Tromso is the gateway to the Arctic in Norway. This is a historic city with a young soul. Tromso is packed with colourful heritage buildings intermingled with contemporary glass structures. Here are some things to see in Tromso.
Polaria is an Arctic aquarium worth visiting as it is a showcase of Arctic animals such as bearded seals. The glass tunnel is quite an experience, especially when bearded seals float past.
The bearded seal (Erignathus barbatus) is an arctic species with a grey-brown body and long whiskers. To distinguish it from other seals look for a deeply set lower jaw and square front flippers.
This seal is the largest northern phocid seal, where an adult specimen can be as long as two metres and weigh as much as 250kg.
The seal pool is not a large area and if you’re visiting during high season (especially when there’s a cruise ship is in town), it’s probably going to be crowded.
Despite the crowd, it’s still worth seeing. You’ll soon realise how intelligent these seals are. With a little inducement of fish treats, it’s a wonder to see these huge seals launch out of the water onto the ground beside the pool.
Then there are oohs and aahs as the you marvel at the frolicking and the responses of the seals to the cues from the seal trainers.
More about seals
There are six seal species in the Arctic. Besides the bearded seal, there’s the harp seal, common seal, hooded seal, ringed seal and walrus.
Climate change and the rise in the sea temperature is becoming a pressing problem for these Arctic species.
These Arctic animals, which include polar bears (Ursus maritimus) and seals, have adapted to freezing temperatures and long winters. Now, they are under threat of losing their habitats.
Some researchers predict that global warming will affect the Arctic much more than anywhere else on earth.
Already, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the USA has listed bearded and ringed seals as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act.
Nordkapp’s midnight sun and Northern Lights
545km north of Tromso, I arrive at a place that looks like it’s at the edge of the world.
I boarded the local bus from Honningsvag, the nearest village, and arrived at Nordkapp (North Cape) visitor’s centre. Nordkapp sits on a cliff 307m above the ocean.
Near the edge of the cliff is a globe that serves as a landmark.
Nordkapp is Europe’s northernmost point (71°10’21″). Actually, Nordkapp is not far from the North Pole. 2100km of ocean and the Svalbard Islands separates the two.
Standing at the edge of the cliff, the wind whips my hair and I feel a strong sense of isolation.
It seems incongruous to feel isolated when you’re surrounded by bus loads of tourists but looking out at the Arctic Ocean from the clifftop still manages to make me feel like I’m in a remote and distant land.
I would love to visit this place again when the Northern Lights are dancing in the sky. They say late Autumn and early Spring are the best times to spot the Aurora Borealis.
I’ve seen the Northern Lights in the Yukon in Canada. The green shimmering curtain falling from the sky had an otherworldly feel. So I can imagine seeing it in such an isolated outpost would be quite a bucket list experience.
The scientific explanation of the Northern Lights are when electrically charged particles from the sun enter the earth’s atmosphere above the magnetic poles, both north and south. When this celestial phenomenon occurs in the south it’s called the Southern Lights.
The visitor’s centre has an underground tunnel and exhibits that describe the history of the North Cape.
There’s also a small chapel and a restaurant and function centre. Not surprisingly, St Johannes chapel is the world’s northern-most chapel. The dining area has magnificent views of the Arctic Ocean.