Every now and then, we’re asked to build an itinerary for clients coming into northern Norway, and the travel agent or tour operator tells us, “These are very high end clients and they require 4-star accommodation”, or 4-star meals, or some other kind of 4-star thing.
That’s perfectly ok, because excellence in service and products is important to have. But here in the far north, we’re a little short on Armani suits and white gloves. You’ll find lots of Bergans coats and Ulvang wool socks, and snowmobile suits for sale pretty much everywhere, and lots of people debating whether Ski-Doo or Arctic Cat makes better snowmobiles (leave your own preferences in the comments, I’m not getting in the middle of those discussions).
And you’ll also find some delightful surprises, like a chance to eat a decidedly elegant dinner out in the middle of nowhere at a husky farm, where one of the owners happens to also have his professional kitchen. But we’ll leave the big palaces and tony hotels to the folks down south, thanks.
The aurora borealis – the northern lights – is a very popular topic in the area. After all, Alta is “The City of the Northern Lights”, so it’s no surprise that people would be coming here for a chance to see it in the winter. We get lots of questions every year from people hoping to maximize their chances of seeing the fascinating natural phenomenon.
We are done with nighttime now – the sky last night at midnight was still a glowing twilight – and seeing the aurora is a thing of memory until next September. It might seem a little late to be writing about the northern lights, but the planning for next year’s holiday never stops and we’re already fielding inquiries for next year.
So here is a little story, written out in FAQ form, compiled from conversations that I have now and then with travelers. Hope you get a chuckle.
Q: Hi there! We want to come to Alta because we really want to see the northern lights!
Q: Right! So, what time of year is best?
Well… the problem is that the aurora strength has nothing to do with time of year, and the weather is totally unpredictable. So really, your chances are equal as long as it’s dark enough. Anytime between the end of September and the beginning of April is just fine.
It’s no surprise that Alta is home to awesome beauty. Almost all of Norway is full of mountains, rugged coastlines and natural viewpoints that take your breath away. One of the hidden gems in this area can be found around 25 kilometers to the south of town: Alta Canyon. Carved by the Alta River, Alta Canyon has the distinction of being Northern Europe’s largest. It’s absolutely worth a visit when you come to the area.
The Sami name for the place is Sautso (which means “canyon”, so if you say “Sautso Canyon” you are actually saying “Canyon Canyon”. Just calling it “Sautso” or “Alta Canyon” is probably best). It stretches south along the river for several kilometers, where it is interrupted by a dam at a power station. Inland from there, the canyon does continue for a while but it now serves as part of the dam’s reservoir and is mostly underwater.
As tour destinations go, Alta is very nearly at the top of the world (check us out on Google Maps if you aren’t sure where we are). But air travel makes this distance deceptive. You can get direct flights to Alta from Oslo that take only a couple of hours to fly here. If you are already in Europe, we are actually pretty close if you consider the time required to get here. So hopping on an airplane for a 2-3 day stay is practical and convenient, and if you keep an eye out for airfare bargains, it isn’t even very expensive.
But is it really worth coming up just for a couple of days and a tour or two?
Welcome to North Adventure’s first-ever newsletter delivered by social media! As our new projects and new team members forge ahead, we are making good progress in several areas. This is the first installment of an ongoing month-in-review series. Those wanting to keep up with our company activity can do so in a periodic nutshell.
Winter isn’t just important for Sorrisniva, one of the activity companies here in Alta. In a way, it’s a necessity.
The history of the company is long. Sorrisniva is a family business originally built around fishing in the Alta River for salmon. The river is regarded as one of the premier fly-fishing spots in the world, and it has been on the “must” list for royalty and the well-to-do for centuries. As the years passed and the family generations changed, the company expanded its focus to include other activities in both summer and winter.
Tucked way up along the northernmost coast of Norway, you’ll find the little town of Kjøllefjord. If you’ve ever been to North Cape, you were within a stone’s throw of the place (assuming you are a good Norwegian troll and can throw a stone a REALLY long way) but you probably never knew that. It’s easy to get focused on a primary goal and miss some gems that we pass along the way. It also doesn’t help that the main road goes right to Honningsvåg, while you need to turn and explore a little more in order to get to Kjøllefjord. For those who love maps, here’s a Google Maps version that covers the Finnmark region with the pushpin stuck on the town: https://goo.gl/dgnKIH
Such an out-of-the-way place… is it really worth a visit? Watch the video below and you decide. For me? The film is so awe-inspiring I almost can’t believe it, and I live just a few hours away. To ride out on a snowmobile, the vast sky overhead painted with the twisting aurora, the frozen world so barren and alien it may as well be a ride on one of Saturn’s moons… I wanted to dive into the screen and be there. Right now.
The video is shared here with permission from the travel company that runs excursions there, Arctic Coast AS (and yes, they have a web site and here it is). If you will be traveling along the coast via Hurtigruten, do contact them and arrange something on your stop there! And of course, if you want to visit them and are planning a land-based adventure from Alta, let us know and we’ll be happy to coordinate a visit with them!
But really, watch the video, full-screen. It will leave you breathless.
I was out and about on Saturday – I met up with Tanja from North Adventure and her family at the Bossekop Market (a craft-and-food market with a LONG history that goes back to the old days when Sami and Norwegians would gather twice a year to trade for goods). We stopped inside the Sisa Cultural Center (http://www.sisa.no/wp/), a place that supports the multicultural population here in Alta, and also on occasion serves awesome food with flavors from around the world.
It was a great way to spend part of a day off, and a good excuse to eat cake in the middle of the day (my wife was at work, and I tend to eat things I shouldn’t when I am unsupervised). But as an extra treat, we were paid a visit by Ingunn Lyngstad with Alta Magedans (find them on Facebook here) as part of an exhibition of different kinds of dance and music from around the world.
And as usual, even when there is a belly dancer in the room, I also really enjoy watching the people around me. The reactions to the dancing are fun to see. Happy weekend!
I saw an interesting post in a travel forum today. Travelers coming to a northern Norway port by cruise ship this winter were looking at a dogsledding tour slated to begin in the late afternoon. In February, “late afternoon” in this part of the world really means “2 PM”, so a dogsledding event beginning at five o’clock really is a nighttime tour.
In the post, the traveler asked why a dogsled company would offer a tour that takes place in the dark, and that’s actually a really good question Here’s my opinion on that subject.