The perfect trip: Norway
Lars Petter Oie has dived for the worldâs largest crustacean, the red king crab, for over 20 years. (Philip Lee Harvey/LPI)
Sail into the Norwegian wilderness where you can hunt for crabs in Jarfjord, go snowmobiling in Kirkenes and maybe catch the northern lights along the way.
Hurtigruten: Best for coastal cruising
To travel from Tromsø to Kirkenes in the warmth of a Hurtigruten passenger ferry is to ease gently into the northern Norwegian wilderness. The jagged ramparts of the mainland and islands unsoiled by human footprints drift past, an endless drama wrought in ice and snow.
Along the route, villages shelter in the deeply fissured shoreline. As the ferry draws near land at night, nothing moves. Moving closer, the welcoming glow of gas-lantern light in home windows beckons. As the boat drifts back to sea, the retreating pinpricks of light along the shore resemble isolated outposts somewhere close to the end of the earth.
That these villages, the world's northernmost inhabited settlements, survive owes much to the Hurtigruten fleet. The boats may possess cruise-ship comforts - bars, a restaurant and open-air Jacuzzi - but their primary purpose is to keep viable Norway's Arctic north.
'Sometimes the Hurtigruten are the only way to get supplies to these villages,' says Kjell Jonassen, captain of the Hurtigruten's MS Midnatsol. 'We're the artery that keeps this part of the country alive.'
Captain Jonassen is still awed by the Arctic landscape: 'Even after many years, it is still beautiful to me. I'll never tire of it.'
Cabin accommodation in a Hurtigruten for the trip from Tromso to Kirkenes costs from £267 per person, full board, based on two people sharing (0844 448 7601; hurtigruten.com).
King Crab Safari (Kirkenes): Best for catching dinner
Beneath the freezing surface of Jarfjord, east of Kirkenes, the red king crab stakes a strong claim to be Arctic Norway's most unusual inhabitant. A creature of protean ugliness that seems to have emerged not from the gentle waters of a Norwegian fjord but from some Jurassic epic, the king crab and everything about it seems founded on gargantuan economies of scale.
This is the world's largest crustacean and the seven king crabs introduced here from the North Pacific by Russian scientists in 1961 have multiplied at an astonishing rate. Every year, each female king crab gives birth to around 10,000 surviving offspring and there are now 20 million in the Barents Sea alone.
Such figures have alarmed environmentalists, but Lars Petter Øie, who has been diving these waters for more than two decades, is more cautious: 'Even after so many studies, the Norwegian government can't decide whether the crabs are a problem or a resource.'
Lars has plumped for the latter. Undeterred by formidably sub-zero winter temperatures, Lars and his crab safari team regularly dive off the side of an inflatable Zodiac to a depth of 25 metres in search of crabs. They invariably do so accompanied by the audible gasp of the paying customers on board who shuffle around the boat like a clumsy congregation of penguins, grateful that they won't be asked to leave the relative warmth of their polar suits. After what seems like an eternity, Lars emerges in a chaos of crab legs, pincers and human arms.
'The biggest one I caught weighed 8kg and was almost my height, at around 170cm,' recalls Lars. 'Others have caught crabs that weighed 15kg, and were almost two metres long.'
But size matters little when it comes to eating the crabs at the end of the safari. 'The most important thing is that they're boiled in seawater,' says Lars. 'That way, you can taste where they come from.'
Arctic Adventure runs four-hour king crab safaris for £136 per person, including lunch and cold-weather clothing (arctic-adventure.no).
Rica Hotel Kirkenes place has modern rooms, some with views over the town. You'll appreciate the under-floor heating in the bathrooms in the depths of a Norwegian winter, and there's a good restaurant (from £140; rica.no).
Snowmobiling (Kirkenes): Best for winter speed
A narrow finger of land surrounded by Finland and Russia, the Pasvik River Valley is one of the most quietly beautiful of all northern Norwegian territories. Quiet, that is, until snowmobiles cut a swathe through the snow.