Bleak and beautiful journey

Travellers can catch a glimpse of the aurora borealis (above) at a forest resort in Saariselka, Finland, and lucky ones on the North Cape tour might spy elk.
Travellers can catch a glimpse of the aurora borealis (above) at a forest resort in Saariselka, Finland, and lucky ones on the North Cape tour might spy elk.PHOTO: CINDY TANAGA
Travellers can catch a glimpse of the aurora borealis at a forest resort in Saariselka, Finland, and lucky ones on the North Cape tour might spy elk (above).
Travellers can catch a glimpse of the aurora borealis at a forest resort in Saariselka, Finland, and lucky ones on the North Cape tour might spy elk (above).PHOTO: AUDI

Mountains rise from the sea like giant snow cones sprinkled with Oreo bits. The horizon fades as whitened plains blend seamlessly with foamy clouds.

On a clear day, you see varying shades of blue from the sea, sky and lake, and icicles hanging from cliff faces like crystalware.

And on a clear night, a stellar cast sets the stage for a tentative guest appearance by the aurora borealis.

Welcome to northern Norway, a hauntingly beautiful region. It is a little like New Zealand, but more vast, more extreme and much, much more white. It is also a place far less travelled.

Audi led one such expedition to the far north two weeks ago. A group of Singapore customers who signed up was treated to a 1,800km auto venture at the wheel of the new Audi SQ7.

The odyssey began in the Lapland town of Kittila, Finland. A short skip to the town of Muonio provided a suitable induction to the alien landscape, while a lunch stop in Kilpisjarvi, a village in the north- westernmost point of Finland, braced the group for near blizzard conditions.

By now, three cars had already gone offroad - involuntarily. The snowbound tarmac is narrow and two-way, with no run-off but a snow-concealed drop of half a metre or more.

The drive after Kilpisjarvi took the group across the border into Norway.

The next stop is historic Tromso, a northern Norweigian town blessed with generous sightings of the aurora borealis.

Just before a ferry crossing to Tromso, another SQ7 toppled to the side - mine. The incident demonstrated two things: the solid build of the SQ7 and the generosity of the Norwegians .

No fewer than five passers-by - one marshalling a tractor - stopped to help extricate the stranded Audi. The SUV survived the ordeal without a scratch. The Samaritans did not stop there. They cleared the wheels and brakes of mud and then rinsed the car down with pails of water.

In Tromso, part of the entourage spotted the green glow of the Northern Lights during a post-dinner stroll.

The next day, the group set off towards Alta, a town known for its prehistoric cave paintings and a quaint Ice Hotel. There are ice rooms with ice beds, an ice bar and even an ice chapel.

After lunch there, a long haul to the port town of Honningsvag awaited. It was along this stretch that the scenery began to turn surreal.

Mountains that soared vertically towards the clouds, a mirror lake that turned the world upside-down and an endless sheet of white 400m above sea level were some of the amazing sights.

In Honningsvag, sleep came quickly. The next day, North Cape. Just 30km from Honningsvag, the final ascent on the narrow path is led by a snow plough. The nearest point you can get to the North Pole on land, North Cape is both desolate and breathtaking.

The journey back south reacquainted the group with Finland, where a night at a forest resort in Saariselka rewarded those who stayed up with a view of a starry, starry night and yet another glimpse of the aurora.

The next morning, participants encountered the coldest temperature since they arrived - minus 24.5 deg C. From Saariselka, they made their way back to Kittila airport, ending an epic journey to the northern end of the world.

Christopher Tan

•The North Cape tour is part of Audi's drive experience programme. The cost is about €4,500 (S$6,800) a person, which covers lodging, meals and transfers, but excludes the long-haul flight to Europe.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 25, 2017, with the headline 'Bleak and beautiful journey'. Print Edition | Subscribe