Honningsvag & the North Cape

Sailing the North Cape onboard Hurtigruten's Midnatsol. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Sailing the North Cape onboard Hurtigruten’s Midnatsol. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Ferocious, blowing wind greeted Hurtigruten’s Midnatsol this morning as she made her way into the small port of Havoysund, located at 70° 59.6 N, 24° 41.2’ E.

Arrival in cold, dark Havoysund, Norway. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Arrival in cold, dark Havoysund, Norway. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

“Brooding” was an excellent way to describe the atmosphere as we passed a single, lonely lighthouse perched atop a rocky outcrop rising steadily from the dark sea. It would serve as the only real indication that, amongst the beautiful yet desolate scenery around us, the small town of Havoysund was nearby.

Hurtigruten's MIdnatsol docked in Havoysund for a short, 15-minute call this morning. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Hurtigruten’s MIdnatsol docked in Havoysund for a short, 15-minute call this morning. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

A traditional fishing village with just over 1,000 people, access to Havoysund used to be limited strictly to the sea until the completion of the E6 highway that links the town with the Finnmark coast some 82 kilometers away.

One of the first sights greeting visitors coming ashore in Havoysund. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

One of the first sights greeting visitors coming ashore in Havoysund. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Although 1,000 may not sound like a lot of people, it’s a vast improvement over the pre-war population of less than 150. Much of the town was destroyed in 1944 when German General Rendulic ordered troops withdrawn from the area.

With just 15 minutes here, Midnatsol’s whistles rang out across the mountains at the ten minute mark, letting those ashore – including yours truly – that the ship was about to sail. Although it’s starkly beautiful here, if there is a town I would not want to be stranded in, it would be Havoysund.

Havoysund remoteness; oddly appealing, yet strangely frightening. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Havoysund remoteness; oddly appealing, yet strangely frightening. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Lunch was served early today, from 10:30am until 1:30pm in order to accommodate the excursion I was booked on in Honningsvag: a three-hour trip to the famous Nordkapp, or North Cape.

Situated across the 71st parallel, the North Cape rises some 307 meters vertically from the icy expanse of the North Atlantic Ocean. Unfortunately, that also means it remains completely exposed to the elements, which today were not on our side.

Heading toward Honningsvag,Norway as we continue to sail North. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Heading toward Honningsvag,Norway as we continue to sail North. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Just before our 11:45am arrival in Honningsvag – as I was finishing up the last of my very early lunch – our Tour Director came over the public address to deliver some bad news: due to horrible weather conditions at Nordkapp, our excursion would have to be cancelled. The tour operator said winds were blowing at Gale Force 8 and they were concerned about fully-loaded motorcoaches being swept off the road.

Honningsvag, Norway on a brooding day. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Honningsvag, Norway on a brooding day. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

These announcements were made first in Norwegian, then in English, and finally in German. My Norwegian is rusty, but I heard “nordkapp” in a tone that didn’t sound at all positive. The Norwegian couple sitting across from me in the Restaurant Midnatsol confirmed my suspicions when the man slapped his hand down on the table so hard you could hear the glasses rattle.

Guests coming ashore from onboard MIdnatsol in Honningsvag. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Guests coming ashore from onboard MIdnatsol in Honningsvag. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Personally speaking, I’m probably more disappointed about missing the North Cape than I am at having not witnessed the Northern Lights. My dinner table mates have struck gold twice now, having had the misfortune of booking two now-cancelled tours. But I learned long ago not to take a cruise just for one specific place or event, because the one thing that cannot be controlled by anyone is the weather. But everyone seemed to take this in stride, and the Tour Manager said everyone would, of course, be refunded in whatever method they had used to pay.

With the Nordkapp off, I chose to explore Honningsvag instead, under an ominous sky and icy streets.

Much of Kirkenes had to be rebuilt following the razing of the town in 1944 by retreating German forces. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Much of Kirkenes had to be rebuilt following the razing of the town in 1944 by retreating German forces. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

The capital of the North Cape, Honningsvag is home to just over 2,000 full-time inhabitants and is situated at the start of an inlet that provides a modicum of relief from the relentless howling of the wind from the North Atlantic that whips through the town’s higher elevations.

Honningsvag Church, one of the only buildings left standing after 1944. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Honningsvag Church, one of the only buildings left standing after 1944. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

When the Nazis retreated from Honningsvag in 1944, they burned most of the town to the ground. Today, the only recognizable structure that pre-dates the war years is the Honningsvag Church that was constructed in 1884. Otherwise, all buildings in the town were constructed following the end of the war.

Peaceful, quiet - and very slippery! No wonder the townspeople all wear rubber cleats on their shoes. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Peaceful, quiet – and very slippery! No wonder the townspeople all wear rubber cleats on their shoes. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

I found Honningsvag to be quite peaceful, and with three full hours on the ground to explore, there was no need to rush. This was a good thing, since the ice and snow here cover nearly every square inch of ground. Recent warm temperatures today have begun to melt the ice and snow, turning everything into a sloppy, slippery mess.

Atypically warm temperatures turned streets into snow soup. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Atypically warm temperatures turned streets into snow soup. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Even coated with thick, coarse gravel, some roads are downright dangerous for both car and pedestrian.  Even a stroll along the relatively-flat Storgata became quite the challenge to stay upright! For those who are interested in visiting Norway and like to shop, always look for Storgata on a map; that’s where you’ll find the vast majority of shops.

A lone pedestrian walks under increasingly ominous skies. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

A lone pedestrian walks under increasingly ominous skies. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

But the most interesting aspect of Honningsvag was how dark and stormy the skies remained all day, despite cloud cover continually rolling in. The Polar Nights in Honningsvag just concluded last month, and it’s plain to see that Honningsvag in the winter gets this kind of diffused lighting that makes everything look as if it is perpetually dusk outside. Shops, businesses – and even the Midnatsol – keep their lights burning throughout the day.

Hurtigruten meets Honningsvag. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Hurtigruten meets Honningsvag. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

The weather has worsened throughout the day, with high winds mixed with freezing rain and snow. The seas have also increased in their intensity, and whitecaps could be seen during our departure from Honningsvag. Even though it was only 3pm when we pushed away from the pier, it felt hours later due to the fading light.

A passenger onboard Midnatsol takes in the stormy weather from the Paradis Bar on Deck 8. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

A passenger onboard Midnatsol takes in the stormy weather from the Paradis Bar on Deck 8. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

All of this is taking its toll on our friendly Tour Director, who once again had to come across the Public Address as we pushed away from Honningsvag to say that the Snowmobile Excursion in Lapland (6D) had also been cancelled by the tour operators. As I write this in the Panorama Lounge on Deck 8, the wind is so ferocious that it’s making a howling noise as it hits the two-story panes of glass that overlook the bow.

Making our way towards Kirkenes, Norway in the very North Atlantic. At this point, we are farther north than Barrow, Alaska. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Making our way towards Kirkenes, Norway in the very North Atlantic. At this point, we are farther north than Barrow, Alaska. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

To make this bad news a little more bearable, the ship’s crew brought up fresh pastries outside the Paradis Bar, along with hot tea and coffee served free of charge. It was a nice little touch that was appreciated by the passengers, who queued up in a line that stretched around the atrium and back again.

Approaching the "Finn-Church", illuminated at night. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Approaching the “Finn-Church”, illuminated at night. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Then, at 5pm, we sailed past what is known as the “Most Elegant Cliff in Norway”, the Finnkjerka or Finn-Church in English. This illuminated stretch of cliff, featuring multi-colored lights that cycle through different hues, wasn’t conquered until as recently as 1955 and rises almost vertically out of the sea.

Finnkjerka Illuminated. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Finnkjerka Illuminated. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Nearly the whole passenger base aboard Midnatsol came out to see this wondrous sight, made even better by music played over the loudspeakers out on Deck 9. For those of us who will be departing in Kirkenes, it made for a magical last impression. It also took place during a break in the weather that caused us to skip our remaining ports this evening due to the increasing winds, measuring up to Gale Force 9.

Tomorrow, my journey here onboard Hurtigruten’s Midnatsol sadly comes to a close as I disembark in Kirkenes, Norway in the morning. Despite the weather, it’s been a fantastic journey that I would heartily recommend to those looking for a more adventurous cruise to one of Europe’s most beautiful destinations, at a time of year that many would likely not consider, or perhaps even know about.

Still ahead: an icy stay in Kirkenes, Norway - just minutes from the border with Russia. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Still ahead: an icy stay in Kirkenes, Norway – just minutes from the border with Russia. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Even after six days onboard, I’m still not sure how to classify the striking Midnatsol. On her most basic, technical level, she’s probably a ferry. But in reality, she’s far closer to a cruise ship than a ferry. She won’t steal business away from Royal Caribbean any time soon, but that’s not the point – or Hurtigruten’s goal.

Instead, the line’s fleet of 11 ships – plus the gorgeous FRAM that sails on expedition cruises around the world – calls on all 34 of these coastal ports year-round. That’s exciting to me, because it means that Norway is one of the few cruise destinations you can visit and explore in all four seasons.

But you can only do so with Hurtigruten!

The Kirkenes Snow Hotel is made entirely of snow and ice, and changes in design each year. Photo courtesy of Snowhotel Kirkenes.

The Kirkenes Snow Hotel is made entirely of snow and ice, and changes in design each year. Photo courtesy of Snowhotel Kirkenes.

There is still more fun to be had tomorrow, as I take part in a post-cruise package offered by Hurtigruten to the famous Kirkenes Snow Hotel for an icy overnight stay before flying to Oslo for an additional night in Norway!

Now, obviously doing a Live Report tomorrow night would be problematic considering Ice Hotels are notoriously short on electricity and Wi-Fi capabilities, for obvious reasons. Our updates will continue Live from Oslo, Norway on Wednesday where we’ll recap our time in Kirkenes!

Our Live Voyage Report continues Wednesday, as we recount our last morning aboard Hurtigruten’s Midnatsol and our overnight stay in Kirkenes at the Snow Hotel!

 

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