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Road Tripping Norway – Lofoten Islands

There is something special about a road trip.  It seems more personal, you experience the elements more intensely and become more connected to the place.  For the last year and some change I’ve been partaking in a perpetual road trip, mainly in the USA, but occasionally getting to spend some time internationally.  Returning from seven days in the Lofoten Islands, Norway, I think I’ve found one of my new favorite road trip locations.  From the culture, stunning mountains, vast oceans, and the proximity of all these things to one another, it’s got a little bit of something for everyone!

Being a VW owner and lover, needless to say I was excited to find out you can hire a fully set up van with Arctic Campers (www.arcticcampers.no), just down the street from the Leknes airport. Fast forward to some months later, and I was chatting with the folks there at their shop, getting some insider information on some of the best views and hikes to start the day.  Driving off down the road, I couldn’t help but smile with anticipation of what we had in store in the coming week.  It’s easy to see why I was excited to get started, with views like this right out your back hatch how can it get better?!

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Besides having some of the best views from any given road side, of course you can choose to get a little higher up and get in to the mountains.  Only an hour or so from the car park, we gained a decent bit of elevation, enough to get above the clouds and see some of Lofoten’s pristine lakes.

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I wouldn’t consider myself a ‘foodie’, but I love cooking and fresh food, so having access to a stove and fridge whilst traveling is a treat.  Do you ever get home from a trip and feel like you haven’t had a home cooked meal in ages?  Vanlife is the answer 🙂

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I don’t know how anyone could want to stay inside in a hotel room when you can have the best sleep machine earth ever created right outside your windows.

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I was fortunate enough to find a little access road that led to an amazing overlook of the tiny town of Unstad.  Yes, you can camp here, or if you would rather you can sleep down on the beach.

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It wouldn’t be a trip to Lofoten without exploring the tiny fishing village of Reine.  This became our home base, stopping in for coffee in the morning, or afternoon, and of course a softis or two.  If you don’t know what a softis is, you will be pleasantly surprised when you find out.

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Rolf is a fisherman on the islands, and from what I experienced a pretty good one at that.  It’s great to get off the shore and see the mountains rising stark out of the sea.

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Every so often, you find a place in this world that drastically changes your concept of beauty and serenity.  For me, that place was Kvalvika beach.  A short hike over a mountain pass is the only thing that separates you from the rest of the world, but you feel completely detached.  Honestly, I could have stayed there for days, weeks even.  If I was forced to choose just one place to visit the next time I am in Lofoten, this would be it hands down.

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Second place behind Kvalvika Beach would be Reinebringen, the prominent mountain just outside Reine.  Although we had a comfy camper waiting for us at the base of the mountain, it was such a good view of the midnight sun and the mountains we decided to stay at the summit overnight.  That being said, it was sure nice to come down after a few hours of sleep (when the sun doesn’t set it’s hard to go to bed instead of photographing all night!) and hop in the bed for a morning cat nap.

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The only problem I’ve found with Lofoten, is that now I have to return in the other seasons.  Spring was wonderful, and there weren’t too many tourists, the weather never got too cold, but I am intrigued to see summer, fall, and winter.  Well, there is always next time!

Road Trip Norway – Round the Southern Fjords

Norway has been on my radar for some time now, but to be honest I wasn’t sure how soon it would happen.  One thing I had repeatedly heard about Norway was that it was expensive, and being able to make the trip work within a slim budget was paramount.  Luckily, my hobbies are generally inexpensive; hiking, backpacking, and adventuring in the mountains have a bit of an initial investment in gear, but beyond that it’s all as far and as long as your legs and arms can take you.  You’re your own chef, entertainment, tour guide, and planner.  Generally, my tactic in expensive places is hire a car, fill up on groceries, then get out to the wilderness!  As per the standard, that’s exactly what I did.  The route, mainly taking place from the Atlantic Road to Preikestolen, in and out of countless fjords, three weeks in a Ford Fiesta would test my minimal living style, but it’s fuel economy would save heaps on petrol!

I have a bit of a standard procedure when arriving to a foreign country.  I suppose that I’ve become accustomed to a certain style of travel, and it fits my needs pretty well.  Step one, get thru customs ASAP.  No one likes standing in lines, so find the shortest, look presentable and happy, don’t bring any items you’ll need to declare, and get going.  Pick up checked bags (unfortunately with backcountry and or climbing gear, a checked bag is a necessary evil).  Find a SIM card, usually you can buy these at the airport, but if you don’t see a stand ask around for the closest location.  Having a working local phone has become more important for me these days; from using GPS, researching locations, weather, and being able to do some mobile posting.  On to car hire and then hit the road!  I’ve found that for me and my style, I would rather hire a car and sleep in it/camp along the way.

It was a decent flight over, although I wish I had slept more.  I made it about 2 hours drive from the airport before pulling over to take a nap, but then it was onward to Åndalsnes.  I had read that Norway loves it’s hiking, so night one would be a classic, a sunset view up Rampestreken.  It became quickly apparent that there would be a large volume of elevation gained over the next few weeks.  Starting at sea level and cruising up to the snow line in the mountains at least once a day.  Hiking fitness was about to be tested.

Evening at Åndalsnes

Hiking Above Åndalsnes

Over the next few days, I watched the storms come and go, traveling from Åndalsnes up to the Bud and the Atlantic Ocean Road, then continuing south to Alesund, Geiranger, and Jotunheimen.  Being this far north in the summer, sunset was late and sunrise was early, so sleep often came in a couple hour increments throughout the day.

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One thing I’ve learned is that you always want to have extra time in your schedule for unexpected stops.  Cruising along the windy two lane roads there was a perfectly still lake down the hill.  After a half hour of trying to find how to get down to the lake, I took a hike around the water’s edge and was granted some wonderful views of the Norwegian countryside.

Vågstranda

Atlantic Ocean Road

Another lucky find, Trollkirka aka Troll’s Church, was a moderate hike thru an evergreen forest and above the snow line to a cave system that you navigate by head torch, that ends at a cave with a waterfall coming thru the ceiling!

Trollkirka Troll' Church

Somehow I ended up with more sheep photos than I’m proud of, but it’s fine, they are cute.

Sheep Sunset

Alesund Norway

Alpaca

Geiranger Norway

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A trip around the fjords wouldn’t be complete without a visit to some of the more iconic sights, like Trolltunga and Preikestolen.  I find that one of the best ways to get the more popular places to yourself is to camp either along the way or at the attraction itself.

Camping Preikestolen

Nothing like getting a little air below your feet, 604 meters above Lysefjorden.

Looking Down at Preikestolen

I get a lot of looks for hiking in sandals, but my Earthrunners go with me everywhere.  If it’s not freezing, I’m probably wearing them.

On the Edge

We arrived at Trolltunga late, somewhere around Midnight.  It was a taxing hike, something around 8km of the 11km was thru snow, deep and slushy from the full day of sun.  It’s hard to argue though when you’re sitting out on the tongue.

Trolltunga

Waterfall near Trolltunga

Trolltunga Hike

Cold Water Crossing

We ended up doing one ‘tour’.  Although I wouldn’t recommend the way we did it specifically, I did manage to convince the ship captain to let me come in and photograph a bit from the captain’s area, so that was cool 🙂

Fjords

Well that’s about it from southern Norway, Lofoten Islands review is coming up next!