TROMSØ

WINTER IS COMING

Ten days high above the Arctic Circle, watching whales and northern lights.

WINTER IS COMING

Ten days high above the Arctic Circle, watching whales and northern lights.
Theresa exploring Senja Island, Northern Norway.

Whaletrip: TROMSØ

Northern Norway is one of the best places in the world to see northern lights and whales. Ten days of winter whale watching, 350 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle.

350 kilometers north of the arctic circle is just about the latitude of northern Alaska. That’s pretty far up north! This is where you find Tromsø, the „Gate to the Arctic“ and a perfect place for winter whale watching. Thanks to the Gulf Stream it’s only half as cold here with temperatures between -10 to -20°C, though. That’s why Tromsø is the perfect place for any outdoor activities in the Norwegian winter: dog and reindeer sledding, snowmobile tours, ice fishing, snowshoeing, northern lights hunt, whale watching – the whole city is basically one big tour operator.

There is a little harbor at Tromsø, a huge library, the icy white Ishavskatedralen, a statue of Roald Amundsen, the Polar Museum and the gigantic Bridge of Tromsø, which is meant to be so big to let the ships of Hurtigruten squeeze through under it on their way to the North Cape. There is also the Bastard Bar and a record store with every record of Røyksopp, as Røyksopp are from Tromsø. And that is more or less it.

Definitely worth a visit: the Polar Museum. What I learned there: One of the most famous sons of Tromsø is a borderline crazy trapper called Henry Rudi (1889-1970), who spent 27 years in the arctic, allegedly killing 713 (!) polar bears. Thanks to that, he was called Isbjørnkongen, “Polar Bear King”. There are numerous photos of Henry Rudy after his time as a trapper and a member of the Norwegian jet set, as killing ice bears was deemed a pretty cool thing back then.

There is one photo of Rudi riding on the back of a polar bear. Even though I assume the bear was already dead and frozen stiff, Henry Rudy surely was a reference when it came to polar bear business in Europe back then.

I also learned of Erling Kagge, a lawyer from Oslo. In November 1992 he heard the call of the great outdoors and decided to go to the South Pole – alone and without any preparations, covering a distance of 1400 kilometers in 50 days on skis without any contact to anybody and a slightly frozen nose somewhere along the way. Me, I prefer playing table tennis at District League level instead. In my opinion, Erling Kagge is a great guy. This is him:

Northern Norway in December means about four to five hours of daylight per day. At 9am you can see the moon in the sky, at 10 dawn sets in, at 11 it’s bright and at 3pm it gets dusky again to going full dark at 4pm. The sun is only seen a couple of hundreds of kilometers further south. 22nd of December is the darkest day of the year. From then it’s gets a bit brighter every day with five to six hours of daylight in January.

To me, this feels like a really small dawn that lasts for months until the sun is in the sky all day long in summer. I can’t properly describe it and the photos don’t really reflect the mood either, but I have never seen a comparable light anywhere else. This light alone is worth a trip to northern Norway in winter.

Two to three days are plenty to see Tromsø. Then it’s time to move on to one of the surrounding islands. For example to Senja: The second biggest island of Norway is located 50 kilometers south of Tromsø. Getting there takes you about an hour by ferry.

Credit

Bergsbotn on Senja Island, Northern Norway.

First stop: BASECAMP SENJA

Sitting by the fireplace with a group of orcas, humpbacks and fin whales passing by: three days of whale watching on Senja Island.

Whales have been coming to this region for a couple of years now. They follow the Herrings, which move further up north every year, most likely due to the climate change but nobody knows for sure. The fjords here are full of herrings; so full that in still air it sounds like heavy rain or a heavy traffic road. That’s how noisy it is. That’s how much herrings are in the fjord.

Since a couple of years, the whales have been coming every winter. Humpbacks, orcas and sometimes even 25 meter long finbacks. Northern Norway is one of the best places to watch whales in the whole world. At Senja basecamp, Trude Mørkved and Dag Strømhold offer multi day tours: During the days you go whale watching in the fjord in a small Zodiac and in the evenings you go hunting for northern lights on the island by jeep. In between there are talks and Trude cooks some great Norwegian food. The tours are for up to ten people. We hit the jackpot and were the only two guests shortly before Christmas and Trude and Dag were the best hosts you can imagine.

Credit

Whales around Senja Island, recorded with my iPhone. It’s a bit shaky and occasionally out of focus.

We saw whales every day. When we arrived at 5pm it was dark and windless. You could stand on the porch and hear the whales blow. The next morning you could already see them from the breakfast table: Finbacks, humpbacks and orcas; thirty, forty, fifty of them every day, no exaggeration.

Always on the hunt for herrings, sometimes as close as five meters to the boat. In Canada we patiently kept following a couple of orcas or grey whales – here you can sit by the fireplace with a group of orcas passing on the left, two humpback flukes appearing on the right and the high blow of finbacks in the centre. Completely surreal.

The other day, we got company from a professional camera team, who came to the basecamp for an interview with Trude and joined us for a boat tour. I guess their steady cam recordings are a lot better than my iPhone film. They promised to send me their recording and I will post it here as soon as I get it. It will probably have the same whales in it, bigger and more in focus, though.

Orcas around Senja Island, Northern Norway.

Second stop: NORTHERN LIGHTS

Hunting northern lights around Bergsfjord. What we've learned: in reality they look a bit different than on Instagram.

Northern lights: I’m a bit torn about them: Of course they are mystic and look great. They suddenly appear high up in the sky and dance around, slowly and deliberate, grow bigger, stronger, light up, shine – and disappear again. On the other hand, they are also something that looks a lot more impressive on photos or in time lapse recordings than in reality.

You need a good camera with a stand and an exposure time of more than 10 seconds. This is what makes northern lights the neon green light in the sky that has photoshopped its way to Instagram as #auroraborealis. With the naked eye, northern lights are but a green mist at different densities, billowing in the sky.

You can’t really get a good photo with the iPhone, which, of course, didn’t keep me from trying. The results are of, well, humble quality. The first three pictures are Trudes, the second three are my very best attempts:

Fortunately, the camera team was still there in the evening and they of course had all the equipment you need for a proper northern lights shooting. The equipment includes spotlights to illuminate you from all sides for a few seconds so that you can also see something in the foreground and not just the green glow in the back.

Foto: Josias Dein | rotorcinema.no

When we arrived, I asked our basecamp hosts Trude and Dag what their favorite season was? They immediately and without hesitation answered: “Winter! We love winter, It’s the best time!” After only one day there, I agreed.

 

***

MORE INFORMATION

null

NORWAY

Orcas, humpbacks, dogsledding, northern lights: northern Norway is just the perfect spot for a winter trip.

null

GOING NORTH

The plan was to go north and see how far we'd get. A summer whale from trip from southern Norway almost to the North Pole.

null

HUMPBACKS

Humpback whales are gifted singers and tricky hunters. Meet them in the southern seas or in the cold fjords.

null

ORCAS

Orcas are the top predators of the world’s oceans. During the winters in Norway, chances are high to come across them.