|*** FINLAND 2012 - WEEKS 12~13 ***|
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CAMPING IN ARCTIC NORWAY 2012 - Finmark's Barents Sea coast: Berlevåg, Kjøllefjord and Europe's northernmost point, Nordkapp:
Continuing this retrospective account of our 2012 travels, it is chastening to contrast winter and summer conditions in Arctic Norway: when we were there in July at the time of the Midnight Sun, we enjoyed almost permanent daylight with comfortable temperatures of around 10°C depending on wind direction (an Arctic northerly wind brought severe chill factor); at the time of writing this report in early December, temperatures there are typically -10°C with permanent winter darkness.
Our plans on leaving Nuorgam, Finland's northernmost village, were to cross the Norwegian border and head north to reach the shores of the Barents Sea at the remote fishing villages of Båtsfjord, Berlevåg, Mehamn and Kjøllefjord. Because of the wild terrain, absence of roads around the north coast, and fell-land topography divided by huge fjord inlets, this would entail drives on uncertain roads up the length of 2 separate peninsulas. For details of our routes, click on the highlighted areas of the map right. Initially we followed the sluggishly flowing River Tana to where it was crossed by the wide suspension bridge at Tana Bru (Photo 1 - Tana Bru suspension bridge), and continued northwards along east bank. Approaching the outflow into the Tana Fjord, the river became even more shallow with broad sand banks, and the terrain became wilder with a high craggy ridge threatening to spill rock debris down onto the road (see left). A side turning onto a dirt road led out to the tiny settlement of Høyholmen, with a herd of reindeer grazing the flat estuary marshlands (see right). This isolated village of red-painted wooden cottages spreads along the far shore of the fjord, its only access being by hand-rowed dingy. Route 890 now gained height onto cheerless, barren, treeless fell-land, backed by craggy mountain sides, with an eagle circling overhead silhouetted against the sombre grey sky, and descended to the road junction of Gednjehøgda. Here Route 891 continued ahead gaining height again to 356m over the even more severely barren stony wastes of Båtsfjordfjellet with scarcely a hint of vegetation. This featureless lunar fell-scape stretched away to distant misty horizons, dotted with a few tarns and deep stony gullies still filled with snow from last winter. Eventually we began the sudden descent to the northern coastal level with our first sighting of the small industrial port of Båtsfjord surrounded by a dark wall of high fell-land.
With a population of 2,100, Båtsfjord is the administrative centre of a commune spreading across the northern side of the Varanger peninsula. Brightly coloured buildings spread around the head of the fjord and a rusty Russian freighter was moored at a jetty, the road curving around the port with houses built up the surrounding hillsides. Båtsfjord had suffered the same fate as the rest of Finmark at the hands of retreating Germans in 1944, and had been hastily rebuilt post-war. The modern church, not rebuilt until 1971, looked more like an industrial warehouse from the outside but the dark interior was lit by a huge stained glass window centred around a central glowing risen Christ-figure. Båtsfjord was a busy little port with trawlers moored in rows down at the fishing harbour (Photo 2 - Trawlers moored at Båtsfjord) and gulls flocking around the fish-processing factory, but on a overcast day, it seemed an oppressively gloomy place with nowhere locally to camp. We therefore had to retrace our route, back over the bleak fells to Gednjehøgda, to turn off towards the more northerly and even more isolated port of Berlevåg further around the north coast. A misty, drizzly squall now added to the gloom with the stony wastes obscured by rain cloud. From the road junction, Route 890 rose to 326m over Kongsfjordfjellet following the watercourse which flowed along the length of Kongsfjorddalen. Some 9kms across the plateau, we reached a Sámi hutted settlement where a snow-mobile was parked with its goods sleigh (see right). The road descended to the coast at Vestebotn, a small inlet off the main Kongsfjorden, and wound around the rocky coastline to the large village of Kongsfjord with its fish-drying frames ranged across the fjord-side and brightly coloured wooden houses clustered around the harbour. For the remaining 30kms, the road wound around craggy headlands and wide bays backed by classic raised beaches, but driving misty rain obscured the view (see left). Gulls circled around carrying sea-urchins in their beaks, and cracked these open on rocks to peck out the flesh leaving the road littered with the broken spiny shells. Beyond the lighthouse at the tip of Sandfjorden, now totally obscured by rain-cloud, we approached the distant port of Berlevåg just visible in the mist.
We found Berlevåg Pensjonat-Camping set at the tip of one of the land-spits enclosing the town's natural inner harbour and overlooking the outer harbour. The owner greeted us with a warmly hospitable welcome; it was a perfect setting with the grassy camping area spread around the main building which housed the pension rooms and facilities (Photo 3 - Berlevåg Pensjonat-Camping). We pitched in the lee of a hut for shelter from the chill wind which blew across the harbour, and happily settled in after a long and wearying drive up to Finmark's northern coast looking out over the Barents Sea. The long and winding road from Tana Bru which we had taken today was only completed in 1959, and before that, the fishing settlement of Berlevåg with its 1,200 population relied entirely on sea access. The Hurtigruten coastal express steamers call daily, with the north- and south-bound boats coinciding at Berlevåg at 10-45pm each evening, still providing regular freight and passenger communications for this isolated community.
In full waterproofs on a wet and windy morning, we set off for a day's exploration of the little fishing port. First stop was the Havne Museum housed in old sheds which were once used in construction of the outer harbour moles. This small museum's displays describe Berlevåg's history and the port's 19th century expansion with settlers from elsewhere in Norway who combined fishing and farming. In 1944 the WW2 German occupiers left Berlevåg in total devastation (see left) and the first dwellings of the post-war reconstruction were built from timber planks which the Germans had used to lay out the airfield runway. The museum displayed a 1940s baby's pram with sled-tracks instead of wheels (see right). But its greater significance was in being the only pram in Berlevåg to have escaped the German 1944 destruction, having been taken by the child's mother to Tana Bru; all the rest were destroyed by the Germans along with houses and belongings. The profoundly moving sight of this surviving baby's pram, along with memories of the myriad of examples of German WW2 atrocities to be seen the length and breadth of Europe, somehow symbolised the utter barbarity of German wartime destruction and its impact on Berlevåg's civilian population, and reinforced our view that any nation which destroys even babies' prams has long forfeited the right to be considered part of the civilised world.
Displays at the museum showed the development of Berlevåg's fishing industry and life at the fishing port: the fishing grounds around the Barents Sea shallow coastal banks were just a short distance from the port, but the problem for the village was to enlarge the small natural harbour by the construction of breakwater moles to enclose a larger and deeper harbour protected from violent Arctic storms. The museum showed a video of original film detailing 20th century attempts to construct the moles using locally quarried rock, but winter storms constantly smashed through the mole-constructions. In the 1960s~70s, a solution to strengthening the moles to resist storm damage was eventually found using a French device, the tetrapod, huge 12 feet high 4-legged devices of reinforced concrete which with their 15 ton weight interlocked sufficiently to resist invasive storm tides. The first mole was completed using tetrapods in 1964 and the second mole 10 years later. Even after the road from Tana Bru was completed in 1959, this was a summer-only road until the 1980s, and Berlevåg's only winter-access to the outside world remained by sea; the harbour was the village's life-line. But before the moles' construction to create a deep water harbour and quay for larger vessels to dock, the Hurtigruten coastal liner would pause out in the bay and both freight and passengers would in all weathers be ferried to and from the ship precariously in small shuttle boats. After completion of the moles with the Hurtigruten quay and terminal building, the liners now dock each evening, still providing Berlevåg's life-line links for freight, mail and passengers. The museum displayed a typical 1950s home with a mail-order catalogue on the table for purchasing goods from the outside world, delivered of course by the Hurtigruten. The tetrapod which provided a durable solution for the harbour moles' construction has become Berlevåg's unofficial emblem with the tetrapod monument standing by the roadside (see right). The unassuming museum at Berlevåg, combined with the personal recollections given to us by the charming lady-curator, had provided a thoroughly educative insight into the town's history, its tragic wartime suffering, and its dependence on the sea and its harbour, now enclosed by storm-proof moles, and the nightly calling of the Hurtigruten life-line to the outside world.
The sea still provides Berlevåg's major source of livelihood with fishing and fishing support industries the town's major employers, and with the squally showers of earlier now blown away, we walked along to the inner harbour around which the town is clustered to see the moored fishing boats, fish-processing factories and boat-repair yards. Looking across the harbour, Berlevåg's church and radio mast were set on the opposite hillside above the town whose houses spread up from the waterside (Photos 4 and 5 - Fishing harbour and boat repair yards at Berlevåg). It was a busy, bustling and self-sufficient town, and the harbour was a hive of activity, all based around fishing and its support industries (Photo 6 - Berlevåg fishing harbour). We had learnt earlier that, unlike many remote settlements, here at Berlevåg the young people tended to say local since there was still employment. It was a thriving community with a lively social life as we found later in the Neptune pub along the harbour front: the Berlevåg Male Choir had been the subject of a film in 2001 by Knut Erik Jensen, Cool and Crazy, which became a Norwegian national sensation. This beautifully made film is available via Amazon and makes for nostalgic viewing. The view from the hillside vantage-point up by the church looked out across the inner fishing harbour, and beyond the mole and Hurtigruten quay to the misty fells backdrop. Outside the church, a stone monument engraved with the figure of a mother and child gazing anxiously out to sea (see right) recalled the hazards faced by those whose daily work entailed such risk in the stormy Arctic Ocean and the concerns of families awaiting their safe return; we felt humbled at our comfortable lives in comparison.
That evening we cooked our supper in Berlevåg Pensjonat-Camping's homely and well-appointed kitchen, but the day was far from over yet: we finished eating supper in the warm comfort of our camper in time to walk over to the headland looking across the outer harbour to the mole to await the arrival of this evening's Hurtigruten liners. At 10-15pm the south-bound ship appeared out at sea, approaching the entrance to the outer harbour; by chance it was M/S Finmarken which we had watched depart from Kirkenes 2 weeks earlier, and in the meantime had journeyed up and down the Norwegian coastline. The ship curved around into the harbour to dock at the Hurtigruten quay and from the headland we had a ringside seat. It took 20 minutes to load and unload freight and passengers, before the ship backed to turn in the harbour and exit the gap in the mole. Meanwhile the north-bound boat was arriving off the harbour entrance and the 2 boats passed with a mutual fanfare of horns (see left). The south-bound departed towards Båtsfjord and M/S Trollfjorden docked at the quay in turn (Photo 7 - Evening sun on the Hurtigruten liner). This ritual of passing Hurtigruten boats takes place each evening off Berlevåg between 10-30 and 11-00pm. Our photographic attention was divided between the departing Hurtigruten and the sun dipping towards the western horizon. Tonight was the penultimate night of the Midnight Sun period this summer at Berlevåg and as midnight approached, the belt of cloud magically evaporated to leave the glistening clearly outlined golden orb of Midnight Sun standing above the horizon (Photo 8 - Midnight Sun at Berlevåg). What an worthy climax to our stay here at Berlevåg, and to cap it all a family of seals bobbed up in the waters of the harbour alongside us and as we returned to the camper, a prowling arctic fox scampered past (see below left).
We woke bleary-eyed after our late night of Midnight Sun watching, and the hazy sky promised a fair day for our long drive back to Tana Bru and onward to Ifjord. The isolated end-of-the-world community of Berlevåg had impressed us enormously with its bustling, self-sufficient if hardy life-style; it had been a very happy stay at the excellent Berlevåg Pensjonat-Camping on this wind-swept headland looking out through the gap in the harbour tetrapod mole-wall to the bleak Barents Sea beyond. How many days of the year was the Arctic Ocean as calm as this, we wondered? The film Cool and Crazy which we watched later showed how violent the Arctic storms of winter could be. Before finally leaving, we turned off to the Hurtigruten quay to examine at close quarters the interlocking tetrapods whose ingenious design had made possible the construction of Berlevåg's reinforced storm-proof outer harbour mole-walls. We walked out along the southern mole to the central gap to photograph this impressive structure (Photo 9 - Tetrapods of Berlevåg's harbour mole), before returning to the road and bidding a final and reluctant farewell to Berlevåg. We shall certainly return one day.
In better light this morning, we were able to gain a clearer impression of the impressive return route skirting around the coastal bays under dramatic rocky cliffs (Photo 10 - rocky coastline on return drive from Berlevåg) with occasional reindeer strolling across the road in front of us (see left). Beyond Kongsfjord, we finally left the north coast behind to begin the long climb onto the high fells plateau. By now however the sky had darkened with gloomy cloud and the first spots of rain began. At the Gednjehøgda road junction we turned south for the 50km drive to Tana Bru with the scarred cliffs of the high fells looking dark and forbidding. Across the barren fell top, we began the long descent down Juladalen to the tree line to return alongside Tana Fjord now in insistent rain under a leaden sky for the remaining 30kms to Tana Bru; click on the map above for details of our route. After a fill of diesel at Tana Bru service station, we turned north on Route 98 up the western shore of the fjord to begin the climb over a fell-land col and down to another sea loch inlet. We had received consistent reports that, despite being designated a main east~west road, Route 98 onward to Ifjord was in very poor condition. Tarmac soon gave way to unsurfaced dirt road and we bumped along westwards on the rough, narrow road in appalling weather. Serious further ascent via hair-pins brought us up onto the barren wilderness of Ifjord fell, winding and twisting a serpentine course across the wild plateau. A vegbom marked the start of the section which is closed between November and May; in today's misty gloom and driving rain, we could understand why (see right). At the high point of the plateau, with some 20kms still to Ifjord, we met road works where major reconstruction and resurfacing of the road was taking place. Weaving around parked excavators, we finally reached the completed new section of road for the start of the descent towards Ifjord, passing fenced enclosures of herded reindeer, to find the Ifjord Café-Campsite. This turned out to be a forlornly muddy place but after a wearying drive in pouring rain over testing terrain, we were glad to settle in.
Ifjord was no more than a road junction where Route 98 branched off SW towards distant Lakselv. The following morning, we continued northwards on Route 888 alongside Laksefjorden heading once more towards Finmark's Barents Sea coast at the head of the next peninsula and the remote fishing villages of Mehamn and Kjøllefjord. But first we had to cross more high land; what would the roads be like? From the fjord-side farming villages of Lebesby and Bekkarfjord, where the Sunday morning service was just finishing in the local kirke, we paused at the vegbom where parked snow ploughs indicated the start of the winter restriction section of road crossing the high body of fell-land ahead which has the reputation as Norway's toughest stretch of winter road. During winter months, traffic crossing the high Nordkinn-vegen can only advance in convoys behind the snow plough, and a sign by the car park where vehicles wait gives scheduled times for the snow plough convoys (see left). A waiting room with sofas and toilets was clean, unvandalised and graffiti-free - such a civilised country. The serious height gain began immediately and a newly re-engineered stretch of road crossed the high fell plateau, winding up and up around sweeping bends above the tree-line towards the bare, bleak and stony fell top. This was a fearsome wilderness devoid of any vegetation with just a few tarns and patches of unmelted snow to relieve the monotony, and we were thankful for the line of the newly upgraded road across the cheerless landscape especially in the gloomy, misty drizzle. We almost expected it to begin snowing as we advanced mile after mile across this cheerless, stony plateau. The thought of a winter crossing, even behind a snow plough, defied the imagination. The watercourses suddenly began to gather pace, merging into a faster-flowing channel as we began the long descent winding down towards the long inlet from the sea at Eidsfjorden. This fjord on the western coast with the Hopsfjorden opposite on the eastern coast almost sever the northern Nordkinn part of the peninsula into a large separate island. But despite German wartime attempts to cut a canal across the narrow land-bridge (better this than shooting civilian fishermen as they did 2 days before the capitulation in May 1945), Nordkinn remains connected to the mainland - just, hence its description as Nordkinn-halvøya (half-island), unlike the similar topography of Nordkapp's Magerøya which is now entirely severed to form a separate island (see the map above). The far side of the narrow gap, we began the re-ascent onto the high body of Nordkinnfjell, but somehow the plateau top seemed less severe than further south with more vegetation and large herds of grazing reindeer.
Partway across, we reached the road junction where Route 888 continued northwards past a Sámi reindeer herding settlement to Mehamn which we could see ahead in the distance clustered around its anchorage. The sun at last had broken through and the air felt milder as we descended towards the coastal village. A sign by the church pointed to a camping place on the far side of the fishing harbour and we drove around to investigate, passing fish-drying frames here loaded with flat fish (see left). Mehamn is in fact one of the most northerly settlements of mainland Europe (Nordkapp being on the off-shore island of Magerøya) and we walked around the little fishing harbour. A small hostel-campsite stood by the waterside which was an option for tonight, but we decided to drive over to Kjøllefjord on the NW side of the Nordkinn peninsula where our map showed another campsite.
Over the breadth of the peninsula, the road lost height down towards the west coast and curved around to the town of Kjøllefjord, the administrative and commercial centre of the Lebesby commune which covers the entire Nordkinn peninsula and the totally unpopulated neighbouring peninsula of Svæholthalvøya to the west. The town nestled around the fishing harbour, looking out across the bay and enclosed by surrounding high cliffs (Photo 11 - Kjøllefjord and its fishing harbour). On the outskirts of the town, a sign pointed around to the Hurtigruten quay where a wide, flat parking area on the pier overlooking the harbour formed a camping aire sheltered by a stone breakwater. On the distant horizon, 2 prominent rocks stood out at the end of the headland enclosing the waters of the outer fjord, called the Finnkirka because of their distinctive church-shaped outline. This was a truly magnificent spot and an obvious choice for tonight's camp. After a visit to the town and fishing harbour (Photo 12 - Kjøllefjord fishing harbour), we settled in and brewed tea, enjoying the afternoon sun despite the chill breeze blowing across the fjord (Photo 13 - Camp on the pier at Kjøllefjord). The Hurtigruten timetable showed that the north-bound coastal liner called in at Kjøllefjord at 5-45 each afternoon and the south-bound boat at 3-30am, 5 hours sailing time to/from Berlevåg, and camped where we were on the pier, we again had a ring-side view. Sure enough at 5-15, the incoming Hurtigruten could be seen in the distance, passing the Finnkirka rocks at the entrance to the fjord (Photo 14 - North-bound Hurtigruten passing Finnkirka Rocks off Kjøllefjord). This was one of the smaller and older of the fleet of Hurtigruten boats, M/S Lofoten, and in no time at all, she had sailed into the harbour and swung around to dock by the Hurtigruten terminal. It was such a picturesque scene against the backdrop of the high, craggy cliffs. Buses were waiting at the quay to transport any passengers disembarking at Kjøllefjord into the town. But for isolated settlements such as this, the daily Hurtigruten is as much a lifeline for the transport of goods. Vans were also waiting and the ship's crane was busily unloading pallet loads of everyday goods from the cargo hold - bales of disposable nappies, packs of Ajax Liquid, kitchen towels and crates of beer, all the products we take for granted on the supermarket shelves all come by Hurtigruten (Photo 15 - Unloading supplies from the Hurtigruten at Kjøllefjord). Sea access for freight and mail is simply so much more practicable than the long journey by road over the fells, and the Hurtigruten has been making these deliveries for over 100 years. A forklift truck busily shifted the unloaded pallets over to the terminal where the vans waited to take the deliveries into town. It was all a swift, efficient and routine operation, and within 15 minutes the ship's horn sounded to alert passengers to re-board. M/S Lofoten was unmoored and backed away from the quay, and within minutes was steaming away across the fjord to disappear from sight into the distance en route for Berlevåg.
The sun had been wonderfully warm during the afternoon but by early evening, its setting line moved diagonally above the Finnkirka Rocks casting a golden glowing tail across the width of the fjord (see left); despite the clear sky, it seemed unlikely we should see the Midnight Sun here at Kjøllefjord since the sun's decline would take it behind the northern arm of cliffs enclosing the fjord. By late evening as the wind temperature dropped markedly, the setting sun had crossed the fjord and was approaching the northern cliffs. We clambered up onto the breakwater for early Midnight Sun photos with the golden trail sparkling across the water (Photo 16 - Midnight sun across the fjord at Kjøllefjord). With this spectacular climax to our stay here on the pier at Kjøllefjord, we turned in but woke briefly at 3-30am to photograph the south-bound Hurtigruten M/S Kong Harold as it docked at the nearby mooring (see right). After a very chill night, we woke to a beautiful morning with the wind dropped and sun lighting the fellside above the fjord, warm enough to sit out for breakfast at one of the breakwater picnic tables. We should be taking with us very happy memories of what had to be described as 'another most memorable camping spots' here by the harbour at Kjøllefjord (see below), but before leaving we drove round into town to stock up with provisions in the Co-op supermarket. It was a sobering thought that every item on the shelves from milk, vegetables, beer and cloudberry jam - everything that we took for granted - all was transported to this remote isolated little town by the Hurtigruten ferry. With a wistful backward glance across to the quay where we had camped, we finally left Kjøllefjord to begin the climb up onto Blåfjell with the winter snow fences already in place and our 250 km drive to Lakselv.
Across the plateau top of Nordkinn-halvøya, we passed more reindeer ambling across the road than other vehicles, and descended steeply to the land-bridge at Hopseidet, wondering how long it would be before the Eidsfjorden from the west and Hopsfjorden from the east managed to break through turning Nordkinn from -halvøya (half-island) to -øya, an offshore island like Nordkapp's Magerøya now is. Regaining height on the southern side of the gap, we were soon up onto the barren wastes and made good speed across Slettfjell's plateau lunar landscape with the new road winding its way over the stony wilderness. The road descended steeply to Bekkarfjord and the winter snow plough convoy parking area, and from there the narrow road wound around the shoreline back to the Ifjord road junction to complete the first half of today's journey. The onward 120 kms of Route 98 to Lakselv was thankfully wider and better surfaced than the eastward section, and rose onto the higher fell-land, the skyline hemmed in by craggy cliffs. We made good progress, passing little traffic for the next 40kms across the fell plateau. As the road began the long descent towards Porsangerfjord, we could see ahead a vast craggy canyon carved out of the fells by the Børselva River from its vast inland gathering area. This was the Silfar Canyon, and we pulled into a parking area to investigate. A path lead through birch woodland to the lip of the deep canyon and the ground was carpeted with all the familiar Arctic wild flora we had been seeing for the past weeks: beautiful Twin-flowers, and Dwarf Cornell now passing from flower stage with seed heads ripening and berries beginning to form as were the berries on the Crowberry and Juniper bushes. It was then a long drive around the broad head of Porsangerfjord eventually to reach Lakselv, a major road junction where Route 93 comes up from Karasjok, with supermarket, banks and filling stations. We stocked up with provisions, used the ATM for cash and, weary from today's long drive, we looked forward to setting up camp. But disaster - Solstad Camping at Lakselv was closed, now converted to private dwelling and we had a further drive along the western shore of Porsanger Fjord to reach the next campsite at Stabbursnes. The wooded, marshy shore of Porsangerfjord was reindeer country; several ambled across the busy Route E6 and for the first time we passed a reindeer carcass by the roadside, killed by a speeding car. We were thankful to find Stabbursdalen Camping open, set on the banks of the Stabburselva salmon river and clearly popular with fisher-folk. It was an expensive site, but weary from a long drive, we gladly settled in.
The following morning, with the sky gloomy and overcast, our plans were to move north towards Nordkapp but break our journey to Europe's most northerly point with a staging camp at Repvåg before the undersea tunnel to Magerøya and Honningsvåg. A telephone enquiry to the Repvåg Hotel produced a helpful response: they were more than happy to offer us camping facilities. Before heading north however, we called in at the information centre for Stabbursdalen National Park, the vidda plateau which stretched from the high fells down to the Porsanger coast. With a bitingly chill wind blowing across the fjord, we walked the way-marked nature trail around the Stabburselva estuary where tiny Twin-flowers managed to survive in the shelter of stunted birches, the shiny, black Crowberries were already formed, and curlews circled overhead. Continuing northwards along the coastline past tiny fishing settlements, the waters of Porsanger Fjord looked cold and grey with low, gloomy cloud covering the distant fells. The road swung round to reach Olderfjord where the main E6 continued westwards towards Hammerfest and Alta, while we turned north onto the E69 passing Russenes Camping where we should stay on our return from Nordkapp. Onwards from here, the road hugged the coastline overshadowed by high, craggy, slatey cliffs on the landwards side and the chill wind from across the fjord driving breakers onto the shoreline below (see right). In the dark, sombre gloom of a heavily overcast late afternoon, this was an eerily fearsome stretch of road. Ahead a long promontory ended in massive whaleback headland falling sheer into the sea, with the narrow road tunnelled through its base for 3kms (Photo 17 - Road north along Porsanger Fjord). As we drew closer, we could see the tunnel mouth with the road disappearing into the cliff. Emerging from the narrow and ill-lit tunnel, the road rounded another headland and bay-inlet to approach the exposed peninsula of Repvåg. We turned off the main road around the north-facing bay with a bitterly chill wind blowing across the fjord. The lane wound round into the more sheltered cove of Repvåg and ahead we could see the timber former fishing station perched on wooden stilts at the water's edge by its pier (see left). It was a memorably picturesque setting with the settlement of Repvåg scattered across the hillside. The surviving remains of the pre-war fishing station, painted red in the traditional style and now converted to the Repvåg Fjord-hotel, with its attached complex of rorbuer, wooden fishermen's shacks used as chalet-huts. We were welcomed with genuine hospitality: we could set up camp by one of the huts which was opened for us for power, toilet and shower. This solitary and welcoming place, sheltered from the chill Arctic wind, made an ideal night's camp (see right), and after a welcome beer in the hotel bar we cooked supper snug in the warmth of our camper.
A thin sun managed to break through the following morning to brighten the fishing boats moored at the nearby rickety pier (see left). One boat had just returned and began unloading its catch of Porsanger Fjord king crabs. The young fishermen patiently allowed us to watch as they unloaded and sorted the enormous crabs (see right). Smaller crabs were tossed back into the sea and larger ones loaded into crates for transportation to restaurant tables in the south (Photo 18 - Unloading King Crabs at Repvåg). They even picked a king crab from the crate and insisted Sheila held the beast for a photo (Photo 19 - King Crab caught near Repvåg). We had received such welcoming hospitality during our stay on the quayside at Repvåg.
Leaving the little fishing settlement of Repvåg, sheltered from Arctic storms in its inner fjord, we returned to the main E69 to continue northwards. Beyond the vegbom with its winter convoy times sign, the next section of road up to Honningsvåg winding around craggy headlands along the Porsanger shoreline was well-surfaced with modern safety fences. In the distance we could see the entrance to the 7km long undersea tunnel by which the E69 crosses deep under the sound which separates the mainland from Magerøya, the barren, indented treeless island with Nordkapp at its northern tip (Photo 20 - Entrance to Nordkapp undersea tunnel). If you timed your crossing through the 7kms tunnel for late morning, the north-bound Hurtigruten would pass overhead through the sound. Immediately on entering the tunnel, the road began its steep descent to the astonishing depth of 212m below sea level. Norway's national policy is to cover the cost of tunnel construction by charging hefty tolls, but given the popularity of the road to Nordkapp, this tunnel's costs had been recovered earlier than the anticipated 2013 date. Toll-charges had ceased 3 weeks before our drive north, saving us the 2-way total tolls of 384 Krone (over £42). Signs counted off the distance as we began the steep re-ascent from the tunnel's depths to emerge into daylight, albeit still gloomy, onto Magerøya to pass the now deserted toll-booths. After 2 further tunnels, we approached Honningsvåg, very much a functional place with industrial surroundings, a major transport hub for long-distance buses, enclosed by the fjord and overshadowed by high craggy cliffs giving the village a sullenly dismal air. We took advantage of the large Remo supermarket on the outskirts to stock up with provisions for our stay at Nordkapp. The north-bound Hurtigruten was moored at Honningsvåg port, stopping here for several hours while its passengers are bussed up to Nordkapp, and we parked down at quay alongside M/S Nordkapp (see left). The nearby TIC was one of those where staff resent being disturbed by customers and only reluctantly bother to serve; we did use their free access internet to check Nordkapp's weather forecast which showed a pessimistically gloomy outlook. Along through the village, passing the wooden quayside warehouses where fishing boats were moored. we walked up the hill to the church, the only building to have survived German WW2 destruction (see right); it had served as a communal dwelling during the bitter winter of 1944 until the first replacement houses were hastily built. From this view-point, we watched the Hurtigruten liner depart the port en route for Kjøllefjord, Berlevåg and Kirkenes, as a small herd of reindeer grazed the hillside below us (Photo 21 - Grazing reindeer at Honningsvåg).
Route E69 climbed via steep hair-pins across the treeless Arctic tundra plateau with snow still lingering in gullies, spectacular views back down over Honningsvåg, and the distant mountains now lit by afternoon sun. We paused at a lay-by for the first distant views along Tufjorden to the western cliffs of the Nordkapp peninsula (see left), and just beyond the Skarsvåg road junction, there ahead was our first outline glimpse of the main Nordkapp cliff with its distinctive 'horn' projection. We continued along to Skarsvåg's small fishing harbour, and just at the village outskirts, were welcomed in a friendly manner at Kirkeporten Camping, billed as the world's most northerly campsite. Having pitched on a grassy area overlooking Storvassnet, we decided to make the most of the afternoon sun to climb up the fell to see the natural rock arch of Kirkeporten from which the campsite took its name. The way-marked path began by the campsite entrance, rising up the gently sloping fellside where Mountain Avens, insectivorous Butterworts and beautiful Marsh Orchids grew in profusion. The path rose up to a large cairn on the sky-line and sloped down the far side from where we had a closer view of the Nordkapp cliff and horn-rock outcrop. Venturing down a steep slope to a rocky bay by the shoreline, there looming above us was the huge natural rock-arch of Kirkeporten. We scrambled up the loose shale into the arch's gap gazing with awe to the Nordkapp cliff across the bay (see right). From the steep grassy slope opposite, we were able to take the classic photograph of Nordkapp framed by the natural arch of Kirkeporten (Photo 22 - Nordkapp cliff framed by Kirkeporten natural rock-arch). Returning over the fell-top, we descended to the campsite at Skarsvåg for a suitably Arctic Norway BBQ of grilled reindeer steaks, tender and gamey. The evening continued warm and sunny, until temperatures dropped once the setting sun hit the fellside slope opposite; this would have been perfect conditions for a Midnight Sun photograph over the Kirkeporten rock-arch.
The family-run Kirkeporten Camping was indeed a welcoming and homely place with fresh bread each morning, a lovely small restaurant, warm facilities, and good-value prices. The following morning, after a photo by the gate (Photo 23 - Kirkeporten Camping, the world's most northerly campsite), we set off for the final 9km drive up to Nordkapp. The narrow lane climbed steeply across the bare, exposed tundra fellside, and 3 kms from the road's end we passed the parking area marking the start of the 9km trek to Knivskjellodden, the true northernmost point of Europe. Nordkapp is the only point accessible to vehicles and is nothing more than a huge parking area atop the 307m (1,007 feet) high cliffs. The natural surroundings of Nordkapp's wild and remote setting are now however polluted by the grotesquely incongruous intrusion of Nordkapp Hallen, run by the Rica Hotel chain, a bizarrely overpriced monstrosity where everything is promoted as 'the world's northernmost ... '. Accordingly, we dubbed Nordkapp Hallen as the 'world's northernmost rip-off'. Access to Nordkapp's parking area, controlled by Nordkapp Hallen, is priced at an excessive 235 NOK per person, a total charge for 2 people of over £50 which supposedly gives access to all the Hall's facilities. We had however been well advised that a cheaper but unpublished tariff is available, intended for a restricted visit only but were assured that no time checks were made. On reaching the pay-booths therefore, we responded to the demand for 470 NOK with an insistent offer that, since we planned only a 12 hours stay, we should pay only 160 NOK each; even an entry charge of £35 seemed excessive, and we had no qualms about our counter rip-off of the world's northernmost rip-off. A number of camping-cars and the inevitable tour-buses already filled the parking area, but we chose a remote area with our camper's back into the chill Arctic gale and kitted up fully against the elements, trying to get our bearings. Threading our way across the stony fell-top, we could now make out the obscenely intrusive bunker-like outline of Nordkapp Hallen with its white golf-ball dome. A fence along the cliff-top edge stretched away NW towards the distant outline of the Kniveskjellodden peninsula which tapered out from the main body of Magerøya's high windswept plateau down towards its pointed tip on the shoreline some 1,500m further north into the Polar Sea than Nordkapp (Photo 24 - Kniveskjellodden, the true northernmost point of Europe). We oriented ourselves by reference to King Oskar's Monument, a small obelisk which marked the visit by the then King of Sweden-Norway in 1873, who landed here at the outermost limit of his realm from a boat 1,000 feet below and was carried up the cliffs. On the far tip of the headland, we could see Nordkapp's skeletal globe monument standing atop the 302m high cliffs marking the (almost) northernmost tip of Magerøya Island and the European mainland. There were surprisingly few people out by the globe, and they queued in an orderly manner for photographs on the monument's plinth (see right). The Arctic wind was bitterly cold on this exposed cliff-top, and huddled in layers of sweaters, gortex, hats and gloves, we took our photographs to mark our visit to Nordkapp (Photo 25 - Globe Monument on Nordkapp cliff-top).
By now the misty, low cloud was casting a total gloom over the cliff-top with the bitterly cold wind and driving drizzle making conditions difficult for photography. Having had to pay so expensively, even at the reduced rate, for admission, we sought shelter in the Hall to get our money's worth. We searched unsuccessfully for anything worth buying from the endless tourist ephemera in the vast gift shops, and worked on the principle of exploring all parts of the complex until someone demanded our tickets and threw us out. No one did, and it must be said that all the young staff we spoke to were utterly charming and politely helpful; one even admitted that most of the staff resent Rica Hotel's exploitative overcharging. At the Nordkapp post-office, we bought stamps for our Nordkapp post cards (bought elsewhere at half the price!) to be franked with the Nordkapp 71° 10' 21" postmark, and established that the toilets in the Hall were accessible from 7-00am to 1-00am. An underground tunnel cut through the rock led out to a balcony set on Nordkapp's cliff face high above the sea, equipped with the world's northernmost dustbin (see left); we empathised with Finmark's bin-men! Since there were no ticket checks at the 3D cinema, we watched the marginally impressive film of Nordkapp-Through-the-Seasons, and viewed the more interesting museum displays on the naval battle fought off Nordkapp in Nov~Dec 1943 and sinking of the German battle-cruiser Scharnhorst which along with the Tirpitz had sheltered at the Altafjord anchorage to attack allied Arctic convoys supplying war materiel to USSR. All in all however, Nordkapp Hallen's interior was as unimpressive as its exterior was a grotesque intrusion into the natural environment of this magnificent wild cliff-top.
By now misty cloud had totally enveloped the cliff-top with visibility down to zero and a hurtling bitterly cold Arctic gale blowing. We felt our way back across to our camper and after a warming supper, battened down for our night's wild camp on the Nordkapp plateau at latitude 71° 10' 10", longitude 25° 46' 59". We have camped in many challenging conditions but none ever as extreme as this (Photo 26 - Wild-camp in Arctic conditions on Nordkapp cliff-top). We settled in for the night wearing double layers of thermals against the cold. We hoped that the howling Arctic gale which buffeted our camper on this exposed cliff-top would blow away the low cloud; it didn't, and we woke the following morning with persistent cloud still obscuring any distant view and the violent wind still gusting (see left and right). We again sought shelter from the adverse weather conditions in the Hall, waiting for the elusive gap in the cloud. At last the cloud lifted to give a clearer view northward towards the misty horizon; somewhere out there across the vast Arctic Ocean was the Polar Ice and North Pole (Photo 27 - Nordkapp cliffs and Arctic Ocean). Huddled in gortex against the driving wind, we walked around the cliff-tops, taking advantage of cloud gaps to find the viewpoint which showed the full height of Nordkapp's cliffs and awesome precipice down to the ocean below (Photo 28 - Nordkapp's 1,007 feet high cliffs). Further around on the eastern side, we could look over the cliffs towards the Skarsvåg peninsula where we had climbed up to the Kirkeporten arch (Photo 29 - North-eastern cliffs of Nordkapp). Our overnight stay on Nordkapp's had been rewarding, but tinged with disappointment that the dismal weather had denied us opportunity to witness the glorious spectacle of the Midnight Sun over the cliff-top. But at least the low cloud had lifted sufficiently to give sighting of Kniveskjellodden and the northern Polar horizon. The ugly intrusion of Nordkapp Hallen with its racketeering overpriced commercialism was an unavoidable fact of modern mass tourism; if the bulk of visitors allowed themselves to be exploited by Nordkapp Hallen, this further demeans the stark natural beauty of this wild cliff-top. We had managed to experience this harsh Arctic environment while remaining largely indifferent to the Hall's intrusive presence. It was now time to leave Nordkapp and begin our long southward journey across Magerøya's bleak tundra with the sky still heavily overcast, but first we should enjoy a final night at Skarsvåg.
As we passed out of the pay-booths, today's convoys of tour-buses were starting to roll in bringing further hordes of gullible victims for Nordkapp Hallen to rob of their krone. After a final glance back along Vannfjord to the off-shore islands (see left), we returned to a homely welcome at Kirkeporten Camping to make full use of their washing/drying machine and free wi-fi internet. That evening, to celebrate the rewarding conclusion of our Arctic venture at Nordkapp, we treated ourselves to supper of fish soup and reindeer stew in Kirkeporten's excellent little restaurant. Despite the evening still being gloomy, the darkest evening so far this trip, the setting was truly magnificent and we sat snugly in our camper gazing with awe across the magnificent fell-scape as reindeer grazed among the huts (see right). The occupants of a nearby German camping-car however had other priorities, busily twirling their satellite dish scanning the Arctic air-space for a TV signal to avoid missing the latest soap opera episode - pathetic souls, clearly a case of cerebral atrophy, or simply downright bad taste.
With misty conditions obscuring the distant views the following morning, we said our farewells to the family at Kirkeporten grateful for their hospitality, and passing the vegbom at the Nordkapp road junction, turned south. As we passed Honningsvåg, the morning Hurtigruten was just drawing into the port sounding its horn. Beyond the first tunnel, Route E69 wound around Sarnesfjorden, and a red-painted bulbous bulk liquefied gas tanker rode at anchor out in the bay (see left); we should learn more about the off-shore Barents Sea Norwegian gas-fields later at Hammerfest. Soon after, we passed through the 7kms long Nordkapp Tunnel, leaving Magerøya to rejoin the mainland of Finmark with squalls of misty rain driving across Strandbukta Bay and the distant peninsula of Repvåg. A little further as the weather brightened, the sunny squally showers produced a low rainbow spanning the fellside highlighted against the stormy sky (Photo 30 - Squally weather rainbow over Repvåg fell-land). With herds of reindeer trotting across the road, the E69 hugged the coastline passing under towering craggy cliffs bristling with eroded slatey outcrops. The whale-back monolithic cliff through which the road was tunnelled appeared ahead, silhouetted against a dramatically stark cloud-scape, the road seeming to disappear into an insignificant dark hole at the base of the mighty crags with cliffs towering overhead (Photo 31 - Route E69 disappearing into a tunnel mouth). The road plunged into the darkness of the tunnel mouth and we edged nervously through the narrow, ill-lit tunnel thankful not to meet other traffic in the gloom. Emerging from the southern end of the last tunnel, the road wound around the coast of Smørfjorden and down to the inlet of Olderfjord where we drew into Russenes Camping which we had passed on our way northwards. 500m further near the E6 road junction, a mini-market at the filling station sells basic foodstuffs. We were booked in at Russenes by the friendly staff at the reception-cum-souvenir shop, and across the road the campsite, ranged along the shore of Olderfjord, had just a few spaces between the static caravans and huts. We pitched on the shore-side looking out across the open Olderfjord as the sky brightened with afternoon sun lighting the fjord. After the extreme Arctic conditions of the last few days, the air felt remarkably mild; it was like coming in from the wilds (Photo 32 - Russenes Camping on the shores of Olderfjorden). We had a perfect position for looking out at the pink fringed clouds across the still waters of the fjord (see right).
We had been pleasantly surprised at the range of fascinating wild flora we had continued to find at these northern latitudes, and have again included a gallery page of our photos of Wild Flora of Arctic Norway
Next week we shall cross over to the NW coast of Finmark to visit the northernmost Norwegian town of Hammerfest, before crossing the Finmarksvidda to Alta and continuing around the mountainous indented fjord coastline, eventually to cross back into northern Finland at Kilpisjärvi; join us again shortly for our continuing Arctic venture.
Next edition to be published in 3 weeks