Coke Smith Photography & Travelogue

Road Trip Through Lapland Scandinavia

  Petroglyphs in Alta, Norway.

After our expedition to Svalbard, which divided our Scandinavian expedition, we were able to self drive Lapland for about two weeks.  We did plan some quality time in a national parks like Finland's Lemonjoki and Sweden's Abisco National Park and Norway's Alta Petroglyphs National Park. We had some good birding luck and saw some nice mammals as well.  Near Alta, Norway we were able to see at least 10 individuals of the few remaining wild and native populations of Mountain Caribou (Rangifer tarandus tarandus) including two major bulls.  We saw thousands of the domesticated varieties throughout Lapland and Salmi country.   We encountered a common Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) near Hornoya.  European Red Squirrels were extremely common throughout the drive.  While in Lemonjoki National Park in Finland, we had a decent viewing of a European Beaver (Castor fiber) and the Eurasian River Otter.  We did get glimpse along the road of European Hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus) although all but one or two were road-kill.  But there is little doubt that one of our most phenomenal afternoons of the entire three month expedition was our voyage amongst the Sperm Whales off the coast of Tromso, Norway.  We spent three full hours viewing literally dozens of dozing sperm whales.  As viewing restrictions are FAR more relaxed in Norway (which still hunts whales sadly) than in the states, we were able to get very close indeed.  In fact there were several instances I felt we were truly disturbing the whales, although the close proximity allowed for spectacular photographs.

While this expedition was basically designed as a "filler" to complete our summer, it ended up allowing us a very detailed glimpse of the wonderful scenery, culture and nature of one of the few wilderness regions left anywhere in Europe.  We very much enjoyed our road trip to Lapland!


Click here for our complete species lists for Scandinavia

Click here for more amazing images of Scandinavia 


Here are some images that will give you a glimpse of what we experienced: 




Looking north from the Alta Petroglyph's National Park.  This region has experienced the impacts of sea-level changes for millenia.  Ancient cultures used this area for over 9,000 years. 



Thousands of petroglyphs are on these glacially striated rocks.  The art on the rocks at higher altittudes were carved earlier when sea levels were different and before the landed rebounded after the continental ice sheets receded. This one was evidently of a pregnant moose.



The ubiquitous European Red Squirrel commonly seen at many of the locations and national parks we visited in Lapland.



Although we did see several "Elk" (European for Moose) during our stay in Scandinavia, this one stuck around long enough to snap a few images.



Most of the Woodland Caribou we saw on this trip were domesticated.  These truly wild ones were seen in the tundra wilderness of Stabbursdalen National Park.  They were much more timid and curious than their domesticated cousins.




Traveling through the cultural lands of the Sami reminded me of driving through Navajo country in the US.  Although it was touristy for sure, we did get to see some authentic examples of Sami architecture and lifestyle.  The Sami Museum Siida in Inari was an outstanding education on their culture and traditions.




Cokie posing in a fireweed field somewhere in Finland's taiga forests.


While this place was over 300km out of our way, I promised Cokie for months that we would visit the "real" Santa's house in Ronaniemi, Finland!  Evidently Ronaniemi has received official status of being the true home of Santa.  When we arrived here after driving out of our way all day, we went to the first "Santa's Village" that we saw from the freeway, and it was closed for renovations!  Oh my god!  I had flashbacks to the Chevy Chase flick, "Vacation", when the dad drove across the entire country to Wallyworld only to find it closed....  Cokie's eyes were tearing up when we looked through our Lonely Planet guide to learn that there was another one down the road, which in fact turned out to be the correct place!  Cokie was able to meet Santa afterall...about 20 minutes before it closed.


Herds of domesticated Caribou were commonly encountered along the roads of Lapland.



Exploring Lemonjoki National Park in northern Finland was outstanding!  We trekked the impressive taiga forests of the park and even got glimpses of European Beaver and European River Otters as well as many birds.  The wilderness areas of Lapland are sublime.



As we didn't have the time for the major trek required to get in to the heart of Lemonjoki, we hired the services of one of the transport boats that generally take locals deep in to the taiga wilderness.  This allowed us to get deep in to the wilderness where we could spend quality time trekking the inner regions of the park.




This Great Spotted Woodpecker was seen pecking a fence post near Hornoya, Norway.  While we went there to see the Alcid rookeries (which we missed as the season was over), we did get some great sightings of ancient prehistoric villages and tons of other species of birds, like White-tailed Sea Eagles and various waders and waterfowl.  We even got a good look at a European Red Fox along the road.




This Whooper Swan family was seen near the Finland, Norway border.



We caught this European Skylard jogging along the side of the road in Inari, Finland.





We surprised these Mallards at a pond somewhere in Sweden.  We saw many species of waterfowl during our trip to Lapland.


There is little doubt that the wildlife highpoint of our stay in Lapland was the whale watching trip we took out of Tromso which introduced us to dozens of Sperm Whales off the Norwegian coast.  And to think, we almost cancelled this trip on our LAST day of the three month expedition. 



In fact we were walking away from the kiosk to the boat when something possesed me to turn around and get on the boat!  We were all glad we did as once we got past the crap weather of Tromso and out past the continental shelf, we came across dozens of feeding and dozing Sperm Whales.  It was an amazing natural spectacle!  And what a way to end one of the best summers of our lives.

Click here for our complete species lists for Scandinavia

Click here for more amazing images of Scandinavia