Hopping islands in Norway

Lofoten cover

Hopping islands in Norway

As much as the rave reviews written about the place, it was also the fragile-looking layout of the archipelago that made us include the Lofoten Islands (also Lofoten) in the drive-around itinerary for Norway. The Lofoten Islands are a small chain of islands in the Norwegian Sea, above the Arctic Circle, forming a curious, beak-shaped archipelago.

Officially, the territory of Lofoten comprises the southern tip of the island of Hinnøya, about 60% of the island of Austvågøy, and the islands of Gimsøy, Flakstadøya and Moskenesøya. The far-flung islands of Værøy and Røst are also considered a part of Lofoten. The road E10 runs right through Lofoten,  from Hinnøya to Moskenesøya, the islands being inter-connected through bridges and a couple of undersea tunnels.

Driving in from the mainland, we began to sense a change in topography as we approached Lofoten, with peaks appearing sharper, the increasing presence of fjords, and views of open blue sea. We started to encounter a number of tunnels and passed the 6.3-km-long Sørdal tunnel and the 3.3-km-long Sloverfjord undersea tunnel, before we reached Sandvika Fjord Camping site, near Kabelvåg. We arrived late in the night, and the view we had in the morning — of jagged mountains with a dusting of snow being reflected in the clear waters of the lagoon — was something out of this world!

Go fish!

Fish has been important to Lofoten from time immemorial. The islands have been a centre of active fishing for more than 1,000 years, with fishermen from Norway and neighbouring areas congregating for one of the world’s largest seasonal fishing activity lasting from mid-February to April -end. The millions of northeast arctic cod migrating every year from the Barents Sea towards Lofoten to spawn, form the basis of this huge fishing activity.

Stockfish (split cod fish dried in open air) has been the main export from Lofoten. The particular climate of Lofoten enables the production of the highest quality, and hence the most expensive, stockfish. It is common to see cod fish set out to dry in almost all parts of Lofoten.

We examined the drying stock at close quarters near the fishing village of Eggum.
In the beginning of the 20th century, with the advent of the mechanisation of fishing boats, some of the traditional centres of fishing like Nusfjord and Å declined, while some others like Henningsvær, Ballstad and Stamsund prospered. The now-empty village of Nusfjord has been carefully preserved as a tourist attraction.
A lot of fishing cabins (called rorbu cabins — generally painted in red), which were originally constructed to house the fishermen arriving annually from afar, have now been modified as tourist lodgings. These cabins, many of them sitting on waterfronts, on stilts, are quite popular with tourists.

The delightful fishing village of Henningsvær is something not to be missed during any visit to Lofoten. Henningsvær lies spread over 3-4 small islands, a little away from the coast. The 8-odd-km road from E10 to the village itself is a treat for the eyes because of curious rock formations in a turquoise-coloured sea, and you would want to stop every now and then for photography.

One reaches the village after negotiating two raised, single-lane bridges regulated by traffic light. And one needs to cover the small village, which practically sits on water, on foot as outside vehicles are made to stop at the parking lot at the entrance. The ethereal sight of the beautiful, mostly-white buildings of the village being reflected in the crystal-clear water of the lagoon at the centre, in the backdrop of the jagged mountains of the mainland, was out of this world!

Lofoten was closely connected with the Viking Age, and the Lofotr Viking Museum at Bostad strives to give its visitors a fairly good idea on the history and culture of the Vikings. The museum is a low-slung structure constructed as a replica of the Viking longhouse (Chieftain’s home) that was unearthed nearby.

There are a lot of other sights in Lofoten. The Kabelvag Church is the second-biggest wooden church in Norway. Then there is the Pebble Beach (at Eggum) that’s fully covered with smooth rocks. A WWII German radar position, which has been well-preserved, lies nearby. The sandy beach of Ramberg is popular with tourists.

The last stop

As we entered the southern-most connected island of Lofoten, the Moskenesøya, the terrain became more rugged and fragile. The road mostly clung perilously to the edge of the cliffs directly over the sea. We hopped across a few small islands to reach the beautiful village of Reine, which seems suspended in a small space between the mountains and the sea. We drove on to the village of Å, which is the last point in Lofoten, with the road ending at a parking lot. We were sorry when it was time to take the long ferry ride from Moskenes to the mainland.

Lofoten presents one with so many vistas that are likely to remain with you forever — be it Henningsvaer, Kabelvåg, Reine, or others. Lofoten is a heady combination of mountains, fjords, fish and clear blue seas.

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