Our Managing Director is getting a bit long in the tooth and, after years of travelling the world in search of what Douglas Adams described in The Hitch-Hikers’ Guide to the Galaxy as “excitement, and adventure, and really wild things!”, it takes something pretty special to get him really buzzing. However, buzzing is what he was doing when he returned from a recent trip to Norway where he did indeed find some “really wild things” and, in doing so, fulfilled a lifetime ambition at the same time.
This three-night trip would meet all of Douglas Adams’s criteria and more because you might just feel compelled to add such words as “wonder” and “bucket list”. Suffice to say our MD is really, really buzzing about this one which includes; a RIB (rubber inflatable boat) trip around the most northerly archipelago in the world, Northern Lights hunting by RIB (this is a first as far as we are aware and gets you far from any light pollution) and the chance to not only see but also if you choose to add it in meet the wolves at the excellent Polar Park in Bardu.
Places are limited as are departures so do not miss out! This is a holiday that will genuinely make you the envy of your friends but don’t worry about that because by the time you return home, you’ll have some new wolfish friends to replace them!
Anybody aged 18 years and over with a sense of adventure and a calm nerve!
“When I was a teenager I read a wonderful book called “Never Cry Wolf” by a Canadian scientist called Farley Mowat.
Not quite knowing what to do with him, the Canadian government sent Mowat into the wilds of the Canadian Tundra ostensibly to study the impact of wolves on the caribou population. Hunters and trappers had long complained that the wolves were responsible for rapidly declining caribou numbers and Mowat spent two years studying and analysing the relationship between the wolf and the caribou. His conclusion was that the wolves kept the caribou herds healthy by only killing the weak or the ill and that it was the hunters who were responsible, often indiscriminately, for the death of the fitter beasts.
There is some speculation these days that the book was a work of fiction, Mowat’s tool for highlighting what he perceived as the plight of the wolf. To be honest, I don’t really care because it left me with a lifelong fascination with the mystical and grossly misrepresented animal that is the wolf.
Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that one day I would kneel in the snow and be licked by a wolf but that is exactly what happened at the Polar Park in Bardu. It was both an honour and a privilege and I will take the memory with me until my dying day. Utterly wonderful!
Day 1 – Flights, arrival, transfers and welcome
It is extremely rare to find direct flights from the UK to somewhere as remote as Arctic Norway. Normally, it would take three planes to reach Evenes/Narvik Airport but our partners in Norway have taken the bold decision to provide direct flights from Gatwick to Evenes/Narvik on six dates this winter. This means that it is just a few hours from the madness of London to the mind-boggling beautiful landscapes, fjords and islands of coastal Norway. The descent into Evenes/Narvik Airport has got to be one of the most beautiful in the world, flying as it does over fjords and lakes. Best of all though are the views of the islands in the distance which appear like the kind of jagged mountain ranges a child would draw at infant school.
On arrival at the airport, there is a good chance that your luggage will be waiting for you on the carousel (there’s not a lot of air traffic here!) and you’ll be directed onto the waiting transfer vehicle for the scenic 45km drive along the fjord-hugging road to Harstad.
You’ll have time to settle in to your room before dragging yourself away from the window with its views across the harbour and meeting your guide for dinner.
Day 2 – Exploring the Most Northerly Archipelago in the World and Arctic Dinner
Those islands out in the North Atlantic look beautiful from a distance but now’s the time to get a closer look. The Norwegian Coast is much warmer than other parts of Northern Scandinavia thanks to the influence of the Gulf Stream but on a RIB (rubber inflatable boat) you will need protection against the wind chill. So, you will be kitted out with all the gear you could possibly need before a thorough safety briefing.
Once in the RIB, your pilot will take you at a slow pace out of the harbour and head for the Arctic Archipelago where you’ll witness some remarkable scenery and spectacular wildlife. You are almost certain to see Sea Eagles here and there is a good chance also that there will be whales in the vicinity. If so, your guides will know about it and will make a beeline for the most likely spots.
The most likely route (it is sometimes weather dependent) will find you disembarking for lunch in a remote (but very pleasantly appointed) cabin at Sundsvollsundet on the small island of Bjarkøy. Put the names into Google Maps……it’s bonkers!!!
After lunch, you’ll return by RIB to Harstad watching out all the time for more signs of the region’s astonishing bird and sea life.
Back at the hotel you may well feel that warm-cheeked glow and rather pleasant fresh-air induced tiredness that is often associated with a day on the ski slopes so you’ll very likely be glad for a spot of “downtime”.
The location for dinner tonight is exceptional. You’ll be driven from the hotel to Rokenes Gard, a local farm which has been run by the same family for ten generations.
Your locally sourced three course dinner (the food is lovely – our boss said so and he’s a real food snob) will be served in the main building which has stood here since the 1700’s. During the meal, your host will regale you with tales of his family’s history and provide an insight into bygone times here in Arctic Norway (our boss is not really a history buff but he said the whole experience was captivating).
Day 3 – Very Probably the Best Day Ever! Polar Park and Northern Lights RIB Safari
The day starts gently with a transfer from Harstad to the Polar Park at Bardu. The journey takes around 90 minutes but the time absolutely flies by as you pass through some spellbinding fjord and mountain scenery – remember Gatwick just two days ago? Well, here is the antidote!
On arrival at the Polar Park you will meet one of the expert rangers who will provide some information about the animals and especially the wolves. Entering the wolf’s enclosure during your tour of the park is entirely optional (supplements applicable) but even the most reluctant visitor has been unable to resist in the past so please listen very closely to the ranger’s words of safety wisdom. Do exactly what he says when you enter the enclosure and you will experience one of the most inspiring events of your life.
The park provides spacious accommodation for a wide array of Arctic wildlife and amongst others, you are likely to encounter lynx, wolverines (vicious creatures and you are very definitely not allowed in their enclosure), moose, musk ox, deer and reindeer. Unfortunately, the brown bears will most likely be hibernating but the absolute highlight of the day has to be the wolves.
If you do wish to enter the wolve's enclosure you are not compelled to do anything but if you have ever wanted to do something that you will never, ever forget, summon up your courage, listen to your expert guide and follow him or her into the enclosure.
If you do choose to take part then kneeling down, you and your fellow travellers will form a circle and the guide, cupping his hands to his mouth, will issue that long plaintiff, almost mournful “aahoooooo” that would send shivers down the spines of early explorers and hunters alike. This call to the wild echoes around the surrounding hills and suddenly out of the woods appears one, two or three magnificent and handsome lupine beasts.
Sit perfectly still and they will sniff you (reading the news) and lick your face. Again, it is entirely optional but you can even open your mouth and let a wolf put its tongue in (they are far more hygienic and carry far less bacteria than humans). Like humans, this is a sign of acceptance and friendship but, it has to be said, in an entirely unsexual manner!
Your encounter with wolves will leave you with much to contemplate on the way back to Harstad and you could be forgiven for thinking that it represented quite enough excitement for one day. Wrong!
This evening, you’ll be back on the RIB boats and heading away from any shore-based light pollution in search of the Northern Lights. We’ve racked our brains over the last few years trying to come up with new and innovative ways to hunt down the Aurora Borealis and while in Norway it occurred to us that RIB boats might just provide the solution.
What could be more exhilarating than heading out into the pitch black Arctic Archipelago in search of Mother Nature’s greatest wonder? Aurora chasers are constantly seeking out places where there is minimal light pollution and here, in what is a Northern Lights hotspot lies the answer.
RIB boating at night is a completely different proposition. As with many modes of transport, you seem to travel faster at night but please enjoy the trip because you are in the very safest of hands. You may very well return to the remote cabin at Sundsvollsundet (again, this may depend on local weather conditions) for a spot of dinner. The cabin’s huge windows are perfect for monitoring the Arctic skies so keep an eye out for those magical lights while you are enjoying your food. If they do appear then your guides will turn off the cabin lights leaving you surrounded by the perfect darkness that allows you to best enjoy the show.
You may well return to the hotel at a pretty late hour but we will allow plenty of time in the morning for some additional rest and breakfast.
Day 4 – Trondenes Historical Centre and return flights
After the incredible events yesterday you might be forgiven for thinking that a trip to an historical centre is a bit tame. However, the amazing thing about this part of the world is that despite its remote location so far north of the Arctic Circle, it has witnessed some remarkably turbulent times.
The emphasis here is on the Vikings and what a hardy bunch of souls they were. Imagine taking on the North Atlantic and the North Sea! Both are inhospitable bodies of water at the best of times so to cross them in hand built wooden longboats is surely testimony to a remarkably brave and fearless race.
The area has been occupied since Stone Age times - how those hardy souls would have loved central heating – and the centre provides historical exhibitions dedicated to The Stone Age, the Vikings, Medieval times and the huge role it played during the German occupation of World War II.
The historical centre and the events of the last few days will certainly give you much to ponder as you join the return transfer to Evenes Airport and your direct flights back to Gatwick and a very, very different world.