Here, the world’s strongest tidal current flows under a bridge and is a must-see, if only for the majestic, stark mountains that loom in the horizon.
Even if the ship never moored, the scenery alone would make the trip worthwhile, with the opportunity to participate—for a nominal fee—in astonishing excursions like cultural tours, dog sledding, snowmobile treks and visits to remote spots. When you combine those adventures with the voyage, even cynical passengers may begin to be convinced that, indeed, this is “The World’s Most Beautiful Sea Voyage.”
One of the most appealing excursions is what’s called a King Crab Safari. Passengers climb on board sleds pulled by snowmobiles to traverse a frozen fjord where guides have cut holes through the ice and set crab traps. The traps are always full of gigantic king crabs, which are taken to a local fisherman’s house where his wife prepares a feast consisting of crabmeat, potato salad and steaming home-baked bread slathered with recently churned butter.
Another popular excursion takes passengers by bus to Nordkapp and the promontory at Knivskjellodden—the roof of Europe, close to 71 degrees in latitude—a point farther north than Alaska’s Point Barrow.
That’s north. And that’s cold.
Knivskjellodden is a frozen wasteland with a small monument marking the continent’s periphery. There’s a museum, cafeteria and gift shop nearby and, no matter how large the crowds, the promontory astounds with its vastness.
One day after leaving Nordkapp in its wake, the ship drops anchor in its last port: Kirkenes, on Norway’s extreme northeast area, about 250 miles above the Arctic Circle. Russia is really visible from here, leaving the door open to wisecracks about being qualified to run for U.S. vice president. The street signs are in Cyrillic and Norwegian and the Russian tri-color flaps from the masts of ice-locked tramp steamers in the bay.
Kirkenes residents love northern superlatives. Here, they will boast, you’ll find the world’s northernmost brewery, the world’s northernmost hotel, the world’s northernmost Italian restaurant, etc. etc.
What is not a superlative is that Kirkenes has never experienced temperatures higher than 55 degrees, the high point in July. March temperatures average a mere 10 degrees. Here, the sun is totally absent from November to January, while summer brings blinding midnight sunlight.
The town is a popular excursion stop for Hurtigruten passengers who have a wide choice of activities around Kirkenes including a glimpse at the fascinating culture of the Samis, the ethnic people who make this frozen land their home and—the most uncommon—a night spent in the Kirkenes Snow Hotel.
After arriving at the igloo-like structure, guests are issued Arctic sleeping bags and instructed on how to make the night as comfortable as possible.
Some passengers may opt to linger in the hotel’s marvelous ice bar, sipping drinks from tumblers made—of course—from ice before retreating to a hotel in town. Those who have booked a roundtrip fare head back to their ship to begin the southbound cruise.
Snow hotel guests will find that the freezing night, although not restful for some, is a good time to reflect on the stark, frozen beauty of the last six days, when Hurtigruten’s winter cruise along the Norway coast never failed to stun.