Discover the Lofoten Islands
Norway’s Lofoten Islands have been described as the world’s most stunning archipelago – home to dramatic mountain scenery, cosy fishing villages, rewarding hiking and pumping surf breaks.
WORDS AND PHOTOS MARK DAFFEY
It’s on my final morning on Norway’s Lofoten Islands when I hear something that makes me want to extend my stay. Actually, there are plenty of reasons to linger on this archipelago – picture book scenery topping the list – but this unexpected sound bite manages to solve a mystery that had been dogging me for years.
As I’m checking out of my hotel in the port town of Svolvær, a postcard scene of an empty bay bookended by mountainous headlands catches my eye. “Where is this?” I ask the hotel clerk. “Kvalvika,” she replies. “It’s where those two boys went surfing all winter.” Given her vague response, it’s amazing I know exactly what she’s talking about. In 2013, a movie called North of the Sun won the Grand Prize and People’s Choice awards at the prestigious Banff Mountain Film Festival. It documented two brothers who built a rudimentary shelter using debris that had washed up onto the shore so they could spend a winter surfing the lonely, windswept waves off an unidentified beach inside Norway’s Arctic Circle. I saw the film when it toured Australia and was fascinated. If only I could find out where it was set…
A wintry scene in Svolvær.
Cod drying racks.
Now that I knew the beach’s whereabouts, I really wanted to go there – as a pilgrimage, of sorts. But with time running out before I continued my coastal journey south, that thought would have to keep until next time. I sincerely hope there will be a next time, for the Lofoten Islands had cast its spell over me. Sure, its weather had been fickle – hurricane-strength blizzards one day, sunny and breathless the next – but the scenery had been stunning and I doubt I’d ever stay in another hotel room as snug as my rorbu, or fisherman’s cabin, on the water’s edge. Evidence of settlement here dates back a thousand years, when Vikings ruled the seas and fishermen wrung bountiful harvests of cod for export to places as far as Italy and Portugal. Every year some 40 million tonnes of cod are caught then hung from drying racks that can be seen right across the islands.
Winter twilight over Reine.
During winter, visitors come to witness the Northern Lights and see glacier-carved valleys cloaked in snow. As already illustrated, they also come to surf, at Kvalvika and at Unstad – home to the world’s most northerly surf resort. In summer, they come to hike, cycle, climb, paddle or camp beneath the midnight sun. The easiest way to get around is by car. Follow the Lofoten National Tourist Route, a scenic 230-kilometre-long stretch of road skirting fjords and inlets and passing beneath knife-edged mountains where eagles soar. Wander through villages like Kabelvåg (home to Norway’s second-largest wooden church), Ramberg (discover cod drying racks and sweeping beaches) and the fairy tale harbour town of Reine – once voted the most beautiful place in Norway.
Bridges over Kubbholmsundet to Fredvang.
Cruising along an icy road beside Selfjorden.
Dawn over Moholmen Lighthouse.
Stop in Bøstad to visit the interactive Lofotr Viking Museum, housed inside the largest Viking building ever found yet only unearthed in 1983. Explore remote coves and cosy fishing harbours like Ballstad, Nusfjord or Henningsvær, or crafty towns like Vikten and Sund. The north coast of Vestvågøy is favoured by hikers, wind surfers and climbers. If you’ve only got a day, I’d suggest driving from Svolvær to Å – literally, the end of the road. Otherwise, pack your surfboard or hiking shoes and be prepared for some late nights in search of the Northern Lights. Now, who wouldn’t want to do that?