Where kissing wolves won’t get you killed
Wolves are vicious animals. They have snarled through history as some of the planet’s greatest predators, pouncing on helpless prey all over the world — Russia, Europe, North America — with no mercy.
In northern Norway, they’ve been known to savagely attack — with kisses.
I experienced this firsthand on a trip that was ostensibly to the see the northern lights, the rare, usually ghostly green light show that occurs the northern night sky, best seen between September and April. My initial destination had been Narvik, a small town just an hour-and-half flight from Oslo, Norway’s capital.
Narvik is perhaps best known for its iron ore and infamous WWII naval battles. More recently, however, its vast, super clear sky and nearly nonexistent light pollution has made it a hot spot for Aurora Borealis seekers.
A rapidly developing tourism infrastructure makes it easier to do so, and activities already rooted in place there add a dash of winter magic: A historic train — the northernmost in the world — romantically snakes through the mesmerizing, snow-capped fjord landscape like in a fairy tale; a gondola takes skiers to some of the country’s best slopes and panoramic city views; and Norwegian boats cruise the sea in search for eagles and elk.
It was beautiful, but uncooperative weather conditions threatened to put a damper on the trip. That is, until my guide, Johnny Cooper from Off the Map Travel (one of the most competent northern lights tour operators in Scandinavia) drove me one hour away to the wildlife sanctuary Polar Park.
Quite literally in the middle of nowhere, Polar Park is where wild animals like wolves are born and bred in sprawling enclosures, socialized with their keepers and living longer, healthier lives as a result of their upbringing.
Unlike at a zoo, you can get close to Scandinavian brown bears and lynxes in unfurled, natural habitats. And starting in 2008, visitors were given the ability to “kiss the wolves” after the keepers — Stig, Heinz and Cattis — realized the wild animals were no threat.
As since January 2016, they can sleep with them, too
That is, visitors can sleep in a modern bi-level farmhouse inside the wolf enclosure, which allows for a thrilling and fully immersive experience (from $8,770/night; you must book the whole lodge, which sleeps up to 10).
(A safe one, too, as one of the keepers always sleeps overnight there to keep an eye on things.)
All they ask is you keep to the rules: be calm; don’t make sudden movements; and no dramatic gestures.
It was through the lodge’s floor-to-ceiling windows that I caught my first glimpse of the wolves. Outside by the door, a pack of five, 20-month-old, 85-pound wolves darted through the snow. They were no more than 100 feet away.
Even more thrilling was when Stig opened the door and two wolves made their way toward us. He stroked their gorgeous fur coats and spoke to them like a pet owner praises their pets, asserting himself as the alpha male — meant to reassure the human guests more than the wolves.
After a dinner of cod stew, we stepped outside the enclosure to try to catch the northern lights there, which unfortunately was not in the cards due to thick clouds.
But I quickly forgot my disappointment as, awestruck, I watched the wolves eye me curiously from the other side of the fence and then listened in awe to them howling through the night.
It was the next morning, after we left our cabin outfitted in snazzy farmer jumpsuits and trekked the 5-acre enclosure to meet the wolves, that I made contact. They frolicked close to us like domesticated dogs, I got to my knees and a pack of wolves cornered me — then went after me with lapping tongues. Some even curled by my side to be belly rubbed.
It was a magical moment exclusive to the Wolf Lodge; there’s no other place in the world you can do this.
In order to get to Narvik and Wolf Lodge, travlers have to go through Oslo.
Good thing, because Scandinavia’s fastest-growing city is worth a stopover. The destination is now serving up tons of contemporary cool like the Astrup Fearnley Modern Art Museum (with works by Damien Hirst and Cindy Sherman); uber-chic Stock restaurant, which puts a modern spin on traditional Norwegian dishes, and The Thief, a sleek modern boutique hotel with a luxe spa and an original Warhol (from $292/night).
Norwegian offers non-stop flights to Oslo starting at $490 roundtrip. For a more spacious journey, British Airways has excellent premium economy fares to Oslo (connecting in London) from $1,244 roundtrip.
This article was published by New York Post.
Feature photo by Daniel J. Allen.