Trip to the Arctic Circle in Scandinavia during the Covid-19 Pandemic – Part 6 – North of Finland, Sami people’s parliament, Hammerfest and the journey down to the Island of Senja

The previous blog covers the trip from the Lofoten and Vesteralen Archipelago’s up to the Barents Sea to Europe’s most northerly mainland peninsula and the most northerly mainland lighthouse in the world which is at the same latitude as the Northern tip of Alaska.

Day 44: 19 August 2020 – The previous blog covers the morning of day 44 and details the Nordkinn peninsula (part 5 of the trip). From Nordkinn we returned back to Ifjord and headed eastwards on county road Fv98 until we reached the river Tana at Rustefjelbma where the road then headed southwards following the river to Tana Bru. At Tana Bru the Fv98 meets European route E6. Here we picked up the E6 and headed south-westwards following the river Karasjohka, which forms the border with Finland. Just outside the Sami village of Levanjok we parked for an overnight stop.

Near Lebesby, Troms og Finnmark, Norway - ...behind every picture, there is a story...
Near Lebesby, Troms og Finnmark, Norway
Sami people herding Reindeer alongside the Fv98 east of Ifjord, Troms og Finnmark, Norway
Fellesjorda, route 98 east of Ifjord, Troms og Finnmark, Norway - ...behind every picture, there is a story...
Fellesjorda, route 98 east of Ifjord, Troms og Finnmark, Norway
River Karasjohka, border between Finland (lapland on left) and Norway (Troms og Finnmark) on right - ...behind every picture, there is a story...
River Karasjohka, border between Finland (lapland on left) and Norway (Troms og Finnmark) on right
River Leavvajohka, near Levanjok, Troms og Finnmark, Norway. The hill in distance is Finland (Laplan)
Stream that feeds into the River Leavvajohka, near Levanjok, Troms og Finnmark, Norway.

That evening we walked on the east side of the river Leavvajohka, near Levanjok. During ths walk we came across the skeleton of a reindeer, which enabled us to obtain a pair of reindeer antlers. To transport these antlers, we wrapped them in several plastic bags, which we then taped up. On the return to the UK, Duncan worked in turning them into a wall mounted hat stand. These go well with the red deer antlers Duncan found in Scotland.

Hat stands: Red deer antlers (left) and Reindeer antlers (right)

The map below illustrates the route taken on day 44:

Day 44 Route

Day 45: 20 August 2020 – Travelled south-westwards on the north bank of the river Karasjohka until we reached the village of Karasjohka (also called Karasjok). In total over the last two days, we had travelled circa 130km alongside the northern border of Finland. Within the village of Karasjohka is the Sami People’s Parliament building, which in the Sami language is named the Samediggi or Sametinget .

Karasjok village is located both sides of the river  Karasjohka and is 12 kilometres west of the border with Finland. Other than the modern Sami Parliament building there is a tourist information, cultural / contemporary centre (closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic) plus a few shops, garage and airport. In 2017 the population was 1844 people with circa 90% of them being Sami with the majority using Sami as their first language – the area is officially bilingual. Nomadic reindeer herders have lived here for hundreds of years, and the traditional lifestyle is still very much alive.

Snow mobile crossing at at village of Karasjok, Troms og Finnmark, Norway

During World War II a prisoner of war camp was built in Karasjok by the German’s which was run by the SS. In July 1943 there were 374 prisoners including mostly Yugoslavian POWs plus political prisoners who were made to work widening the road to Finland. After just a few months there were only 111 prisoners still alive. It is recorded that as the prisoners were being moved out of Karasjok , 45 were executed.

From Karasjok we continued in along the E6 in a north-west direction to back to Lakselv. The journey on the E6 from Tanu Bru through to Lakselv is circa 255 km in length and is continuous forest. The photographs below give an indication as to the vastness of this.

Finding a suitable place to park overnight proved difficult and it was not until early evening that we came across the first suitable location. This was at the south-westerly most point of the island of Kvaloya which was much further than we had intended; however, the car park we had found included picnic tables and a toilet. Kvaloya is sometimes referred to as ‘whale island’.

The map below shows the route taken on day 45 and illustrates where the photographs have been taken:

Day 45 Route

The map below illustrates the key places visited on both day 44 and day 45 and the geographical relationship to both Finland and Russia. It is understandable why in World War II the Germans deemed Norway to be of such strategic importance and why during the Cold War, Norway enforced national service.

Places visited on day 44 and day 45, with the geographical relationship between Norway, Finland and Russia

Day 46: 21 August 2020 – A very early morning walk up the nearby hill named Kargenesfjellet provided nice views off the west coast of Kvaloya.

Kvaloya Island, Troms og Finnmark, Norway - ...behind every picture, there is a story...
Kvaloya Island, Troms og Finnmark, Norway
Kvaloya Island, Troms og Finnmark, Norway

Afterwards made our way up the western side of Kvaloya to Hammerfest where we crossed over to the eastern coast of the island to the village of Forsol which is the most northerly village on Kvaloya and is 8km from Hammerfest. Forsol is a fishing village with circa 200 residents and has a fish factory, with reindeer wandering freely in and around the village.

Forsol, Island of Kvaloya, Troms og Finnmark, Norway
Reindeer, Forsol, Island of Kvaloya, Troms og Finnmark, Norway - ...behind every picture, there is a story...
Reindeer, Forsol, Island of Kvaloya, Troms og Finnmark, Norway

A short walk from the village centre there is a site where there were Sami grass huts. These have been dated back to 1640. Whilst on the walk we sighted a White Tailed Eagle being harassed by a Parasitic Jaeger

Sami Settlement dated 1640 inlcuding turf hut, Forsol, Island of Kvaloya, Troms og Finnmark, Norway

From Forsol we returned back to the colourful and vibrant city of Hammerfest, the most northerly city in the world.

Just before dropping down into Hammerfest we reached the airport, which was opened in 1974 and has an 880m long runway that sits above the city at an altitude of 70m across a step on the hillside of Storfjellet (328m).

Hammerfest Airport, Island of Kvaloya, Troms og Finnmark, Norway
The city of Hammerfest with the Airport sited above, Island of Kvaloya, Troms og Finnmark, Norway

We decided due to the Covid-19 pandemic to remain as isolated as possible and hence elected not to wander around Hammerfest, but instead drove slowly around the city.

Reindeer are protected on the island and wander freely around Hammerfest taking little notice of either people or vehicles.

Hammerfest was chartered in 1789, was attacked by the British in 1809, razed by a hurricane in 1856, destroyed by fire in 1890, yet the worst was to occur in February 1945 when the German army retreated from the advancing Russian army, they implemented a scorched earth policy leaving in Hammerfest only the graveyard chapel standing. The article available here, describes the horror of the German retreat in Finnmark where 70,000 people were left homeless. Circa 45,000 people were evacuated from Finnmark by the German’s; however, despite threats of death some 25,000 people throughout Finnmark avoided evacuation by hiding in caves and mountain huts during the winter of 1944–45.

Hammerfest, Island of Kvaloya, Troms og Finnmark, Norway - ...behind every picture, there is a story...
Hammerfest, Island of Kvaloya, Troms og Finnmark, Norway
From Hammerfest, Island of Kvaloya, Troms og Finnmark, Norway - ...behind every picture, there is a story...
From Hammerfest, Island of Kvaloya, Troms og Finnmark, Norway

At the south end of Kvaloya we discovered that the Stallogargo tunnel was closed for maintenance, so we were diverted on the old single track road that clings to the cliffs and runs along the coast circa 50m above the Kvalsundet which is a strait separating Kvaloya from the mainland.  From this road we saw porpoises fishing in the Sound of Kval.

Porpoise in Kval Sound, connecting island of Kvaloya and Kvalsund, Troms og Finnmark, Norway - ...behind every picture, there is a story...
Porpoise in Kval Sound, connecting island of Kvaloya and Kvalsund, Troms og Finnmark, Norway
Porpoise in Kval Sound, connecting island of Kvaloya and Kvalsund, Troms og Finnmark, Norway - ...behind every picture, there is a story...

On further reading about Sound of Kval, we were informed that reindeer herds swim across the sound near the bridge as they migrate between their summer and winter pastures, on Sennalandet.

From Kvaloya we started our journey towards the island of Senja, which meant backtracking southwards along European Route to just beyond E6.

Just north of Alta we stopped in a large carparking area to brew a coffee in the motorhome. Whilst on our coffee break we noted a family pull up in a pickup truck and load a hand trolley with supplies (including drinking water in a plastic container) before heading off on foot to a hut the other side of the river. Access to the hut was by foot only. This answered one of the questions we had been asking ourselves – how people get supplies to their remote premises. The other question is with regard to wc’s – most toilets we have encountered in the Arctic circle have been understandably dry composting toilets, since water would freeze in the winter months. Hence, we noted standalone sheds several meters away from the main residence. Not somewhere you would want to visit on a cold freezing winter’s night!

Just off the E6 north of Alta

We returned back to Alta on the E6 which skirts through the attractive and modern town, with the roadway tree lined, with pavements the other side well away from the road.

Alta, Troms og Finnmark, Norway - ...behind every picture, there is a story...
Alta, Troms og Finnmark, Norway
Alta, Troms og Finnmark, Norway
Altafjord from near Alta, Troms og Finnmark, Norway

Whilst travelling southwards on the E6 alongside Langfjorden we stopped for the evening at a parking place that we called in on our trip northwards.

Langfjorden, Troms og Finnmark, Norway

The map below shows the route taken on day 46 and illustrates where the photographs have been taken:

Day 46 Route

Day 47: 22 August 2020 – Whilst having breakfast we could see reindeer playing havoc with traffic on the E6 as they ignored vehicles and trotted obviously down the central white line.

The day was spent travelling in a south-western direction using European Route E6, which is the same rroad used during the northwards journey. The E6 is the main north-south highway and at this latitude in Norway, is the only route south without entering Sweden, which due to Covid-19 quarantine restrictions for re-entry into Norway was not an option.

After leaving Langfjorden we crossed over to Alteidet, a small coastal village at the head of Lille Altafjord, which is a an eastbound arm of the Kvænangen fjord.

Lille Altafjorden which opens out into Kvaenangen Fjord, Troms og Finnmark, Norway

A little further southwards the E6 also skirts alongside Burfjord and Badderfjord which are also both branches off Kvænangen fjord.

As the E6 leaves Badderfjord, the road starts to ascend as it climbs up Kvaenangsfjellet where the summit of the road is at an altitude of 401m. Three quarters the way up we stopped for lunch at an off-road parking place. Here we discovered 3 abandoned Sami grass huts or gamme, which in bygone days used in the summer when herding reindeer.

Former Sami Hut, Kvaenangsfjellet, Troms og Finnmark, Norway - ...behind every picture, there is a story...
Former Sami Hut, Kvaenangsfjellet, Troms og Finnmark, Norway
Former Sami Hut, Kvaenangsfjellet, Troms og Finnmark, Norway - ...behind every picture, there is a story...

Due to damage from moth invasion, the shrubs were as we saw before, very stunted and devoid of leaves.

Shrub damage on Kvaenangsfjellet, Troms og Finnmark, Norway

There was a parking area nearing the summit of Kvaenangsfjellet which provided an excellent view of Kvænangen fjord and the island of Skorpa. Skorpa was used as a prisoner of war camp during World War II. Around 1980 the last residents on the island left, leaving it uninhabited.

Island of Skorpa and Kvaenangen Fjord, Troms og Finnmark, Norway
Information Board about Skorpa Prisoner of War Camp
European Route E6 Summit of Kvaenangsfjellet, Troms og Finnmark, Norway

It was a long descent down Kvaenangsfjellet, after which we headed southwards to Lyngen Fjord, where we were presented with clearer views of the Lyngen Alps compared to when we travelled northwards on day 41 of the trip; however, they were still not ideal for ‘picture postcard photography’.

Lyngen Fjord and the Lyngen Alps, Troms og Finnmark, Norway

We found parking for the evening alongside Lyngen Fjord adjacent to the Alps; however, rain quickly came in eliminating any possibility for good photographs.

The map below shows the route taken on day 47 and illustrates where the photographs have been taken:

Day 47 Route

Day 48: 23 August 2020 – Awoke to a dry day but with a patchy cloud covering which gave the mountains of the Lyngen Alps a mystical appearance.

Lyngen Fjord and Lyngen Alps, Troms og Finnmark, Norway - ...behind every picture, there is a story...
Lyngen Fjord and Lyngen Alps, Troms og Finnmark, Norway

We headed southwards on the E6 to the head of Lyngen Fjord, before cutting across to Nordkjosbotn which is at the head of Balsfjorden. At Nordkjosbotn, the road splits with a turn-off to Tromso which heads in a north-northwest direction on the European Route E8 . We however, stayed on the E6 and headed in a south-westerly direction, until we reached the Buktamoen junction where county road Fv855 takes you 30km to the Island of Senja. This junction is circa 1km after Olsborg and has a couple of fuel stations where we found one to be much cheaper than the other.

View across Balsfjorden to the Lyngen Alps, Troms og Finnmark, Norway

We arrived at Finnsnes at around mid-day having travelled 140km since our morning departure. Finnsnes is a small town that is the administrative centre of Senja Municipality in Troms og Finnmark county, Norway. The town is located on the mainland part of Norway, just across the Gisundet strait from the island of Senja. The Gisund Bridge connects Finnsnes to the villages of Silsand on the island of Senja.

The next blog will detail the trip around the island of Senja, which is reported to be much quieter than the Lofoten archipelago and is supposedly a photographer’s dream.

The map below shows the route taken under this blog on day 48 and illustrates where the photographs have been taken:

Day 48 Route

Further blogs will follow after the island of Senja covering the journey back south down through Norway using as many central / easterly roads as possible including the blood road near Rognan, the UNESECO world heritage mining town of Roros and the Rondane National Park. After which the journey back to the UK through Sweden, Denmark and Germany.

Note: Photographs included in this blog are available for download without the watermark from the IMAGE CATALOGUE. These are high resolution suitable for wall prints and magazines. If any used in the blog are not in the catalogue, it is because they have not met the quality criteria; however, they can be made available on request. If you have enjoyed this blog and wish to contribute, please feel free to purchase pictures. You can also subscribe for an email to be sent to you when further blogs are published – this can be done at the bottom of the blog page.

The map below is a summary of the route taken over the four and a half days, as detailed in this blog. It covers the journey along the northern border of Finland to Karosjohka then onto Hammerfest and then the journey southwards to the island of Senja.