Diary of a Guidebook Writer: A journey to the top of the world

Photo: David Nikel There are no trees on Magerøya, but the island still offers spectacular views.

Photo: David Nikel
There are no trees on Magerøya, but the island still offers spectacular views.

David Nikel
Trondheim, Norway

After my brief stay in the heatwave at Hammerfest, I made my way north to the island of Magerøya to find out whether the Nordkapp (North Cape) is worthy of including as a highlight in Moon Norway.

As I quickly discovered, northern Norway demands you take your time. Distances are vast, and with limited places to refuel both your cars and your bodies, taking a slow approach to travel is just common sense. This means that if you’re heading to the North Cape, a stop in the village of Honningsvåg is highly recommended.

An unexpected highlight
Every day of the summer season, a local youth group put on two performances of Our Northernmost Life, a 45-minute play about what it’s like to live in this remote part of the world. It’s hard to find such initiatives in Oslo yet alone a place as small as Honningsvåg, so I urge everyone to stop by and support the group. Tickets are not cheap at a shade over $20, but this is a truly unique insight into life in northern Norway.

After the show, grab a coffee from the in-house café and head downstairs to the Once Upon a Dream gallery. Run by an American expat, the gallery showcases and sells art created, among other things, from items discovered on the beaches of northern Norway, from shells to sandals!

Photo: David Nikel The Once Upon a Dream gallery in Honningsvåg showcases objects found on nearby beaches.

Photo: David Nikel
The Once Upon a Dream gallery in Honningsvåg showcases objects found on nearby beaches.

Magerøya accommodations
Places to stay on Magerøya island are limited to a couple of high standard hotels, budget cabins, and campsites. Cabins offer the best combination of comfort and value with a typical cabin sleeping three available from $60 per night, with shared bathroom and kitchen facilities.

I stayed quite a way north of Honningsvåg, just a nine-mile drive from the North Cape in the world’s northernmost fishing village, Skarsvåg. I chose a simple cabin at Kirkeporten Camping, named after an intriguing rock formation a short hike over the hill. As it turned out, this was also an excellent spot to check out the midnight sun.

Everyone staying here is on their way to the North Cape, but the village is also the starting point for an excellent three-hour fishing trip into the plentiful Barents Sea, costing around $75 per person. Availability is limited, so book in advance with the campsite.

The top of the world
I visited the North Cape twice, once in the afternoon and once at midnight. It can get exceptionally busy around midnight with an incredible amount of visitors bussed in from cruise ships. Thick fog can roll in across the cape in literally seconds, so even a weather forecast is no real indication of what visibility will be like when you intend to visit. As a ticket is valid for 24 hours, it’s a wise move to plan a couple of visits.

Photo: David Nikel The North Cape can get very busy around midnight with cruise passengers, but the lure of the photo op might be irresistible.

Photo: David Nikel
The North Cape can get very busy around midnight with cruise passengers, but the lure of the photo op might be irresistible.

The hefty 260 kroner fee (plus 40 kroner per passenger) to park is justified in part by being able to return later in the day, and also by Nordkapphallen, a modern visitor center housing a restaurant, café, museum, chapel, and most important of all for a remote area, clean public restrooms. There’s also what must be one of Norway’s biggest gift shops with some genuinely special gifts available among the tat you’d expect.

Of course, the North Cape isn’t actually mainland Europe’s northernmost point. A glance to your left reveals Knivskjellodden peninsula, around one mile further north, which can only be reached by a five-mile hike. This is a popular alternative option for those not keen on the tourist trap of Nordkapp itself, although you should expect high winds, rapidly changing weather, and a steep climb at one point.

But is it worth it? This really is a decision for you. I went with a healthy dose of skepticism and that was only partly dissipated.

If your sole purpose of visiting Finnmark is a desire to see the midnight sun, then stay elsewhere, hike or drive to the top of a hill, and enjoy a picnic in the peace and quiet. On the other hand, the chance to get a selfie with the North Cape’s iconic globe sculpture and the midnight sun behind you is a strong draw for the social media ravens among us.

Like the Atlantic Road or Å at the end of the Lofoten Islands, Norwegian road trips are about the journey rather than the final destination. At the North Cape, I happened to see a mother and her young son who I’d briefly met at a reindeer farm in Alta a few days before. Their slower approach to traveling around Finnmark mirrored mine, and it’s one I’d heartily recommend to readers.

One final warning
A word of warning to those traveling outside the summer months: the roads in this part of Norway can only be accessed via a controlled convoy that runs only a few times per day, weather permitting. With its exposed location and lack of trees, the entire island of Magerøya is a windy, snowy, icy hazard in the winter months. Think very carefully before booking an independent winter trip!

David Nikel is a freelance writer based in Norway. He runs the popular www.lifeinnorway.net blog and is the author of the upcoming MOON Norway guidebook.

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 9, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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