Tuesday, April 10, 2007

North Cape, the end of the world

What it makes North Cape very special is that standing there you feel like being at the end of the world. In front of you there is nothing else but the immensity of the sea and the North Pole. I know that feeling because I worked in North Cape for a couple of summers.

The 307 meters high steep cliff of North Cape is really impressive, you can get an idea from the photo below. I took it after taking off from the small airport of Honningsvåg, the main village in Magerøya island, where North Cape is located.

North Cape cliff

The building you see is Nordkapphallen that includes several touristic attractions, some of them built under the ground in order to reduce the impact in the landscape. In the bars of Nordkapphallen you can join the old tradition of celebrating the arrival to North Cape with a glass of champagne.

North Cape is often referred as the northernmost point of Europe, however the neighbouring cape of Knivskjellodden is actually further north. Moreover, both of these points are situated on Magerøya island, which means the northernmost point of mainland Europe is in fact Cape Nordkinn

Don't come to North Cape only for watching the midnight sun and taking the typical photo that most of the organized tours offer. The risk of bad weather is too high for a short visit. I recommend you to stay at least a couple of days in Magerøya. You are very lucky if you see the midnight sun in North Cape, however in the rest of the island the weather is much better than in the cape. Very often the sun shines in Magerøya, while North Cape is completely covered by the fog at the same time.

Magerøya is such a unique place. There is not a single tree in the island, but the landscape is wonderful. You can visit Kirkeporten, a natural arch near the village of Skarsvåg. Through Kirkeporten you can see Nordkapphornet (the horn of North Cape). The fishing villages of Kamoyvaer and Gjesvaer are also very special places. If you are extremely lucky you will see one of the most spectacular sights from North Cape, the carpet of low clouds over the sea.

In summer there are 24 hours of light in Magerøya. I don't know why, but I always expected the midnight sun light to be different than the normal day one, but as you can see in this photo taken at 02:00 a.m., night and day are completely indistinguishable. Basically, the sun turns around your head the whole day. Sure, you know that is normal in that latitude, but the strange feeling of needing sunglasses at 01.00 a.m. is unavoidable. Sometimes you end asking yourself, is it 5 o'clock a.m or p.m.?

Sleeping problems are very common for newcomers. Despite of being tired you never feel like really sleeping. Better don't complain to locals about the excess of light, they are very happy after 24 hours of dark polar night in winter. "Sleep in winter" is their typical answer for your laments.

The most special thing with the midnight sun are the special colors of the sky. Because the sun describes a very low trajectory for many hours, it is somehow like a very long sunset.

A couple of facts about Magerøya to finish this post. A subsea tunnel was built from 1993 to 1999 to accommodate the large amounts of tourists visiting the island. The North Cape Tunnel, which is 6.87 km long and reaches a depth of 212 meters below sea level, was for a time one of the longest and of the deepest subsea tunnels in the world. In spring reindeers swim from the mainland to Magerøya to enjoy the summer pastures. Reindeer are good swimmers, but in spring are helped by military boats to cross the waters. In late fall reindeers swim back to mainland unassisted.