Holiday Above the Arctic Circle

Hello!

I hope everybody in Northern Europe has survived the heat! It is mad. When I travelled up from London, I left a lab that kept a steady 30 degrees (I cannot open the windows). Hoping it would cool down when I crossed the Arctic Circle I was disappointed, as the temperatures were close to 30. But all that sunlight meant amazing sunsets! Because of the light nights here (the midnight sun disappeared on the 21st of July) we quickly found out that we were better off hiking and exploring after 20:00 rather than before. The light for photography is also WAY better.

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We caught an afternoon plane from London to Oslo and had a three-hour layover before taking an evening flight to Evenes, being in Sortland with the airport express bus close to 2 in the morning. The sunset/rise was incredible and it pains me that I couldn’t get out of the bus to take photos.

To be honest, I have been feeling a bit ambivalent about this trip. The family summer house has been sold to a family member and we are likely never to visit again. It is sad to leave it behind, as it was the place my grandmother grew up, and also the place for countless blissful summers with close and distant family. It feels like a loss in many ways. So as a last goodbye-gift from the weather and nature gods, we had amazing weather for a whole week, close encounters with several eagles and plenty of sunsets! What a trip!

We started local with a trip to Hovden and Nykvåg. The drive from Sortland, through Bø municipality is pretty spectacular. First we had a little mooch around Nykvåg and met a guy who had my great grandfather as a primary school teacher. We then drove for 15 minutes to Hovden were we had a really pleasant dinner in Hovden. One of the other “fiskevær” (small fishing communities) called Nyksund used to be a favourite place to go 5 years ago. Now though, it is full of tourists and you have to wait 3 hours for a table at the restaurant and it has generally lost its rough charm. Lars Monsen (Norwegian Bear Grylls equivalent) had also brought the national TV station and lots of hikers there a few days before us, which made the idea even less tempting. Nykvåg and Hovden are therefore a nice alternatives.

The second day was very relaxed and we had a visit to the shops and a stop at the community house to get some Wi-Fi to re-run some scripts. We also took the boat out on the fjord and saw the eagles, two adults and two juveniles. They have managed to raise two chicks again this year, so I am most impressed with our local eagles. The evening was spent gutting and filleting 20 fish that my second cousin and his friend had caught. They got cod and pollock and 15 mackerels. It would have been plenty with 10 fish, but boys will be boys, and 20 fish are sure to impress.

On the third day of the trip the weather reached ridiculous temperatures and we decided that a ferry trip would be a good way of enjoying the sun as well as feeling the breeze. We headed down to Lødingen and with minutes to spare, got on the ferry to Bognes. We then drove about 40 minutes to Hamarøy where they built the Hamsun centre, about 10 years ago. The centre focus on the person and the literature, but also debates Hamsun's admiration for Hitler and his German support (though it should be noted that all his books but one, was written before 1936). Hamsun is a large part of the history of Norwegian literature, and learning more about him and his controversies was very interesting. One of the guides at the Hamsun Centre is a woman I went to school with, who also happens to be the daughter of my fathers co-worker. Norway is such a small place! On our way back, we took the Skutvik-Svolvær ferry, had dinner in Svolvær before driving back to Vesterålen, enjoying the beautiful light (I did a lot of droning).

The height of the trip to Vesterålen was probably the trip we made to Andøya. We drove out in the afternoon with a picnic basket filled with homemade fishcakes. We had a barbecue on the beaches of Bleik before heading up around 21:00 for a hike when the temperature was down to 25(!) degrees. The hikes we decided on is a 8 km hike roundtrip to Måtinden. It starts a little steep but then turns rather flat and lovely, brilliant if you are carrying heavy photo equipment. The light that evening was spectacular, and it ended up being one of those trips where I had to stop every 2 minutes to take a photo. It was breath-taking!

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When we arrived home from Andøya around 2 in the morning, there was still 25C outside and the uninsulated house was steaming hot. Needless to say, it was a night with bad sleep. The following day was therefore spent slightly more sedentary with a trip to a fish farm in Blokken and a hike cut short due to millions of biting bugs. Fish farms in Norway are somewhat controversial. They are immensely good for the economy and the food to flesh ratio is very good compared to other animal protein sources. However, they can have a large negative effect on the local ecosystem due to parasites and bacteria, overfeeding, escaping farmed fish, overfertilizing local fjords etc. I was hoping that this farm open to tourists would address such issues. Instead, I felt very much that they were glorifying and playing down their environmental impact, leaving all foreign tourists with an impression that industrial scale fish farming is totally environmentally friendly. They also serve whale meat. As somebody working with fish I wasn’t so impressed with our guides knowledge. Avoid.

In the evening we took the boat out for a last spin, and we were lucky to see one of the old white-tailed sea eagles up close from the boat! It really difficult shooting handheld from a small rocking boat in low light with a lens that has a maximum aperture of f/6.3 at 600mm (yes I am cheap, but the lens is also light)! I have been trying for many years to get good photos of these eagles, and FINALLY, on the last attempt ever, I got some real good shots.

Anyone owning a cabin knows that the last day of the summer holiday is spent prepping for winter. The biggest job we have is to take the boat up and the mooring. It is quite a lot of heavy work; the engine needs to run in fresh water for a while and shit needs to be oiled. The boat needs to be cleaned and stored. And then there is the house cleaning and packing of car etc that needs doing. We spent most of our last day busying ourselves with such tasks, and when the evening came we hosted one last grand waffle party with family and friends.

We headed north the following day starting with great weather in Vesterålen. We had a stop at Setermoen where a good friend of mine lives and then continued to Nordkjosbotn for dinner (PS, the food there is awful, but the people watching is great). We had a drone break in one of the valleys close to Lyngsalpene but thunder and lightning cut it short. As we started driving east into Finland, the thunder came from all directions, it was a shame as there were some great ‘dronable’ landscapes around.

Father and I arrived in Kilpisjärvi around 22 in the evening. After a day driving it is wonderfult to discover that the so-called hotel was actually a camping hut rather than a hotel, where you have to bring your own bedding and towels (not mentioned at the booking site). This also meant no breakfast. However, my father is a true magician, and found old tea in a cabinet and we shared an orange and some tea. From Kilpis, we had a  1.5 hour drive until we reached the promised breakfast-land of Karesuanto (Finnish side of Karesuando). I am not sure many people live there, but it has two grand souvenir shops (one with a café). Here, all food items are served with French fries and an orange wedge. The café also has 2 slot machines, but the local youth seemed to be queueing around these, so if it is slot machines you want to play, I recommend holiday in another town. If you are however after french fries, orange wedges and strange souvenirs, Karesuanto is your holiday destination. 

We drove through Finland in rain and grey weather which followed us into across the border and into Kautekeino and Karasjok. Somewhere in the Tana valley the rained stopped. 11 hours after we left Kilpis, we arrived in Vadsø. How lovely it is to arrive to a warm house and my lovely great-aunt Ellen, ready with dinner!

After a long hot period in the whole of the country, it was nice that Finnmark cooled down. 14 degrees the first day and light rain was perfect for cloudberry picking. We had a large family dinner and drank bubblies, wine and whiskey. Father came down with flu on our second day, so I went hiking with dad’s cousin Kirsti. If you want down to earth and cheerful hiking company, with patience for droning, Kirsti is an excellent choice.  On our second day we hiked up to their cabin on the Varanger peninsula, picked some cloudberries and scared the dog shitless (by droning). This shiba dog is scared of bugs, so a drone which sounds like a swarm of bees was a bit too much for the mutt. It was all good after the drone landed, some sniffs and barks at the drone and we could proceed.

The day after we had another droning day up Vestere Jakobselv. There is a beautiful canyon with a river popular with salmon fishers. The salmon are coming up the river to spawn, and we saw one salmon trying to get up a waterfall. We had plenty of breaks and the sun even came out for a second.

On my last day I took a trip out to Ekkerøy to the kittiwake nesting cliff. I am really bad at knowing my bird species, but I am alright at spotting. I was hoping to see some peregrine and gyrfalcons at the kittiwake cliff, but I couldn't see any.  The only enemies in sight were about 6 ravens close to land and one arctic skua out at sea. I encountered a few small songbirds and some waders on my way back, so all in all, good spotting for a short walk. When I got back, dinner was served and later that evening we looked through 15 minutes of the drone footage. The person who appreciated the footage the most must be grandma's siter Ellen. In particular she enjoyed the footage of places she used to hike but can no longer go, like around the family cabin. 

It was sad to leave as always, but that usually means you've had a good time.

Thanks for reading!

Inga