750 metres (2500 feet) straight up
The island of Nord-Fugløy rises like a rocky fortress out of the Arctic Ocean, to a dizzy height of 750 metres (2500 feet), with precipitously steep sides and an almost flat top. As we get closer, it feels threatening, imposing and sheer. Finally, when the walls of rock are towering skywards above us, we can see that the cliffs are full of life. Puffins with their bright red beaks flap their small wings furiously, land on the water to dive for fish, then battle to take off again. When we turn our gaze skywards, we see the scale of the colony; thousands of tiny white dots are silhouetted against the blue sky, almost blocking out the sun.
Realm of the sea eagle
High above the cliffs soars the puffins' greatest threat; the sea eagle, master of the sky. Nord-Fugløy has the biggest single population of sea eagles along the entire Norwegian coast. They have plenty to eat out here — eggs, chicks and adult puffins are delicious and nutritious for them.
The island of Nord-Fugløy is one of the biggest bird cliffs in the country, and the most numerous bird here is the puffin. There are also razorbills, guillemots, black guillemots and great skuas. The puffin digs small holes in the turf high up on the island, while razorbills and guillemots lay their single, pear-shaped egg on rocky ledges. If the egg is accidentally nudged, its pear shape ensures that it just rolls round in a circle instead of falling over the edge. The birds come in to the coast in April to breed, and leave Fugløy in August.
The seabirds live on the steepest cliff faces at the southern tip of the island. If we travel north along the east side, riding the rollers of Lopphavet bay, we have excellent views of those impressive cliffs. On the north western side, we can see a few houses that are still standing, more than 60 years after they were abandoned. Finally, we reach Fugløykalven Lighthouse, the northernmost point of the county of Troms, a few solid stone buildings on a tiny island, topped with a lighthouse. Lighthouse keepers here only had a few square metres that they could call home. The boathouse is half way up a slope, sheltered from the worst of the breakers.
As incredible as it seems, Nord-Fugløy was once inhabited. For centuries, seasonal fishing residents and people gathering eggs for food used the island as a temporary home, but after the 1830s, the island became a permanent Sea Sami settlement. From the end of the 19th Century until World War II, Nord-Fugløy was an important outport for fishermen, and about 60–70 of them lived here all year round. With a steamer connection, cod liver oil factory, fish drying racks, school, post office and radio telephone connections, they had everything they needed, even if they were cut off for weeks by bad weather. After World War II, boats became bigger and the harbour grew too small, until it was closed in the early 1950s. The island is now owned by the descendants of those residents, and in late summer they return to pick the amazing cloudberries that grow up on the island's flat top.
Vegard Sjaavik at the island of Vannøya organises trips with RiB boats on request.