Slightly belatedly, I’m going to take you though the last days of our adventure in two instalments.
There’s something of a controversy over the North Cape (Nordkapp), which in truly Norwegian style, is unfolding gradually. Scandic, who owns many hotels in Norway, invested heavily in a visitor centre right up on the cape where they have sub-leased the land from the municipality. It boasts a wide-screen video system, an underground tunnel with exhibitions about Nordkapp’s history, a coffee shop, conference facilities and a restaurant that seats two hundred and fifty people.
However, rather than charging people to go into the centre itself, for many years Scandic had set fees for the car park outside that were widely considered to be unreasonably high. Presumably this was more lucrative than taking payment only from those who wanted to go in and see the exhibition. Had it been a 50-100kr charge for a car ( a little under £5-10 or a little over 5-10 US$) with an additional fee for going into the centre, I should imagine it would have gone unremarked, but it seems that for a long time, the so-called parking charge also covered entry to the visitor centre and started at a much more painful 260kr (back in 2017) for the car and driver, plus a 40kr charge for each additional passenger.
This caused a divide in the local community. On the one hand, the centre created a great many jobs for local people. On the other, charging excessively to stay outside and look at the scenery comes into conflict with the Norwegian “friluftsloven,” which is the state law that guarantees public access to public lands, which Norwegians justifiably value very highly.
It was only in July this year that a complicated court case ruled that Scandic could for now, no longer charge parking fees for those visiting the cape. The downside for us is that they are now charging 260kr per adult to go in the centre. I discussed this with Anna and Andrew on the day we arrived in Honningsvåg. The centre sounded good to me and I half felt that having come all this way, it would be exciting to have the full experience, so though the price was steep, had they both wanted to go, we would have done. But somewhat to my surprise, they both felt quite strongly that Scandic had behaved in a way that was against what Norway stand for. Both of them said that they would be happy to visit the cape without going into the centre.
I proposed an evening visit, once the centre was closed. I wasn’t sure whether there would still be pressure to buy tickets on arrival, so though the sun would be below the horizon, we decided to go around ten in the evening.
It was a beautiful drive, though the road is precipitous in places. I was glad it was dry and though the temperature on the tops was a chilly 3°C there was no chance of ice. We stopped to admire the sunset as we approached the cape itself.
I was amazed, as we arrived at Nordkapp, to see how many camper vans were parked there. Other travel sites had warned that there might be crowds, but the days of the midnight sun were past for this year and I had wondered whether it might be quiet, but the vans were lined up along the edges of the car park, taking advantage of the wonderful views of the sea and coastline to the east.
There’s something of an irony over the battles for Nordkapp. The view above shows the Knivskjellodden peninsular. If you look carefully at the map, it stretches a little further north than Nordkapp itself. Nordkapp is where the road ends, whereas to get to Knivskjellodden you have to hike 5km. We had considered it, but as I was the only one who’d brought my walking boots, we had decided against it. Still, the globe monument at Nordkapp was a great photo opportunity and it really did feel very much like the end of a journey to look out over the Barents Sea to the northern horizon.
On the drive to and from Honningvåg to the cape, we had noticed a few side roads and we decided that the next day, we would explore them. And so after a pleasant meal under the striking artwork in the Arctic Hotel breakfast room, we set out to explore.
We drove north west out of Honningsvåg until we came to a junction just after a huge bend in the road. The first thing we noticed as we descended the steep road down to Kamøyvær was the massed seagulls on the cliffside and along the roof of a building above an inlet where there was a fish farm.
The village itself was like something out of a fairy tale. A row of brightly painted boats lay in the quiet waters of the harbour and colourful wooden houses were scattered around the bay.
As I stood taking photos, Anna quietly nudged me. From behind the building in the photo, a herd of reindeer were emerging. They carried on getting closer and closer and I thought they would peel off up the hill, but to my amazement, they carried on coming towards us, right into the centre of the village and, to my delight, cantered right past. One or two of them stopped to graze in the space between the houses.
We watched them wander off and then feeling cheerful, climbed back in the car to drive on to the next side road. This time, we turned left off the main E69, heading towards the more distant Gjesvær on the western side of Magerøya. It was a longer road and took us over rather barren moorland, where we stopped to let Triar out for a bit of a wander. I’m not sure whether it was the freshness of the air he was enjoying, or if it was the scent of distant reindeer on the wind, but he seemed to be very cheerful.
Anna lifted him up, and I took a photo of them together against the wonderful blue and green backdrop.
Feeling happy to have taken such a pleasing shot, I thought it would be nice to get a picture of Andrew, so I asked him to take Anna’s place and this is what I got.
Fortunately, as Triar has been taught from his earliest days that being held up in odd positions usually means food, he was unfazed.
We carried on, down past rocky outcrops and ruffled lakes and came out on a plateau that looked out over Gjesvær and the islands beyond. Sadly we had no food. Who wouldn’t want to have a picnic here?
One thing we noticed as we headed down each of the side roads was that there was a barrier at each end which can be closed in winter when the snows come. Though it looks benign in the August sunshine, the island must be a very different place in winter.
We had coffee and ice creams at the little bird sanctuary building in Gjesvær, and then drove on to our third and final destination, Skarsvåg. There we found another picturesque harbour and, somewhat to our surprise, a small factory, behind which was piled huge bags of sea salt, presumably all ready to be shipped off to wherever they are processed and sold.
And so, our whistle-stop tour of the island complete, we set off back to Honningsvåg and the hotel, where Andrew stayed in and Anna and I went off on a visit to the little museum that stood on the dockside. But that will have to wait until tomorrow.