couldn’t get enough of, and were shown how to harness them before we went inside their cosy home and Tuula showed us how to make some traditional Sámi handicrafts and more importantly, winter boots.
After a dinner of reindeer, mash and lingonberry, we headed out on snowmobiles to search for northern lights. As it was my first time snowmobiling – I wasn’t sure what to expect but they are very simple to drive and extremely fun once you relax into it. Shame it wasn’t as easy to see the northern lights! It was cloudy and there was no activity so they weren’t even hiding on this occasion. However, we stopped for a fire and our guide made us hotdogs and gave us a hot drink, which made up for it! We were back rather late so sadly I didn’t take advantage of the sauna in my room as we had an early start in the morning.
First thing, after a hearty buffet breakfast, we walked to Siida, the national museum of the Sámi, a great interactive museum that demonstrates the life of the Sámi and the importance of nature to their culture. Over the border to Norway, we stopped in Karasjok for lunch ,where I left the group to meet our local host of the Aurora Husky Adventure in Finnmark and taken to the Husky Lodge. The local host has crafted everything by hand and used natural resources to build his cabins, including the furniture, light fittings, sinks, curtain rails – you name it, he built it! Self-taught, he explains he has a pile of rocks outside his workshop of previous failed projects that remind him of the hard work and lessons he has learnt along the way. These cabins are for the first and last nights of our tours in Finnmark and are a truly unique experience!
I rejoined the group in time to be shown around the hotel, where we met Muzet! Muzet is a reindeer who was abandoned by his mother after 24 hours, so he grew up in a local home and occasionally thinks he’s more dog than reindeer so is quite comfortable inside. As the Sámi “capital” of Norway, Karasjok is home to the Sápmi Park and we are treated with a multi-media experience of the Sámi culture.
We then drove to Honningsvåg, where we were to stay for a quick stop off before heading up to North Cape for the evening. North Cape (or Nordkapp), is the most northerly point of mainland Europe and in the winter you have to wait for a convoy as you cannot drive up there on your own due to the weather conditions. A huge snowplough leads the way with a burst of snow in front as it clears our way up to the visitors’ centre. We all dash out for the obligatory photo with the globe and luckily you can’t hear our teeth chattering over the wind! The northern lights have a little glimmer but nothing that can be seen with the naked eye, so we head inside for our dinner and to have a look around, where Elky bumps into some friends. A beautiful film is shown of the area and I’m envious of those who will visit it in the daytime and also experience the dramatic scenery, but after a play outside on electric bikes and snowshoes, the northern lights put on a real display that stop us in our tracks!
The next morning, we headed to Sarnes for a King Crab presentation. These rather impressive (and tasty) creatures were artificially introduced in the 60s to Russia and have worked their way down to the Norwegian coast. They were introduced to provide a bigger yield for fishermen and a food source, but the crab population has ballooned and is now a huge industry in Norway, with catch quotas rising every year to try and stall the spread of these little monsters, who enjoying munching their way through the local inhabitants.
On route we stop at SarvesAlta, a lovely ski centre, where we stop for reindeer stew and are informed that pudding will be served at the summit. I’ve never skied before but I’m given my equipment and head up the hill on the ski lift, not entirely sure how to get off at the top gracefully – I just jump and crumple in a heap but that will not be the first time I fall over today! Pannacotta and coffee fuel us for some winter playtime in the snow and the Swiss and Norwegian members of the group don’t think twice before hurling themselves downhill whilst I take a much more fearful approach and breathe a sigh of relief when a snowmobile comes to rescue me after a few failed attempts, but I am not put off and add “learning to ski” to the bucket list! Next is snowshoeing and ziplines, which is right up my street and the hike uphill is totally worth the breathtaking view as we fly back down at speed.
Next was a trip to Sorrisniva, the igloo hotel in Alta. First we grab our winter gear and are then introduced to our reindeer, who will take us to a small camp where we will meet some Sámi and talk about their life, a personal experience where we can ask them anything we’re curious about in the daily life of a reindeer herder, and are serenaded with a joik (traditional Sámi song).
On the way back, we’re told that the reindeer know the way so they’ll take us back and sure enough the reindeer race back to the hotel! We’re shown around the impressive igloo- this year’s theme is the ice age and talented artists have produced various sculptures of mammoths and polar bears. Dinner was exquisite and at the end of the evening, we head to our hotel for our final night in Norway.
In the morning, we have just enough time to visit the Northern Lights Cathedral in Alta and then start our journeys home after our adventures in Arctic Europe.
Niki from Nature Travels