We arrived at the Storstappen Islands, located just off Magaroy Island, during breakfast. You couldn’t quite say a beautiful warm and sunny day had dawned, as the sun had not set during the night, but it was truly a stunning morning. As we arrived at our anchorage, we could see huge rafts of Atlantic puffins on the water around the islands, and huge swarms of them flying around the grassy slopes. It was obvious we were going to get some pretty incredible encounters with puffins today!
The scout Zodiac left the ship and headed off to take a look and find the best route for a Zodiac tour. It was soon our turn to board the rubber craft, with our first ride obviously going to be a very smooth one. We headed off around the many large and small islands, amazed at how warm it was, but our attention was soon trained on the thousands of Atlantic puffins bathing and resting on the water, and then, as we got closer to the islands, wheeling around the cliffs and steep slopes. It was like watching a swarm of bees around a hive, with whirring wings almost everywhere. Puffins are socially monogamous, having a single male and female occupying a nesting burrow each year. A single egg is laid and incubated for about 39-42 days, and the chick is then fed by both parents for about 35-45 days. As the adult puffins were not carrying fish in their beaks, we surmised that they were still incubating eggs and not feeding chicks yet.
As well as puffins, we were able to see several species of gull – Herring and the huge Great black-backed gull. The latter has a nasty habit of eating puffins! Black-legged kittiwakes were nesting on the steep rock slopes in some places, making their weed nests on any available rock ledges. They noisily flew about the colony and also seemed to still be incubating eggs. As we looked skywards, amazed at the avian spectacle, I warned the guests to keep their mouths closed! Several groups of European shag and Razorbills were also seen, as well as the smaller Black guillemot, whose red feet trailed as they flew away from approaching Zodiacs. The clear waters also allowed us to see into the kelp beds, with urchins and even jellyfish being spotted.
As the cruise came to an end, we were also shown a small Northern gannet colony, noisily undergoing its breeding rituals. Several huge young and adult White-tailed eagles were also in the area and circled the islands showing their immense 7-foot wingspan. Our Arctic wildlife experience had truly begun in spectacular fashion!
Back at the ship, we had lunch as the ship repositioned further to the east, just below the cliffs of Nordkapp at Hornvika. This site was, for a long time, the easiest access to Nordkapp itself, until the road was built from Skarsvag to this, the northernmost point in Europe. Due to the amazing weather, many of us took the opportunity to really stretch the legs and do the zig-zag track from the beach up to the top, a strenuous hike ascending 307 metres. A group photo at the top proved that we had all done it. After we had been dropped onshore, the ship then relocated to Skarsvag, where the rest of us were able to catch a bus to Nordkapp. At Nordkapp, we were able to view the globe that stands at the edge of the cliff, a point 2,102 km from the North Pole. An interesting movie showing the spectacular landscape and scenery of the area was watched by many, and then we all received a certificate and toasted with a glass of champagne to mark our journey to the northern most point in Europe.
Heading back to the ship, we then sailed for Svalbard, whilst enjoying our second fantastic dinner onboard. A busy yet amazing day was had by all.