This is Part 3 of our North Cape to Gibraltar series, click here to check out Part 1: Stockholm and Central Sweden and Part 2: Kustvägen to Finland, a succession of impossibly stunning fishing villages. Today is the big day: the road to North Cape – Nordkapp in Norwegian, roughly 600km from our Finnish pitstop, Ylläsjärvi. We cross into Norway as Finland has no access to the sea northbound. I had imagined a spectacular end-of-the-world location, but not only is it absolutely breath-taking, the journey to reach North Cape is actually the most spectacular part of the trip…
Road to Nordkapp. Map from Google Maps.
Our first milestone is the Norwegian border, and to reach it we need to cross through some of the most isolated parts of Finland for close to 200km, skirting the Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park for almost the entirety of this stretch of the itinerary. It’s the first time we travel through Finland in daylight which gives me an opportunity to confirm that the most popular new cars in this part of the country are consistent with the 2016 sales charts. Even though we are a whopping 1.000 km from the capital Helsinki, the Skoda Octavia – almost exclusively as station wagon – Nissan Qashqai, Opel Astra (already a few new generation) and Toyota Auris – also as station wagon, are the most frequent nameplates I encountered in and around the border-town of Muonio.
But for once I have to admit it’s not the cars that fascinated me the most in Finland. A mere few km after leaving Ylläsjärvi and as a potent signal that we’ve entered into their territory (see map above), a full herd of about twenty reindeers find itself peacefully grazing by the side of the road, crossing nonchalantly to explore greener pastures. Not in the least disturbed by whirling ballet of cars slowing, stopping and u-turning to capture the moment. Most of them have grey fur but a few a sparkling white. Little did I know that this ritual would now become par for the course.
We now cross the border into Norway to enter a region confusingly called Finnmark – a mix of Finland and Denmark located in northern Norway. Still with us? First is the Finnmarksvidda Plateau, a stark expanse of land sparsely populated with Sámi people. My first encounter with this native people of the area was at a at roadside petrol station/restaurant in Muonio, an elderly woman wearing a full and bright red outfit. I may have stared a bit, but it was from sheer surprise, admiration and awe. Much more on the Sámi people in a next iteration of this Series.
Thanks to Jan our correspondent in Norway we can share with you exclusive sales data for this region of the world. In the Alta district, the first section we crossed, the best-seller is the Skoda Octavia. Even though the Octavia only ranks 8th overall in Norway, this isn’t that illogical given the district’s proximity to Finland where the Octavia leads. We have a surprise in 2nd place though: the Peugeot 208, up from #57 in Norway. Another smashing success here is the new Mercedes GLC at #5 and #2 SUV below the VW Tiguan. The Skoda Superb (#7) and Kia Sportage (#9) also over-perform.
Alta district – 1/1-18/9/16:
Source: OFV. Norway data is 1/1-30/9/16
The Hammerfest district is the northernmost in Norway, and the 2016 sales charts up to the time I visited are even more of a surprise: it’s a Mercedes festival here, with the German luxury carmaker placing no less than five nameplates inside the Top 7. Granted, the market is small (152 sales YTD) but it’s still a stunning achievement nonetheless. The Mercedes CLA holds 11.2% market share thanks to 17 units finding a buyer – and we will assume the majority of these sales are for the Shooting Brake station wagon variant given the particular taste for this format in Scandinavia. The Toyota RAV4 and VW Golf complete the podium.
Hammerfest district – 1/1-18/9/16:
|4||Mercedes A Class||9||5.9%||513||0.4%||65||58|
|6||Mercedes B Class||8||5.3%||1,652||1.4%||15||20|
|7||Mercedes E Class||6||3.9%||601||0.5%||52||63|
Source: OFV. Norway data is 1/1-30/9/16
355 km north of Ylläsjärvi we hit the Barents Seat in Alta. Then, a further 120km northeast we arrive at Olderfjord for the start of one of the most spectacular roads I’ve ever had the chance to travel on. The E60 kisses the east coast of the peninsula that leads to Nordkapp (pictured above). Peppering the voyage are only a handful of fishing settlements too small to be called villages with only four to five houses at most. It’s drizzling, the sky is grey and menacing. The drama goes crescendo as I drive Björn on the 130km leading to Nordkapp. I stop many times. To grasp the silence, hear the wind and smell the rain. It’s the end of the world.
Just as I thought this couldn’t get any more spectacular, the 7km-long North Cape tunnel makes the journey that much more mysterious, enabling Björn and I to cross the Magerøysundet strait between the Norwegian mainland and the island of Magerøya where Nordkapp is located. After a couple more tunnels on the flank of the cliff we’ve been hugging for over 100 km, we arrive at Honnigsvåg which is the only village on the island. A few more hills as we elevate our position to roughly 300m above see level and finally, around a bend, I suddenly come face to face with Nordkapp just as the sun blazes the sky pink. I can’t avoid a big loud gasp, as it looks almost too beautiful to be true. I quickly park the car at a viewpoint to snap a few photos including the one atop this article. Then, as if in a fairy land far, far away from common sense and lives, three curious reindeers quietly and softly come close to the car, all the while continuing to graze. Nordkapp is a magical land.
Nordkapp sunset, and Björn stretching its wheels on the Magerøya island leading to Nordkapp.
While I had Nordkapp in my field of vision, it is another 20 km to actually hit the North Cape, where there is only a visitor centre that was closed when I arrived. There is an earth globe to mark the spot and a steep cliff coupled with strong winds and chill factor all combined to make this visit a rather haunting one. The sun finally set under the clouds below us and all was back to darkness, like a dream had sailed off. This cliff is located at, 2.102 kilometres south of the North Pole. But there’s a catch: although North Cape is often referred to as the northernmost point of Europe, this title actually belongs to neighbouring Knivskjellodden point, just to the west, which extends 1.457 metres further to the north but is only accessible by foot. There’s more: given both of these points are situated on the Magerøya island, the northernmost point of mainland Europe is actually Cape Nordkinn, 5.7 km south. According to Wikipedia, the northernmost point of Europe including islands is several hundred miles further north, either in Russia’s Franz Josef Land or Norway’s Svalbard archipelago, depending on whether Franz Josef Land is considered to be in Europe or in Asia.
Spectacular scenery on the Magerøya island near Nordkapp. Click on picture to enlarge.
Returning to Honnigsvåg for the night, I was welcomed by a full hundred people-strong marching band all smiles in the town’s main (and only) street. Yes, today is a day to celebrate as we’ve reached one of the two extreme points of the European saga. But it’s far from the end. Tomorrow we are headed to the Russian border… Stay tuned!
More photos below.