Norway

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NORWAY

Norway in the North West of Europe is mostly mountainous terrain with a coastline carved by deep glacier fjords and over 50000 islands. The Kingdom of Norway shares borders with Finland, Russia and Sweden. Norway is also one of the most expensive countries in Europe and has the fourth highest income per capita in the world.  With only a population of 5 million people and mountains plunging into the sea from hundreds of meters, fjords, tall mountain peaks, and a few more days to enjoy the northern lights it promises to be a superb trip. One night while camping out bush we spend 3 hours outside (at minus 21 degrees Celsius) watching nature’s own theater unfold above you. An experience we will never forget. The Aurora is an unpredictable lady, and you never know when she will decide to turn up. We have been so lucky.

Crossing into Northern Norway for a short visit before entering Finland.

Karasjok is where the Sami culture is vivid and authentic. Unfortunately for us the weather was bad with a blinding blizzard and heavy snow falling both days making visibility nil and driving conditions very poor and dangerous. The vast area of Finnmark has Sampi as its first language, and one third of the people work with reindeer, which is the main industry. The Sami people are sometimes referred to as Lapps but prefer to be called Sami’s. Reindeer herding is still central to Sami culture and even to this day is crucial to the subsistence of the Sami, providing meat, fur and transportation. We visited the Sami museum in Karasjok. That day we camped just outside the town and after a full day of snowing, the sky cleared, and we were presented with another superb Northern Light show.

Crossing into Northern Norway from far North West Russia                                                                  Entering Norway from Russia the first town Kirkenes is the most easterly town in Norway. Finnmark forms the most northerly and the most easterly region of mainland Norway. It is also Norway’s largest county and, with its area of 48,000 km2 (18,766 sq. miles), is bigger than Denmark or Switzerland. Knivskjellodden at the North Cape is the most northerly point, while the island of Hornøya near Vardø is the most easterly point. Although Finnmark lies at the same latitude as remote, unpopulated or scarce-populated regions of North America and Northern Siberia, it is very much a normal society. Small towns, fishing villages and farming communities have a well-developed infrastructure, with roads, airports and services just like anywhere else. This is off course the complete opposite to Northern Russia which we just visited. The landscape in Finnmark is characterized by the hilly, rolling, partly treeless Finnmark plateau, which covers most of inner Finnmark. The end of this stage of the trip is North Cape. But before we reached North Cape we also visited the world’s most northerly city Hammerfest and the most northerly fishing village Skarsvåg, In March 2010 we left the geographic southern tip of Africa and the official dividing point between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans Cape Agulhas. Early in the evening we passed Honningvag trying to reach North-Cape that night. The heavy snow did not help, however the new diff worked perfectly, and we climbed the pass (9%) without any worries, only to be stopped by a closed gate. The road was closed!  “Between 1 November and 30 April for private cars, and you must join the daily 4X4 bus from Honningsvåg”. Stopped only 13km from our destination, by now the wind was howling and visibility nil so we decided to camp just before the road closed sign. The following morning A snowplow driver asked his boss for permission to guide us up the last 13km but warned us to be careful as the road was all Ice and the wind gusts were over 100km per hour. What a treat to drive to the North Cape with not a tourist in sight. The weather cleared for a few minutes at the time but a wind-chill factor of minus 48 Degrees meant only 10 minutes outside before warming up in the truck. It was very difficult to stay outside due to the extreme cold. Can you believe it, we were the only visitors at North Cape, a place we are told you can`t move in summer due to the thousands of people visiting? Another bonus was that we could park right next to the fence overlooking the marker. we made it to the most northern point in Europe NORTH CAPE. When standing on the cliff at the North Cape, mainland Europe’s northernmost point, only the Svalbard Islands separate you from the North Pole. This is one of the most special places on earth. You do not get further north in mainland Europe; you are at the end of the world. As everything was closed we could park only meters away from the most northern point past the visitor Centre. WHAT AN EXPERIENCE.  The North Cape, Europe`s most Northern Point, is closer to the North Pole than the capital city Oslo. But we learned very quickly from the locals that this is not necessarily correct. The reason: North Cape is on an Island, and if an Island qualifies it should be Svalbard which lays 500km North of Norway and it should be on the island of Suyoyane, to be exact. Svalbard is part of Norway. So, armed with this local knowledge, we ventured off the beaten track to Kinnaroddden, just north of Meham but the heavy snow had closed the track and we did not feel like an eight hour walk. Instead we went to an area near the Slettnes Lighthouse; this is the world`s most northern lighthouse. We camped at N71.05.782 E028.11.194, the most northern place we ever had a bush camp. (To put this into perspective, on Antarctica, the Australians have three stations. Davis Station is located 68 Degrees south, Mawson station at 67 Degrees south and Casey Station is located at 66 Degrees south). The weather turned nasty with strong winds, snow and then sunshine but freezing cold! On the way we got bogged in thick snow but nothing the Max-Trax would not get us out of. We back tracked to our campsite just outside the small village waiting for some better weather. But after 2 days nothing changed, and we decided to give it a go and head South again.

Since 2010, we have now travelled from the African Continent’s most southern Point GPS S34.49.58 E020.00.12 in South Africa (2010) to Europe`s most northern point. The GPS showed N71.10.342 E 025.47.177, the most northern position we and our truck have ever been and all overland (2012). All done overland apart from one ferry from Sudan to Saudi Arabia and another ferry from Algerias to Tanger and back.

From now our next journey to Singapore had started and this means we are going to look for warmer weather, however first we must follow Norway’s coast line for 2518 kilometers to end up at Norway’s most Southern Point. Snow kept falling all night and into the next day. As we ventured further south, we crossed many mountain passes, which demanded slow driving as the snow was deep, and the snow plows had problems keeping up with the snowfall. The fjords had started to appear as did the many islands. We passed many fishing villages with snow reaching up to the second floor of the houses. No doubt if the sun was out this would have been spectacular scenery. Snow became rain and the temperature came above zero as we moved further south. While we were looking for a campsite as it was becoming dark, a nearly fatal error had me almost roll the truck. We tried to drive on to the main road from a camp site we did not really like, and the truck went through the ice dropping over one meter with water entering the driver side door. Trying to reverse got me sliding sideways and the rear wheel also dropped by over a meter. Hence that night we nearly finished our around the world trip! It was getting dark, and we needed someone to pull us out. But who can pull out 7000kg?! We needed a tow truck heavy enough to pull us out. It is ironical that we drove for five weeks through snow and over ice in bad to very bad conditions and all goes well. Here we are 50 meters off the main road and we go through the ice thinking it is the way out. Due to the warm weather the ice became weak. We also found that we did some damage to the truck when trying to get out of the water. We found two broken wheel studs on the right side of the truck!

We visited the Lofoten Islands, The Lofoten area is Norway`s most scenic place, with steep mountains and a crystal-clear sea. Today the Lofoten is known for its rich fish stocks, the big cod. Between February and the end of April the arctic cod swim down the Barentz Sea by the million enroute and spawning near the Lofoten. We travelled back in time at the lofoten Viking Museum, and back on the main land we camped next to the Saltstraumen the world’s most powerful maelstrom outside of Bodø in Arctic Norway. We crossed 6 fjords. The ferry times range from 10 minutes to 1 hour and 20 minutes. This road is the most beautiful stretch of road in the world according to the locals. Further south we entered the Atlantic Ocean Tunnel which connects Kristiansund to the island of Averoy, which then in turn is connected to the mainland by seven bridges. The Atlantic Ocean Tunnel is 6km long and has an incline of 10%. At its deepest point, we were 248 meters beneath the water. The seven bridges have been voted the Norwegian Construction of the Century. And so, we drove another world`s best road trip. We set up camp right at the start of the first bridge hoping for a break in the blizzard-like conditions.

As we traveled south we drove the Atlantic Road. Sharp turns and wild nature have put the Atlantic Road at the top of the British newspaper The Guardian’s list of the world’s best road trips. The Atlantic Road zigzags across low bridges that jut out over the sea, linking the islands between Molde and Kristiansand in the western fjords. The Hustadvika is an infamous stretch of ocean and when in storm it is truly dramatic. We drove this road in the snow. Via the Geiranger fjord we traveled to Ørnevegen (the Eagle Road) is the name given to the steepest stretch of road up the mountain side from Geiranger towards Eidsdal on the road. 63. The road turns through 11 hairpin bends up from the Geirangerfjord to the highest point 620 meters above sea level. Snow kept falling and driving was a challenge. At the bottom of the Trollstigen road, we were confronted with the road closed sign! Very disappointing as the weather had just started to clear. After all this, we had to detour 200km, but accompanied by the magnificent scenery, this was no problem. It was snowing as we started to climb out of the valley and with a 10% incline, it was hard work on the slippery road. As we came around the fourth hairpin, we found a Mercedes sprinter sideways in a ditch. We stopped to help the Norwegian out of the ditch. He was unable to climb the 10 % incline on a snow-covered road and ended up sliding off the edge. We felt good, as tourists are normally looked upon as people who do not know how to drive on snow. Back to the tourist information but this was closed also! Yes, Southern Norway unlike Northern Norway does not come out of hibernation until May. Unlike Northern Norway all tourist roads are closed in the southern part of Norway to avoid accidents with tourists who according to the locals are ill prepared. At Valldal, we rejoined the road to Geiranger, only to be stopped by a Norwegian who wanted to warn us of a real danger of avalanches! This is what Clary really wanted to hear. We were told to cross the valley without stopping! This road is the most visited tourist road in Norway. Would you believe it, today is Good Friday, and we are the only tourists around? Imagine if this was July or August. This road is amazing and the views of the town of Geiranger from the top and the fjord are some of the best we have seen, despite the cloudy weather. One can only imagine what it would look like on a perfect sunny day. We parked our truck right on Geiranger Fjord in a superb setting. The next morning, we woke to 20cm of fresh snow and as we continued up the mountain, we were again advised of an avalanche alarm. During the night we could hear what we thought was thunder, but little did we realize this was snow and ice cascading down the steep walls of the fjord. We felt quite lucky after we heard that four years ago, four people were killed in their car when hit by an avalanche on the same stretch of road. No wonder we were the only ones on the road!

We decided to visit the Preikestolen seven-hour walking to the Preikestolen. Yes, you read this right – 7 hours! We were told it would only be 2 to 2.5 hour walk each way. But snow and ice made the walk not as fast as we had hoped for. Not to mention the steepness and the climb up and over rocks in some parts. At about the halfway mark I was thinking to myself why on earth did we attempt this walk? It was raining, snowing, windy, and cloudy and the rocks, covered with ice and snow were slippery. Once on the top we had a couple of breaks in the weather and yes, the view was superb. The Pulpit Rock (Preikestolen) towers an impressive 604 meters over the Lysefjord. The flat mountain plateau is approximately 600 square meters. Except from being 600 meters above the Fjord with no fence or railing the cracks in the rock are frightening. The Pulpit Rock plateau seems to have been cut out with a knife. The right-angled system of faults is very visible when viewed from above. One can imagine that enormous blocks on either side of the Pulpit Rock have plummeted into the Lysefjord.  Along the whole fjord so-called pressure-release faults can be found, a particularly good example being the crack in the Pulpit Rock. You can easily imagine what will happen when the cracks get deep enough. Anyway, it was a great experience to be at the top of the plateau. Our next stop was Kjerag, with its highest point being 1,110m above sea level, the drop is 984m (3,228ft) and is just near the famous Kjeragbolten, a 5m cubed large stone, which is plugged between two rocks and is probably one of the most photographed rocks in this part of the world. We visited Stavanger, the oil capital of Norway. Most interesting was the harbor area and Old Stavanger where we arrived by accident (lost). It has a collection of eighteenth and nineteenth century wooden structures. The city center itself is small and intimate, with narrow streets and open spaces protected from car traffic. We decided to take a cruise to the Lysefjord. The fjord was carved by the action of glaciers in the ice ages and was flooded by the sea when the later glaciers retreated. End to end, it measures 42km (26miles) with rocky walls falling nearly vertically over 1000m into the water. Because of the inhospitable terrain, the fjord is only lightly populated and only has two villages along its length. The few people who live along the fjord are only able to leave their homes by boat. For us the main reason for the cruise was to see Pulpit Rock (Preikestolen) from the water, located above a vertical drop of 600 meters. It can be seen from the fjord, but for us the view from the top was much more impressive. Not only is the fjord long and narrow, in places it is as deep as the mountains are high. The Lysefjord drops to a depth of 400m or more.  We drove past Fedafjord, and Jossingfjord. The whole area is dotted with many lighthouses. Lindeness, the southernmost point of mainland Norway, 2,518km south from the North Cape, has the country`s oldest light house, dating back to AD 1655. Lillesand is an idyllic village located on a scenic waterway. In the middle of Lillesand we could camp at the local yacht club.  Lillesand has charming shops, narrow lanes with side walk cafes and the sun glistens on the white timber houses. We spent a couple of days in this lovely area. Oslo is surrounded by green pine forests, a blue ocean and the typical Scandinavian red houses with white corners. It is easy to get into the city; roads are perfect and so is public transport with a combination of busses, trams and one of the best metro systems we have seen in the world and very clean. Oslo has a population of 611,491 and is the largest city in Norway. At present it is the fastest growing city in Europe. Twenty-five percent of the city`s population is made up of immigrants. We visited the city highlights and for the rest of the time we relaxed at the most overpriced campsite we have ever stayed at ($65.00 per night.) it still had no wireless internet. We had bush camped the previous week in much nicer places and it was a huge let-down. But we needed to stay close to public transport, washing had to be done, we had to fill up with water, empty the toilet etc. so we had no choice. I`ll probably get a lot of people disagreeing with me, and maybe I`m totally wrong to say it – but Oslo didn`t leave much of an impression on us (But nor do other large cities).