A Truly Unique Experience with an Arctic Predator
By Isabelle Kagan
Ever wanted to share a hotel with a pack of wolves? The Wolf Lodge in Narvik, Norway allows you to do just that.
Built inside a large wolf enclosure at Polar Park, an arctic wildlife center, the lodge separates guests from the animals through some wooden walls and a glass window. If you haven’t guessed already, it is not for the faint of heart.
Polar Park's History
The Wolf Lodge opened in its doors to the public in January of this year, and quickly became Polar Park’s main attraction.
Before, Polar Park was just an animal sanctuary, the world’s most northern wildlife center in the world in fact, dedicated to protecting seven wolves out of the remaining 30 in all of Norway.
It was created back in 1994 by Stig Sletten, who is also the animal manager and has hand-reared the wolves from birth.
His goal was to dismantle the negative stereotypes around wolves through direct interaction, in order to educate visitors about the species and disproves common myths surrounding wolves.
Most Norwegians had previously viewed them as a threat, and blamed them for things like sheep deaths on farms. "Wolves have always fascinated the people, and Polar Park is not just a wonderful place where guests can come to learn about, and meet the wolves, but it also helps bring together local communities and authorities together as one of a handful of wildlife centers around the country to help find a sustainable future for wolves across Norwegian Lapland" explains Jonny Cooper, of Off the Map Travel.
The Polar Park itself is about an hour drive away from Narvik, a small Norwegian harbor town 140 miles from the Arctic circle, which is also a 90 minute flight away from Oslo.
Lying in the Salangsdalen Valley, the Wolf Lodge, as the world’s first luxury hotel inside a wolf enclosure, has successfully turned all eyes on Polar Park.
The Lodge, and the Wolf Kiss
The lodge is Scandinavian and Norwegian styled, consisting of a first floor with a kitchen, a large pine dining table, a shared bathroom and a living room with three large windows and snug furniture around a fireplace to watch for wolf sightings from.
There is also a large window on the roof to observe the aurora borealis, a key feature of the trip. The second floor has 6 guest rooms total, which at max capacity can accommodate no more than 10 people.
To enter into the lodge, you must go through a secret tunnel hidden from the wolves, so as not to disturb them and for the guest’s own safety. From there, the wolves may trot in and out of sight, and you are free to observe and take pictures through the windows throughout the night.
By day, the lodge offers the opportunity for socialization called a Wolf Kiss, accompanied by an expert trainer, where the socialized wolves will come up to look you on the face, more like a friendly dog than an intimidating predator.
There are many rules to staying safe during the Wolf Kiss. One must not wear fur, gloves or anything else the wolves might want to nip at.
You cannot make intimidating, direct eye contact, or make any sudden movements that could be viewed as a challenge of dominance.
Wearing protective gear, one crouches low to be at level with the wolves, so they can sniff you and put their paws on your shoulders for a big, wet “wolf kiss”. They even roll over to let you scratch their bellies.
Sletten has interacted with the wolves since they were just pups, which makes them accustomed to and friendly with human visitors. He notes, "the understanding of the interaction between man and wolf in a the socialization process has been very positive.
It is about trust and respect over a long period of time. Wolf puppies are adorable.”
Although not completely wild in the truest sense, they are free to roam the vast enclosure at their leisure.
Around the compound there is also an abundance of other wild animals, including elk, lynx, and arctic foxes.
Sletten, describing the wolves attitude, recalls "One winter we built a snowman and stuffed the snowman with meat. The wolves circled around the snowman (not closer than 15 meters) and waited until the spring came (3 months after).
Only then did the wolves come forward and eat.
This was three years after birth. Had the wolves been introduced with snowman by birth, they would not have been afraid.”
Even now, there are still governmental culls to kill 16 wild wolves in Norway, to the extent that 11,000 hunters have signed on.
Farmers in particular want them all killed, even though wolves kill only .015% of herded sheep every year. Wolf Lodge essentially poses the wolves only chance at survival.
Sletten states, “We are neutral and do not actively take part in changing people's opinions, but want to give them a new wildlife experience to make up their own minds” adding, “people just come looking forward to the meeting the wolves and leave with a dream come true.”
The “Night with the Wolves” only makes up one part of the package itinerary. It also includes a “Lights at the Lodge” gondola adventure, where guests are transported up to the top of Narvik Mountain to watch the lights dance either inside or outside, and have drinks.
All in all, the package costs 2299 EUR, which is about $2536 USD, excluding airfare. This pays for a four-day, three-night itinerary organized by Off the Map Travel, including transfers between hotels, a 3-course dinner and breakfast for your overnight stay at the wolf lodge, the face-to-face Wolf Kiss experience, a two night stay in another lodge in Narvikfjellet to hunt the Northern Lights from the sky bar, and finally a fjord boat trip to search for wildlife from the water.
Guides also accompany you throughout the trip and are well-versed about the wolves, the Norway region, the Northern Lights, and arctic wildlife.
Although expensive, the “Night with the wolves” package offers you a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience what some consider ferocious beasts, in their natural Arctic habitat.
Cooper says, “This is a truly special place for guests to stay. It is a world first giving those who book into the Lodge for a night, to experience what it is like to be, literally, surrounded by wolves.
Couple this with information and stories from guides and rangers who have worked with the wolves since birth, and you get a rare insight into this beautiful arctic predator. I defy anyone to leave the lodge having not created lifelong memories, and having been closer to wolves than they ever thought possible.”
Although they certainly look intimidating, the socialized wolves are smart, and have been raised to enjoy human contact. Nonetheless, It is a rare, yet incredibly worthwhile thing to say you came face-to-face with a wild wolf, and lived to tell the tale.
Isabelle Kagan is a writer from the south shore of Massachusetts. She spent five months studying in Paris and exploring Europe, becoming an avid fan of traveling. In her spare time she also writes for a satire blog. She currently lives in western Massachusetts.