North of the tree line
When you go north of the tree line, a host of new possibilities open up. The white, snow-clad plains and the rounded, undulating ripples of the landscape on the peninsulas beside the Arctic Ocean are perfect for snow kiting – a sport that is growing both in Finnmark and the rest of the world. This is why the Varanger peninsula was chosen as the location of the world's first long-distance snow kiting competition – the Varanger Arctic Kite Enduro, VAKE.
In kiting heaven
The experienced kiter Benoît Tremblay from Quebec called the Varanger peninsula the snow kiter's Hawaii when he took part in 2012. Gliding across the white surfaces in the changeable wind while looking out to sea is an experience that more and more people will get to remember, and in 2014 there will be 11 nations participating in this very special competition that invariably receives world championship status.
300 kilometres in the wind
The competition starts in Berlevåg in the north west corner, and navigates the Varanger peninsula in an enormous 'U' shape, past several checkpoints of which Vadsø is the furthest south. The finish is in Vardø in the north east corner. The distance through all the checkpoints is 200 kilometres as the crow flies, but since kiters often have to tack against the wind, the actual distance tends to be more like 300 kilometres.
Around 40 2-man teams apply to take part in VAKE. They must provide their own sled and all the equipment they need to be out in the wild for a minimum of five days. They are equipped with GPS, and in principle receive no assistance en route. Between 22:00 and 07:00 there is a compulsory overnight break. Teams erect their tents and prepare food wherever they happen to be. There is also a compulsory two-hour break at the checkpoints. Teams reach the finish line after three to five days.
Hustle and bustle along the route
The start coincides with the 'Vinterliv' festival in Berlevåg, with an extensive cultural programme and fun events like a kicksledding competition. At the Stjernevann checkpoint half way into the peninsula, enthusiasts venture with cars and snowmobiles to wait around camp fires in snow forts for the kiters. The checkpoint at Vadsø is close to the town, and children from local schools and nurseries get to watch the kiters come sweeping in.
Kiting is where people are pulled along by a kind of kite. This is most commonly on a surfboard, and it is then known as kite boarding. However, many people feel that it's even more fun on a pair of skis across white plains, and it has now developed into a sport that can take place in alpine areas, on frozen lakes and other open areas.
Snow kiting at Easter and during the twilight months
The Varanger Arctic Kite Enduro takes place in April, when conditions are at their best. This is when there is usually plenty of snow and the lakes are frozen. When the snow surface thaws in the Easter sun and freezes at night, a beautiful snow crust develops that is perfect for kiting. The days are long, and the weather tends to be stable with good winds. However, the enthusiasts of the Varanger peninsula also love to ski during the twilight months, either in the few hours of dusky daylight, or using head torches.
Try kiting yourself
If you would like to do some kiting yourself, there are regular courses in Finnmark and other locations. Kiting alone is not advisable, and you should not try kiting without first completing a course – the wind is a natural force that must be respected. The varied terrain on the Varanger peninsula is just as suitable for beginners as for advanced kiters. For example, beginners can have a go on the ice of Stjernevann in the centre of the peninsula, and gradually move onto more challenging areas elsewhere.
Varangerhalvøya nås med småfly til Berlevåg, Båtsfjord, Vardø og Vadsø. Nærmeste storflyplass er Kirkenes med direkteavganger til Oslo. Hurtigruten anløper Vadsø, Vardø, Båtsfjord og Berlevåg. I de nevnte byene og fiskeværene finnes det et variert tilbud med overnatting, og noe finnes også på småsteder ellers på halvøya.
The Varanger Peninsula is reached by small aircrafts flying to Berlevåg, Båtsfjord, Vardø and Vadsø. Kirkenes is the nearest major airport with direct departures to Oslo. The Hurtigruten shipping line calls at Vadsø, Vardø, Båtsfjord and Berlevåg. In the mentioned towns, there is a relatively good selection of accommodation, and some is also found on small communities along the coast of the peninsula.