I have finished telling the tale of our Arctic expedition. Before we move on, I wanted to share some practical tips about traveling in the region.
First, though, here are the links to all the previous posts, in case you’ve missed some 🙂
En rød dør | Hornøya, cliffside haven | Soil, Varanger edition | Vardø | Vadsø | Varangerfjord | Whatever floats your boat | Advanced course in eiderology | Båtsfjord | On the high road | Clear skies | Here are the birds | Varanger, Day White | Castles in the Air | Prince of the woods
Follow me on Facebook at Samuel Bloch – Eiwar Photography !
I’m not sure how the idea to visit Varanger came to life, but I sure found a lot of material online to feed it and turn it into that trip.
The first one was Simon Colenutt’s trip report on his blog (The Deskbound Birder). I guess the pictures there gave me this irrepressible need to see those wonderful ducks.
Then, after checking out a few other reports on Cloudbirder, I stumbled upon Biotope, a small company based in Vardø, which uses architecture to promote birdwatching tourism in Varanger. Their most visible achievement in the region? Wind shelters in strategic positions, so that birders can take a break away from the harsh Arctic weather. Those are low harmonious wood buildings, and their pure, typically Nordic-design lines fit very well in the scenery. In addition, they have built a website full of invaluable information about birding in Varanger. To support them a bit further, and because I like books, I ordered their guide beforehand, so that we had it at hand during the trip. It’s well worth its price, if you ask me!
Thank you Tormod, for all you do in Varanger and beyond, and also for your answers to my questions 🙂
Marci and I both flew with Norwegian; we met in Oslo, and took the flight to Kirkenes together there. Booked two month before the trip, the return ticket Helsinki-Oslo-Kirkenes cost me 340€, including 50€ of luggage and seat reservation. SAS also flies to Kirkenes from Oslo, at about the same time, but it was more expensive. We also checked Widerøe, the airline that serves all the small places in Norway, but it showed prices around 700€, so we quickly dismissed this option 😉
Both Biotope and Simon Colenutt recommended hotels, in Båtsfjord or Vardø for instance… but when we checked the prices, we decided we would rather search for reasonable prices! After a fruitless try at finding a Couchsurfer host, we mostly settled for AirBnB apartments. Here is the detail:
– Night 1: BIRK Husky, in Melkefoss. A night in a small, cozy cabin, and a morning among the birds attracted by the feeders. A must-do.
– Night 2: Helene’s place in Bjørnevatn (AirBnB). A small but modern apartment, very comfy. Awesome.
– Night 3: Kirsi’s place in Båtsfjord (AirBnB). An apartment inside a house. A bit old, but comfortable, and our host was super kind (and I got to practice my Finnish with her, which was completely unexpected and absolutely delighting).
– Night 4: Bjarne’s place in Vadsø (AirBnB). Again an apartment inside a house, comfortable, with beautiful pictures on the walls, all taken by our host who happened to be a professional photographer.
– Nights 5 and 6: Steinar’s place in Vardø (AirBnB). The room was comfortable, but the rest of the facilities, shared with other rooms, was a bit gloomy and cold. Still, our host quickly came to help when the lights failed in the last evening! We had hoped to stay in Hornøya, in the island’s lighthouse, but it was unfortunately fully occupied by the BBC when we were there.
– Night 7: Varangertunet in Vestre Jakobselv. Marci found this when our AirBnB host cancelled. We had a nice apartment, with a shared kitchen. Freshly renovated, thus quite modern-looking, it was nice and relaxing.
Climate & nature
Apart from one windy day with temperatures around -12°C, it was not very cold (-2°C to +2°C). However, we had a lot of snow in Pasvik, roads were often icy, and the wind blew almost constantly. I was happy to have a pro-driver with me! Around the Spring solstice, we had 12 hours of light each day, from 5 to 17.
We traveled between March 17 and 24, which seemed to be the optimal time for both eiders and alcids, and we had no trouble finding them in harbours and cliffs. However, because of the snow, the rest of the landscape was essentially devoid of any visible life, and we couldn’t wander off the road. Therefore, I think a week of traveling was adequate; in the end, I felt we had seen all there was to see.
Northern light are of course dependent on both nebulosity and solar activity. We saw them on both attempts, even though it was truly mind-blowing for only 5 minutes.
Bird dedicated activities
In Båtsfjord, I entered a hide managed by Arctic Tourist. Their website is not very fancy, but drop them an email and all will be arranged smoothly. For a morning there, it cost me around 110€. This is not cheap, but well worth it, again. If you have the chance, have a chat with Ørjan about his town, it’s enlightening.
To reach Hornøya, you have to take the boat from Vardø harbour. We didn’t have to book it, and could choose when we wanted them to pick us up. More info on their website.
There are more adventures to come, so stay tuned! 😀