Senja and the Lofoten Islands

After an amazing week in Svalbard, we travel south in search of the Northern Lights with a trip around Lyngen, Senja and the Lofoten Islands. We’ve hired a car from Tromsø (having flown into here from Longyearbyen in Svalbard), and cover about 1,500km over ten days, finishing at Svolvaer where we leave the car and take the Hurtigruten down to Bergen.

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About Lofoten

Lofoten is a chain of islands to the north-west of Norway in the county of Nordland. Known for its distinctive terrain of dramatic mountains and peaks that form a backdrop to the fjords, the scenery lives up to it’s reputation!

Also in Nordland, at the start of our drive to the Lofoten Islands, is Lyngen. The Lyngen peninsula (also known as the Lyngen Alps) is a scenic and mountainous area, and contains many of the highest peaks in Troms county (the highest being Jiekkevarre at 1,833 metres).

South-west of Lyngen and just north of the Lofoten Islands is Senja,  the second largest island in Norway which is connected to the mainland by the 1,147 metre long Gisund Bridge. A popular tourist destination known for its scenery (a mix of sea, mountains, fishing villages and beaches), Senja has been described as “Norway in miniature” with the island’s diverse scenery reflecting almost the entire span of Norwegian nature.

(Nordland extends about 500 km from Nord-Trøndelag to Troms, or 800km by road, and is one of the least polluted areas in Europe. So it’s also great for watching the northern lights!)

Nordland has a long history of fishing, with the Lofoten Islands being a centre of of cod fisheries for over 1,000 years. Fish became Norway’s first significant export commodity in the Middle Ages, addressing a market for dried fish in England and on the continent (stockfish being the term for air-dried cod). For centuries, stockfish was the country’s biggest export. The fishing season is in February/March, with the fish then hung on hjell from February to May to dry.

The famous Moskstraumen (Malstrøm), a system of tidal eddies, is located in western Lofoten and the the root of the term maelstrom. It’s the second strongest whirlpool in the world with flow currents reaching speeds as high as 32 km/h [Wikipedia].

When to go (and for how long)

While the Lofoten Islands lie within the Arctic Circle, they have one of the world’s largest elevated temperature anomalies relative to their high latitude [Wikipedia]. We visited in September, where we were still able to enjoy relatively long days, amazing displays of northern lights and great hiking (all hiking trails being snow-free and accessible). In hindsight, this was a great time to visit – although our timing was somewhat dictated by Australian school holidays – given our objective of seeing as much as we could by car while fitting in as much hiking as possible.

The only caveat at this time of year is that many restaurants are closed or facilities are not fully operational. For example, while almost everywhere we stayed had a hot tub, all (except one) had closed these for the season. Many fishing tours or “summer activities” were no longer offered, or had to be booked well in advance. Conversely, we enjoyed staying in many fishing villages where we were just about the only guests! It felt to us that tourism in the Lofoten Islands “shuts down” at the end of summer.

Personally, travelling in the middle of summer – despite the attraction of the midnight sun – is not so appealing, as I enjoyed the relative solitude of all but the most-popular walks. I think our experience would have been very different a few months earlier (August would be a good time, though).

Around April/May would also be appealing, as the mountains would be snow-covered and look even more spectacular… but without skis and/or snow-shoes and a lot of alpine hiking experience, I wouldn’t have been able to do any of the hikes that I enjoyed so much. If you’re not into hiking (or prefer skiing), I think March-May would be a great time to visit.

For the pros & cons of when to go, 69North has a useful When to Visit Lofoten page on their Web site that explains what to expect at different times of the year.

We spent a week in the Lofoten Islands, staying 1-2 nights at each location – plus three days getting there (from Tromsø). The scenery around Lyngen and Senja was as spectacular as Lofoten, so I’d recommend adding a few extra days if you’re driving. We could easily have spent a few more days in Lofoten: there are many more hikes I could have done, and having 2-3 days at each location would have provided a bit more flexibility to pick the best weather for the higher-altitude walks. If you’re just driving and not doing outdoor activities, 5-7 days would enable to cover all the major attractions. For fishing tours or wildlife tours, book (at least) a week in advance,

Getting there

We flew into Tromsø from Svalbard, and then drove via Alta, Lyngen and Senja – a most enjoyable drive of about 900km over a number of days as we initially went north, before heading to the Lofoten Islands. (It would have been an easy and shorter 300km drive if we’d gone directly to the Lofoten Islands!) We then returned the car at Svolvaer, taking the Hurtigruten from there (which cost about USD$400 extra for a one-way rental).

There are flights into Leknes and Svolvær, these are generally not direct flights from either Tromsø or Oslo. It would be a long (1,300km) drive from Oslo, so flying into Leknes (one direct flight per week with Wideroe or via an intermediate stop with SAS or Wideroe would be an option).

The Hurtigruten (coastal passenger ferry) stops at Stamsund and Svolvær in the Lofoten Islands, and can take you from Bergen (which is a 450m drive from Oslo or a short 50min flight).

Travelling though the Lofoten Islands by public transport is not something I’d recommend: the scenery is amazing and having a car allows you to stop or take scenic detours. We were travelling off-season, so almost everywhere that we stayed the restaurant was closed, meaning a drive to the nearest large town or picking up something to eat on the way. Finally, many of the hiking trails start a short distance from any towns, so having a car makes it much easier to get off the beaten track.

Food & Accommodation

Expensive! While no more expensive than anywhere else in Norway, food and dining out is not cheap. We would have easily spent NOK 1,500 (AUD$230) per day on food for a family of four, eating at mid-range restaurants or cafes. Most of the cabins we stayed at were self-catering, and we did get take-away pizzas and other meals a few times, that we could easily re-heat. Being off-season, finding somewhere to eat was often the challenge, with nothing open outside the major towns. Local cuisine – especially reindeer and fish – were a pretty staple menu item, and most of the restaurants had a slightly cheaper kids menu.

By comparison, accommodation was reasonably good value, with an average cost of NOK 2,000 (AUD $300) per night for the four of us, generally in 2-bedroom cabins. We were really happy with the quality of accommodation, with all of our cabins being clean (with the exception of one place that appeared to have been used for a cigar-smoking competition) and in great locations. As we were booking out of peak season, we had no problems with availability.

Northern Lights

There are many experienced aurora photographers providing advice on how to get great photos of the northern lights, so I’ll just add a few suggestions that might be useful:

  • Forget auto-focus – you need to set the focus manually. If you’re using an SLR, it can be useful to note on the lens where the “infinity” focus point is during the day, or find somewhere bright enough on the horizon for the autofocus to lock onto, then switch to manual focus.
  • Set the exposure manually – I found ISO 2000-3200 with an aperture of F4 and shutter speed of around 2sec was a good starting point. Some articles I read suggest using higher ISO and faster shutter speed to avoid “blurring” of the lights; the downside is the images can be a bit noisy/grainy. I was happy with the results I got with shutter speeds up to 5sec.
  • Pick your spots before sunset – unless it’s polar night and dark all the time, scope a few places during the day where there are mountains in the background or water in the foreground (or both), so you can quickly move between different locations.
  • Don’t get too excited – I failed rather miserably on this one, and ended up with a few bruises from running around excitedly with camera in one hand, tripod in the other while looking at the sky, only to trip over a large boulder that was in front of me. Miraculously, I managed to never actually fall into a fjord…

The Itinerary

Alta to Lyngen

We leave our accommodation (Ongajok Mountain Lodge, located at the end of a forest road in the Norwegian Lapland, about 28km south of Alta) around 10am, having a full day for the relatively short drive to Rotsund in Lyngen.

After a slow start down a narrow forest road back to the E6 highway, we follow the E6 along the Alta fjord (Altafjorden) and then the narrower Lang Fjord (Langfjorden). It’s a pleasant and easy drive, with not much traffic, and a backdrop of steep mountains and autumn colours.

After a few hours driving, the road rises up from the coast, with views over Badderfjorden. There’s some roadwork along this winding section of the E6, and we maneuver around the large trucks that are re-surfacing the road.

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It’s now mid-afternoon and we are all pretty hungry… there’s been nowhere to eat along the way so far, and by luck we find the På Taket Kafé in Sørkjosen. Half-expecting it to be closed, we happily discover that it’s not only open, but has an extensive menu (pizzas, burgers, sandwiches) and a balcony with views over the fjord. And very good coffee.

After our late lunch, we have just over an hour’s driving before reaching our destination. The Lyngen Alps, still seeming far away, form an impressive backdrop. We reach our self-contained house at Lyngen North (in the small town of Spåkenes, near Rotsund) around 3pm, and are welcomed by the very friendly owners. The property is right on the water, a spectacular setting with the impressive Lyngen Alps on the other side of the fjord. There’s even two “glass igloos” for couples, so you can watch the northern lights from your bed!

Having a few hours of daylight left, the kids – for reasons that only they can (possibly) explain – think that going for a swim in the arctic waters of the fjord is a good idea, followed by a session in the sauna. Meanwhile, with helpful instructions from the property owners, I tackle the mountain just behind our house.

Storhaugen hike (1,1,42m)
A steep climb up to Dalberget and Storhaugen, with increasingly spectacular views of Lyngenfjord and the snow-covered Lyngen Alps as you gain altitude. Near the foot of the mountain and not far from the E6 road are the ruins of the Spåkenes fort, built in 1941 by the German army.
Full hike details
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After a successful swim and a slightly less successful hike (my enthusiasm was not quite matched by my navigation skills) we have dinner at the house. There’s no restaurant anywhere nearby that’s open, so we’ve bought some things to heat up in the oven.

Later that evening we experience our first Norwegian light show. The aurora lasts about an hour, as it slowly moves from the east (over the Lyngen alps) to the west.

From Alta to Lyngen
Driving distance: 200km (total 5 hours, with 3.5 hours driving time)
Accommodation: Lyngen North (formerly known as Spåkenes Sjøbuer). Self-contained two-bedroom house. (1 night)

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Route from near Alta to our accommodation in Lyngen (Spåkenes, near Rotsund)

Lyngen to Senja

We continue along the E6 the following day as it follows the Lyngen fjord, passing the Route 81 ferry that goes to Tromsø and skirting around the narrow Kafjorden, with views of the Lyngen Alps in the distance. After an hour of half of driving, we spot a “Visit Lyngenfjord” tourist office in Skibotn, which we think may contain food. It sort of does: we get some hot chocolates for the kids and biscuits to keep us going. With very few places to eat and many of those places closed in September, we’ve started to adopt a “sea food” diet – when see anything resembling a cafe or restaurant, we stop and eat!

Following our brunch stop, we continue along the E6, following Storfjorden and the southern end of Balsfjorden as we head west towards Finnsnes.

It’s a great drive, with the forests reflecting the onset of autumn as the leaves change colour.

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We have a very late lunch in in the town of Finnsnes at Senjastua, which serves traditional Norwegian food and has a children’s menu. With a population of only 4,371 people in 2013, the village of Finnsnes was granted town status in 2000. Despite this somewhat small population, there’s a traffic jam over the the Gisund Bridge, which connects Finnsnes to the villages of Silsand and Laukhella on the island of Senja.

Nearing our destination, we cross the suspension bridge at Straumnes, on the island of Senja. In the background are are the mountains of Skaland, across the Bergsfjorden on the northwest side of the island of Senja.

We reach Hamn around 4pm, where we have a self-contained apartment in a holiday resort for one night. Hamn i Senja is located in an old fishing village dating back to the 1880s; the word “hamn” means harbour. We explore the sea-side property, which includes a lighthouse with panoramic views over Bergsfjorden, before borrowing some fishing rods that the kids cast into the harbour (they somehow manage to catch two small fish, that we throw back in). Being September the restaurant is closed (there’s also no fishing trips or fjord cruises unless booked well in advance), but we have bought some food to cook in the well-appointed kitchen.

We’re hopeful to see the northern lights again tonight after a very clear day, with the lighthouse being a great vantage point. Unfortunately, the sky starts to cloud over in the evening and there’s no auroral activity tonight (at least, none that we can see!). Just some impressive cloud formations with the moon occasionally peeking through.

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The next morning, I’m up early to hike Sukertoppen (Sugar Peak), the 456m peak that rises up behind Hamn, before we continue on our trip.

Sukkertoppen hike (456m)
The views from the top of Sukkertoppen are impressive – whilst not a particularly high peak it feels like you’re perched almost vertically about the coastline. Looking to the north, you can see the town of Hamn and its protected harbour, and across Bergsfjorden to the mountains of Skaland.
Full hike details
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From Lyngen to Senja
Driving distance: 255km (total 7 hours, with 4.45 hours driving time)
Accommodation: Hamn i Senja in Senja (1 night)

Senja to Sjøvegan

We’re on the road by 10am, taking the Rv 862 which is a National Tourist Route; while we have less distance to cover than yesterday, there are many sights on the way.  The first (brief) stop is at Senjatrollet (Senja Troll) about 10min away. The world’s biggest troll at 18m high and 125,000kg according by the Guinness Book of Records, the Senja Troll can be clearly seen from the carpark. Which is as close we get, as Senjatrollet, like many other attractions, is closed from early September.

We reach Bergsbotn after another 20min and one tunnel later: this 1,894m long tunnel, Skalandtunellen, has two reviews on Google. One of which translates to “Very badly illuminated tunnel by bicycle”. It’s a 4.5-star-rated tunnel, if you’re interested.  I’m not sure if I was cycling through a country with over 900 road tunnels I’d stop and write a review of a road tunnel, but each to their own.

Bergsbotn (7 Google reviews and 4.8 stars) is a vantage point off the National Tourist Route, with panoramic views from a 44-metre long platform over Bergsfjord and the surrounding peaks. Designed by Code Arkitektur and installed in 2010, it’s located at the first place where you can once again see the ocean when travelling across Senja.

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The road winds steeply down to the Bergsfjord, which it then follows for a while before entering another tunnel at Steinfjord. There’s more roadwork, so we’re escorted through the tunnel by a “Ledebil”, which we guess must mean”leader vehicle”. Disappointingly, this tunnel has no Google reviews or ratings.

As a result of waiting for our Ledebil to escort us, it takes another half an hour or so (rather than 15min) to reach the Tungeneset viewing point. The Tungeneset rest area is on the end a promontory that separates two fjords, the Steinsfjord and Ersfjord. A walkway designed by Code Arkitektur in Siberian larch leads out over the rocks, providing a view of the razor-sharp Okshornan peaks to the east, Husfjellet to the west and the Arctic Ocean to the north.

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We don’t make very far until our next stop at Ersfjord Beach, which is “perhaps the finest beach in north Norway”. With rugged mountains towering above the sandy beach and village it’s very photogenic – though a little too chilly for swimming in late September!

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From here we continue eastwards, with the road following the coast and going through many more (unreviewed) tunnels, the landscape still very dramatic.

Our next photo-stop, where we hope to fund lunch (but the best we can do is some packets of chips from the general store) is Husøy, a village in the municipality of Lenvik. The picturesque village covers the entire island of Husøy and is connected to the mainland by a 300m long causeway. It’s an active fishing community with a few hundred permanent inhabitants.

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With everyone now a little hungry, we make a small detour to the village of Botnhamn (on the west side of the fjord of Stønnesbotn) and then stop in Finnsnes for a late afternoon tea before turning off the Rv 86 and onto Rv 84. After another couple of hours drive we arrive at Garsnes Brygge, where we’re staying the next two nights. A resort and retreat with restaurant and cabins, the complex is situated on Sagfjorden near Sjøvegan. Not all the cabins are full, but it’s one of the busiest places we’ve stayed, and the restaurant is open and has a decent range of really good food using local ingredients, including a few options to keep the (fussy) kids happy!

The following day I’ve got time in the morning for a hike before we drive to the Polar Park in the afternoon, and head off by foot from Garsnes Brygge for the hike to Sommarset-vatnet, which starts nearby.

Sommarsetvatnet hike
Ascending from the fjord near Sommerset up to an alpine lake, the walk starts in the forest before rising above the tree-line to a more alpine landscape. The trail stops at the picturesque Sommarsetvatnet (lake) surrounded by mountiaims, but it’s possible to climb up to the adjacent peak.
Full hike details
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We head to the Polar Park Arctic Wildlife Center in Narvik at 11am, which is the world’s northernmost animal park. Polar Park is home to Norway’s large predators such as bears, wolves, lynx, wolverines and foxes, as well as their prey such as deer, elk, reindeer and musk ox. The animals are all in large enclosures (so it doesn’t feel like a zoo), and the guided tour, which includes predator feeding, was educational and entertaining for the adults – and the kids. Watching the lynxes being fed and hearing the wolves howling was pretty amazing.

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A great day hiking and animal-watching is topped off by our second Norwegian aurora, which went for almost two hours before the clouds started to obscure the lights.

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From Senja to Sjøvegan
Driving distance: 195km (total 7 hours, with 5 hours driving time)
Accommodation: Garsnes Brygges (2 nights)

Sjøvegan to Kabelvåg

It’s a bit of a miserable day as we leave Senja around 10am, heading further south on Fv 84 to the Lofoten Islands. Although when it’s not actually raining, the clouds and mist enhance the mountainous landscape. By the side of the road on the shore of Lavangsfjorden is lonely war memorial that pays tribute to the Norwegian and allied forces that fought the Germans in World War II. The Sjøvegan-Tennevoll road that we’ve just driven down was the marching ground two battalions, and the battle of Gratangsbotn (which is a little further south) was the biggest single attack against German forces on Norwegian soil.

Another hour of driving and we reach Tjeldsund Bridge (Tjeldsundbrua), a 1,007 metre long, 32-span suspension road bridge that crosses the Tjeldsundet strait between the mainland and the island of Hinnøya.

About half-way between the Tjeldsund Bridge and our destination in Storvågan, we pass Valbukta bay and a small side road off the E10 that leads across a narrow spit to Holdøya, and few minutes later there’s a nice view over Sløverfjorden with the mountains in the background.

We arrive at Nyvågar Rorbuhotell in Storvåganveien (1km west of Kabelvåg and 6km  west of Svolvær)  at 3:30pm, where we are staying for in a fisherman’s shack or “rorbu” for one night. It’s a great location, with our cosy cottage looking out over the fjord to the small hills of Hopen on the other side.

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We seem to be about the only guests staying at the (reception is closed and our key has been left in the door of our cottage), and the restaurant has no sign of life. After unpacking we drive to Svolvaer, 10 minutes away, where there is a wide range of restaurants.

After a cloudy day when the sun has never come out, we’re pleasantly surprised in the evening when the sky clears and we’re treated to a light show for many hours. The long deck that runs in front of all the cabins and and jetty provide many vantage points for photographing the aurora.

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From Sjøvegan to Kabelvåg
Driving distance: 255km (total 6 hours, with 5 hours driving time)
Accommodation: Nyvågar Rorbuhotell (1 night)

Kabelvåg to Nusfjord

The next day is looking much nicer, as we take a few last photos from our cabin of the mountains that were covered in cloud only 12 hours ago, and resume our journey south, further into the Lofoten Islands.

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First stop is a “quick” ascent of Glomtinden, just off the E10, as the rest of the family seek breakfast and explore the active fishing village of Henningsvaer (nicknamed the “Venice of Lofoten”).

Glomtinden hike (419m)
A relatively short walk, starting on an old gravel road and ending with a steep scramble to the summit. The rocky peak offers 360-degree views, from Rørvikvatnet lake to the west, the lakes of Hopsvatnet and Hopspollen to the north-east,  and Kabelvag and Svolvaer to the east.
Full hike details
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After my hike, the scenery from the E10 doesn’t disappoint, as we travel along the Rorvik valley, surrounded by jagged mountain peaks, and then follow the foot of the mountains around the coast.

We’re soon crossing the Gimsøystraumen Bridge (Gimsøybrua), a cantilever road bridge that crosses the Gimsøystraumen strait between the islands of Austvågøya and Gimsøya – one of the many bridges connecting the islands of Lofoten as part of the E10 highway.

Having crossed the Gimsøystraumen strait, we make a little detour around the 46.4-square-kilometre island of Gimsøya. At the “top” of the island is Hov, where Lofoten Links is located – one of the few courses in the world where you can play golf in the sun for 24 hours! Beside the golf course is a horse farm with friendly Icelandic horses, which we stop and say hello to.

We continue through the mountainous terrain on the E10, stopping along the way at the Torvdalshalsen rest area (Torvdalshalsen rasteplass), which is one of the National Tourist Route attractions. Located on a hilltop south of Torvdalsvatnet lake and featuring a long screen with benches, it’s incredibly windy but offers a great view of Vestvågøy island.

About 3km after this rest stop, we make another detour to Eggum via the Eggum Tourist route, to the remains of a World War II German radar station. Built on a small hill overlooking the ocean, it’s surrounded by towering cliffs. With an architecturally-designed visitor centre and a huge car park, it looks capable of handling hundreds of visitors in summer… in late September, we are the only people visiting…

There’s another hour of driving through more spectacular countryside before we reach today’s destination. We pause briefly at Lofotr Vikingmuseum (we’re coming back here for dinner) and stop at the major town of Leknes, where we have a late lunch.

We arrive at Nusfjord in the late afternoon, one of the oldest and best-preserved fishing villages with long Lofoten fishery traditions, about 6km off the E10 highway. We’re staying in one of the 46 traditional fishing huts or rorbu in the village – it feels like the other 45 are village feels very quiet.

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After a few moments of panic when the reception is closed and there’s no-one around, we find someone who helps us find our our key and the directions to our cabin, which is perched over the water. There’s nowhere to eat in the village, but we’ve booked dinner at Lofotr Viking Museum, a historical museum based on the reconstruction and archaeological excavation of a Viking chieftain’s village on the island of Vestvågøya.

It should be only a 45min drive back up the E10 to the museum, but much to our kids’ consternation (they are getting hungry and inpatient!) we stop every five minutes to take photos of the fantastic sunset and evening light.

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We arrive a little late for our 7pm Viking feast, which is held in the longhouse. Before dinner we have some time to explore the museum, which includes a full reconstruction of the 83m long chieftain’s house, a blacksmith’s forge and two Viking ships. The Viking feast includes a leg of lamb from Lofoten and honeywine-mead, and is accompanied by an explanation of how the Vikings lived (and ate), role-playing and traditional Viking songs and dances. It’s great fun, and despite being a late night the kids really enjoy it. Especially the bit where they play with the swords and shields!

A great day is completed with an aurora show as we drive back to our cabin – probably the most intense lights we’ve seen so far!

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From Kabelvåg to Nusfjord
Driving distance: 215km (total 7:30 hours, with 4 hours driving time)
Accommodation: Nusfjord Rorbuer (1 night)

Nusfjord to Reine

Leaving late the following morning – it’s a very short drive today – we skirt around the Storvatnet on a narrow road before re-joining the E10.

It’s not far to our first stop at Skagsanden beach near Flakstad, one of Norway’s most-photographed beaches. In the distance are the mountains of Moskenesøya. There’s no-one at the campground. Or on the beach. Or anywhere…

A little further in the quaint, small town of Ramberg we find a small restaurant in a historic building, Kafe Friisgarden. Even more surprisingly, it’s actually open! We’re the only customers for lunch, but they serve a great soup for the adults and chicken nuggets for the kids.

From here it’s a short drive to Reine, a fishing village (and the administrative centre of the municipality of Moskenes) located situated on a promontory just off the E10.

It’s a very picturesque village, selected as “the most beautiful village in Norway” by the Norwegian Allers magazine in the 1970s. We’re staying in one of the 32 “rorbu” or fishing huts in Reine Rorbuer – it’s surprisingly busy compared to most of the other places we’ve stayed, and the resort/hotel has a couple of restaurants and a sports and outdoor shop that are all open.

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Having arrived in the early afternoon, there’s time for an afternoon hike. I’m joined by my son for our walk, which starts a short drive away in the small fishing town of Å to the south of Reine.

Stokkvikskaret hike
A very muddy walk along Lake Ågvatnet, with chains assisting on the steeper parts. We stop near the end of the lake; the track continues up to the Stokkvikskaret Pass and then onto the town of Stokkvika on the other side of the ridge.
Full hike details
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We have dinner at the on-site restaurant, Gammelbua (once the old general store in Reine) – the food is good with a focus on local cuisine, but it’s a limited menu with not many kid-friendly options. Later in the evening we enjoy some more northern lights, with many great spots to take photos around the hotel.

We have two days in Reine, so on the following day we wander around the village in the morning, before Luke and I tackle the nearby mountain peak.

Reinebringen (448m)
A fairly short but challenging trail, starting near the town of Reine. Initially wet, muddy and slippery, the trail soon gets very steep and slippery. It’s well worth the effort, with breathtaking views over Reine and the surrounding mountain peaks.
Full hike details
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Out second (and last) night in Reine is also our last Lofoten aurora, with the weather deteriorating. Of all the places we’ve stayed, Reine is probably the best location for aurora photography, with many different vantage points.

As we prepare to leave Reine and head back north to catch the Hurtigruten from Svolvaer, we’re farewelled with a rainbow over Reinevagen Bay.

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From Nusfjord to Reine
Driving distance: 50km (total 3 hours, with 1 hour driving time)
Accommodation: Reine Rorbuer (2 nights)

Reine to Ballstad

We’re headed for Ballstad today, a bit over half-way to Svolvaer where we swap our rented car for a ferry… It’s a little overcast, but not raining.

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We are more or less re-tracing the route we took south a few days ago, with a quick stop at Skagsanden Beach.

We make a short detour to Vikten, situated on the coast and surrounded by steep mountains. It’s also the site of Glasshytta Vikten, Northern Norway’s first glass studio which was founded in 1976. The ex-fisherman and now glass-blower Åsvar Tangrand creates his art here – you can watch glass being blown and there’s many pieces for sale.

Rather than going directly to Ballstad, we head to Leknes for lunch at the Frk. Lillemor Cafe, and then toward Stamsund. There’s time for quick walk in the afternoon…

Justadtinden (738m)
A 12km round trip to one of Vestvågøy’s highest peaks, on an easy-to-follow path. After about two hours walking there’s a final scramble up some steep rocks to the top of Justadtinden. Unfortunately there’s no view due to the weather – but the rocky peak would yield some impressive photos in clear weather.
Full hike details
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After my hike, we continue to Stamsund,  a fishing village on the southern side of the island of Vestvågøy. Overlooking the coast in Stamsund is a statue called “The Tourist” which looks “like a mixture of David Livingstone and Donald Duck”. It was created in eastern Norway based on an African design and brought to Stamsund by Baktruppen (an artist collective) in 2003. The intent was to lower the statue onto the seabed where it could only be viewed by underwater cameras… but there was an outcry and a poll conducted where 95% of respondents wanted the sculpture kept on land!

We follow the 817 road around the scenic Stamsund coast, before heading back toward Ballstad.

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We reach our accommodation, Hattvika Lodge, around 5pm where we have a modern and recently renovated self-contained apartment in a fishing village opposite the harbour of Hattvika.

I think we’re the only people staying here and there’s no local dining, so after unpacking we drive to Leknes (only 15min away) where we enjoy what must be the most expensive pizza we’ve ever eaten at Peppes Pizza.

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From Reine to Ballstad
Driving distance: 130km (total 7 hours, with 3 hours driving time)
Accommodation: Hattvika Lodge (1 night)

Ballstad to Svolvaer

It’s a miserable and wet last day in the Lofotens for us as we drive back to Svolvaer, where we need to drop off our car and take the Hurtigruten ferry south to Bergen.

We arrive just before lunch, and taking advantage of what I hope is a break in the weather, I walk up to the northern end of the town. Overshadowing Svolvaer, Fløya is popular with hikers and climbers (although in today’s miserable weather I only see three other people on the hike).

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Fløya (590m)
A very steep and sometimes slippery trail up to the 590m peak of Fløya, with great views from the saddle despite the wet and misty conditions. There are clear views of Svolværgeita or “The Svolvær Goat” – Lofoten’s most famous mountain formation, on the way up.
Full hike details
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I’m completely drenched and rather cold when I get back to the Svolvaer town centre; after changing clothes we have a few hours before the Hurtigruten docks. Luke and I have a quick visit to Magic Ice, an ice sculpture gallery near the wharf. They give you a warm overcoat and cold drink in an ice cup, and there’s a lot of ice sculptures to look at.

We watch the Hurtigruten ferry arriving into Svolvaer. My wife boards here with our luggage; I have drawn the short straw and am taking the two kids on a pre-booked “Lofoten by horse” excursion. We take a mini-bus from Svolvaer for the horse-riding at Hoy on Gimsøya (the same place we visited a few days ago).

I’d like to describe this a graceful ride along the beach under the northern lights… it would be more accurate to say I was clinging on to my horse as it plodded up various tracks hoping I wouldn’t fall off.

The horse ride lasts a good hour before we thankfully dismount, and our mini-bus takes us to Stamsund where we board the Hurtigruten.

It’s been an amazing ten-day journey with even more spectacular scenery than we had expected, and many hiking opportunities each with an equally fantastic view over the mountainous landscape.

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From Ballstad to Svolvaer
Driving distance: 80km (1:45min driving time)
Accommodation: We leave on the Hurtigruten ferry in the evening.

More Information

For general information the Visit Norway Web site is always helpful; we used TripAdvisor for research and Booking.com for all of our accommodation bookings. As well as an olde-fashioned print copy of Lonely Planet Norway.

To help work out when to go and how much sunlight you’ll have (outside the polar summer), try Time and Date, and 68 North has useful information on the different seasons.

For hiking, Switchback Travel has an overview of their Top 10 hikes, and 68 North has some general information on hiking in the Lofoten Islands. The book  “Explore Lofoten” by Kristin Folsland Olsen is really good – it doesn’t seem to be readily available for purchase on-line, but you should find it bookshops or outdoor shops in the Lofoten Islands.

If you’re into GPS mapping or just want an alternative to Google Maps for looking at where to go or where you’ve been, GodTur.no provides a free, on-line and interactive topographical map. This is particuarly useful if you’re hiking, to check exactly where the hike starts.

2 thoughts on “Senja and the Lofoten Islands

  1. Beautiful blog. I would like to do the drive from Tromso to Svolvear next time I visit Northern Norway. The Northern Lights images are spectacular as well. Aldo check out my day-by-day diary of my visit to the same areas at muraliphoto.wordpress.com. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

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