Eleanor Hughes heads outside to experience life in the Arctic Circle on a recent visit to Finland.
The skis on the front of the red and black Lynx machines look like gigantic transformer pieces, the track at the back an oversized Lego bit. But weighing 300kg, these snowmobiles are definitely not toys.
After brief driving instructions, I'm still not confident to take control. I mount the back of one. John, from my tour group, takes the front seat and attaches a springy cord from the snowmobile to his overalls. If he comes off, the snowmobile will stop. It won't if I do.
I cling to the grips positioned slightly to the rear on either side of my thighs as the snowmobile jars over the equivalent of judder bars on a road, but these humps of ice have barely any space between them. I'm thankful when we get off them and on to the frozen Ounasjoki River. The jarring turns to jiggling and shaking and doesn't stop. Viewed from above we must look like scurrying ants on a blank wall as we follow Markku, our guide from Lapland Safaris, across the great white expanse leaving Rovaniemi behind.
My black helmet bangs up and down on my head over every bump as we roar along, but it keeps my face and head warm. The visor fogs up occasionally, I hope John's doesn't.
Marrku shows ice-fishing novices how it’s done.
After a while we take a left turn and enter a track, metre-high snowbanks either side of it, into pine forest. Markku puts his hand up several times to stop us so that everyone catches up. Then, pulling his left hand down twice like a train driver pulling a steam whistle cord, he signals we're off again.
John negotiates bends and hills like a pro, albeit a slow one. When Markku waves his arm we slow further to find a snowmobiler coming the other way. John remembers to keep to the right of the track, which may possibly be a road in the summer - there are occasional stop signs.
My fingers are icy, despite woollen gloves and mittens, I play the piano on the grips to warm them and try to take my mind off the coldness seeping into my toes by looking for shapes in the snow laden trees. A tree my height is so completely covered it resembles Casper the ghost. Treetops wear white nightcaps. Some branches bear such a load it's a wonder they haven't snapped.
We come out of the forest on to the great expanse of iced-over Pikku-Mellalampi Lake. It's hard to tell it is a lake; it could be a field under all that white. But this is Spot X. We're about to partake of one of Finland's popular sports, ice-fishing.
From the sled he's been towing, Markku brings out an auger, a large corkscrew-type tool about a metre and a-half in length. He winds it into the ice ... and winds ... scoops out loose ice ... winds ... scoops ... and winds some more ...
After what seems about 10 minutes, a gush of brown water flows on to the white ice. He's drilled through, roughly, half a metre of ice. Scooping loose ice from the water with a colander-like ladle, Markku then unwraps a bundle of plastic, 12-inch long rods that resemble children's toys. They look as if they might break with a good tug on the end of the line. The red rubber maggot and tiny silver-coloured sinker on the end of the nylon line is dropped into the 20cm-wide hole and goes slack quite quickly. The lake can't be more than 2m deep. Bringing the line up from the bottom with three turns of the reel, Markku jiggles the rod up and down. I take several photos, having to take my mittens off to push the shutter button. I regret it. My hands sting and ache from the cold, the pain like that from spending ages searching for something in a chest freezer. I clap and rub them vigorously but it's probably five minutes before the pain recedes.
I let a line down into the icy water of the hole John drilled and jiggle the rod, bouncing on the spot trying to keep my feet warm. Oversized boots, (supposedly loose keeps feet warmer) and three pairs of woollen socks aren't cutting it. How can anything survive in the water below me?
After maybe 30 minutes the surface of the hole begins to freeze over. The nylon line resembles one of those scientific experiments that grows crystals on string - but on this occasion it's icicles.
I give up. Not a nibble. An information board, situated near the lake edge - I presume it's the edge as the snow covered ground rises - shows what could be caught. I peruse pictures of perch, pike, trout, poach and whitefish then crunch over the snow to seek warmth in an open-fronted lavvu, tepee-like, nestled among pines. A fire throws out warmth, sausages brown and the hot berry juice is delicious. I don't want to leave the cosiness.
Plucking up courage, I drive the snowmobile on our return journey. It does the equivalent of a few bunny jumps before I get used to the accelerator button. Too scared to go fast in case I hit a snow bank or tree and wreck the machine which may cost me 980 ($NZ1670) for compulsory deductible expenses - the insurance excess - I'm like a very elderly driver to begin with. My travel insurance doesn't cover me for snowmobiling either ...
I wrestle the handlebars to navigate corners. The skis on the front tend to slide into the grooves already made by other machines and trying to get out of them takes a bit of muscle. After a while my right thumb and hand ache from holding the accelerator button down, although they're warm. The accelerator button is heated, as are the handlebars. Bliss. I want to wiggle my thumb and hand but taking my thumb off will stop the machine. Moving my hand around a bit, I manage to position my palm on the accelerator. Relief. The windscreen seems to distort my vision and I don't know whether to look through it or above it. I do both. By the time we get back to the Ounasjoki River I'm braver - there's nothing to run into, it's several hundred metres wide.
Pushing the accelerator button to max, I get up to 40kmh. It feels faster. Markku stops us and checks to see if anyone would like the snowmobile key changed to another that will give more power.
Those who take the fast option are soon black spots in the whiteness, apparently reaching speeds of 70kmh. I race back to Rovaniemi more slowly, better late than never, rather proud of my new skills.
The writer travelled courtesy of Bentours and Mondo Travel on a Bentours "Follow the Lights'' tour.
submitted by -- Gayle
Head to Sun Peaks Resort for the 2019/2020 winter season and experience a true winter wonderland in a European-style, ski-through village filled with quaint shops, cafés, and eateries.
Sun Peaks was named in National Geographic's Best Winter Trips of 2019 article, a testament to Sun Peaks' terrain and conditions, and overall village vibe and amenities.
Sun Peaks | The best time to visit
Our friends at Sun Peaks have the inside word on this topic. While they love all the months during winter - if you have to pick a time to visit, this Sun Peaks' guide is sure to help.
Christmas/New Year: Book early. Yes, this time of year is popular and you can understand why. A white Christmas experience with all the trimmings: fireworks, Santa on the slopes and festive activities - everything that makes December a very jolly time to visit.
January: The best time for snow. January has a reputation for delivering the best snow in Sun Peaks with an average of just under 100cm of new snow and cooler mountain temps to keep it light.
February: The local's favourite time. The snow base has already built up and the temperatures rise above the average -6.1 C for winter. Longer days also mean that the Sundance, Morrisey and Orient chairlifts stay open until 4:00pm, so there is even more time to get those turns in.
March/early April: Spring skiing: We know you are looking forward to next season's skiing and don't want to think about the end of the season but this time is a great option to hit the slopes in Sun Peaks. More bluebird days, warmer weather, fewer crowds and the end of season party. Plus, you'll get great deals at this time of year too.
Sun Peaks Highlights
Call your local Mondo Travel Specialist on 0800 110 108 for detail on Sun Peaks and all other Ski Packages.
Source: travel&cosubmitted by -- Tony Terrill
Must See & Do.
1. Stargaze atop Maunakea. For a truly remarkable experience stargaze atop Maunakea, the tallest sea mountain in the world and home to many international observatories.
2. Walk on a volcano. Enjoy dozens of hiking trails and backcountry hikes in Hawai´i Volcanoes National Park. Explore elevations from sea level to just under 10,000ft.
3. Snorkel with manta rays. Swim with one of the largest fish in the ocean, the manta ray. With a wingspan of up to six metres or more, it’s possible to encounter these amazing creatures on an unforgettable night snorkel or dive off the Kona coast or Kohala coasts.
4. Circle the Island. Find out for yourself why the prestigious National Geographic magazine has named the drive around Hawai´i Island among its ‘50 Ultimate Road Trips in the World’. Remarkably you are able to encounter all but four of the worlds sub-climate zones here including desert plains, rainforest and snow-capped mountains.
5 Look into early Hawaiian culture. Step back into a fascinating ancient time in the sacred Pu‘uhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park. Hundreds of years old yet beautifully restored, the park is magical at sunset.
6 Befriend a Hawaiian cowboy. Hawaiian cowboys (paniolo) used to roam the island on horseback, herding cattle across the rolling green pastures. Today, ranches in Kohala provide a variety of opportunities to experience the paniolo lifestyle.
7 Frolick in Kealakekua Bay. Schools of tropical fish swarm Kealakekua Bay on the Kona Coast, an ideal place for snorkelling and swimming with spinner dolphins often seen here.
8 Visit Downtown Hilo. Visit Hilo’s quaint shops and cultural sites including the Pacific Tsunami Museum and ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center. For fresh produce and made-in-Hawai´i crafts don’t miss the Hilo Farmers Market year-round every Wednesday and Saturday.
9 Sample sweet treats. Indulge in malasada (Portuguese doughnuts) and excellent Kona coffee. You’ll discover numerous coffee farms in Kona, with many offering free tours and delicious samples.
10 Golf Hawai´i Island. With its dramatic contours, wide-open spaces and fantastic variations in elevation, Hawai´i Island is unmatched. Most courses face the ocean and many are carved from ancient lava flows.submitted by -- Tony Terrill