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Norway: From Kristiansand to Kirkenes (Jane Swindail) PDF Printable Version E-mail

 

FROM KRISTIANSAND TO KIRKENES

Jane Swindail

June 2003

Eleven weeks exploring the highways and byways of Norway.

From mid-April until the end of June 2003 my husband George and I toured Norway in our motorcaravan, a hightop conversion on a 1997 VW LT35. What follows is a summary of our travels along with a few thoughts which might be of interest to others contemplating a similar trip.

Week 1  In south-west Norway, from the ferry port at Kristiansand to Lindesnes lighthouse (the southernmost in Norway) and the beaches and sand dunes of the Jaeren coast south of Stavanger.

Week 2  Into fjordland, including a trek up to Preikestolen (Pulpit Rock) above Lysefjord, and an informative afternoon at the Hardangervidda Visitor Centre near Eidfjord.

Week 3  The run to the north, leaving the western fjords by driving along Sognefjellsvegen, over the highest mountain pass in northern Europe, and joining the E6 to cross Dovrefjell, culminating in crossing the Arctic Circle on May 6th. The snow lay several metres deep away from the cleared roads, and many lakes were ice-covered.

Week 4  Continuing northwards on the E6, with a brief detour to Tromsø.

Week 5  An exploration of coastal Finnmark (especially the Nordkynn and Varanger peninsulas), with marvellous scenery and birds, quiet roads, remote villages, milder weather than we had anticipated, and our first walk in the midnight sun.

Week 6  Visiting Kirkenes and the Russian border area, both around the small coastal settlement of Grense Jakobselv and south along the Pasvik valley, and returning to Tromsø via Finland.

Week 7  To the island of Senja, then by ferry to Andenes on the Vesteralen islands for a whale safari (5 wet hours and no whales!). Later, a meander south into the Lofoten islands

Week 8 Exploring the Lofotens, with their spectacular scenery of white sand beaches, clear blue sea and jagged mountain peaks.

Week 9  Back on the mainland (via the Moskenes - Bodø ferry) and gradually southbound via the Rv17 coastal route to Mo-i-Rana, with interesting visits to Saltstraumen and the Engebreen arm of the Svartisen ice cap.

Week 10  Avoiding the increasing numbers of northbound motorcaravans (British registrations were conspicuous by their absence) by detouring off the E6 along quiet side roads, and visiting the old copper-mining town of Røros before heading west to Hardangervidda.

Week 11  Two days in Rjukan (the site of the heavy-water plant of WWII fame), with the opportunity to walk on the edge of Hardangervidda after an ascent by cable-car. Then a gentle meander to Kristiansand, seeking out stave churches and the locks of the Telemark Canal on the way.

Norway surpassed our expectations in terms of scenery, as no amount of reading or looking at photographs can prepare you for the extent, scale and variety the country has to offer. Despite travelling for days on end the view never seemed repetitious or boring, but continued to inspire interest and wonder. In fact, the only time we were not totally gripped by the landscape we were passing through was when we cut through Finland on our way back to Tromsø: even this had its compensations, though, in the form of speedier travel and slightly cheaper fuel and food en route.

Apart from viewing the scenery as we drove, we took every opportunity to get out and walk, whether for several miles across country or simply a short stroll. We always went equipped with binoculars for birdwatching and, although we missed out on some of the species we had expected, we were thrilled to see (often at quite close range) birds we had never seen before (smew, snow bunting, king eider, hawk owl and others).

A word of warning to any waterfall addicts who may be thinking of visiting Norway - choose your time carefully. Despite the spring thaw being well under way (the early part of the year had been relatively mild), some of the major waterfalls in the south were almost non-existent in late April. We discovered that they are only “switched on” in the tourist season (June 20th to August 20th), the water being diverted into hydro-electricity schemes for the rest of the year.

Now for the heretical bit - we did not visit Nordkapp! For us the time and money were better spent seeing other parts of the north, which is a time consuming business as every route away from the main road has to be retraced since there are no car ferries permitting circular routes to be constructed (although with a small 'van it would be possible, but expensive, to use the Hurtigrute coastal cruise vessels for this). Slettnes lighthouse on the Nordkynn peninsula (the northernmost mainland lighthouse in the world at over 71ºN) became our Nordkapp, and we still had the time and enthusiasm to drive via Vardø (Norway's easternmost town) to the old fishing village of Hamningberg. Overnighting here gave us the opportunity to wander by the shore in the light of the midnight sun.

We used many ferries, some of necessity (the E6 in Nordland can only be followed by taking the ferry between Bognes and Skarberget), some from choice. Being only 5.5 metres long, our 'van was treated as a car, but fares were higher for vehicles over 6 metres, in many cases over twice what we were charged, making some of the longer crossings very expensive.

Maybe we were unlucky with the few campsites we used, as we found them to be expensive yet providing barely adequate facilities. This encouraged us to wild camp, which is essential in some areas in any case and freed us to travel at our own pace rather than jumping from site to site. Although the authorities are clamping down on overnighting in some of the more touristy areas in the south, on the whole we found it relatively easy to find a quiet place to stay, although this may be harder in high season. We spent many nights in solitary splendour (except on the odd occasions when we were joined by a German, Dutch or Norwegian 'van), by Norwegian Sea or Arctic Ocean beaches, alongside fjords, by waterfalls or rushing rivers, or high in the fells - for us a major part of “the Norway experience”.

Because we weren't using sites we got through plenty of gas, but this caused no problems as filling our Carabottle was cheap and easy, just needing a little planning to ensure a visit to one of the few places selling LPG several days before we expected to run out. (Petrol stations selling LPG do not advertise the fact, and a list of such stations is essential - we started with a list gleaned from the internet, but obtained a more detailed one from the very helpful tourist information office in Dombas). Our roof-mounted solar panel worked wonders, too - it can never have provided a charge (admittedly not always large) for so many hours per day as it did on this trip.

Toilet and waste water emptying points are available around Norway, especially along the main roads. They are often listed in tourist office leaflets and normally reasonably well signposted. Many, but not all, are on petrol station forecourts; many, but not all, are free; many, but not all, work! We found it best to call in even when emptying was not a priority, in case those that were further on were out of order - we assumed that more care is taken to maintain these points (used by coaches as well as motorcaravans) during the summer. Fresh water was usually available at the emptying points, but all petrol stations we asked at were happy for us to fill up at the tap provided for use by motorists.                      

Norway has a reputation as an expensive country so we went prepared, with every nook and cranny in the 'van containing tins and packets of food or other supplies (we had consulted the customs allowances very carefully before stocking up, but the customs men at Kristiansand seemed to have no interest in either us or any other vehicle leaving our ferry). We still had to buy fruit and vegetables, of course, at what seemed extortionate prices (almost £2 for a small cauliflower!) but at least we felt we were making our money stretch as far as possible. The cost of diesel varied around the country, but was generally similar to that at home.

Was it expensive? Yes, but wild camping saved us a great deal. Was it worth it? Yes, definitely. Would we go again? Yes, even though we embarked on this tour with the thought that it would be a one-off and have a long list of other countries we would like to visit. Sooner or later the scenery and the birds will draw us back.

Pulpit Rock: the more adventurous sit on the edge, with a sheer 600 metre drop to the waters of Lysefjord. 

Norway01.JPG

 

 

At the beginning of May the road across Sognefjell had only just been reopened after the winter closure.

Norway02.JPG

 

The Polar Circle Centre, on a suitably remote and snowy plateau.

Norway03.JPG

The main road on the Nordkynn peninsula, crossing deserted fells - the guide book described the landscape as “lunar”, but it didn't look quite like that in May!  Norway04.JPG
The bleak surroundings of Slettnes lighthouse were excellent for birdwatching.  Norway05.JPG
Just a short stroll from our night halt we had glorious views of the midnight sun over the Barents Sea.  Norway06.JPG
Coloured posts mark the border between Norway (yellow) and Russia (red and green): this is near the tiny settlement of Grense Jakobselv.  Norway07.JPG
The beach at Flakstad in the Lofotens looked almost tropical!  Norway08.JPG
A short ferry ride and a long walk took us to the snout of the Engebreen glacier.

Norway09.JPG

Røros (a copper-mining centre until the late twentieth century) is on UNESCO's World Heritage list.  Norway10.JPG
Cod-drying racks like this are a common sight around the fishing villages of the north-west.  Norway11.JPG
This log-built chapel at Heidal in the Sjoa valley was originally on a local farm, but was moved next to the village church to save it from use as a barn.  Norway12.JPG

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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