(To see all the photo's in this post and many more click on photo gallery Norway 2018)
Much fjord water has passed under our keel since my last blog post and the scenery just keeps getting better and better. Unbelievably, the locals tell us the further north we go it becomes even more stunning. I have run out of superlatives and am reduced to standing like a village idiot with mouth agape as each new landscape appears!
Our journey since leaving Mark and Sandra in Bergen some three weeks ago has taken us north to Florø (where our friends Roger and Sue joined us), the beautiful city of Alesund and then on to Kristiansund, with two long diversions into the Sognefjorden and Storfjorden on the way for a total distance travelled of nearly 600nm (1,200km).
We are constantly told the weather gods have been extremely kind to us and that this is the warmest, driest, summer Norway has ever had. While this may well be true, I have a sneaking suspicion that Norwegians like to tell visitors how bad the weather usually is to shore up their psyche of being a nation of rugged tough nuts like their Viking ancestors and Amundsen, etc. Whatever the case, the weather the last 3 weeks really has been very pleasant with many days of warm glorious sunshine and light breezes. The evenings however tend to get quite cool at around 10 - 13C but this makes snuggling down under a warm doona (duvet for non Aussie readers) an eagerly anticipated treat at the end of a long day of adventuring.
Our first objective after leaving Bergen was to "do" Sognefjorden. The Sognefjord is Norway’s longest and deepest fjord, and the Nærøyfjord arm has World Heritage status. The fjord system stretches almost 80nm (160km) inland so visiting was a major diversion from our passage north up the coast but the trip proved to be well worthwhile. We anchored the first night at the head of Indrefjorden, an offshoot, partway up the fjord system where 8 waterfalls fall into the bay. We had the bay to ourselves and lay in bed that night enthralled by the unique symphony of the waterfalls thundering down the surrounding cliffs.
The next morning we headed off early for the long scenic passage to firstly visit Nærøyfjord and then then back track up the main arm of Aurlandsfjord to the historic town of Flåm where we berthed for the next two nights. The town of Flåm is now basically a tourist hub catering to many regularly visiting large cruise ships, with the main attraction (apart from the fjords) being the Flåm railway - which was our main purpose for going there. We were most fortunate that the the two cruise ships there when we arrived left that evening and the rest of our stay was free of annoying American tourists.
The Flåm railway is an engineering masterpiece built between 1924 and 1940. It is the steepest railway line in the world with a gradient of 5.5% and has twenty tunnels over its 20km length. The train trip takes about 2hrs return and the views are breathtaking, with the highlight being a short stop at the impressively thundering Kjosfossen waterfall.
Karen needed an afternoon nap after the excitement of our Flåm railway journey in the morning so I headed off with my drone in my backpack to explore another impressive waterfall nearby and the historic wooden Flåm church which surprisingly has never burnt down since it was built in 1670. On the track leading up to the base of the waterfall I came across a crew of four men building a most impressive stone staircase to replace the existing haphazard track. I was intrigued by their distinctly "unNorwegian" appearance and stopped to have a chat. It turns out they are a team of track builders from Nepal recruited by the Norwegian government and that there are dozens of similar teams who work throughout Norway during the summer months and return home for the winter. If they are earning Norwegian wages they would certainly be returning home to a very warm welcome from their family and friends!
From Flåm we made our way back out to the coast and north to Florø for our rendezvous with Roger and Sue. Florø is a rather unremarkable small city with its most redeeming features being an excellent supermarket just 50m from where we were berthed and the best stocked chandlery I have seen during the past 6 years cruising in Europe. From Florø we made a short passage to Kalvåg on the island of Frøya where we were able to berth immediately in front of the Knutholmen pub. Being Roger and Sue's first night was a reasonable excuse for a celebration, so much so that a number of very friendly locals joined our festivities and I ended up with half a dozen drunken new found Norwegian Gardner engine enthusiasts, in my engine room at 11:00pm sharing their infinite wisdom with me! It was a very amusing evening with solid hangovers all round the next day.
We headed off early the next day with a favourable weather forecast to get around Stadlandet, a large headland with a fearsome reputation for rough seas and one of the few places on the Norwegian coast where you have no option but to venture out into the open sea. The forecast was accurate and we completed the 30nm passage around the headland on a glassy sea and headed into Storfjorden for our next fjord experience. Storfjorden is a large and complex fjord system with numerous arms, of which Geirangerfjorden (another World Heritage Site), is the best known. Due to the likelihood of encountering multiple cruise ships and their incumbent hordes of passengers, we chose to visit Hjorundfjorden and the settlement of Øye instead as a shallow section in the fjord prevents cruise ships from entering the further reaches. Hjørundfjorden passes through the Sunnmøre Alps, a spectacularly beautiful area with spike-like mountaintops and snow-covered ridges with an excellent anchorage and historic hotel at Øye.
The next morning, under a low cloudy sky Roger, Sue and I headed off on what is described in my cruising guide as a "steep but pleasant 3 - 4hr hike" to a hut at an elevation of 800m. The authors of my cruising guide do an exceptional job describing nautical things. Their description of the hike on the other hand is somewhat lacking. Firstly they failed to mention the 3km walk from the bay to get to the start of the hike and back, thus adding 6km to the total distance. The word "steep" should be replaced with "as steep as you can get without needing mountain climbing equipment"; "pleasant" should be replaced with "torturous" and "3-4hr" needs the words "each way" added!!!
The only "pleasant" part of the hike was the walk leading to the start. Then, after crossing through a green meadow and over a beautiful old stone footbridge the track immediately turned to a near vertical clamber over wet mud and slippery rocks for 3 hrs. To make matters worse, we disappeared into thick cloud after having climbed about 200m and didn't regain any significant visibility until we came back down, saturated to the bone nearly 5 hours later. We have no idea what the scenery was like along the route or from the hut at the top; in fact I nearly headbutted the wall of the hut the visibility was that bad.
It was nonetheless a memorable experience and a good workout for my new Nordic hiking sticks. We all felt a great sense of achievement to have seen the ordeal through.
On our return to the dock we were greeted by the extraordinary sight of a small recently arrived yacht with (this is true!!!) knitted Nordic patterned port and starboard coloured fender covers!
After Øye we returned back to the main part of the fjord system and anchored for a few nights in a beautiful bay called Glomsetvagen, where we enjoyed two further hikes - very pleasant, not so steep and under clear skies - before heading off to the city of Alesund, billed as the most beautiful city in Norway. Aside from jagging an excellent position to moor the boat, right in the heart of town, we were a little underwhelmed by Alesund's favourable billing.
After two days at Alesund we made our way to Kristiansund via overnight stops at the former whaling village of Finnøya and Håholmen, an old fishing village now restored as a small resort and viking museum. On our final day with Roger and Sue we were treated to the most glorious passage, on a totally glassy sea around the island of Averøya as we made our way into Kristiansund. Here I captured my most successful drone footage to date despite an almost disastrous take off and taking a chunk out of Roger's finger on catch-landing!
Well that's it for now! I look forward to making another post when we reach Bødo in about 3 weeks time to pick up our next group of friends.