WHALES sure like to keep everyone guessing. Reliably seen for years close to Tromsø, northern Norway’s biggest city, orcas, humpbacks and, less frequently, fin whales now seem to have relocated further north-east to seas near the town of Alta.
So says Magnetic North Travel, the Scandinavia specialist. After pods were spotted closer to Alta throughout last winter’s whale season (from late October to February), more orcas have been sighted there this month, making Magnetic North certain most cetaceans have officially turned their huge backs on Tromsø, at least temporarily.
‘As the closest city to the whales’ new winter herring-feeding grounds, Alta is now Norway’s whale-watching hotspot,’ confirms product manager James Nickerson.
Can one still whale-watch from Tromsø? ‘With the distance to Lyngenfjord so great, there’s only a solitary Tromsø boat that can do it in a day,’ he says, ‘and it takes up to 145 passengers. Many of our clients prefer a smaller-scale experience and close-up views of the whales.’
Tours from Alta, however, tend to be on more bijou RIB boats that can reach the feeding grounds in just an hour or two.
Where to stay beyond the large skiing area and dramatic fjords? Near Alta is the Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel, where one can bed down in ice-carved rooms. Alternatively, Bjørnfjell Mountain Lodge and its five glass- and-wood cabins — from which some lucky residents whale-watched at their breakfast table last year – sit in the surrounding Lyngen Alps.
Alta is also home to a new Magnetic North offering: an adventure where travellers gather around a bonfire to listen to ancient Norwegian myths, watch locally sourced food sizzle atop the flames and regularly gaze up, hoping for the Northern Lights to appear. Visitors to the city can also snowshoe or cross-country ski, go snowmobiling or saddle up on wide-wheeled fat bikes.
Nickerson recommends staying for at least three nights to give yourself the best chance of seeing both the whales and the lights, as weather or sea conditions won’t always be favourable.
‘Occasionally tours are cancelled too,’ he admits, ‘so it’s a good idea to have an extra day to rearrange them if possible.’
■ From £775pp B&B for three-night trips to Alta, including transfers from Alta airport, whale-watching, snowmobiling, a Northern Lights hunt and cross-country skiing, magneticnorthtravel.com
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