Up and down the Norwegian coast on the Postal Boat
One of the classic ways of seeing the Norwegian coastline is to take one of the daily sailings of the Hurtigruten (hurtig means fast and ruten means route) fleet.
Depending on what you include (mainland, islands, fjord shore lines etc) Norway’s coast line is between 2,500 km and over 50,000 km long – wikipedia says it has the seventh longest coastline in the world. I have had a wish to see some of it ever since hearing Slartibartfast describe his work designing the fiords – this will either mean something to you or it will not, but if not – shame!
We are doing the complete 12 day Hurtigruten trip from Bergen to Kirkenes (which is far north of the Arctic Circle) and back on the MS Lofoten.
All of the ships in the Hurtigruten fleet are working ships which means that for the past 119 years, they have been an essential method of communication and travel between 34 of the ports along the coast and therefore over the next 12 days, we will be calling into port 67 times. Those ports which we call into at night on the way north are likely to be visited during the day on the way south and hence practically every port will be seen during the day one way or the other. During the day is not totally accurate because of the shorter winter daylight and also because the sun will not rise at all on a few days during our trip.
Hurtigruten seem to have managed to combine a working trip for the boat and its local passengers with sufficient tourist activities to create a cruise for those who simply want to see the Norwegian coast and some of its cities and villages.
Whilst the fleet plods up and down the coast for 364 days a year, we have chosen to go in winter because we are hoping to see the Northern Lights again – we briefly saw them about 8 years ago when we went swimming with Orca (aka killer whales) near Evenes.
We have also chosen to go on the MS Lofoten which is the oldest, smallest and least sophisticated ship in the fleet, simply because we are not “large ship with entertainment and lots of fellow passengers” travellers. It also has a reputation for providing a more personal service because its size and (lack of) facilities means that it attracts people like us.
Hurtigruten stress in their brochure that their ships are not cruise ships and that the facilities and entertainment that many cruisers are used to on large ships will not be found on their ships.
To quote: “The emphasis on board is on relaxation and getting away from the commercial entertainment which is so often a part of conventional cruises. Our aim is to get closer to unique environments and share the experience with fellow passengers.”
Never-the-less, on-line one can find a number of trip reviewers complaining about the simple nature of the ships and the fact that food is not available 24 hours a day!
The Hurtigruten brochure describes the trip thus:
Day 1 Embarkation in Bergen
Our journey starts in Bergen. As we make our way north, you have the chance to enjoy interesting presentations and activities. Many of these activities happen out on deck or on land, so you get the chance to feel the crisp and fresh air. Enjoy the relaxed ambience of life on board and the opportunity to meet fellow passengers as you take in the spectacular winter landscapes
Day 2 Ålesund
Ports visited today: Florø, Måløy, Torvik, Ålesund, Molde.
We navigate through the skerries and islands further north before reaching the town renowned for its beautiful Art Nouveau architecture, Ålesund. We recommend the excursion to Mount Aksla for a perfect winter panoramic view.
Day 3 The Royal City of Trondheim
Ports visited today: Kristiansund, Trondheim, Rørvik.
Trondheim was Norway’s first capital. The storehouses along the river built on wooden stilts are a colourful contrast to the pure white snow that covers the city during winter.
Day 4 Arctic Circle and Lofoten Islands
Ports visited today: Brønnøysund, Sandnessjøen, Nesna, Ørnes, Bodø, Stamsund, Svolvær.
As we cross the Arctic Circle the hunt for the Arctic light begins. This occasion is marked with an Arctic Circle baptism on deck. You have the chance to learn more about the Aurora Borealis and to experience an authentic Lofotr Viking Feast. Later we enter the dramatic and narrow Raftsund. If the weather and ice conditions allow it, we also sail to the entrance of the famous Trollfjord, where you can enjoy freshly made fish cakes on deck.
Day 5 Tromsø, The Gateway to the Arctic
Ports visited today: Stokmarknes, Sortland, Risøyhamn, Harstad, Finnsnes, Tromsø, Skjervøy.
After a morning stop in Finnsnes, we continue to the Arctic capital Tromsø. Perhaps take part in a polar dog sledging excursion or a trip to Polaria. As we sail along the coast there is a chance of seeing the Northern Lights. We gather on deck to search for this breathtaking phenomenon.
Day 6 Honningsvåg and the North Cape
Ports visited today: Øksfjord, Hammerfest, Havøysund, Honningsvåg, Kjøllefjord, Mehamn, Berlevåg.
Honningsvåg is the nearest port to the North Cape. An excursion to this breathtaking site puts you at 71° 10’ 21” N, only 2,000 kilometres from the Geographical North Pole. Join the presentation of the Sámi culture and history in pictures, words and music. Later on we pass a rock formation that is sacred to the Sámi people, Finnkirka. Enjoy the spectacular lighting on this famous rock. At the next port, Kjøllefjord you can join a snowmobile trip to Mehamn, where you might see the Northern Lights on a clear, starlit sky.
Day 7 Kirkenes, the Voyage Turning Point
Ports visited today: Båtsfjord, Vardø, Vadsø, Kirkenes, then on the route south Vardø, Båtsfjord, Berlevåg.
The turning point of our Coastal Voyage is just 10 kilometres from the Russian border. Kirkenes is home to the fantastic Snow Hotel and the base for several exciting excursions, including dog sledging and King Crab fishing. Kirkenes also boasts several fascinating small museums, recounting the history and heritage of this remote frontier. The polar nights extend from 21 November to 21 January. It is not completely dark during this time; the light and colour in the sky are amazing when the weather is favourable.
As we turn south the northbound ports visited by night are now seen by day. In the afternoon the ship docks in Vardø. Depending on the weather conditions, we invite you to an ice-dipping in the Barents Sea.
Day 8 Hammerfest and Tromsø
Ports visited today: Mehamn, Kjøllefjord, Honningsvåg, Havøysund, Hammerfest, Øksfjord, Skjervøy, Tromsø.
Before stopping in Hammerfest, you can enjoy an “Energy coffee” and a short introduction to “Melkøya - The northernmost natural gas terminal” on board. Our next major stop will be Tromsø where you have the option to take part in a very special musical experience, the Arctic Cathedral Midnight Concert.
Day 9 Vesterålen and Lofoten Islands
Ports visited today: Tromsø, Finnsnes, Harstad, Risøyhamn, Sortland, Stokmarknes, Svolvær, Stamsund.
Enjoy the stunning views of sheltered bays and glorious mountain landscapes wrapped in the cloak of a polar winter. We stop at Stokmarknes, before continuing through the Raftsund, a picturesque and narrow channel between the Vesterålen and Lofoten Islands. As a tribute to the fishing history in Lofoten, our chef shows how to fillet the catch of the day on deck.
Day 10 Arctic Circle, Seven Sisters
Ports visited today: Bodø, Ørnes, Nesna, Sandnessjøen, Brønnøysund, Rørvik.
Enjoy a spectacular winter scenery of the picturesque Helgeland coast with its myriad islets and steep granite walls. As we cross the Arctic Circle again and sail past the famed peaks of the Seven Sisters we enter a world of legend and folklore.
Day 11 Trondheim and Kristiansund
Ports visited today: Trondheim, Kristiansund, Molde, Ålesund.
Today you have the opportunity to explore the city of Trondheim again. Nidaros Cathedral, where three Queens and seven Kings have been crowned, is Scandinavia’s largest medieval building. Later, on our way to Kristiansund, you can see the steep, pointed and snow covered peaks of the Romsdal Alps.
Day 12 Disembarkation in Bergen
Ports visited today: Ålesund, Torvik, Måløy, Florø, Bergen.
Today your journey with Hurtigruten has come to an end, but before we reach Bergen there are still a few nautical miles of fascinating winter scenery ahead of us as we slowly sail towards Bergen.
The published schedule shows that some ports get only a 15 minute stop whilst others get 6 hours. It also shows that many of the ports which are visited in the middle of the night on the way north are visited during the day on the way south.
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- A long list of optional shore excursions are detailed in the Hurtigruten brochure, many are seasonal and most are relatively expensive. We have chosen six which interest us although our approach to this trip is to ignore the high cost of everything in Norway – it we want to do something we will do it regardless of what it costs since we are unlikely to be coming back here again.
There is also website where if you had 135 hours to spare, you could watch a video of a whole trip and see examples of the
weather and views during the summer so you know what you are in for.Getting to Bergen from where the boat sails north is straightforward. We drive to Heathrow and then fly on a two hour British
- Airways flight up the North Sea
- where we land at around 2100 Norwegian time after flying around the fjords near the city.
- We chose to book our own flights and hotel because it was significantly cheaper than booking these via Hurtigruten and we found that there were no disadvantages at all in doing it independently.
- The always efficient Norwegian travel system means that a Flybussen coach departs the airport every 15 minutes for downtown Bergen and without too much effort, eight hours after closing our front door in the UK, we soon find ourselves opening the door to our room in our hotel for the night – the Hotel Terminus which is close to the airport bus stop, next to Bergen railway station and close to the harbour and shops.