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A safari-less trip to snowy Norway


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ld1

Before I start I should warn readers we went to the Polar Park to visit some habituated wolves. It’s a very spacious zoo, with only arctic animals, plenty of space and dedicated staff. I did my research beforehand and decided it was something I was comfortable with. It is never the less still a zoo and interacting with habituated wildlife is not something I chose to do lightly. I haven’t posted this report to be contentious or start a debate about zoos and the like, but feel free to do so. I may not join the debate though as I doubt I have enough knowledge on the matters to add anything.

 

We arrived in Tromso on a Sunday afternoon to glorious sunshine, deep snow and the theme tune to “Fortitude” buzzing around my head. We bought a bus ticket from the bus driver and were in Tromso city centre within about 45minutes of landing. We checked into the City Living Hotel which is in an excellent location and our one-bedroom apartment was absolutely perfect for a 5 night stay - I can’t recommend the hotel highly enough really. It’s not full service in terms of bars, restaurants, maid service etc but I found that a bonus as we were not disturbed by staff wanting to clean, we had tons of space, a kitchen to prepare breakfast each day and the staff were very helpful and friendly. For the price it’s a bit of bargain I think.

 

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ld1

That evening we head out with Aurora Tours to chase the Northern Lights. We had a great time, saw the lights fleetingly 3 times (but enough for us to feel we had a decent experience). We drove out to a few spots before settling half way down a mountain looking over a beautiful fjord and landscape beyond. I think it’s really hard to choose a “chaser” and Aurora Tours were good with Antonio and Anna fun, friendly and interesting guides. We had the whole camp-fire, soup, brown-cheese and marshmallow thing going on and everyone had an enjoyable evening. We had great weather but the Aurora was not particularly strong. So the amount of luck involved should not be underestimated. I would gauge Aurora Tour as a good operator. I didn’t get the impression they would be driving out to 4am for us and the plan was always for a 2am finish. That was fine as we didn’t really want a 4am finish either. If you’re main aim of the trip is to chase the lights several nights then I would look to reviews that show the guides chase until the ends of the earth, but equally you should also be prepared to put the work in too and stay the course.

 

 

 

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Atravelynn

Northern Lights until 2 am look great! You have incorporated the landscapes nicely.

 

Looking forward to this different kind of trip.

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ld1

So next on the agenda was Dogsledding with Active Tromso and did think it would be fun, yes, was I prepared to be bowled over by the experience and laugh out loud at how much fun it was, perhaps not! If you crave the feeling of sheer child-like joy that we lose as we become adults. Then go on a participatory dog sledding trip. I still can’t help smiling when I think about it. Our guide Yaric (not how it is spelt I am sure) was very nice, yes he was straight to the point when it came to explaining how to drive the sled but he was also very helpful and patient. He asked if anyone was apprehensive (I stuck my hand up) and he said to travel directly behind him. That turned out to be a great call as you learn quickly how to handle a sled just by watching how an experienced musher uses body weight to control the sled and brakes. This is a participatory trip and we participated in all aspects; including getting to know the dogs beforehand, swapping between driver and passenger during the trip (5 or 6 times we stopped for a few minutes to swap), helping the dogs push the sled up small hills and at the end helping to take the harnesses off and put the dogs back in their houses. It was snowing, but not heavily and the trip was just the best fun ever. We travelled 21 km over 3 hours and I'd say that's about the right length of time for a novice/first timer. It's quite physical, but not so much as to put me off (I am a 48yr old woman who sits at a desk all day).

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ld1

Next it was a Fjord Tour with Karl Ivar which was the only thing we didn’t pre-book before arriving in Tromso. We booked it the day before via the Tourist Office and we headed out with Karl and Mariette the next morning. We were with Mariette in the car with the rest of the group with Karl. We had a super time with Mariette she was so charming and interesting, telling us about the different places, her Sami culture and reindeer herding family. Karl was what I would describe as a tourist’s Norwegian; a tall, slightly grizzly looking straight talking man with a sparkle in his eye that tells you he has seen it all before. We stopped at some beautiful spots including a picture post-card harbour with its cod drying, scare-otter (the same as a scare-crow but with added cuteness) and boats bobbing away in the fjord, plus a snow covered beach which is a first for me.

 

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It was on this day trip that I was struck by how different people’s perceptions are of wildlife. A girl on our trip was asking Karl about the whales and seals in the fjord and he was explaining why the fishermen dislike them as they frighten the fish away. He was explaining that a ban on seal- hunting comes into force in the area soon, alongside the whale ban and how unhappy a lot of people are about it. It was interesting to see how starkly circumstance affects people’s views. We saw two sea otters on the trip but I have no photos because they were fleeting glimpses. The otters are not part of the whole tourist experience in Tromso, merely pesky critters that steal fish. It was an interesting day all round. I am really glad we opted to do the tour as it would be such a shame to not get out and about from Tromso. A Fjord tour is a very accessible way to do that for everyone and Karl and Mariette were a fine choice indeed.

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ld1

So our final activity saw us receiving a wolf kiss and really the whole reason for the trip. We had originally planned to do a long weekend in Narvik to visit the Polar Park. This turned into a 10 night odyssey taking in Stockholm, Tromso and Oslo. Once we had decided we could get to the Polar Park from Tromso (via a bus at stupid o’clock) we decided on the longer trip. Not really wanting to catch a bus at 5am and trudge 3km through the snow to kiss a wolf (although it would have been worth that effort). I set about finding out how else to do the trip. Up pops Guide Gunnar on a google search and so we booked the Polar Park trip with Wolf Kiss direct with Gunnar and we had a fabulous time. Gunnar is funny, professional and has the best tour bus by far that we saw. The trip is expensive as the Wolf kiss is 1500kr before you factor in anything else. The trip down takes about 3 hours through beautiful landscape which we stopped in three times, twice to take a few snaps of the beautiful landscape plus a comfort break at a service station. Gunnar had plenty of stories and facts about the different places we went through before reaching the park for the big moment. Kitted out in snow suits we wandered through the achingly beautiful snow filled valley that the park is located in. We passed the lynx playing in the snow and a bored looking moose before reaching one of the wolf enclosures. It’s a very well organised activity meeting some wolves and it reminded me a bit of the Gorillas where you get all the do’s and don’ts and strict time limit. No gloves, hats inside; if you take your phone and a wolf runs off with it tough luck. You must stand with your arms folded and then kneel on one knee. No sudden movement and no following a wolf. As soon as we were in the enclosure the wolves were over and licking our faces, saying hello and hoping we would do something that signalled yeah let’s play. For obvious reasons you can’t just roll around in the snow with an apex predator, even a tame one. So you have to resist this and let the wolves explore the group. You can stroke them and take photos and they will lick your face off if they take a liking to you, but on the turn of a snout they will be bored and run off. The keepers work hard to get them back over to you, for us it was lemon juice squirted on the ground and you move around the enclosure to tweak their curiosity. We spent an hour with them and it was an astonishing encounter, the highlight being when they began howling as it’s simply amazing.

 

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ld1

After we left the wolves and still buzzing and excited we went up the hill to see the bears which had just woken up that week from hibernation. They looked so sleepy still and although they could get out of their enclosure to an even bigger one they clearly weren’t yet fully awake and were happy digging in the snow for food. I was intrigued as the bears were sharing what seemed to be two or three enclosures with other wolves. We encountered musk-ox, more wolves and again the Lynx with their huge fluffy feet, bouncing through the snow as they chased and played. We headed back to the park HQ for a hearty meal of reindeer soup (a veggie option was also on offer). It's a fabulous, spacious and well run place and I am so glad we went in the winter. The animals looked amazing in the snow, nothing was difficult to see and the park was almost empty of other visitors. I know zoos are not for everyone but I was quite impressed and to be honest I have never seen the likes of big cats and wolves so playful with each other and curious of human in captivity.

 

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We loved Tromso and Norway but I'd suspend value judgements in terms of cost as Norway is simply an expensive place - no activity seems to cost less than £100 per person but they are all worth it. If you want to mush a sled team, hunt the lady aurora, learn what an otter-crow looks like or kiss a wolf then Tromso is pretty hard to beat. It’s a really nice place, manageable in size, views to die for everywhere and a sort of quirkiness about it that you only get from somewhere that seems a little out of place. After all, why have a city at what feels like the end of the earth, but then again why not? It left me with a feeling that it’s the sort of place people run away to. The kind of place you might go if you don’t like where you are or even who you are. I can imagine if you could spend a long-time there you would meet all sorts of interesting people with a story to tell.

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Photo-Kiboko

@Id1

Thank you for showing your pictures from Norway.

There is so much to see and so much to do around Tromsö.

 

The polar light Pictures were taken on the Island Ringvassöya on the road to Komagvik.

The little Island on the picture is Skogöya.

I was on the same spot during daylight, not for polar lights.

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deano

@@ld1 - really enjoyed this report and images. The dog sledding looks and sounds brilliant and worth the trip just for that but you have seen animals way outside of what i think about when i think about wildlife (which in my case is usually restricted to Africa) so thank you for sharing.

 

kind regards

 

deano.

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ld1

@@Photo-Kiboko Thanks for naming the spot for me, it was so beautiful but I'd forgotten the name. My NL photos could be better but we piled out of the van quickly as they suddenly appeared and I was crouched I the roadside without a torch and my camera was at all sorts of odd angles. It was the best show of the night and only a few minutes so no chance to set up properly. Still a magical experience non the less, reminded me a little of when all hell breaks lose on safari and you find yourself scrambling for your camera only to miss the best shot, but you are still left with the best memory.

 

@@deano Europe is indeed blessed with lots of wildlife and my trip to Norway reminded me how lucky we are and how easy it is to forget this.

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elefromoz

@@ld1, it may well be a zoo but those animals are just beautiful, Wolf especially for me, what a gorgeous creature. The Bear with its pale coat and pink nose is intriguing. Great you got the lights, something else I'm sure many of hope to enjoy one day.

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Patty

Nice report on an area I don't often hear about! Isn't driving a dog sled a hoot? I was grinning from ear to ear even when I went head first into a snow bank from cornering too fast :D

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ld1

@@Patty dog sledding was just the best and I agree you really do grin ear to ear. I managed to stay upright, although MrR managed to do a slow motion corner fall which tipped me out of the sled into snow so deep I could barely get up. I would love to do it again.

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ld1

@@elefromoz I think the bear may have albinism. Now you can stay in a lodge inside the wolf enclosure. It's hellishly expensive but I am sure worth every penny for the wolf enthusiast.

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TonyQ

@@ld1

A fascinating report with beautiful photos - those landscapes in the snow are stunning - and the dog-sledding sounds great fun.

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ld1

Thanks @@TonyQ it was beautiful and I'd love to go back again earlier in the winter when the whales are around.

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