Another quiet morning on the ship. We slept in til 8pm. Honestly, we haven’t had the most comfortable beds and so the nights have been a bit restless. I slept under the window on the sofa last night and as the ship moved if felt like I might just roll right off. Anyway, as I’ve said in a previous post, it’s about the surroundings and the experiences. It’s all part of the fun.
So, 11:15 we dock at Honningsvag to go and visit the northern most point on the European Continent – North Cape. We are in Finnmark a county of Norway about the size of Denmark, with a population of about 35,000. That means 1 person per 1.5km square of land.
In Honningsvag the sun sets on 23 November and does not appear again until 22 January – when it will appear for about 56 minutes before disappearing again. The converse of course happens during summer, where they experience the longest which lasts for about 6 weeks between May and July.
Sunset today was at 1:47pm. By 2:45 when our boat left the dock it was completely dark outside. Our next stretch of sailing took us out of sight of any lights. It is the first time we have noticed not even a small village or house light on the coast line at all.
The mountains we saw when we first crossed into the Arctic have given way to lower hills and rocky barren islands. There are notably no trees now. Whilst there is vegetation plenty enough to support reindeer herds in summer, it doesn’t grow tall enough to be considered a tree. There are plenty of grasses, mosses, shrubs and ground covering though. The reindeer are herded by the nomadic Sami people indigenous to Scandinavia. They take them further inland towards the colder climates for winter. This seems strange, however it is due to the conditions here in winter being too icy. Because of the Gulf Stream it only gets to a balmy average of about -4 over winter. What this means is that the snow that falls melts then freezes or rain hits the ground and freezes, covering everything with thick ice. Reindeer cannot break through the ice to get to their food. They are equipped however to withstand the -40 temperatures further inland and can dig down into the soft dry snow to reach the food underneath.
The natural benefit for the reindeer leaving is also that the grasses etc get a chance to replenish ready for the next season.
The herding is interesting in itself. From the island we are on – Mageroya, the Sami can move them in a couple of ways. The traditional way – and the only place in the world where this happens – is for them to swim across the Margeroyasund or Margeroya Sound connecting the island to the mainland. The other is a via vehicles through a road tunnel that was built in 1999. The other way of course is by boat.
There are 5 extended Sami families that return to this area each year. Traditionally there are two different types of Sami. The Mountain Sami who look after and make a living from the Reindeer, and the Coast Sami who make a living from the sea. In modern times there is also the Souvenir Sami, who make a living making and selling products to visitors and tourists.
The climate here is surprising. The Gulf Stream means that Finnmark is the warmest area at this latitude. Other countries sitting on this latitude – ie, Siberia, Alaska, Canada – all experience the -40 temperatures. The record, by the way, for the coldest temps down near the Finnish border is -52 and that was in 1886 – not on the coast where we are now. During the summer the temperatures gets to an average of 10 degrees and the water to about 5 degrees.
Mageroya translates to ‘meagre’. Whilst the land may be meagre, the ocean is not. It is the richest area for fishing in the world. Honningsvag itself is therefore a busy fishing port. 1/3 of all the Royal King Crab in Norway come from the local fishery here. The fishery also produces 40,000tons of fish per year. The Russian and Norweigan governments have a cooperative approach to ensuring that migrating fish stocks remain plentiful and that over-fishing does not become an issue for both countries. Fish from this region is placed directly onto flights to Tokyo and is received by top sushimi chefs only 18hours after being caught!
Prior to the industrial era that brought mechanical fishing boats here, 1 in 4 fisherman were lost to the sea. It was by far the most dangerous professions. Whilst modern fishing boats have improved the odds, it is still considered one of the more dangerous vocations in Norway.
Our excursion today is out to the North Cape. This was and still is an important navigational point. It was named North Cape in 1553 by a British Explorer Richard Chancellor as he rounded the cape in search of the North East Passage. Just beyond this coastline is where the Norweigan Sea that we are sailing, meets the Barents Sea of the Barents Ocean.
In 1664 the first tourist arrived here by foot. An Italian priest by the name of Francesco Negri. Two hundred or so years later in 1873 the union King Oscar climbed the steep cliffs and brought notice to the area. Not long after that it became a destination of cruises and the elite. It was always (and still is) an expensive journey.
The first road to the point was competed in 1956 allowing for vehicle access. There is a snow plough at the ready to clear the way for the 1-3 convoys of visitor that arrive everyday.
There are a few other sculptures on the point. ‘Children of the Earth’ is a collection of seven medallions created by children from all parts of the world and symbolises the cooperation, friendship, hope and joy that children hold without prejudice and that could be extended to all mankind. It’s inception was in 1989 and continues with a humanitarian award being give in support of children around the world.
We disembark from the ship tomorrow morning at Kirkenes and head into colder climates in Finland. We have thoroughly enjoyed our journey up the coastline and can totally recommend Hurtigruten as a way to see and explore this part of the world. We certainly would have a few tips for anyone thinking of making the voyage. Just drop me a note.