Friday, 25 May 2012


23rd - 24th May 2012

Looking towards the North Cape
 Day 2 and up at 5.00am to go on the bus tour to the North Cape, or Nordcapp in the local vernacular. This is the northernmost tip of Europe. The sea state had returned to dead calm, thankfully. The ship was docked in the small town of Honningsvag where we got off and onto one of three buses; one marked 'English'. one 'Deutsch' and the other 'Norge'. Tough shit if you spoke Spanish, Chinese or Ruskie, or were deaf for that matter I suppose. I was sitting behind a French couple.
The North Cape and Honningsvag are on what is effectively an island called Mageroya, divided by a 2km wide strait of water from the mainland. Our guide was a pretty young local girl, Denise. She was, as it turned out later, very articulate and knowledgeable about the local flora and fauna, geology and Norwegian history. To start with the PA system on the bus didn't work so unfortunately noone beyond the front row of seats could hear what she was saying. Poor girl was trying so hard. At least the French couple were at no greater disadvantage than the rest of us.

We drove initially for about an hour over some pretty desolate and rocky country to the North Cape ( left ) where the weather was somewhat changeable. The sun did not shine and there was the occasional snow shower, but at least it wasn't foggy as we were told it could be. It was a bit on the chilly side. Several reindeer were in residence. There are about 5000 reindeer on Mageroya ( in the summer ) and only 2500 people. No trees anywhere to be seen. We are 180 kms north of the 'tree line'.
The latitude here is N 71┬║10'21".

A good hearty breakfast was provided at the visitor centre, and we were shown a film about the changing seasons; very atmospheric. They focus a lot on trolls ( right ) around these parts. Trolls are reputed to live up the fiords and are nocturnal. There is also a museum and display of several models featuring notable occurrences at the Cape. This museum was dedicated to King Chulalongkorn of Thailand to celebrate the 41st year of his reign in 1907. No, I didn't fully understand the connection either.

Left: Self at the structure which marks the North Cape. I think it used to have a figure on the top ( it did in the film we saw ) looking out to the north. It must have blown off.

Right: There was another monument here dedicated to 'children of the world'. Seven tablets featuring designs made by seven children picked at random from seven different countries and a statue of a woman and child pointing at them. Snap taken in a snow flurry which explains the white spots.

Left: We stopped at a site featuring a local Sami herdsman and one of his reindeer, and wife who ran the nearby souvenir shop. This reindeer is, we were told, 40 years old. It was rather toothlessly chewing it's way through a pile of cut moss and it's horns were in velvet i.e. the old ones had been shed during the winter and the new ones are growing. We weren't told how old his wife was.

Right: One of the Sami tepees. These are still used by the nomadic tribesmen as they follow their reindeer herds across the country.
On this island of Mageroya the reindeer move south for the winter ( who wouldn't ) where they can feed. They then come back around this time of year to summer on the island. They used to swim the 2km strait back to the island during the course of which many perished as they were still weak after poor winter grazing. The herdsmen now get them over on boats. They are fit and strong enough to swim the 2km on their way back south in the autumn. Now, in my humble opinion, reindeer must be incredibly stupid. Why on earth don't they just stay put on the mainland and make the most of the good grazing and relatively pleasant weather all year round? Why do they insist on returning to this windswept place and suffer a hazardous swim across in the process? Answers on a postcard please because nobody could inform me and the reindeer weren't telling. Instinct perhaps? If I was a local reindeer I would be organising a 'break-away' reactionary group of mates who would give a swift cloven hoof to swimming back over.

Left: A poor photo of the Sami flag from a shiny card. Colourful and meaningful, but I've forgotten the meaning.
There are 40,000 Sami ( Laplanders ) in northern Norway.

We then had a three hour bus journey south-west to Hammerfest. The crossing of the strait was by a recently built and expensive under-sea tunnel ( prohibited to reindeer ). The sun had come out and the journey was certainly picturesque. The bus PA system was now working and so Denise was able to tell us much about the area. This whole region, the largest in Norway, is called Finnmark.

Most, if not all, northern Norwegian towns are supported by the fishing industry. Cod are caught in enormous quantities. Much of the cod is hung on these frames ( left ) to dry out over an eight to ten week period. The dried fish called 'stockfish' ( similar process to beef jerky I presume ) can be kept almost indefinitely then re-hydrated and eaten. The fish heads are dried separately. These are exported almost exclusively to Africa where they form a part of an established diet instituted by the British in their African colonies to provide whatever it was that Africans lacked previously. News to me!

Right: On arrival at Hammerfest we discovered that the town symbol is a polar bear ( the town flag has three of them on it ). There are no polar bears, outside zoos, in this part of the world. The polar bear symbol represents travel and exploration from here to the North Pole, or something like that. Hammerfest also boasts of being the northernmost town. Well, it's not! We had just come from Honningsvag which is considerably further north. Apart from that Hammerfest is also rather a nondescript place.

Lovely scenery around here, when the sun is out. Another issue mentioned by our informative guide was that the Germans evacuated Finnmark in 1944 with a 'scorched earth' policy. Every building, except for one small church in Honningsvag, was razed to the ground and all else of any use to habitation was destroyed. The locals had to flee south. They returned, but it explains why no building in these parts is over 60 years old and they are, for the most part, built to a standard pre-fab design of the 1950s. I wonder if this information was relayed on the 'Deutsch sprekening' bus.

Many thanks to Denise ( right ), our most informative, charming and knowledgeable guide ( once the PA system got going ). Somehow she got it right; keeping us informed without talking too much! My only adverse comment might be that she never once mentioned the infamous Norwegian Blue parrot with it's 'lovely plumage'. I expect we will hear of this bird later on when visiting the fiords further south.
Everybody 'back on the boat!' which was waiting for us at Hammerfest and off we sailed again.
The route today was to take us on south around the intricate waterways to Tromso stopping at a couple of small ports in between. There was to be a midnight organ and choral recital in the Tromso cathedral, and the last chance to see the midnight sun over the horizon. After another good dinner, I chose to have a night in and relatively early kip so declined the trip to the cathedral.


  1. No there's no Norwegian Blue parrots (The Monty Python gang must have gotten it wrong). But we have the puffins, they're also called "sea parrots" in Norway.

  2. .....but it wouldn't sound the same! "This is a dead PUFFIN"!? I don't think so.