Sunday 23 August 2015

Road-tripping in Scandinavia 3: Lofoten Islands

Islands have long been a source of fascination to me, and so when it came to choosing a destination for a two-week holiday from Sweden we settled on the idea of visiting the Lofoten islands, an archipelago in northern Norway, about 200km north of the Arctic circle. Although far north, these islands enjoy a relatively mild climate due to the Gulf Stream along with some quite awe-inspiring topography. 

View from above the village of Vikten in the middle of Lofoten.

What I knew about these islands was precious little, but as a keen birder they appealed to me. I was hoping to see puffins and had read about a rare breed of dog called the lundehund (once used to hunt puffins). I saw neither, but this omission was more than compensated for by the staggering beauty of these islands, which makes them popular with landscape artists. 

While there, aside from bracing walks and enjoying the scenery, we visited the Viking museum which was a good indoor activity for a rainy day and The Lofoten House Gallery, featuring a collection of classic northern Norwegian landscape art, in the scenic little town of Henningsvaer.

Our first glimpse of the archipelago was at the end of the three-hour ferry crossing from Bodø to Moskenes. It was a murky day, and to be honest, the sun (albeit the midnight sun) was rather elusive during our week on the islands. 

First glimpse of the islands from the ferry.

Lofoten is popular with outdoor enthusiasts who come here to hike, bike and kayak. This adventure centre is in Reine close to the southern tip of the islands. We didn't really have the gear for serious outdoor activities however. If you are planning to go messing about outdoors, come prepared even if you think it's summer!

World War 2 is still very much present in the minds of Norwegians who suffered terribly under the Nazis. This is an outdoor sculpture by a Japanese artist (see details below) which pays homage to the war. It's close to some bunkers on the islands. Apparently many of the Lofoten residents were evacuated to Scotland during the war.

The artist responsible for the landscape installation above. 

We visited this glassblower in a village called Vikten which was a pleasant interlude. There's also a lovely circular walk here that starts at the end of the village and returns you to the carpark. I saw the short-tailed eagle here (also known as a sea eagle). A bonus!

Sheep crossing close to Vikten.

This was our awesome base for a few days at Sakrisøy near Reine in the south. Beyond in the fjord we actually saw a small family of orcas (or killer whales) and later spotted some kayaks heading out to get closer to them. 

On the western side of the islands there are sandy beaches and some pleasant walks that don't require serious outdoor gear. This was close to a place called Fredvang.
Also at Fredvang.
View from Å (which means stream) at the southern tip of the islands.
Everywhere we saw these racks of cod drying in the breeze, the export Lofoten is most famous for. They have to wait for a dry spell before they can take them down, but we tapped a couple of these, and they were hard to the touch and so really like fish 'biltong' (in South African terms).
A place called Hovsund close to our second home base near Gimsøysand. Here it rained for two solid days but we witnessed this lovely play of light and shade during our evening stroll on our first day there. In theory, this was our best chance of seeing the midnight sun but that didn't happen.
Anyone wishing to be a road engineer should visit Norway. What we would celebrate in South Africa as a major achievement is quite commonplace. This reminded me a bit of Chapman's Peak in Cape Town.

Early June but spring had only just arrived.
This chap was fishing from the pier while we were waiting to catch the Hurtigruten from Svolvaer back to Trondheim. Turned out he was also from Africa, but from Algeria at the other end of the continent.

A hired car does make it easier to get around and to explore, especially if you base yourself in one spot. The weather is very changeable so be sure to bring good outdoor clothing with you if you're planning to spend any time outdoors. You could start at Svolvaer and work your way south, or vice-versa, as we did. From a scenic point of view, the southern end around Reine was by far the most dramatic.

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