A Norwegian Cruise 13

Part 13: 10th Port of Call, Honningsvåg, Magerøya Island, Troms og Finnmark County, Norway

After a voyage of roughly 22 hours we had rounded the top of Europe sailing through the Barents Sea and approached our destination on Magerøya Island.

A further two hours later, we had docked in Honningsvåg harbour,

for our highly anticipated visit to the Nordkapp or North Cape, the most northerly point of Europe, or is it?

Although the global tourism industry promotes the Nordkapp as the most northerly point in Europe (and we have the baseball cap, fridge magnet, and coffee mug to prove it!), it’s actually the neighbouring Knivskjellodden Cape that stretches further North by about 1400 m or 4 700 ft. Both capes, however, are located on an island, therefore Cape Kinnarodden on the Nordkinn Peninsula should be considered the most northerly point of Mainland Europe.

If one does take islands into consideration, one has the choice of Rossøya Island in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago, or Russia’s Rudolf Island in the Arkhangelsk Oblast which are both located at ~81º N in the Artic Ocean. The latter may not be considered European but Asian, thus the confusion continues …

The steep cliff of our North Cape here on Magerøya is ten degrees further South than both Artic Ocean locations, only reaching 71º 10′ 21″ N. Its clear distinction rests in the fact that one can drive all the way up to it. Thanks to highway E69 linking the island of Magerøya to the Norwegian mainland through Nordkapptunnelen, the North Cape Tunnel, this North Cape is the most northerly point in Europe one can reach by car.

Once docked, we took a little walk into town to explore Honningsvåg and immediately stumbled across a lot of color.

Rounding the next corner, a striking art project caught my eye.

Honningsvåg school children, following the example of their literary heroin “Steinura”, answered the challenge to clean up the coastline and raise their community’s environmental conscience. The children’s books were written by local authors Floer & Hansen and were illustrated by Polish graphic designer Katarzyna Kapusta, who also lives in Honningsvåg.

The four books are based on the four seasons as they unfold on Magerøya. The first book in the “Steinura” series was translated into Northern Sámi in 2017.

These colours are quintessential Norwegian for me. Oxblood red and cobalt blue, strong, striking, powerful.

Honningsvåg is a small town with roughly 2.5K inhabitants. It looks more utilitarian than some other harbour towns we visited during our cruise through the Norwegian fjords, but that’s not surprising when you consider that Honningsvåg fell victim to the Nazis’ scorched earth policy for Northern Norway as they retreated South toward the end of the war. The only building left standing in town was a tiny white church.

Postwar economic hardship didn’t allow for aesthetic consideration in the rebuilding of Honningsvåg. People needed homes, workshops, schools, and offices, rather than cornices and friezes. I just came across the review of a book called “Fire & Ice. The Nazis’ Scorched Earth Campaign in Norway” by Vincent Hunt. The review was written in 2016 for the Norwegian American Weekly by US journalist Michael Kleiner. Even being quite familiar with the Nazi occupation of Norway, this review brought horrifying realities back to the forefront which are echoed in the most devastating ways right now, in 2022, in Putin’s war in the Ukraine. Mr. Kleiner published several documents in his review, including a photo of the levelled town of Honningsvåg.

On the lighter side, I just barely caught the advertisement on this local truck as it passed us:

Jeg er tilhenger av Honningsvåg trafikkskole – verdens nordligste trafikkskole 🎉

“I’m a fan of Honningsvåg traffic school, the world’s most northerly traffic school”

At 15h we climbed on the bus to take us to the North Cape, which is a 33 Km/21 m drive North across Magerøya Island, the ‘Barren Island of Magerøya’ as our tour guide Peter called it. It is indeed a special landscape, an acquired taste for our overloaded visual sense, a true Tundra, and I liked it very much although I would be hesitant to repeat the experience in winter. The word tundra, btw, originates with a Kildin Sámi term meaning treeless tract of land.

As we already saw in the Lofoten, we encountered large fiskehjell, drying racks for tørrfisk, stockfish, here as well.

A short distance from town, the true nature of Magerøya Island revealed itself.

Although we can only see the landscape near highway E69, it becomes clear quite quickly that this is a region in which nothing grows any taller than knee-height. It is a typical tundra vegetation that includes shrubs, grasses, sedges, lichen, and mosses. Ankle-bitters if you will, like chihuahuas in the canine world. Strong winds and low winter temperatures prevent the vegetation from growing tall and proud.

It rained a little too hard, so I couldn’t catch a clear picture of the red sign. It indicated that during the winter season, the last 13 Km of E69 connecting with the Cape will be closed and only guided convoys will be allowed through. It’s the only European route with the ‘E’ designation that is officially closed part of the year. If you’re planing an RV trip to the North Cape for the Christmas holidays, be forewarned!

As far as those convoys are concerned:

Weather permitting, there are two daily roundtrip convoys to the North Cape. Each is preceded by a snowplow and followed by a safety vehicle.

Before a convoy, please check this:
– Be sure to have enough fuel
– Keep flashlight, shovel and tow rope easy accessible
– It is advised to bring warm drinks and some food.
– Bring warm clothes and shoes, the best is to wear the clothing and keep the car cold. To avoid icing on the windows keep the car cold and use cold air, not warm, on the windows.
– Use emergency lights
– Use fog light if your car is equipped with this.
– Keep an eye on the car in front.
– Maintain a steady speed and follow the convoy
– Do not stop your car or try to turn around, again, follow the convoy.
– If you do have to stop or the convoy stops never leave your car. This may be fatal.

Behind the convoy there will always be another snow plow or safety car. The drivers of the front and rear cars keep contact during the convoy and the front car may stop occasionally to check if all cars are still along.

Remember never to stop or, in case of a traffic stop, never to leave your car

[I copied the above convoy instructions from the website of Stappan Sjøprodukter (Stappan Seaproducts Inc), an enterprise which concentrates on high quality fish products and tourism on Magerøya Island. The company is located in the village of Gjesvær. Since the Viking Age, Gjesvær was known as a trading post and fishing station and was presumably the first location at Magerøya which had a permanent settlement]

The wind gusts were so strong that I didn’t dare to climb on the globe platform! Instead I stayed close to the perimeter fence. Nature clearly rules there, although locals in the visitors center and our guide agreed that it wasn’t very windy that day … For me, it felt overwhelmingly powerful and it was much nicer to enjoy the Nordkapp through the windows of the cozy café!

And one last Nordkapp picture, showing the seemingly endless view North across the Barents Sea.

On the way back, we saw many more reindeer grazing in the lush summer meadows. On Magerøya, there are only domesticated reindeer that couldn’t survive the harsh winters on the island, which isn’t their natural habitat. When they’re nice and fat from the rich grasses they’ve munched all summer, they swim back to the mainland for their winter quarters. In the Spring, though, after a sparse diet of hay, the reindeer are too weak to swim back across the strait for their Sommerfrische and the owners load them on boats for the crossing. [Sommerfrische = summer holidays, preferably in a resort setting with spa & Ayurveda treatments]

As the Silver Whisper rounded Magerøya Island on her way to our last port of call, Alta, we passed by the iconic Nordkapp Globe one more time that evening, perched on its 307 m high cliff that rises straight out of the Barents Sea.

All the while, we were accompanied by seabirds again. This time they were low-flying, small and chunkily build northern fulmars, a type of petrel. Northern or arctic fulmar, Fulmarus glacialis, Procellariidae, are amazing birds. Weighing less than a kilo with a wingspan of more than one meter, they’re veritable perpetual flying machine with the heavy neck muscles of a power lifter. Adults may fly for thousands, yes, thousands of kilometres in search of their favourite seafood, shrimp, squid, jellies, and fish, but they also slurp plankton and don’t reject carrion. With an average lifespan of thirty years, the fulmars need about a decade to reach sexual maturity, then they choose a mate for a monogamous, long-term bond. Each season, the pair raises just one chick together in shared labor. While the chick is still a nestling, a parent only forages at night in a radius of less than 500 Km around the colony to keep a wary eye on the offspring.

Two specialised organs help the birds to successfully lead their rather extrem lifestyles of rarely landing on earth. One is a gland that produces an icky-smelling, waxy oil as a defence mechanism against aggressive predatory birds. When attacked, the fulmar sprays this oil over the aggressor. The sticky-gooey oil clumps up the bad boy’s plumage making flight difficult, sometime even impossible. Also, the base oils in that smelly concoction provide nutrition for the fulmar on its long, draining flights. As a matter of fact, the waxy spray is so stinky that it gave the bird its name. In Old Norse ‘Fúlmár’ meant ‘foul gull’. I guess, they figured it was a stinky seagull. The other special organ is a desalination plant located in the nasal structure to rid the birds of all that excess salt the sea so generously provides.

One thought on “A Norwegian Cruise 13

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s