The island of Uloya has only twelve inhabitants in winter months, but many many friendly moose. As COVID-safe destinations go, this corner of the world is one of them. So isolated, the final part of our journey to reach the Arctic Panorama Guesthouse meant crossing the fjord by rib in the dead of night. Thankfully, a heated cabin saved us from the elements outside, as it was late and the thermometer was now hovering at -15 degrees. With strict instructions to be ready for a day of experience, I made it to bed, zonked by the exhilaration of the journey itself and excited to see the place in daylight.
When I rose, opening my curtains for my panoramic view of the fjord in front, a reindeer strutted past sniffing out their breakfast, unphased by my proximity. Behind him, the fjords majestically stood. Make no mistake, the Lyngen Alps are humbling. This area is widely seen as one of the best summit-to-sea ski destinations in the entire world, and it is not hard to see why. Pulling on some thermal layers, I prepared for the day not in the snow but on the high seas.
“I don’t call it a dark season. I call it a colourful season,” boasted Svein. The time is now 9am and the light is just enough to see the silhouette of the Lyngen Alps across the fjords, decked in their first snowy scrubs. To give him his due, between the mountains the sun was beginning to rise and painting the sky in beams of floral pinks and canary yellows. We had a small window of time to be in the great outdoors before darkness returned, around 3pm.
Svein then announced, with him as captain, that we were going to swim with the whales. I laughed at his commitment to the joke, I knew whales favoured the area, fishing for herring in the winter months. Orca and humpbacks in huge numbers enjoy the sheltered bays and feeding grounds that this corner of Norway offered them, before migrating into deeper waters in early March. Svein continued explaining that currently there were great pods of orca and independent humpbacks in the waters around us. Then the penny dropped – he was not joking, and we really were going to swim with killer whales. Still speechless, I was being thrust a dry suit before I could tell my parents I loved them.
We jetted out onto the high seas back on Svein’s rib worthy of a Norwegian James Bond, complete with beer holders and thermal hood – something I was grateful for as the sun rose and the thermostat did not, sticking smugly at minus five. As we zipped along on our inflatable vessel I felt ludicrously tiny compared to the mountains that shot up all around. We travelled at full throttle down the channel between the island and the mainland. Whilst bombing along Svein told us stories of the fjord; reindeers he had seen swim from one side to the other only to sniff the foliage, immediately lose all appetite and swim home. As he went to launch into another anecdote, something grew from the water and waved – the tail of a humpback whale playing on the surface between deep-sea dining on shoals of herring. For us on the surface, this sighting was only an appetiser.