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June 11, 2018

Norway: To the top of the world


Len Rutledge heads about as far North as you can go.

Norway is a big country. Oslo, the capital is in the south. Alta, where we are heading is over 1700 kilometres to the north. Fortunately, there is a direct flight. At the airport, we rent a car and head out to explore an area that is radically different to anything in Australia.

Alta

People have lived here for more than 10,000 years. The major site of interest is the Alta Museum. There is an excellent indoor exhibition explaining the local rock art and giving a broader introduction to Finnmark's prehistory. The exhibition also teaches us that in the Sámi (Laplander) religion, nature was regarded as possessing a soul and being alive.

Alta Museum is linked by a boardwalk to a UNESCO World Heritage Rock Carving site where there is a series of carvings from up to 7,000 years ago. These are extensive and took an hour to enjoy. Approximately 3,000 figures have been found here making it one of the largest collections in Europe.

The modern Northern Lights Cathedral is both a church and a northern lights attraction. The nearby central square is traffic-free and good for a short wander. There are tours to the 300-metre-deep Sautso-Alta Canyon, and to mountain bike paths near the Alta River.

Experience the Sámi culture

The bleak country south and east of Alta is the home of the indigenous Nordic people, Sámi reindeer-herders. Frankly, it is only the Sámi culture that is of great interest here and this can be depressingly difficult to see in the middle of summer when many Sámi have moved to the coastal pastures. The best time to visit is during the Easter festival when there are concerts, church services, and traditional sports.

Kautokeino is a permanent town and the principal winter camp of the Sámi people but it is a somewhat desolate place strung out along the highway. A couple of kilometres south of town is Juhis Silver Gallery, an amazing attraction with a workshop and a wonderful display area. In the centre of a major city, this would be a sensation, here in the wilderness it is mind-blowing. The items being produced here are mainly sold in the exclusive boutiques of Europe and North America.

Karasjok is the capital of the Sámi and is more organized than Kautokeino. It is only 18 km from the Finnish border and here we find the Sámi parliament and several museums and attractions. The Sami Artists Centre is an art gallery devoted to Sami painters. Don't miss it.

Hammerfest

We travel further north through the treeless and barren landscape to Hammerfest on the shore of rugged Kvaloya Island. This is the world's northern-most substantial town and amazingly, it was the first place in Europe with electric street lighting.

The town was totally leveled during World War II and the interesting Reconstruction Museum details the dramatic events including the forced evacuation of the population, the town burning to the ground, and the subsequent reconstruction.

You don't have to go far to see roaming reindeer herds. We encountered one at the entrance to a substantial tunnel on the main road not far from town. If boating is your thing, there are trips to several little fishing villages along the rugged coast.

North Cape

North Cape/Nordkapp is touted as the most northern point of continental Europe. Near North Cape, there are several alternatives. Skarsvag, the nearest fishing village, has boat trips, fishing, bird-watching, and whale safaris. Cycle and kayak rental are also available. In the same area, the Church Gate rock formation offers excellent views of North Cape, the Horn, and the midnight sun.

North Cape has been a visitor attraction for several hundred years. You can only enter this area after paying a fairly hefty fee but we found it worthwhile. Outside you can see the King Oscar Monument which was built in 1873 to mark the outermost limit of the Norway-Sweden union. The Globe monument erected in 1977 has become the symbol of the North Cape and is a popular photographic spot.

North Cape Hall is a large tourist center with a host of facilities including a film on a wrap-around screen about the four seasons. The Tunnel has exhibitions about the North Cape's long history as a tourist destination and this leads to St Johannes Chapel which is the world's northernmost ecumenical chapel.

Nearby is a Thailand Museum because this spot was visited by King Chulalongkorn more than 100 years ago. Finally, we reach the Cave of Light which is a new attraction providing a journey through the seasons by way of sound and light.

It is still 530 kilometres to Kirkenes near the border with Russia. This was bombed more often than any place in Europe except Malta during World War II. This area is so remote from Oslo that Finland and Russia have had more influence on the area than Norway at various times. You see this in the church architecture and even in some of the language.

www.LenRutledge.com
Len is the author of Experience Norway 2018 available as an ebook or paperback from http://www.amazon.com/dp/B078GL6T29

Words: Len Rutledge  Images: Phensri Rutledge

Feature supplied by: www.wtfmedia.com.au

1.     Alta Rock Art
2.     Juhis Siver Gallery at Kautokeiro
3.     North Cape Globe Monument
4.     Sami Turf House at Karasjock
5.     Wandering reindeer by road tunnel Hammerfest


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