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Lofoten Islands Road Trip

We borrowed my dad’s VolksWagen van, which was on its last summer in use before it was sold. Even though the van showed the battle scars of its many years of road trips across the European continent, it brought us safe and sound over the Arctic Circle and back– a testament to the German car engineering prowess.

Since Arthur has no driver’s license, I was the only driver for the whole trip. It was quite exhausting driving the 2,500 km on my own, but in the end it was all totally worth it, because the Lofoten Islands just blew us away.

Day 1

We started day 1 by fast-tracking the trip a wee bit by taking the night train from Helsinki to Oulu, Finland. The van was loaded on the train on a special car carriage. The train left Helsinki on Sunday at 10:30pm and arrived Oulu at 7:32 in the morning.

We had a cosy and luxurious sleeper cabin for two. It was our first night train experience ever and we were almost sad when we arrived in Oulu since it was so much fun sleeping in those clean and cosy bed; watching the landscape passing by (since the Finnish summer nights don’t turn dark, you can see outside the window all night); using the free Wi-Fi; and feeling giddy using the awesome bathroom that transforms from toilet into a shower with just one flick of a handle. The whole thing cost us 315 Euros (for the private first-class cabin and the van carriage), well worth every penny.

So we began our car trip from Oulu and stopped in a little town called Ii in the afternoon. We camped at a beautiful little camping site at Ii by the bridge (‘Iin sillat’ is the name) and stayed overnight. We had a view to the small Ii river from our converted bed inside the van. We couldn’t hang out outside though because the place was full of mosquitoes. We slept early in order to feel well-rested for the really long trip ahead of us.

Day 2

From Ii it was just a very short way crossing the border from Finland into Sweden. From there we drove through the Swedish Lapland to a Northern Swedish town called Björkliden at a big lake only about 25km away from the Norwegian border.

It was my first time to be in Lapland ever. Arthur had been to the Finnish Lapland before, but only in winter. I liked it a lot, experiencing Europe’s last and only huge wilderness. We followed the E10 road that would later bring us all the way to Lofoten.

After crossing the Arctic Circle (which was marked with a big sign, otherwise there was no way you would have even noticed) the wilderness started, and it was quite an experience. Once in a while you see another car, but most of the time, we were just alone on the lonely highway. Good thing we brought enough food and fuel with us, because there were no restaurants or gas stations at all up there.

We enjoyed a nice picnic by a beautiful river. It looked exactly like how I have always imagined Lapland to look like. Unfortunately, some strange insects that looked it was either a fly or a bee started to attack us. They were very aggressive, so we had no choice but to leave and continue on our trip.

It felt wonderfully strange knowing you are way that far up north. Stranger still is the fact that it was very hot, as in humid, both outside and inside the car.

Many hours later, we got lucky. We saw two reindeers crossing the highway. We have been hoping to see some reindeers and moose during the trip. Unfortunately, those two were the only ones we saw on the whole trip.

After hundreds of kilometers through the Lapland wilderness, we arrived at the Swedish city called Kiruna. From there the landscape completely changed. From the distance we saw the first huge mountains rising up so high with snow at the peaks. We finally “arrived” to the mountains and it gave us new energy the closer we came to those enormous mountains. Seeing snow in July was a very new experience for us– even for us who have been living in Finland for quite awhile.

Driving along the Tornetrask Lake was breathtaking. We were lucky to have a sunny day, the blue water looked so clear and the snowcapped mountains gave us so much excitement. But after arriving in Björkliden tired and exhausted from driving all day, we were very disappointed to find that the camping site looked more like one huge parking lot than anything else. My parents have been on the same car trip three years ago, and suggested a beautiful camping site at the Tornetrask lake. But for some reason, we couldn’t find it. Since I was too tired to drive anymore, we decided to stay there and at least enjoy the nice view of the snowy mountains.

Day 3

The next morning, we continued very early. We had been woken up early because it got too hot inside the van. It was still the height of summer: the sun did not set at all (i.e., there never was any darkness at all!). What a difference from our hometown in Helsinki! I already thought in Helsinki the summer nights are crazy light, but nothing compared to those nights up there, many hundreds of kilometers up north from the Arctic Circle. It’s not only that it wouldn’t turn dark, the sun just was up there hovering at the sky all night that we often had to put big pillows in front of the car windows even at midnight to protect ourselves from the direct sunlight.

Continuing the E10 route along the Tornetrask Lake we very soon crossed the border from Sweden into Norway. The morning had started all sunny but suddenly we were so high up in the mountains that we were surrounded by clouds. It gave this border area a mystical atmosphere. Again we were almost the only car up there in the mountains and everything suddenly was surrounded by clouds. The “rocky” landscape, the many, many waterfalls and those little wooden houses looked in this gray foggy light very mystical quality.

On the Norwegian side, we finally found a gas station were we promptly drew some Norwegian krones; then had some burgers for breakfast; and filled up the van with diesel.

Along the E10 route, the mountains just didn’t stop anymore. They just rose up higher and higher. The “wows” and “so beautiful” from us didn’t stop either. Right at that very moment when we arrived at the bridge that will bring us to the Lofoten Islands, the sky cleared up. The sun came out and was shining for the next six days that we spent at the Lofoten Islands.


I don’t even know how to begin to describe after arriving at Lofoten. To say that we were speechless would be an understatement. We were blown away by the view. We didn’t know which side of the window to look. The Lofoten was even more beautiful than all the pictures and books we have seen in advance. The combination of breathtaking mountains, crystal clear turquoise water (that I have only seen in the tropics before), flowers, old wooden fisher houses, and of course the sun made us fall in love with the place right away. It just seemed so unreal, as if we were driving through a postcard world that just didn’t seem to end.

I was so busy concentrating on the very narrow and steep streets that, for the most parts, were too small for two cars passing each other. So you always had to stop to give way to those huge caravans. Arthur was filming and photographing every single mountain and every single fjord.

We had to stop all he time on some parking spaces so that I could also have the chance to enjoy the landscape and take some photos with the Nikon D40 which is actually Arthur’s camera, but has become unofficially mine.

Arthur has been a passionate hobbyist photographer for the past few years and I am very thankful for him that he made me fall in love with photography as well. On a location like the Lofoten Islands it’s very easy to make one beautiful picture after another, since the landscape is one of the most beautiful and varied ones I have ever seen. So while Arthur concentrated on filming, I just took photos.

We just couldn’t believe the colors of the water. Water so turquoise that I have only seen before in the Philippines. We just did not expect to see such beautiful beaches and coasts in Scandinavia, much less in the arctic.

Since the landscape was so spectacular we only moved forward very slowly. We stopped at every side road parking spot there was. After we drove through a few towns and didn’t see any stores or restaurants, we started to get hungry. We decided to have a longer break and grill our own food. But for some reason, on both picnic spots we stopped, we were each time fighting again with those strange-looking bees/flies that we already seen in Sweden the day before. So we continued hungry on our trip and found along the E10 (on the island of Austvagoya, close to Svolvaer) a picturesque and scenic camping site, we decided to grill and stay overnight.

It was such a nice place with very friendly staff; the toilet and shower rooms were clean. We parked the van close to the water and just in front of a little group of shrubs and trees. I have been to many camping sites in my life but none as scenic and nice as this one. We had total privacy for ourselves and the view was just spectacular. On the other side of the fjord are gigantic mountains rising up from the water capped with snow near the tops. There was a waterfall running down into he fjord and on a little half-island on our right was this beautiful little white chapel that made the view out of our bed look like a postcard.

We enjoyed that place so much. We grilled and I relaxed with a book and took photos.

Day 4

After a windy and very cold night (that just made us realize how far up north in the world we were), we continued our trip after a long morning chilling out in the sun. We would have loved to spend many more days at that wonderful place, but alas, our time schedule for this trip was very short, we had to continue along the scenic Lofoten highway E10.

The E10 goes along the whole archipelago starting in the East at Hinnoya Island all the way to the town Ä. We stopped for lunch at Svolvaer. First I was a little bit disappointed since I somehow expected to see an old fishing town. It was quite modern. But at the harbor on the market square was a very nice summer atmosphere. Boat trips to the famous Trollfjord were offered from many different boat companies. We got also interested but got a little shocked by its high prices (about 55 Euros each). We thought about the fact that we would come back to Lofoten anyway another time and postponed those boat rides for the next time.

On the corner at the big square was a sushi restaurant with a nice big terrace to sit outside (and in the shadow) with a view to the mountains, the harbor, and the sea. There, we had the best lunch buffet ever. It wasn’t sushi, but a buffet with the most delicious mix of Scandinavian food. The restaurant itself was very trendy-looking, we were totally surprised by the good food considering we only paid 13 Euros each. We can’t wait to go there again next time we visit Lofoten.

Just a few kilometers after Svolvaer, in Pörvik, we already reached that camping site my parents had suggested to us. It was still early in the afternoon that’s why we were able to find a perfect spot. It was again in the front row with an amazing view of the turquoise waters of the Atlantic ocean. Even on the second day, we still couldn’t get used to the beauty of the crystal clear waters.

The camping site was full of German caravan campers. It was so obvious that it was the peak season in July, because of the amount of campers everywhere. But then again, it’s no wonder, because Lofoten is just so beautiful. At the camping sites we always had electricity to charge all our camera equipments, phones and to keep our mini-fridge running. And I think that camping is the best way of experiencing this archipelago, since you are exposed to nature always and you are always so close to the water and the mountains.

In the evening, as I sat outside reading– as usual, suddenly underneath my seat an animal appeared. I thought it was the cat of our German neighbor (they came there with their dog, cat, boat, and a caravan truck bigger than our flat). It was actually a little baby fox! The poor thing was probably searching for food. It was so cute, fluffy, and wonderful to look at strolling around the grounds, if a bit shyly. Unfortunately, because of excitement, I didn’t have time to set the camera for the proper exposure settings, so my fox photos ended up totally unclear and overexposed, except for one.

The weather was just brilliant on day 4. Even though it was very windy, we had again such a sunny day and more especially, a sunny night! Indeed the sun was high up the sky all night and if the clock wouldn’t say its midnight, you would not know.

Day 5

The first stop that day was the small fishing village called Eggum, It was there that we got our first view to the open Atlantic Ocean and the horizon. The combination of white sandy beaches, stunning mountains, turquoise water, old fisher houses and horses, was very worth driving the 10km north detour from the E10.

Just a few kilometers after we continued the E10, we went on another detour 9km north. First to Haukland and then to Utakleiv.

Arriving in Haukland we had the feeling we were in Thailand or the Philippines or any other tropical beach destinations. It was truly wonderful to have a long lunch break at Haukland beach. We relaxed at the beach for a few hours. We took out our little gas cooker to heat up some spaghetti. For the first two hours we were all alone on that huge beach.

The beach seemed like a tropical paradise and we wanted to stay longer, but we wanted to see the Utakleiv Beach (it had the distinction as Europe’s most beautiful beach in 2005 by Times magazine). To reach that beach, we had to drive through a 1.5km long one-lane tunnel. There were sheep on the lane too. Quite an experience 🙂 The sheep just roam free in the fields and on the streets with their bells clanging. They don’t live behind fences.

At the other end of the tunnel opened up the “most beautiful beach of Europe in 2005”. It still well deserves this title even in 2011. It was amazing. It was facing the horizon. I can just imagine how this beach turns into a surfer’s paradise on stormy days. It was more rough and mountainous than the calm beach of Haukland, and we really enjoyed this one too.

Besides the ideas and tips from my parents and from our German camping neighbor we had the night before, we had a travel guide book about Norway from Dumont that gave us lots of nice suggestions where to stopover along the E10, and later this trip on the road 17. The Dumont travel guide comes with a very good map which proved very helpful and nice.

Continuing to the west of the Lofoten Islands, we passed by lots of amazing beaches and breathtaking views: perfect for taking photos.

For dinner we stopped at a big and modern mall (this was so totally out of place, being in the midst of the wilderness and small fishing villages). Arthur, who has already been to Norway before was familiar with the restaurant called “Peppes Pizza”, and what unbelievable yummy pizza they have. Such a strong contrast to our hometown Helsinki where there is just no place to find any place with a good pizza– at least not that we know of. So we enjoyed this yummy, albeit expensive pizza. But by golly was it all worth it.

We planned to stay overnight in Ramberg, but as soon as we arrived we changed our mind. The camping site (that was suggested from the tourist information in that mall where Peppes Pizza was) turned out to be very small, and completely overcrowded with caravans. There wasn’t any space that had some semblance of privacy or a nice view. The city Ramberg was very beautiful though. It also had long white beaches. But we continued and after 2 kilometers, we saw these two bridges with beautiful architecture, which led to an island called Fredvang– and in that direction I drove.

There we spent a wonderful night at a camping site with its usual stunning view to the mountains. The camp site also had Wi-Fi, that of course made Arthur very happy.

We parked the car as close to the beach as possible, as usual. In order to enjoy the beautiful beach and the sunny evening, we brought our camping chairs to the beach and enjoyed some Weizenbier that my dad has brought for Arthur from Germany. What a wonderful beach. We had it all for ourselves too.

Later that night we experienced our first rainy night, but in the morning, it again cleared up. With our chairs, table, gas cooker, and utensils, we prepared scrambled eggs on the beach. What a wonderful memory.

On this day, we wanted to visit the fisher towns at the very end of the Lofoten Islands. Like before, we drove along postcard-perfect views of the fjords. We arrived at Reine at noon time. Reine was actually already the last island in the municipality of Moskenes.
What a beautiful fishing town. It felt so authentic with it’s many red wooden fishermen cottages called Rorbue.

We wanted to book a night in one of those Rorbue cottages, but since it was peak season, there were no vacancies in Reine and even in this other beautiful little fisher towns called Sörvägen and Ä. These towns, by the way, are all surrounded by even more spectacular mountains– much more spectacular than we have seen so far on this trip. The shape of these steep mountains is so bizarre and the fact that they just jut right right up from the water is pretty cool.

The Lofoten Islands is very famous for its stockfish. They dry fish on huge wooden sticks. These are being exported to many places in the world, but is mainly exported to Spain and Portugal. I had never seen the process of drying stockfish before and it gave me a very nice reason for taking photos. The smell was surprisingly bad though, not like the nice fresh smell of fish and the sea.

On our last night we were quite tired. We spent the rainy evening and night on a camping site next to the harbour in Moskenes. Even though we didn’t like that camping site as much as the other ones before, we of course had again a stunning view of the mountains covered with rainclouds and fog from the window of our bed inside the van.

Day6

From Moskenes we took the ferry to mainland Bodö. In peak season, it is highly recommended to book ferry tickets ahead of time, since the ferries are always not big enough for the huge amount of cars and caravans that are lining up at the harbour to catch the next ride.

The 3.5-hour ride started very spectacular. Since the morning again had cleared up, we enjoyed for the first 2 hours a stunning view to the “skyline” of the Lofoten islands. We had winter jackets and warm clothes on, so we sat outside and took hundreds of photos of our last view to these amazing islands that we will hopefully one day see again (maybe next time in winter?!).

Arriving at mainland Bodö, the weather had changed very much and became cloudy.
After another yummy “Peppes Pizza” in the city, we started to drive along the famous coastal route 17 that goes along almost the whole Norwegian coast, across mountains, fjords, bridges, and tunnels.
This route 17 is famous for it’s scenic views and was called most beautiful coastal road by many well known travel magazines.

Unfortunally, our “road 17 experience” was all cloudy and rainy. But still it was quite amazing following this street through so many kilometer-long tunnels and to see the amazing fjords on the mainland.

Part of the route 17 were two ferries, one of them crossed the arctic circle. The landscape was very amazing and the rainy clouds and the fog gave a new interesting atmnosphere to these high mountains and glaciers.

After the one hour ferry ride that crossed the arctic circle (that was marked with a globe-monument on an island), we arrived in Kilbogham and stayed overnight on a totally full camping site 3km to the harbour where we of course again didn’t have any luck renting a little cabin/cottage, so we spent the rainy night in the van and watched a movie on Arthurs laptop before going to sleep.

Day 7

Unfortunately, the next morning still remained very cloudy, but we continued on the scenic road 17 to the city “MO I Rana” to gas up and get some groceries. From there, we start our way back home on the E12. The E12 was surprisingly beautiful too.

After we crossed the border to Sweden, a few kilometers after “Mo I rana”, the sky cleared up. We actually didn’t even notice that we had crossed the border already since the border was in the wilderness of Lapland. The only clue that tipped us off was because the street signs were suddenly were in Swedish.

The E12 is also known as the “blue road”. Maybe because of all the lakes and rivers that were along the street. It’s really nice to drive through so many of hundreds of kilometers through Sweden because all the time you see lakes and rivers. It does not get boring at all. Arthur was all the time busy catching everything on his camera.

We had planned to drive all the way to Swedish Umea, but I was too tired by evening, so we stopped to camp overnight about 250km away from Umea at a wonderful camping site surrounded by lakes.

And finally we got lucky! We were able to rent a little red wooden cottage (in Finnish it’s called mökki) to spend our last night of our road trip vacation in there with a view to the lake.

Day 8

Last day. Early in the morning we continued our trip to Umea where a 5-hour ferry ride brought us back to Vaasa in Finland.

The ferry was quite a shock for us, because it was surprisingly “ghetto”. It was so old, had no proper outside sun deck, and the air inside was hot and sticky. Well, we spent the time with me reading my book and got us some rest for the last 500km drive from Vaasa back to Helsinki.

Epilogue

Now a few days after this wonderful vacation, it was so fun to write down our experiences and the wonderful memories of this road trip. We can only suggest to everybody the Lofoten Islands. It definitely is up there among the must-see places in the world before you die. The long journey up north is every minute worth it.

My dad lent me his new GPS navigation system for us to use, but we haven’t used it even once on the whole trip, because we basicly only followed three big streets: the E10 through Sweden which goes straight all the way to Lofoten Ä, the coastal road 17 at the Norwegian mainland, and the E12 from “Mo I Rana” that lead straight back to Helsinki. It was so easy to follow all those signs that there was no need for any GPS navigation systems. I prefer the “old fashioned way” anyway– with maps.

Can’t wait to go back to Norway again.