Reading material for those who love the camping life

Text: Cecilie Larvåg
Caravan and Caravan magazine, No. 3 June 2021

Camping in the North: Tour of Finnmark

Think luck, says the travel companion when we land in Alta one early morning at the end of August with a view of five days of fine weather ahead of us. As a first trip to Finnmark, with a lot of outdoor activity on the program, it could not have promised better.

The rental car is ready at Alta airport and soon we are heading north on the E6. First stop: Kokelv - the start of the National Tourist Route Havøysund. There we will spend the night at Aurora Glamping in a dome with a view of Revsbotn. But before we can rejoice in it, we must become acquainted with a sad phenomenon. Butterflies are usually something you associate with fluttering patches of color that appear along with the good weather in the spring. IN Troms og Finnmark however, the species birch meter has become a threat to the ecosystem. As a result of climate change, hordes of hungry butterfly larvae have taken over the birch forest on Sennalandet, the deserted stretch of mountain between the Altafjord and Skádi. Fresh birch shoots are their favorite dish. From the car window we see thousands of black trunks with no hint of foliage. Forest death is a fact, with major consequences for reindeer, grouse and blueberries.  

Old traditions

Feel free to call us superficial, but both birch trees and black forest are forgotten when we sit outside our Arctic dome a few hours later after a mountain hike and a wood-fired hot tub, and admire the sun that floats down behind the mountains in the west. Aurora Glamping lives up to its name: In the cold winter months, when aurora borealis flames across the sky, yes of course, but also in summer, when Aurora - the goddess of dawn - shows her presence in this lovely place on earth.

When the hosts, Ranveig and Frank Jon, took over her grandparents' old house in Kokelv, about two hours from Alta and eleven miles from Hammerfest, they knew little about housing guests from far and wide a few years later.

Gammer and house

- There was an old gamme here, says Ranveig. - Gammer was common housing for people on these edges until the 1950s. Many were built after World War II, when people who had been on the run moved back home to burned-down homes after the German ravages.

Today's gammer is of recent origin, but built according to an old Sea Sámi tradition. So far, there are five pieces, and under the turf roofs we find both sleeping yams, kitchen yams, shower yams and sauna yams. Wood-burning sauna and hot tub are available during your stay. In addition, Frank has a mobile sauna mounted on a trailer that you can transport wherever you find it too good to enjoy a sauna bath before a cooling encounter with the river.

Raw and dramatic

Already the next morning we set out on the country road again. Havøysund National Tourist Route is unknown to many, but this rugged rocky landscape along Revsbotn is truly something in itself. Raw, dramatic and unique! Layer upon layer of slate forms the most fascinating rock formations on both sides of the road. In many places, the stones look more like ancient temple ruins in Angkor Wat in Cambodia than Norwegian mountains formed around the last ice age. Around a bend at Vekselvik suddenly lies a giant sphinx and rests with its gaze directed towards the North Sea.

Reindeer herds

At Lillefjord, the chances are high that you will encounter herds of reindeer. The animals graze just as well at the beach edge as along the road. Settle down in one of the resting huts on the beach in Snefjord. With a little luck, you might get to see sea eagles as well. The next picnic area is Selvika. On hot summer days, it may be tempting to take a bath in the turquoise sea, but (almost) whatever the weather, it is a perfect place to grill or eat packed lunches. By the way, feel free to bring a plastic bag and fill it with plastic waste from the beach. All the money goes! Eventually the road rises away from the sea, and even though it only goes a few hundred meters above sea level at the highest, you get the feeling of driving over the barren rock.

"The end of the road"

About 4,5 km before you reach Havøysund, which is literally at the end of the road, the trail starts up to Sukkertoppen, a spectacular hiking trail that is the locals' favorite. From the top you can look over to Porsanger, the North Cape and far out into the North Sea. In Havøysund, at 71 ° north, fishing is the norm, both for the locals and visitors. Here the boys boys of different nationalities come to haul big catches. Havøysund can otherwise boast a large and controversial wind farm at the top of Havøygavlen. There is also Arctic View - a restaurant and glam camp with unbeatable sea views. Due to construction activities in connection with the replacement of the wind turbines - at least until the autumn of 2021 - the road out there will be temporarily closed. Whether the restaurant / camp will be open during this time is uncertain.

At sea

Feel free to take a detour to Rolfsøy. Here, visitors can rent a boat, go fishing, visit the old beach steamer, stroll along white sandy beaches and pick up shells to take home as a memory and hike on the island's bare mountains. At Tufjord Brygge, you are tempted by local flavors and a summer festival. Outside Rolfsøy, the Hurtigruten ship DS "Richard With" sank on 13 September 1941, when it was accidentally torpedoed by a British submarine. 103 people died. North of Rolfsøy is Ingøy. The island appears on Dutch maps in 1570, as one of very few named places in Finnmark, and was in the 1500th century considered the largest fishing village in the region next to Vardø. In 1530, about 360 people lived on Ingøy. Today the population is 13. North of Ingøy is Fruholmen lighthouse from 1866, which is the world's northernmost lighthouse. From Havøysund there are daily ferries to Rolfsøy and Ingøy.

Adventure awaits

At the end of the tourist route, you can make a complete U-turn and get a different perspective on the return trip, or do as we do: Join the Hurtigruten from Havøysund to Vardø, where the National Tourist Route Varanger awaits. The northbound Hurtigruten docks in Havøysund at 9 o'clock in the morning, so most people prefer to spend the night in the small coastal town, for example at Havøysund Hotel and Rorbuer. Within satisfied seafarers, Vardø arrives at 03 the next night, we get to feel the wind and waves in the North Sea, we sail past Kinnarodden, the northernmost point on mainland Norway, and visit coastal towns such as Honningsvåg, Kjøllefjord and Berlevåg. On board we enjoy good food and interesting lectures from the crew, including the annual reindeer migration to Magerøya (where the North Cape is located).

Idyllic fishing village

The weather reporters keep their beautiful promises. The sun shines over our northernmost part of the country during the voyage, until day turns into night. And when the boat claps to the quay in Vardø, an hour late, the morning sun rises over Vardøya as we drive off the ship. What a color magic! The landscape shines in blue, grain yellow, rust red and almost neon green. 13 km south along the Varanger National Tourist Route, we turn off to Ekkerøy, an idyllic, small fishing village that is also a bird sanctuary with an easily accessible bird mountain where around 30 crutches nest between March and August. Here, Ingjerd, who runs Ekkerøy Feriehus, has left the door to our little house open for the night guests. Fatigue comes tellingly, even if the surroundings invite to daytime. But there will be a day tomorrow, we say to each other in a snug manner, and crawl to bed behind dark blinds.

Partisan Museum

New day. More sun. Lots of excitement on the itinerary. Just set the compass north again. The first destination is the Partisan Museum in Kiberg and Kiberg fort. The first tells the story of the partisans in East Finnmark who were suspected of being Soviet spies, despite the fact that their efforts in all probability helped to determine the outcome of World War II. You can read more about this in the book Mile after Mile - along Norway's 18 National Tourist Routes which recently came out.

moon Landscape

After the interesting history lesson in Kiberg, the road leads out to Hamningberg - a spectacular lunar landscape with steep, rugged, compressed rock formations that are taken directly out of a fantasy world and with the Barents Sea as the nearest neighbor. The rocks in the cliffs are formed by flat deposits of sand and mud along river banks and the seabed about 1000 million years ago. Over time hardened to sandstone, slate, limestone and dolomites. During crustal movements about 500 million years ago, the layers were pressed together, bent and folded, as they appear today. Hamningberg was once a viable fishing village with extensive Pomor trade (trade between Russians and Norwegians). The protected Russian arches from around 1850 can still be seen at the end of the road.

Street art

But today's journey of formation does not end there. In Vardø, two things in particular await us that we have been looking forward to experiencing for a long time. The first is street art, which was created in 2012 on the initiative of the Norwegian artist Pøbel. Maybe we'm a little late? The windy and weather-hardy climate means that parts of it are disappearing, so do not wait too long. Steilneset Minnested does not disappoint, however. It was opened by HM Queen Sonja in 2011 in memory of those convicted of witchcraft in Finnmark. 77 women and 14 men were sentenced to "fire and bonfire" in the 1600th century. The church saw the fire as cleansing and believed that it should cast out evil spirits and other devils. Most of the executions took place on Steilneset, where the memorial site stands today. The name comes from the tradition of hoisting the remains of the executed body onto a pole - and steep - to fear and warning.

Ribbed molt ants

After this strong experience, we have to clear our minds a bit, and make the return trip to the Dome, one of several beautiful birdwatching huts along the tourist road. On Ekkerøy we take a long evening walk over ribbed molt moors around the bird mountain. The crutches have left the island for this year, but at the water's we come across a stranded humpback whale that smells of death and depravity. Apart from that, Ekkerøy is a soulful place on earth. Despite the fact that a considerable number of the women who were convicted of witchcraft and burned at the stake came from here. The day ends with a wood-fired sauna in a small, red-painted house in the yard. And surely the weather gods do not give us a hint of the northern lights when the night darkness descends.

Cultural heritage site

The next day we drive south along the Varangerfjord, Norway's only east-facing fjord. After Vadsø, there is mostly sheltered birch forest outside the car window. We stop at the Sami cultural monument at Mortensnes before continuing towards today's destination: Karasjok and the husky lodge of Sven Engholm. Here we live among two- and four-legged in Sven's self-built log cabins, imaginatively and perfectly furnished by the award-winning dog handler himself. In summer you can join a dog team with wheels out into the woods. In winter, great experiences await on the Finnmarksvidda for people who do not care that it is blowing around their ears. In any case, it is an experience just to walk around this timber kingdom, study the beautiful and well-groomed polar dogs, enjoy Sven's cohabitant Christel's delicious food, hunt blueberries and mushrooms in the forest while we listen to birdsong and look a little anxiously over the shoulder of the manly moose Sven have told about. And luckily there is not a single birch caterpillar larva within a mile!

Across the plateau

After an exceptionally good night's sleep, we take the trip across the plateau, where the autumn colors have just begun to show. Along - but also directly across the highway - small herds of reindeer stroll. A rather exotic experience for a "søring"! Arriving in Alta, we have - literally - saved a treat in the end. Rustic gourmet dinner composed by master chef Johnny Trasti at Trasti & Trine is worth a trip in itself. But it almost has to be a different story.

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