OLA’S BIRD SAFARI, GJESVAER, NORWAY
I am posting this on my blog after having posted it 2 months ago on Facebook. There is only a little new information but I have added a number of pictures. I do like to keep my longer ramblings in one place, which is this blog.
“As I start this I am sitting here on a wharf dock in Gjesvaer, Norway at about 71 degrees, 5 min, North latitude. It is Saturday July 23 about 2pm. I am writing this because many people’s experience at NordKapp, Norway, the highest point in Europe and close to 330 miles above the Arctic Circle have been somewhat marginal weather wise. I have been thinking of how much others would have enjoyed what we are fortunate enough to be experiencing so I will try and describe it. Maybe if you’ve been disappointed you will come back and luck out as we have.
How we got here:
While we were on the Hurtigruten Ferry boat on our 5 day trip from Bergen to Skjervoy, Margo’s cousin Carolyn, who lives near us in Bend, mentioned that the cabin book on the excursions had some interesting stuff.
So I was looking at it and noticed that at Honnigsvag, the town near NordKapp, there was this thing called a “Bird Safari at the Stappan Nature Reserve/Bird Sanctuary.” Since we had seen Puffins on the RIB boat trip in Boda I thought, “well that might be nice” to do in addition to going to Nordkapp. We were planning a 5 day road trip after we finished visiting Anne Marie
and the rest of Margo and Carolyn’s 14+ cousins in Storslett, Nordreisa (which is itself at 69.46 degrees North – 215 miles above the Arctic Circle).
So the first evening in Nordreisa a cousin named Lars Eric, who is a well traveled guy, a dentist who lives in the Loftoten Island metropolis of Finnesnes, asked “what are you going to do at Nordkapp”. And I said, well we’re going to go to the cape itself and then we might do a “bird safari” – Lars Eric immediately pumped his hand in the air two times and said “YES!!!”.
Turns out he and his wife had just come back from there and said it was way cool. He immediately grabbed his phone and called “Ola” (pronouced OOla) and reserved us some rooms. He told us we’d be staying in a particularly nice style of accommodation and one which is uniquely Norwegian – in a ”rorbu” in a small fishing village. A “rorbu” is a small fishing shack which sits up on a fishing pier; in amongst the boats; almost always painted bright red.
We set out 5 days later with a rent-a-car and drove through the mountains, fjords, and tundra, stopping in Alta and Hammerfest. In Alta we had a great lunch with cousin Kolbjorn and Barb, then a tour of the 6,000 year old petroglyphs. This UNESCO World Heritage Site has amazing images of the hunter gatherer life style over the millennia. Kolbjorn used to play on the rocks as a child, before they had been discovered.
On Friday Juli 22 we pulled into this tiny spot on a map called Gjesvaer – a fishing village that sits on a peninsula about equidistant as Nord Cape in latitude and to the immediate west of the actual, most northerly mainland tip Knivskjellodden. ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gjesvær )
What is here:
It is Saturday. I am sitting outside on the wooden wharf of “Ola’s Bird Safari” in a kitchen chair with my feet up on one of the several pine picnic tables. Ola said I could bring the chair out of the little cabin since we decided to stay here all day and not drive up to the tourist center at Nordkapp. The wharf’s main function is to serve the 80 foot passenger ferry that Ola bought and brought up here from southern Sweden to carry visitors out on safari.
The wharf sticks out into the sea about 30 yards and runs 50 yards along the shore. The sun has been shining brightly since Thursday afternoon when we left Alta. It is 16+ degrees Celsius which is about 60 I guess. The rorbu fishing cabin is actually one of 4 common wall units built along the wharf.
We have the west end which is the center of activity for Ola’s business of running 2 hour boat excursions out to the massive rock islands on the horizon. Ola’s wife tells us she will fix us breakfast in the morning if we’d like.
Our picnic table sits in the direct sun about 20 hours a day! In the night time the sun is above the horizon but the cabins block its rays as it has sunken to only a few degrees above and is behind the cabins. We are surrounded by the calls of several types of gulls that continuously fly by, the lapping of gentle waves on the pilings below us, and the smell of the 58 dried cod that hang next to us on the ancient drying rack. Ola calls them “tourist cod”.
In front of our picnic table are three layers of water stretching off to the Northwest. The water has been smooth as glass, there seems to be no current – it is as if we are in a Canadian lake . There are small islets that separate the three inlets. We look out on only a small portion of the open ocean through them; perhaps 2 degrees of horizon. The islets are flat like pancake batter dripped onto a skillet, bottoms like rulers. Around the inlets there are dozens of smallish rocks from the size of small swimming pool to as large as a tennis court There are no trees; the islands large and small are covered with boulders, grass, and moss.
We are unbelievably lucky to have this great weather. After hearing from so many how bad the weather normally is at NorthCape, the supposed northern most point in mainline Europe, we are here having clear, warm sun 24 hours a day. As we pulled into our cabin and safari complex on Friday at 4:30pm ( http://www.birdsafari.com) evening the sky and ocean are the brightest blue imaginable. Our 2 bedroom + kitchen and LR rorbu is serviceable with clean new pine floors and think down comforters. We open the windows as there are few mosquitos around then sit and relax on the dock, soaking in the warm sun, admiring the view. We sat here all day today except for taking two 90 minute bird safari’s. We are reading, journal writing, eating, napping, drawing, and chatting with the other tourists who pile out of their tour buses every few hours to go on Ola’s boat ride through the bird sanctuary. This happens every couple of hours until between 0900 and about 0200. The midnight safari is quite popular. Every once in a while Margo and Carolyn have a cold Mack Pilsner. There is no ice cream here.
The Bird Sanctuary:
Beyond the three ranks of small islets are four enormous, large rock islands. It is the fabulous nature preserve and bird sanctuary called the “Gjesvaer Stappan Nature Reserve” and is primarily built around these enormous rock islands sticking up about 1000 feet – named Storstappen, Stauren, Bukkstappen, and Kjerkestappen. Beyond is nothing unless you clip the east corner of Svalbard Island – otherwise continue on to the North Pole. ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gjesværstappan )
Friday evening, after our arrival, we walk 200 yards down the coast to the Stappan Cafe for dinner of fish soup, fresh crab legs, and Bacalao. As we sit we see the sign promoting their sea safari’s…I ask the waitress “can we go on an evening safari?” She proceeds to call the skipper and owner who is on the water and replies in the affirmative. “Why not?” We all say, “sign us up!” So that is how we met Roald Berg
and his small four person boat the “Aurora”. By eight Friday evening we are moving smartly over the calm sea, in the unending arctic glow, and into the mass of islands and rocks that is Stappan. We begin our first of what will be 3 trips into the Reserve in 24 hours. Magic light bathes us continually and keeps the air a warm 60-65 F. http://www.stappan.com shows Roald with some of his fresh crab.
The sanctuary is famous for its Puffins and Sea Eagles**. There are about 3 Million birds which are here in the summer nesting in and about the 4 large rocks. Of these 1.5 Million are Puffins. Like at Cannon Beach but a few million more. The Puffin are everywhere but never closer than 20 feet from the boat. They are floating in large rafts on the water, swarming like bees off the crests and faces of the enormous walls, and nesting in the grass that climbs up the flatter slopes.
As we approach in the boat most paddle energetically to take off into the air, but many dive furiously under the water. When a Puffins takes off from the water he flaps his wings into the surface for 10 or 12 flaps then sticks his yellow webbed feet out behind him like Superman’s’ cape and the skims across the pond like surface for 50 yards until he begins to climb. There are piles of them swimming and taking off in all directions.
Above, as you lean back and gaze, is a seemingly random and furious swirl of tens of thousands of Puffins along with every other sea bird you can image: Alk’s, Gannets, Guillemots, assortments of Oyster catchers, Petral’s, Arctic Terns. Several types of gulls from Kittiwaks to Great Black-backed. On rock ridges sit hundreds and hundreds of Shags and Comorants – all with their foot long necks and heads pointed together in a single direction. On Saturday afternoon with Ola in the big boat and about 40 tourists from all over Europe, we watched a crow fight 3 Sea Eagles. He seemed to have dropped his catch but the eagles still kept after him; they disappeared behind a rock cliff and the crow never emerged.
Around one set of small rocks is a pack of 30 to 50 harbor seals whose heads pop up to greet Roald.
There is a recovering herd of snow-white bodied Gannets arrayed in lines up the northwest ridge of the largest island Storstappan. Our guide Roald Berg saw the first nesting pair in about 1981 – they have grown to over 1500 nesting pairs. They are graceful flyers and beautiful with long light golden necks. They can live for about 30 years. We have never seen them before.
Eagles are the second biggest draw to Stappan. There are about 150 to 200 nesting here. There have beautiful white tail feathers as they reach adulthood at about 5 years. They soar, soar, soar above the massive rock then dive in a fast glide down to the sea on their 2.5 meter wingspan. Saturday evening with Roald on the “Aurora” Margo and I counted 25 in one view frame..he said “What? I counted 70!”
…. you oughta COME HERE!!
So we have definitely lucked out. We’ve gone once on Ola’s big one and twice on Roald’s small 4 person one. We had about 48 hours of clear, warm sun with nary even a breeze.
We think the wind stopped at Alta’s Petroglyph Museum when Cousin Carolyn sacrificed her 45 year old precious Sami silver neck charm to the weather gods. Thank you Carolyn.
The weather is certainly uncertain up here as many know. As I was writing last night in the midnight sun a fog bank that Ola was watching moved in and we have not seen the sun since. It is now Sunday morning and we will drive to Karasjok, the Sami capital. I hope we will break out of this mist by Honningsvag because there are a hell of a lot of reindeer wandering among the highway. Everyone should come here and have a great sail on the Hurtigruten and we wish you luck out in Gjesvaer as did we.
We are actually:
…at 71.05.53 latitude which is about 5 miles south of the famous “NordKapp – Northcape” 71.10.21. Of course the highest point is actually Knivskjellodden which is at 71 degrees 11 minutes and 8 seconds so we are saying “we went to NorthCape the highest point” anyway even though we are 3 miles as the crow flies from Knivskjellodden when we go to the islands of the Reserve to watch the birds…
….By the way, if you left our picnic table and headed out through the clear channel directly to the North Pole and continued on down the opposite longitude of about 155 degrees West you’d land pretty much exactly at Point Barrow – the northernmost point in the USA. **GEOGRAPHY!! 🙂
** How far north latitude is…?? (degrees.minutes.second) :
each degree =~ 69 miles; each minute =~ 1.15 miles
Arctic Circle 66.33.46
Gjesvaer village 71.05.53
Point Barrow, Alaska 71.23.20 (about 20 miles farther north than Gjesvaer)
** Taxonomy of The Bird Sanctuary
Puffins (Fratercula artica)
White-tailed Sea Eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla)
Gannets (Morus bassanus)
Alk (Razorbill) (Alca Torda)”