Roaming The Magical Lofoten Islands
Like many Minnesotans, Norwegian blood runs thick through my veins. Unlike my Italian roots, I’d never felt drawn to explore the motherland. The history and landscape of Norway had never captured my imagination like Milano or Camogli. In truth, outside of trying lutefisk with my great uncle Dick at Christmas, I've largely ignored this side of my heritage.
Thanks to my well-researched friend Casey, I bought the most expensive plane ticket I have ever purchased ($1,500 from Oakland to Bodo) and embarked on my first trip to Norway. We roamed the Lofoten Islands in Arctic waters between July 17th and July 25th, during the days of never-ending sunlight.
Day 1: July 17
We arrived in Bodo without Igor’s luggage. After a mishap at the automatic machines in Oslo, his bag went on the carousel without a tag indicating the final destination. Our Airbnb host (we stayed here) picked us up at the airport and drove us the 15 minutes to our apartment. Then, we ate at one of the only restaurants still open in town, an American diner called Gatsby Burger & Bar and went to bed.
Day 2: July 18
When Igor’s luggage arrived, we swiftly bought tickets for the next ferry to Moskenes on Torghatten Nord’s website and grabbed last minute supplies from an outdoor store called Intersport. The ferry includes a snack stand where you can order everything from a warm meal to lefse snacks. My brother welcomed us with a rental car on the island. We arrived around 6 p.m., but the eternal sunshine means if you aren’t tired, you can still hike.
We chose to tackle the Reinebringen hike: 448 meters of elevation and 1.5 km. I’m so glad we read about this hike before doing it. It’s an incredibly steep hike with “paths” are overrun by small streams from the heavy rains. It’s an incredibly dangerous trek if you aren’t prepared or if it’s bad weather. People have gone missing on this hike. With some bravery and without our huge packs, we made it to the top. We were back at the car around 11 p.m., ready to find a place to set up our tent. The first night was rainy and brutal, none of us slept more than three hours. Make sure your tent is totally waterproof and that you bring a sleeping mat.
Day 3: July 19
The Reinefjorden is a ferry with stops at less accessible towns and trailheads. One note, when you buy tickets for this ferry, all members must be present at the counter for the ticket purchase. We mistakenly got on the ferry to Vindstad instead of Kirkefjord and had to change all our plans. We had planned a three-day hike, but instead ended up at Bunes Beach for a 2.8 km easy walk.
There is a couple that runs an inn and little “coffee shop” by the ferry, so we stopped in while waiting for the boat to arrive. These little “coffee shops” are usually self-service instant coffee, Lipton tea, and almost always have homemade waffles. The place is a refuge from the rain and welcomed entertainment.
Once back in Reine, the rain quit and the sun peeked out. There are two active wear shops in the little town center, we stopped into one and were given two yoga mats for free with a promise that we’d bring them back.
With sleeping mats in-hand, we hopped in the car and drove to Fredvang where we hiked the 2 km to Kvalvika Beach. The hike does require a little bouldering, which was challenging for me in my pack, but I managed just fine taking it at my own pace. As we were looking for places to pitch a tent, my brother came across a little cabin carved into a small hill.
This little cabin was created by Arctic surfers from the trash that washed ashore. It is now open on a first-come-first-serve basis. You can watch them build it and spend a winter there in the documentary North of the Sun ($5 on Vimeo). A Norwegian we came to know as Martin let Jon take the floor for the night, while Igor an I opted for our tent. We all shared dinner and a beer before retiring to our sleeping bags. Note that the sheep do graze the area, so you will hear them baaing while you’re trying to sleep.
Day 4: July 20
We woke up to an idyllic morning on the beach. We neglected our laziness to summit Ryten and started up the mountain in time to watch Martin jump off the side of it. The 3.5 km hike was well worth the view on the way up. The first part of the path was muddy and steep, but the rest was easily walkable and high enough to see past the surrounding mountains.
After saying our goodbyes, we hiked back to the car and headed towards our Airbnb in Leknes (we stayed here). On the way out of Fredvang we stopped to take a closer look at the cod drying racks we’d seen everywhere. We were told hanging them and selling them provides summer jobs for many kids on the islands.
Before reaching the Airbnb, we went to a local grocery store to pick up local fare like salmon, dried cod and fisker soup. We cooked, feasted and passed out the moment we finished dessert.
Day 5: July 21
Through sites like Trip Advisor, I had planned one day where we integrated into the civilization on the islands. All showered up, we headed to a local farm and delicious cheese shop called Aalan Gard. The little shop is aesthetically pleasing on a sunny day and the perfect place to purchase gifts for people back home. Before we left, we had the pleasure of knowing Igor’s spirit animal, Philip the pig.
Back in the car heading to a little town called Hermsteader, we stopped at beach. The aqua blue water is crystal clear and ice cold. The bulk of the public was laying on the big boulders that created the shoreline. Walking in up to the shins was refreshing for a few minutes, but I promptly walked back out as my toes began to go numb. Not having my swimsuit was in no way prohibitive on this beach, I couldn’t have gone farther in anyways.
My brother doesn’t throw the word charming around lightly, but he was adamant that Hermsteader would provide severe charm. And it did. A lovely little town with a river that cuts through it, it’s chalk full of little restaurants and shops run by local craftsmen/women.
Next, we grabbed dinner at Johansen’s Fiskerhaus to see what we’d been missing with our backpacking meals and own renditions of local fare. The fish we ordered was marvelous, but the applesauce and rhubarb desserts are still with me.
Again, thanks to the 24 hours of daylight, we used the late night coffee to give us the energy for a hike. This hike starts at the UNESCO world heritage site Nusfjord (500-1000 A.D) and follows the coast to the city of Nesland. Fishermen used to follow this path home when they had vacation.
Exhausted, we drove around looking for a place to pitch the tent at midnight. We found a spot overlooking the ocean and Jon slept in the car that night.
Day 6: July 22
We were supposed to be back on the Norwegian mainland, but decided the good weather on the islands was worth losing a $100 in ferry tickets. We passed through Reine again and stopped at Gammelbua for lunch. This is where the bartender told us of the infamous Stein. He is the fishermen who catches all the whale meat they have on the menu. The regulations are strict for whale meat in Norway: they aren’t allowed to export it, it’s one specific type of whale, they must be harpooned and most fishermen catch way below their quota. She told us that whale was the meat of her grandparents and they didn’t know how to cook it, thus rendering it chewy and unsavory. Just recently, it made a comeback in Norway with new cooking techniques and stiff regulations.
We hopped on the right ferry this time and headed to Kierkefjord/Kjerkfjord for the 4.5 km Horsed Beach hike.
The hike had its moments of bouldering as almost every hike did, but also included a lot of sandy beach hiking. It took a while to arrive, but once we did, the hidden beach was a cozy spot.
We set up camp, read books, played games, drank beer and waded in the water. All in all, a great final night on the islands.
Day 7: July 23
We hiked back to the dock to wait for the ferry, no “coffee shop” open this time.
Back in Reine, we returned the yoga mats and got in line for the ferry back to Bodo. This time we had not reserved a ticket, so we arrived two hours early to wait in line with the car. There are snack stands and little gift shops around to keep you busy. In one shop we met a 12-year-old girl who was filling in her for her mother. Kind and helpful she helped me pick out a sweater for my friend Kelsi’s little boy.
The rest of our time in Norway was spent getting back home. We spent a night and morning Bodo waiting for our flight to Oslo. Then, we grabbed dinner in Oslo and spent the night at Airbnb. The next morning we started our journey back to the U.S.
I would go back to Norway in a heartbeat. I’m proud this is a country whose ancestry runs in my tree and can’t wait to explore it all. Well, everything besides the lutefisk. ;)
Want to go? Let me tell you why I believe this is a perfect trip for beginning backpackers and advice on preparing for a trip to the Lofoten Islands.