Just a short drive from Narvik, the Gateway to the North, there is a park with generous-sized enclosures for a range of Arctic animals: bears, wolves, lynx, deer and elk: the Polar Park. An ideal place for all to learn about the native species, including of Norway’s only wild cat.
Four different types of medium cats are given the name of Lynx. Their coats of fur vary in colour according to their climate range. This Eurasian (or Siberian) lynx lives in Northern regions so their coats are thicker and lighter in colour (for camouflage). The Eurasian lynx has wide, harelike paws to help them skim through deep snow without sinking in: a handy characteristic this far up North the world.
In Northern Norway there is a city which was built just over a century ago for the export of iron ore from Sweden, Narvik. The port is ice free all year round unlike ones in Sweden. This industry and the city’s location were reason enough for this place to be badly bombed in the Second World War. The effects on the city architecture are more brick and concrete, with fewer traditional wooden buildings in the city centre.
Being at the base of mountains and fjords allows Narvik to have a cable car, the Narvikfjellet, which offers a spectacular ride with views of the scenery, Ofotfjord and the city. Plus a place to have waffles and hot chocolate at the top.
Visiting the northern islands of Lofoten includes the possibility to see a small but good aquarium; one of its highlights is be the feeding time for the seals and otters in their outdoor pools.
Storvågan is a little village west of Svolvær; established around 1800. It was one of Lofoten largest fishing villages. Now this little village hosts an aquarium that aims to show tourists the life hiding in the deep waters around Lofoten and the north of Norway. Oudoors there is a pool with 5 active seals: one male who was bought from another aquarium and four female, two of which were born in captivity. Everyday they are fed herring at noon. If you are lucky you can watch it and if you are really lucky you might be able to feed them a snack or two!
Uttakleiv is the most photographed beach on Lofoten. A 4km walk that took 11 years to build along the coast takes you to what is considered the most romantic beach in Lofoten: Haukland. Along the way sheep that climb hundreds of meters up the cliff to eat the best grass; a shelter where an otter hunter used to take refuge; and dramatic views of the Nordic coastline in a sunny 11°C summer day.
The small island of Skrova, in the middle of Vestfjord, is only accessible by boat and considered the Lofoten islands “Hawaii” for the most amount of sunlight and least amount of rainfall it gets through the year.
Being the most sheltered of a group of three islands, it is where the 220 residents of the area decide to live. The population lives mainly from salmon farming, fishing and whaling. In fact, according to my guide, this little island processes more than half of Norways whale hunting quota. There are two restaurants in the small island: one that serves whale meat and the one that doesn’t.
Tourism is nowadays also a source of income. Climbing up the 281 meters of the highest mountain in Skrova is the second most popular touristic information after kayaking. Every walk has a guest book at an important point of the walk where you can sign. Though not every one is blue.
A wonder of nature happens every winter when five ocean currents host the annual migration of the Norwegian-Arctic cod, or ‘Skrei’; these fish come down from the Barents Sea to the Lofoten Islands to spawn.
Eager fishermen catch this variety of fish, gut it, decapitate it, scale it, tie it in twos and hang it out to dry in order to preserve the fish. The fish does not freeze into pieces, but it doesn’t rot either. The fish simply dries in racks in the Nordic sun and wind from late winter until spring. Then, it is bone dry and easy to transport, but still retains its key nutrients; 1kg of this dried fish has the same nutritional value as 5kg of fresh fish!
The entire fish is consumed: the tails and body is exported to Spain, Italy, Portugal and the rest of Europe. The heads are sent to Nigeria to be cooked in soup. The livers are made into medicinal oil. And the tongues are kept as a Norwegian delicacy for tourists from near and far.
Rorbu (singular) or rorbuer (plural) are still a traditional accommodation in Lofoten for eager fishermen today. Even if they are just fishermen for a day. The old cabins have been restored and turned into modern accommodation for the million travellers that come to the area each summer.
The first Rorbu cabins in Lofoten date from 1120 and were licensed by King Øystein as housing for the hardened fishermen who made the winter expedition to the world’s most fertile cod fishing grounds.
The cottages were simple structures, built on poles partly out in the water with two rooms: a storage room and a living room with beds. The “luxurious” cabins had a window -a hole in the wall with a skin made from the stomach of a halibut stretched across it.
Stavern is an old port favoured nowadays during the summers when its population grows ten fold. Beaches, art displays, open areas and history, combined with events which are organised almost all year around since its opening to public in the 1990s make this little town in Larvik a preferred destination amongst Norwegians. Music concerts are amongst the most popular concurrences which have had such success that even Elton John has come to this little town to stage.
The Gunpowder building is noteworthy; separated from the rest and built of stone and brick (as opposed to wood as the other buildings), just in case things get heated.
Other buildings in the area are wooden and with a colour so particular that it has become its own color name: stavern yellow. Not easily missed!
This is a replica of a viking boat. The original boat was a burial boat for a queen and was found under ground along with many artefacts including a wagon. The boat was reconstructed using the traditional ways used thousands of years ago and the same materials.
A second boat is now being built. It is another replica of a cargo boat that will recreate a journey that will last 4 years to complete. People are invited to join part of the journey and live a true viking experience.
Melsomvik is a cooperative community building a better future from themselves, they came together to create a space to spend their long days in their short summer. Right across the bay from an ex-whaling station they placed their diving platforms.
On the path to the new area, is this antique bell. It was to alert for fires as streets were narrow and locals were worried with the industrial area close by. The industry was to repair ships that chased, found and hunt big whales in the Arctic a couple of hundred years ago.