The reindeer migration is an ancient tradition in Finnmark

In April, hundreds of thousands of reindeer migrate from the inland areas to the coast of Northern Norway, and over 2,000 Sami reindeer herders work day and night. In Karasjok, you can join their team!

Huge herds, hundreds of reindeer in each, amble slowly across the undulating landscape of white plains, driven forward by herders on snowmobiles; the spring migration on the Finnmarksvidda plateau is underway. Over just a few weeks in April, hundreds of thousands of reindeer will move from the plain to the coast. Every year, the tour operator Turgleder invites visitors to join small teams and experience this miracle of nature. In May 2014, the acclaimed American travel magazine National Geographic Traveler described this trip as something you should do at least once in your life.

There is no break, helpers work day and night

On the Finnmarksvidda plateau, Mother Nature sets the itinerary. Meals, breaks and sleep are determined by how tired the reindeer are, by the wind, depth of snow and type of landscape. Visitors are not just observers who have come along to take photographs; they are there to help with the work. In teams of two on snowmobiles, the group drives the herd down to the coast. When it is time to rest, visitors help to erect the traditional Sami ‘lavvo’ tent and prepare food—which is reindeer meat, cooked in a variety of ways, or fresh trout and char caught by ice-fishers for a little variety. There is just as much work to do during the night as by day, and time and an agenda are unknown concepts. The Turgleder guide makes sure that the visitors are warm and have enough food, but apart from that, the reindeer herders and tourists are on the same team—and their aim is to get the reindeer herds down to the coast.

Reindeer migration is a 10,000 year old rhythmic movement

All through the winter, the reindeer graze high on the plateau, where there is little snowfall and a subarctic steppe climate. With temperatures as low as -30 Celsius (-22 Fahrenheit), the snow is light and fluffy, and there is no ice because the weather is rarely mild. This means that it is easy for the reindeer to dig down to the reindeer lichen. But in summer, the lichen must get its chance to grow, and by then the lush coastal grasses have started poking out through the top of the metre-high snow. Wild reindeer came to Northern Norway more than ten thousand years ago, and the ‘tame’ reindeer herds came into being about five hundred years ago.

The route depends on the weather and time of day

The reindeer migration is a process that does not follow the clock. The spring weather and depth of snow decide when you get going and how fast you move. The summer grazing areas of the Karasjok Sami are on Magerøya (the island of the North Cape), and on the mainland next to the island. They often drive the reindeer at night, because the night frost forms a light crust that is easy to walk on, but then they rest when the afternoon sun makes the snow wet and slushy. In other words, the route is only actually decided on the move.

No one knows when the migration will begin

The tour operator Turgleder in Karasjok works with several reindeer-herding families. This means that if one herding family cannot accept visitors because the herd is too scattered and has to be brought together, they can phone another family. Neither the reindeer herders nor Turgleder know in advance when the reindeer migration will begin. It takes place sometime at the end of April or beginning of May, but no one can know in advance whether the reindeer will have begun the migration, be half-way through it, or already settled in the summer grazing area. So, Turgleder takes you to the reindeer and herders, wherever they might be.

Groups can join the spring migration with Turgleder

Turgleder welcomes small groups to this experience. The package is for eight days, four of which are spent with the reindeer herders. After one day’s preparation, the group heads out on snowmobiles to wherever the herd is, and the adventure begins. You need to be physically fit and fully mobile to take part, but it is suitable for men and women of all ages.

Day trips can also be taken to visit the herds

If you are not able to come at the end of April, you can still go out on day trips to the reindeer herds throughout the winter. You are taken by snowmobile out onto the plain, where you get close to the reindeer in their natural environment and find out what the work of a reindeer herder involves. Naturally, there is also a chance to enjoy a hot coffee and reindeer meat around the camp fire, and you are guaranteed some stunning views of reindeer in the forest or on the white plateau.

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Turgleder has an informative website that also has information about other trips. You can also read about Northern Lights snowshoe safaris and long skiing trips on the Finnmarksvidda plateau.  

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