*This is a guest post by Nordic Wanders reader Amer Shiraz*
Living in a densely populated and hot country in Southeast Asia, Norway has always fascinated me with its astounding scenery and beautiful Arctic wilderness, and Vanessa’s blog Nordic Wanders just made me fall in love with Norway!
I wanted to avoid the crowded touristy places and experience some mindfulness in pristine nature - also seeking that eerie feeling of being lost in the middle of nowhere. So, I chose the remote Pasvik Nature Reserve in Finnmark, a popular birding region bordering Norway, Russia and Finland.
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To reach Pasvik, you fly all the way up to Kirkenes, one of Norway’s easternmost cities close to the Russian border. It is also a very northern place, having the same latitude as Tromsø. From Kirkenes you travel by car southwards along the Highway 885 to reach the villages of Svanvik and Vaggetem.
The scenic little highway winds along the beautiful Pasvik River which divides Norway and Russia with the sprawling wilderness of Murmansk visible on the other side.
Accommodation in Pasvik
In Pasvik I had three options to stay: at Nibio Svanhovd Biological Center, Birk Husky tours in Svanvik, or at Ovre Pasvik Camping. I chose Birk because of their two wilderness cottages deep in the forest as I wanted that rustic ‘lost in nature’ experience. The cottages were quite isolated places in beautiful nature, superbly clean and well equipped with a sauna.
One of them had a beautiful stream flowing on its side while the other was surrounded by lakes. The moment you stepped out of the cottage, the sweet sound of chirping birds and flowing water soothed your senses. The cottages were also not very expensive for Norway at under 1000 NOK a night. Check available rooms and current prices here.
Bird-Watching in Pasvik
The lady at Birk Husky guided me to a very nice (free) book on ‘Birds of Pasvik’ by Morten Gunther. It lists all the birds you can see in Pasvik, both resident and migratory, in different seasons. Birding spots are also marked on Google Maps.
Most are small birds from the finch and sparrow family or else wading birds from the duck family. Also others like the woodpecker and birds of prey like owls, eagles and ospreys.
My bird-watching plans were however not met with much success. Although the place was teeming with birdlife and I could hear lots of them up in the trees, the birds were really shy and fast moving and it was difficult to photograph them with just a portable camera. You need to set up a proper zoom camera fixed on tripods and wait patiently to get a photo.
Many birding spots were a little difficult to reach due to bogs and marshy ground, and the paths were unmarked. So, after some effort, I stopped bothering about bird-watching and just enjoyed the beautiful scenery of the forest with the chirping sound of the birds.
Birk Husky also has a bird feeder at one of their cottages and there also is a bird-watching tower at Bordinesset. These places are easier to try bird-watching than others. In the end, I did manage to see ducks, swans, flying geese, an osprey and some small birds (tits, jays & sparrows). Of course, don’t expect to see large brightly coloured tropical birds like parrots or peacocks here. These are mostly small birds of the Arctic, but there are a lot of them.
Apart from bird-watching though, I really enjoyed the beautiful nature of Pasvik.
Summer in Finnmark
The trip was a total immersion into pristine wilderness, with chirping birds and the soothing sound of flowing water under the magical Midnight Sun! The sprawling forest with its thin birch trees seemed to glow and dance in the surreal sunlight.
I don’t remember how many times I parked my car aside to come out and experience this living forest breathing onto my brow, to inhale the clean air refreshing my soul.
The Midnight Sun made me forget the existence of time....for a moment made me feel immortal. It made me lose track of day and night and I could find myself driving on a forest road at 3 am in the night, spawning an eerie excitement one can never experience near civilisation. I once dared to try simply walking away from my car into the forest, just for the heck of it...could almost imagine a burly brown bear emerging from the trees, staring at me. Chilly, exciting thoughts, somewhat loony you would say.
So, I would urge all nature lovers to steal a few days from your city life to make a trip down this surreal Arctic world...stand with those smiling trees and forget for a moment that you are human at all, just one of them. Become a part of the forest!
June is the best time to visit Pasvik as the snows have melted and there are not many mosquitoes around yet (July is the worst, I heard). Although not very rainy or windy here like the West Coast, temperatures can drop suddenly. Most of my days were 15-20 degrees Celsius, but one night it dropped to zero and we had some light snowing!
For a traveller from Southeast Asia, this was quite a memorable trip, in the enchanting surroundings of the Arctic.
Tips for your visit to Pasvik
I got a great car rental deal online at Kirkenes Airport from ‘Budget Car Rental’, a subsidiary of Avis. It was a mint condition Toyota Yaris Hybrid 2014 (Automatic) for only Euro 350 for 11 days (surprisingly cheap for Norway). Fuel friendly car with insurance and no mileage restrictions.
Beware that there is only one gas station in Pasvik at Svanvik (can run out of supply sometimes). The other one is all the way back in Kirkenes.
Like me, for people coming from countries where you drive on left side of the road like the UK, Japan or India, driving on the right seems intimidating, but it was easy once I took care at roundabouts and turnings. Then again, there is very light traffic in Pasvik.
There also is public transport in Pasvik (a school bus) running on weekdays from Kirkenes all the way to Vaggetem and back.
There is only one grocery store in Svanvik. For water, you can theoretically just drink from streams, but make sure that the water is clear (especially during autumn after heavy rainfalls)
Don’t miss some really delicious local cuisine at Birk Husky (moose burgers, king crab soup, cloudberry dessert) - even though it’s a little costly at 300 NOK per person.
A sleeping mask plus sunscreen are a must-have due to the 24 hours of sunlight in the summer.
Mosquito nets are also recommended, just in case.
Sidenote: At Kirkenes airport, both on my arrival and departure, I couldn’t help noticing movements of large contingents of Norwegian army troops in their beautiful bright green uniforms. Norway probably takes its border with Russia quite seriously!
About the author:
Amer Shiraz is an engineer from Pakistan who has a passion for travelling and exploring. He is especially fond of nature and visiting remote regions. Last year he was in Finland and spent a good many days in Lapland apart from the cities. He has previously travelled to the USA, UK, Italy, and the Middle East.
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