Kneeling on snow wearing a boiler suit, with arms folded, eyes closed and camera carefully stowed I could feel rather than see the pack of giant wolves circling.
One approached, I could feel warm breath on my face, then the tickle of a tongue. I was being welcomed to the pack with a full on wolf snog. I was in love.
Planning my trip to North Norway, I assumed the glittering green lightshow of the Aurora Borealis would be the key event, but though most of us will be drawn upwards for it, the Northern Lights are far from a guarantee.
And when I spent some time in Norway’s northern cities Narvik and Tromso, I realised I could happily leave without catching a glimpse. (Which, as it turned out, was a good job!)
The place: Inside the Arctic Circle, Northern Norway is an other-wordly palce of snow-covered mountains, brilliant icy blue fjords, glittering sunsets and Miyazaki landscapes. Every time I opened my eyes I wanted to take a photo. Every photo I took I wanted to Instagram.
The vibe: Nature-loving, active and winter-weather practical. Think thermals, snow boots, pink cheeks, and acres of glittering, untouched snow inviting you to dive in.
The brag: Driving my snowmobile up to visit the reindeers #northnorway
The Instagram shot:
Animals: Dog sledding, puppy cuddling, reindeer feeding, wolf kissing
If you’re an animal lover you’re in luck. North Norweigans are too it seems, and with the mix of working animals such as husky dogs and reindeers, and wild animals such as wolves, bears and arctic foxes, you can spend a lot of a trip cuddling your way round – yes, even the wolves.
The Wolfkiss experience was one of my absolute favourites of the trip. If I can touch/cuddle or pick up an animal I will, so the promise of being able to pet a real life wolf was hugely exciting, if a little scary.
We headed to Polar Park, where they have packs of wolves who are used to human contact (though you can never really tame a wolf). They have huge areas to roam around but they like the attention, so they come to greet visiting guests.
The kiss aspect of the greeting, is less a peck, more a big slobber. To welcome you to the pack the wolf will lick your face, with the intention of getting you to open your mouth so he can clean your teeth (you don’t have to let him of course). We were well briefed by two very calm trainers, and told what to do if we got uncomfortable with the wolf attention. The key is simply to stand up and put your arms across your chest to stop them jumping up to you.
I didn’t need to use this tactic though. If anything I wanted more slobbering. But the trainers were very on it when it came to people who got a bit overwhelmed by the attention.
Snow sports. Using Narvik as a jumping off point, the best place to start is its breathtaking train ride that really gives you a taste of the awesome beauty of the fjordian countryside.
The scenery is beyond stunning – genuinely magical. Even through the window of a speeding train it’s impossible to take a bad photo.
With strict rules on the use of snowmobiles in Norway, we hopped across the boarder to take advantage of the Swedes’ more relaxed rules, taking a few out on a spin across a frozen lake.
It’s so much fun, and whenever you stop you’re surrounded by silence and untouched snow that’s impossible not to jump right into.
The mobiles take a little getting used to but we were soon zooming across the frozen straits like total pros.
Back in Narvik, there’s a gondola to take you up into the mountains where you can snow shoe, ski or toboggan down the mountain side, taking in the clear fresh views of the fjord below and mountains rising on either side.
Winter sports are obviously massive in the area and local Norwegians make a point of heading out into ‘the nature’ on good weather days.
We snow-shooed and tobogganed all the way down the mountain, which was hugely entertaining for all of us, particularly when we decided to forgo both shoe and toboggan for our bums, sliding down long stretches like giggling little children.
History and culture:
I’ll be honest and admit I knew very little of the wartime history of North Norway. Narvik’s history museum is packed with information and artefacts and a new, modern complex is planned for next year which will be more than worth a visit. German U-boat battles, concentration camp stories and occupation make for a fascinating trip back in time.
Another area of total ignorance of mine is the Sami people of Northern Scandinavia. Spreading out over north Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Russia. Sidelined for decades, since the 1970s, the Sami have been encouraged and aided to stick to their traditional lands and farming techniques by Government intervention – and there’s a real feeling of support and celebration of their lifestyle and history emerging.
A visit with a local Sami family is a must.
The Northern Lights: Literally. We missed them. It was one of the rare nights when it’s too cloudy over the entire north of Norway and no matter the efforts of our Northern Lights Safari masters we didn’t see the tiniest flash.
It’s something you have to accept – nature’s nature and with weather as changeable and unpredictable as our own, there’s not always anything you can do. Try to plan a few trips out for lights-viewing throughout your holiday so you don’t do what we did and leave all your eggs in one basket on the very last night.
The cost. With its high wages and excellent welfare system, Norway is expensive, but with the pound stronger than it’s been in recent years now is a great time to go. Taxes on alcohol make it pricey, but with so much to get up for, it won’t be your main concern. Though if you do happen to wake up with a hangover, may I recommend a spot of husky dog sledding as the ultimate cure?
It’s not a cheap holiday, but it will be an unforgettable experience, and that’s the sort of thing I’d spend my money on any day.
Fly: Norwegian flies to Narvik via Oslo and direct from London Gatwick to Tromsø during the Winter season. From £44.90 to Norway, one way.
- Polar Park Meet the wolves and arctic foxes. Park entrance from £9, wolf visit £125 (over 18s and over 160cm only)
- Marvel at the views from the Ofoten Railway, £4 per person
- Visit the Boat Museum in Gratangen, near Narvik
- Snowshoe guided tour with Tromsø Outdoor, £50 per person
- Chase the Northern Lights with Tromsø Safari, £80 per person (£38 for under 12s) or combine the search with an evening of Sami culture, traditional dinner, sleigh riding and lasso practise, near Narvik, £110 per person
- Feed the reindeers and master your snow mobile skills with the Sami near Tromsø with the Arctic Guide Service