A Bleik Puffin Safari

Our time exploring Norway’s beautiful north was coming to an end and as much as we wished the bad weather would too, it did not seem like it had any intention of leaving before we did. 

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We spent our second last night in Henningsvaer, with the window of our small room looking up towards Festvågtind - the peak we intended to summit the next day. That evening the fiercest of hail storms we’ve known pummelled the small harbour, with little ice balls ricocheting off our little glass pane. The weather report predicted the storm would pass around 2am, so we went to bed and set our alarm for 1am, 2am and 3am, hoping to set out for the summit, yet each time we woke to the familiar view of hail flying through gale force winds. 

Finally rising to more sigh inducing weather we decided to throw our rucksacks into our quarter size car and drive further north, leaving the Lofoten archipelago behind and hopefully its wet weather. There was little we knew about the Vesterålen islands except that there was a town called Bleik and just outside of its harbour lay a pyramid shaped islet whose cliffs act as a romantic summertime escape for thousands of puffins. The thought of seeing those cute black and white birds was all we needed so we set off with very little idea of where we were headed and what else may be waiting for us. 

The only thing as unreliable as Nordland's weather predictions were the estimated Google map travel times. Our route was expected to take a casual 3.5 hours, but instead turned into a 6 hour time trial fuelled by a sole kanelsnurr each and black coffee. As we drove our way north, the landscape expanded and grew more spacious with gentle sweeping plains between the sharp mountains. Fast moving storm fronts would sweep down these jagged inclines, batter our small car and quickly move on leaving behind glimpses of blue sky and hints of summertime. The seagulls too seemed to expand in size the more north we travelled and they increased in a comical way as if someone had simply enlarged them. Their features maintained in perfect perspective and scale until they were as big as our backpacks and scared of no human. 

We made it to Bleik with 5 minutes to spare, jumped into the 3pm Puffin Safari boat and set out to watch those cute avian clowns float about. In all honesty, we would have liked it if our tour guide annoyed the puffins a little bit less. They would all be hanging out, just chilling in the water until our captain would steer the boat directly into their squad and they would fly off, land somewhere else and the cycle would begin again - the curse of safari style tourism. 

The meddling with the birdlife continued as the tour guide proceeded to bang on the side of the boat with a frozen fish in an attempt to lure the resident sea eagles closer to us, throwing the fish at the last minute to create a crispy photo opportunity making us all feel like we were BBC level photographers. Despite this, our guide was great man and sincerely loved those little puffins and all of the birds that travel through the area. He explained that the eagles pick off two puffins each day during the breeding season; one for themselves and one for their chick. Suddenly the eagle’s majestic flight felt more menacing as we imagined a poor little puffin, after spending hours fishing for its puffling at sea, returning home tired and exhausted only to become dinner for someone else. Such is the circle of life.

As we left the bird rock to head back to shore, the bright side to inadvertently becoming a puffin chaser was the pleasure of looking back over the sea to the small beachscape of Bleik with its cragged mountains vignette on either side. More excitedly the sun came out and we scarcely recognised the sunlit mountainscape before us. Turns out those lovely puffin birds were the feathered gatekeepers to what would be one of the most magical evenings we were yet to share on our adventures.

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Everyone likes birds. What wild creature is more accessible to our eyes and ears, as close to us and everyone in the world, as universal as a bird?”
— David Attenborough
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