Norway, the country that stole our hearts back in 2014 when we drove Pablo our trusty camper all the way up to the Arctic. We fell in love with the deep fjords in the south, carved through the rocky landscape where we could stand 1000m above sheer drops, but it was the spiky mountains in the north, rising straight out of the sea in the Lofoten Islands that really had our jaws dropping to the floor. That trip was during a summer heatwave with 30° weather which lasted for weeks so we spent our days hiking up mountains and jumping into crystal clear lakes. With a new favourite country up our sleeves we wanted to return but at a different time of year so in 2018 we headed to a remote village about 100km north of the Arctic Circle to experience the polar nights and witness the Northern Lights. We loved it, so we came back again for another winter in 2019 and here we are again in 2023…we just can’t get enough of this beautiful country!
We had an overnight stop in Oslo airport, sleeping next to the desolate baggage claim zone, at least it seemed quiet and empty until a flight from New York came in at 4am, the conveyor belt began beeping loudly and around 100 people hovered around our lifeless looking bodies while they waited for their bags. It was -10 degrees outside and snow was slowly drifting down and setting on the runway. Staff had their work cut out trying to keep up with clearing it all and trucks were filled with snow so it could be moved to another location, it was quite the operation and even as we sat on the plane a machine came around and sprayed the windscreen and wings with something to remove ice and snow. Our next flight took us all the way north to Harstad and on the way we flew over some spectacular scenery. The whole landscape was covered in a blanket of white snow, there were frozen lakes, lonely islands, jagged peaks and the most beautiful apricot and strawberry coloured sky which lasted the entire flight. A three hour bus journey took us through a winter wonderland with a heavy layer of snow draped across the pine trees and mountains everywhere we looked. I was fighting to stay awake and enjoy the scenery but my heavy eyes kept winning.
Once the bus dropped us off in the Lofoten Islands we piled on all our layers and prepared for a walk to the ferry terminal. Ironically the bus seemed to continue there but we hadn’t thought to ask so instead we walked like awkward snails, carrying our homes on our backs while trying not to slip on the treacherous ice. We had a bit of a wait for the boat but finally, after over 24 hours of travel we arrived on a small island home to less than 200 people. This will be our base for the next couple of months while we stay with friends. The chances of aurora were pretty good but we just couldn’t stay awake long enough to find out so we finally got some well needed sleep.
We woke early the next day as we needed to do a big food shop in the nearest town, the tiny village stores are really handy for a few bits but we wanted to stock up in a bigger and cheaper supermarket so we hopped back on the ferry. It was another clear sky day so before we headed to the shops we walked the opposite direction, towards the wilderness. It’s the start of January so right now the sun still isn’t rising above the horizon but within a few days it will return and when it does it happens fast, each day we’ll be gaining about 10 minutes extra day light. When the sun returns it’ll just pop up for 45 minutes on the first day, but by the end of January it will be up for 5 and a half hours. Even though the sun isn’t rising yet the sky still becomes light between 10am and 2pm.
We walked through some residential streets, set beside sea-inlets and lakes with mountains looming all around. Christmas decorations were still out so the wooden houses looked magical with fairy lights wrapped around them. We tried heading up a mountain but there was too much snow and ice so we compromised and opted for a small hill where we stopped for lunch with a view of the snowy peaks.
It was a perfect first day back in Norway but we were shattered by the time we caught the ferry back and darkness was already upon us by 3pm. There was no time to rest though as the northern lights were starting to dance above us and we had to make the effort to head out and photograph them. It was a beautiful first show and perfect conditions without any wind so we didn’t feel too cold standing outside while the green lady swirled around the moon-lit sky.
Now we were stocked up on food and ready to start spending our days exploring the island. For a small island there were quite a few different trails to follow but for our first adventure we headed to the beaches. There’s a collection of fabulous white sand beaches and water as clear and blue as the Caribbean so I couldn’t wait to check them out. The walk there wasn’t easy though, all this clear, cold weather had frozen the snow into a slick sheet of ice which was very difficult to walk on so we wore our shoe-spikes for some extra grip. As soon as we got a glimpse of the first beach I began to get excited, the water was turquoise even on a dark winters day. We decided to clamber up a hill to get a better vantage point of the beach and the stunning mountains that rise straight out the sea. Today was also the first day the sun would be coming above the horizon, the mountains on the mainland blocked our view but the sky was glowing a fiery orange colour. The wind was the only downer and it was blowing an absolute hooley! We could barely find a sheltered spot to drink our flask of coffee but it was very amusing as we battled the elements while just trying to pour coffee into our cup without spilling it everywhere.
We made our way over the rocky headland to the next beaches and managed to spot a seal swimming through the clear water below us. The moon was full and seemed to trace the shape of the mountains as it slowly made its way east. With the sun tucked below the horizon after it’s brief appearance twilight soon began creeping in and at this time of year that often starts with a pastel pink glow that blends beautifully into mauve before the sky is a fabulous ink-blue colour and stars begin to shine.
The following day we took a stroll around the village, seeing the tiny red fisherman cabins built on stilts above the sea and huge mountain backdrops with cliffs so sheer that the snow just slides right off to reveal the bare, black rock. From the tip of the island we got a view of a lighthouse and a quick glimpse of the sun. We were treated to a lovely sunset at 12:30pm with dozens of stripy clouds catching the golden light and the silhouette of seagulls flying across the sky.
There was a nice community spirit on the island and when we celebrated Craig’s 40th birthday the locals happened to be having a party just to keep peoples spirits high during the dark months. Before the party we were invited to someone’s house for pre-drinks…but not any old drink, this guy was extremely passionate about brewing his own beer which he did in small batches and bottled them up. Chairs kept appearing from the cellar into the cozy lounge (almost too cozy with an AC unit cranked up to 28 degrees and a fire roaring!) for us all to sit and then we saw a menu on the table with around 8 different beers and a small description (in Norwegian) about the taste with a little photo to show the beer colour and a quirky name like ‘Santa’s Self-Medication’ and ‘Lucky Jack APA’. There were plenty of shots being passed around, mostly created by locals who added berries or herbs to bottles of vodka and boy did they pack a punch. We also learnt that Norwegians love a late night, ideally we would be asleep by 11pm but it was 1am when we finally left the house and went to the actual party which had a very school disco vibe with a couple of people on the dance floor, smoke billowing out a machine and multicoloured disco lights. We didn’t get home until 3am and it wiped us out for the next couple of days.
We spent January chasing these amazing light conditions that make winter in the Arctic so magical. Some days were calm with pastel pinks and orange glows while other days the clouds would completely turn fuchsia pink and look almost artificial.
There were a couple of really memorable sunsets where we had to run up a snowy hill as quick as possible to get a 360 degree view as the sky was going crazy in all directions. We didn’t know which way to look as it was so dramatic with cotton candy clouds hugging the mountain tops and every shade of pink imaginable filled the sky.
Of course there were also plenty of days (in fact the vast majority!) with gloomy grey skies, strong winds, heavy rain and dumps of snow, but we tried to make the most of it and enjoy all the elements.
One thing I wanted to do more of this time in Norway was wild swimming which we regularly do in warmer climates, but not so often when its below zero outside. The first time I swam on the island was very impromptu. It was about -2 degrees outside and we were out on a little stroll to the beaches. Just as we arrived it began snowing with those perfect snow flakes that drift lazily through the sky. There wasn’t any wind and the sea was glassy so I decided it was as good a time as any to brave a quick dip, which was indeed very quick and I looked more like a fish trying to wrangle itself off a line than a calm and collected wild swimmer. With it being a spur of the moment decision I hadn’t brought along any swimwear or a towel so I used a spare pare of socks in my bag to dry-off.
We weren’t the only people on the beach, the seal we’d spotted a couple weeks before appeared and he seemed to be very interested in us. Craig began whistling different songs and the seal dove down and we could see his grey body gliding through the clear water until he popped his little head up in front of us so he could get a closer look. He seemed so curious, gradually making his way closer to us and stopping to stare our way. When we told some local about this lovely encounter they thought we’d mistaken an otter for a seal as they’ve never seen one here before.
Our evenings on the island were spent searching for the northern lights which have seemed to be a little illusive this season. We’ve had a few really nice shows though, I think we’re just spoilt from our previous aurora sightings where the sky exploded and looked like it was almost a bizarre sort of vortex above us with green and pink raining down. Our shows here have been a lot more subtle and slower moving but that just means their much easier to capture in photos.
Our first month has flown by but we’re excited for February when there will be more daylight hours so we can get out and explore for longer. I’ll end this post with some photos from the last day in January when we were treated to a beautiful sunrise filled with pastel tones and a brewing snowstorm followed by an evening of aurora swirling through the clear sky.