words: Leanne Gichard images: supplied
words: Leanne Gichard Images: supplied
Alister Smyth is no stranger to travel. In fact, during the past 51 years, he has travelled through 30 airports and visited 26 countries but had never visited Sweden. That dream was fulfilled with his latest adventure.
Since visiting Antarctica, Alister had always wanted to visit the Arctic Circle and thought he could combine that with a trip to visit friends and family elsewhere. Getting to Kiruna in Sweden was quite the journey. Alister opted to fly to London, catch the Eurostar to Brussels and then travel north by train through Germany, Denmark and Sweden.
“In Scandinavia electricity is the fuel of choice: cars, buses and trains all run on electricity. There is something almost surreal about being on an overnight journey on an electric train – it is so quiet. The only thing you hear is a slight sound when the train changes track. The 20 hour train trip from Stockholm to Kiruna was one of the highlights of my trip,” he says. “It was daylight the whole time!”
Kiruna, situated in Swedish Lapland, has a population of approximately 18,000 people. It lies 200 km north of the Arctic Circle and has many attractions year round, including the northern lights, dog-sledding in winter and hiking and fishing during summer. Kiruna is also home to one of the largest iron-ore mines in the world. “There has been so much mining over the past 100 years that Kiruna has actually begun to sink, so they are having to relocate the whole city,” Alister says.
A sightseeing tour to the Kiruna mine proved to be another highlight. “We were taken three and a half miles underground to a display area showcasing all the machinery used in the mine.” To say that this mine is huge is an understatement. Every day, 10 trains each pulling 68 wagons (each wagon holding 100 tonnes of iron ore) travel from Kiruna to Narvik, a port in Norway. “Iron ore from Kiruna is made into little round balls, about the size of a marble,” Alister says. “It is used for specialist steel making, due to its high quality.”
Of course it is not called ‘The Land of the Midnight Sun’ for no reason. From 30 May to 14 July the sun shines at midnight. The flipside being that from November to January it is dark 24 hours a day.
Alister took a tour to met the Sami (or Laplanders), who rely on huskies to pull their sleds and reindeer for their daily lives, but before you get sentimental, these reindeer are not Rudolph, Dancer, Prancer or Blitzen, they are herded by the Sami for meat, fur and transportation. That fur is critical to the Sami with temperatures in winter plunging to a bone-chilling -30 degrees Celsius. Reindeer meat is eaten throughout Scandinavia. “I found reindeer delicious to eat – very fine-grained and similar in taste to beef,” Alister says.
From Kurina, Alister caught a bus to Tromso in Norway and then cruised down the beautiful Norwegian coast by ship which stopped off at small towns to unload and pick up freight. “I found the Norwegian people to be very kind and friendly,” he says. A funny moment occurred on the cruise when Alister struck up a conversation with a Norwegian dairy farmer, who told him his herd comprised 26 cows – just a slight difference from dairying in New Zealand! “I didn’t feel it right to tell him how many dairy cows we run in New Zealand. I’m not sure how anyone can make a living off 26 cows, but they seem to.”