The Sámi call Norway’s northernmost island Máhkarávju or ‘steep, barren coast’, which has been Norwegianised into today’s Magerøya and is home to around 3,500 people, three-quarters of whom live in Honningsvåg. As the E69 threads its way north towards the cape (it only opened in 1956), the island certainly lives up to its name as vistas of bare, windswept rock and tundra unfold at every turn. This Arctic landscape is Norwegian Lapland at its most elemental: a high treeless plateau edged by distant frost-shattered peaks and a coast that has been gnawed into countless craggy inlets by the unforgiving might of the Arctic Ocean. Seeking shelter from the ferocious storms, which sweep in from the sea with merciless regularity, the island’s few settlements huddle at the head of fjords that slice deep into the heart of the land.
The belief that the North Cape is the furthest extremity of Europe is one of the greatest geographical gaffes of all time. The gently sloping promontory, Knivskjellodden, just to the west of the cape, is the true top of Europe since it stretches 1,500m further north than the cliff. Content not to let the truth get in the way of a good story, the Norwegian tourist authorities promote the North Cape (Nordkapp in Norwegian) as Europe’s most northerly point with all their might – and succeed: 200,000 people make the considerable journey to North Cape Hall every year and pay handsomely for the pleasure.
What to see and do
North Cape Hall
A commerical pleasure dome designed to relieve you of as many kroner as possible in a short space of time. The hall, cut into the rock of the cape, is not without its critics either, who claim it is grossly overpriced and has destroyed the natural environment. Be that as it may, it would be churlish not to go inside having made the journey here. The main building is divided into two sections, which are linked by an underground tunnel. As you enter from the car park, you will find a souvenir shop selling seemingly everything your heart could ever desire, emblazoned with the Nordkapp logo; a café serving coffee and cakes; the Kompasset café and restaurant, offering superb views of the Arctic Ocean through its floor-to-ceiling windows and some of the most expensive à la carte dishes anywhere in Norway; and a red postbox for that all-important ‘9764 Nordkapp’ postmark.
Hiking to Knivskjellodden
Should your thirst for last places not have been quenched by Nordkapphallen and its tourist paraphernalia, you might want to escape the crowds and hike to the real northernmost point of Europe, Knivskjellodden. The start of the 16km (return; moderate) trail is signed from the E69 about 6km before the North Cape Hall and heads off towards the northwest; there’s a car park here at the beginning of the trail.
Don’t underestimate how fast the weather can change out here on the plateau and before embarking on the hike you should make sure you are properly equipped; allow about 6 hours to make the return hike from the road. Perhaps in response to their critics, the North Cape Hall’s operators, the Scandic hotel chain, urge visitors not to build cairns since they damage the soil and vegetation, and not to drive their vehicles off the roads provided.