My Travel Map

My Travel Map

09 April 2014

Lofoten, Norway

Our goal for the road trip (see the last post) was to get out to literally the end of the road in Lofoten, a waterlogged and mountainous archipelago shooting off the Northern Coast of Norway into the Norwegian Sea.  This place instantly became one of my new favorite spots in the world.

As was highlighted in the last post, there were plenty of waterfalls and reflective lakes and fjords around Lofoten.  On the two days driving out, it was overcast and scattered showers, loading up the high places with plenty of water to come cascading down those steep sided mountains.  The lakes and fjords were especially dark, thanks again to those steep mountains surrounding them on nearly all sides, so they were nearly perfect mirror surfaces to reflect the surrounding landscapes.  All of this added so much to the beauty and mystique of the place.

Despite the plethora of boathouses, small fishing villages, and farmsteads, we didn't really see very many people at all on the drive out.  This added a very ethereal and hauntingly dreamlike quality to the places we passed through.

And the driving was truly epic.  The further we ventured into Lofoten, the more extremely beautiful the landscape became.  The roads narrowed, right to the point where they were only ~1.5 lanes wide with no center line (thank goodness we had a tiny little car), and you were just filled with this sense of driving to the tip of civilization, the furthest outpost of humanity at the brink of pure and unadulterated wilderness, which in some sense, was exactly what we were doing.

This shipwreck was captivating.  It was lost from another time and left to decay at the tide's highest extent along this seaweed rimmed fjord.

With landscapes like this, how was I not supposed to take a million pictures?  So many amazing photo opportunities also led to very, very slow driving, which was fine for our schedule overall.

I mentioned in the last post how much Norway reminded me of New Zealand.  The shot above could have been taken straight out of the glacial lakes in the Southern Alps... it reminded me so much of Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu, and the Remarkables.

We stopped for a proper brunch at a cafe in Svolvær, the largest town in Lofoten.  I was surprised by how industrial the town was actually... the main industry being fishing.  The town (really a village) has less than 10,000 people, but over 200,000 tourists pass through each year.  The food at the cafe, called Bacalao, along the docks was excellent, a warm welcome to the camp food we'd been living on, and I was blown away by the pictures of surfers shredding the waves with wintry Arctic Circle backdrops (yes, you can surf in Lofoten!).

Testament to the fishing industry, it was in Svolvær that we first started to see the large A-frame racks used for drying cod. During peak season, thousands of the large cold water fish hang out in the sun to dry.  Dried salt cod has been a principal export of Lofoten for hundreds of years, and there is evidence of that dependence on the fish all throughout the region.

Svolvær is a very pleasant place, and there is obviously a lot of money in the area.  Considering how expensive everything was in Norway, it still amazes me that restaurants and pubs can stay in business.  In Svolvær, it also seemed like half the village owned nice boats.  I guess the cod fishing business isn't suffering from depleted stocks or anything at the moment.

Onward, and back on the road... the beautiful, beautiful road

Another spectacular bridge, with the height being as it is to accommodate tall ships passing through underneath.  The winds atop this one were particularly fierce and strong... actually shifting the momentum of the car several times.

When we turned the corner into this valley, our mouths all fell open in shock at the sheer magnitude of it.   This picture does little justice, since you lose all sense of scale after the road passes over the crest in the distance; you can take my word for it though, this valley is huge.

I could see myself living in Lofoten.  It would be just perfect to get a little house with some land near a village with a nice view of mountains and the sea.  I don't know how well I would manage through the winters, but I'm quite sure the summers and the overall peace would make up for those days of long dark night.

A slight exploratory detour led us to this gem.  Such a characterful barn.  I should note that I haven't touched any of these photos up at all... they are all as taken.  The storm in the background had us a little concerned that our drive (well, mostly our views) would be further disrupted by rain, but they ended up rolling out to sea or dissipating along the coast on the other side of those mountains.  Those clouds sure as hell added an atmospheric backdrop for this barn though.

With each new valley, the scenery just got better and better, and we seemed more and more remote.

As we approached the end of the archipelago, the landscape just got more and more extreme.  Some of these mountains and ridge lines were like landscapes out of someones imagination.  They seemed to jagged, yet wavy and all-around complex to be real.

As we got closer to the last islands in the chain, the skies started to really clear, and the magnitude of the peaks around us was revealed in full detail.

We approached our destination at the start of the hours-long sunset.  We stopped in the small fishing hamlet of Hamnøy to take in our new surroundings...

And this is what we saw... I was so excited by that shark-fin of a monolith across the Reinefjorden.  Immediately, I thought about how brilliant of a rock climbing destination this must be.  There are enormous granite slabs and cliffs scattered throughout the entire island, all offering spectacular views of the surrounding area.

We parked the car just past the town of Reine and set up camp alongside the road.  We did this in a hurry to ensure we could take advantage of the clear skies and get in a hike before sunset.  We took a well-worn trail just about straight up the side of the nearest mountain to a saddle point in a ridge line connecting the main peak to a smaller shoulder.  I'm so glad we made this hike in time and were lucky enough to have good weather for it, since it offered us this view. The last big island in the archipelago seems to be just as much water as it is land.  It is like a single puzzle piece for the most complex jigsaw puzzle in the world.

Another view from the top... looking out to the southwest at the storm clouds over the Norwegian Sea.  The land in the distance is the very tip of Lofoten.

My friend standing atop the shoulder of the mountain.  The gradients in the landscape here just blew my mind.  These peaks shot right up, hundreds of meters right out of the sea.

Looking down at the road we came in on, hopping from low-lying island to island and connecting the town of Reine (closest), the island of Moskenesoya (middle left), and the fishing hamlet, Hamnøy, (furthest buildings seen here).  From this vantage point, I felt like I was flying over the city in a plane, not standing on solid ground above it!

Looking back into the island.  From here, it looks like a series of mountains and valleys, but in reality, almost all of the low points are water-filled by either lakes or fjords.

For example, this local minima point is a nearly circular lake, which I guess provides the local communities with great water pressure, despite their being located right at sea level.

I ended up being hypnotized by this storm over the sea as we made our way back down the mountain.

Back at camp in time for the actual sunset.  This turned out to be our first night without aurora, due in part to cloud cover and the mountains blocking almost all of the northern sky.  Because of this, we ended up getting a really great night's sleep.

And we woke up to this incredible sunrise, bringing fresh, crisp new light and an excitingly clear morning.  I could stare at those mountains and coast line for hours.  I still want to get back there and do more hiking... I wonder how many routes there are to other high places in the area... I'm sure there are plenty.

If not by hiking trail, there are most definitely plenty of rock climbing routes up those cliffs... a quick google image search confirms that.

In the morning light, our hiking route didn't look nearly as intimidating as the day before, when the clouds were scraping the tops of the peaks.  Our hike took us straight up the side of that mountain (really a shoulder) seen here on the left.  There were plenty of switch backs, so the route wasn't too bad at all, and it only took us about 45 mins or so to get up to the saddle point on the ridge line.  The climb started on a muddy trail through dense trees but then opened up about a quarter to a third of the way up to grass and shrubs.  As you could tell from the pics above, the other side of that shoulder consists mostly of nearly vertical cliffs, offering those spectacular views back down on the fjord and islands below.

The picture perfect town of Reine, Lofoten, Norway.  With such a calm clear morning, we were graced with mirror-like water in the fjord to reflect that beautiful morning light.  This made for some pretty spectacular photo opportunities, and I'll let the next few pictures speak for themselves.

These terrifying skulls adorned two arches outside of Reine's gas station.  What looked at first to be dragon skulls turned out to be that of one of the prized catches of the region: North Atlantic cod.  Cod fishing is the predominant industry in Lofoten, and the evidence of that fact is clear all around.

As in Svolvær, there were plenty of drying racks all around the towns too.  This one had more cod skulls hanging from it.

Inside a fishing hut hung even more cod skulls, which made me realize that I definitely wouldn't want to be bitten by a cod!

And even more rows of drying racks are seen here in the distance.  At the peak of the season, thousands and thousands of cod hang out on those racks to dry.  It must be an incredible sight, but an awful smell.

Cod aren't the only things the Norwegians fish for from Lofoten.  The archipelago is also one of the last bastions of Norwegian whaling.  I personally am not a fan of whaling, but I respect how the Norwegians and Icelanders maintain the tradition as part of their heritage and culture.  Both nations are very good about taking only what they need and not killing unnecessarily.  Compared to the Japanese, the Norwegians take very few whales each year (a few hundred) and they only target Minke whales, which are not endangered or at any risk of being so. It was bizarre and somewhat awkward to find whale meat in the grocery stores and even in burger form at a food festival in Tromsø.  This advertisement in the photo above was found on a commercial fishery on one of the islands near Reine.  It was mostly a joke from what I could tell.  If you zoom in, you can make out the details on the different "cuts" of whale (hval) meat there... not quite the type of humor that will go over well in too many places around the world.

Fishing is obviously right at the heart and soul of Lofoten natives though.  For many of them, the sea is their livelihood, and no one in Lofoten is ever far from the water.  Non-natives can also take part in this though.  Many of the cabins along the water are rented out as fishing huts for tourists to stay in and use as a base for fishing trips during the summer months.  I surely might take advantage of that fact sometime in the future.

Many places around Lofoten had green roofs, where turf is laid down on top of a building and grass allowed to grow right on it.  If your roof is able to support the weight (especially during winter when snow doesn't slide off so easily), then this is supposed to be a wonderfully efficient way to better insulate your home.  I just loved the look of those places... the green roof just adds so much character and charm to a house.

As elsewhere in Scandinavia, there were plenty of different, brightly colored buildings around Lofoten.  The large structure seen on the lower right here was a Co-op... and as far as we could tell, this was the areas main market.  That hinted at the more socialist nature of the locals.

Another view of Reine from across the water.  It is such a pleasant and picture-perfect little town.

The lighting that morning was just spectacular.  The shifting, white clouds ensured ever-changing soft light with periods of intense rays breaking through.

The combination of clouds and sun also offered up this lovely and perfectly full-arched rainbow... with a full reflection in the fjord.  Between the aurora shows we had been getting almost nightly, the spectacular scenery, and now this, Nature just seemed to be showing off with Norway.  And I wasn't complaining.

This rainbow stuck around for around 15 minutes or so.  We were the only people on the dock when it starting to appear, but by the end, there were many of us all smiling and expressing how incredible it was to be so bright and fully formed.

And the proof that it was a full arc... making an arch right across the fjord.  Perfection.

Apparently there were two leprechauns working this rainbow... we should have gone looking for them.

The view back towards our campsite from the night before.

These are some of the fishing huts that are available to rent out that I had mentioned.  Oh yes, and another rainbow was forming in this picture too.

This second rainbow didn't form a full arc like the first one, but it was a lot more intense.  The colors of the visible spectrum came through so clearly...

This really is a magical place.  I've never seen any region as beautiful... except for maybe New Zealand... though I didn't have any rainbows like this there, or any aurora... (though they definitely get both)

Our last night of camping on the return trip, and as if bidding us farewell, we got another auroral show.  It started as an intense and very well defined arc.

It broke up over the mountains to the east of us.

Though not as incredible as the show from the troll bridge, this was still pretty nice.  Especially with those mountains acting as a nice feature on the horizon and those moonlit clouds in the foreground.  So thus ends my adventures in Norway.  I had an amazing time there, and I will most definitely return at some point in my life.  I want to go camping again and spend more time getting lost in Lofoten.  I want to surf in the Arctic Circle, spend some time relaxing in one of those fishing huts, and take in more of Norway's natural magic.