You might think, why in the name of God would I want to go to a hard to get to, small group of islands, off the west coast of Norway? Well, I’d heard that the scenery was supposed to be stunning there and that it was also a great place to see the Northern Lights, which was actually the main reason for going there.
The whole idea came about a few years ago when I saw this fantastic background photo on a colleague’s computer at work. It was a picture of the Aurora Borealis in a remote location in Canada. I thought “Wow, what a picture!” I still have it on my own computer at work and it’s as inspiring for me now as it was then. The photo was taken in the middle of the countryside, with everything covered in snow. Three quarters of the photo is a midnight blue sky with a stream of wispy white and green light curling from the back towards the front of the photo. It looked like it had just come out of a magician’s wand. So magical.
WHEN TO GO
It was on the back of my mind, ever since then, to get there on holiday. But I only started looking into it and doing some research last September. In Europe some of the best places to see the Northern Lights are apparently Iceland, above the Arctic Circle in Norway, Abisko in Sweden and Kakslauttanen in Finland. I had heard and read, that the best time to go and see them in Norway was in October and March. I went onto various travel forums as well and asked people what their opinions were on the best time to go there. I was told from people living in Norway and people who had been there, that October was the rainiest month of the year and it would be a better idea to go in March.
Now I also had to consider the wintertime and the polar night, when it’s nearly dark all day. I didn’t want to go then because I wouldn’t get the chance to see much of the scenery and March was the time when the days were brighter. So I decided to go for March.
During my research I found out that March was off peak season and that some of the attractions west of Henningsvaer would be closed and that there would be limited services available. It was turning out also that a lot of the tours/excursions advertised on Lofoten.info tourism website, needed to have a minimum of 6 people, in order to run the tours: www.lofoten.info Coming up to a week beforehand it wasn’t looking good.The three tours I had planned on taking had no bookings as yet. But I had booked and paid for my flights already so I wasn’t backing out now. All of this, on top of the fact that I wasn’t going to be hiring a car while I was out there. First of all, I hadn’t driven for about 3 years. Second of all, anytime I’ve driven, it’s always been on the left hand side of the road and thirdly, I wasn’t used to driving in snow, which was predicted during the time I was there. So I planned on taking buses to get me where I wanted to go.
In September I was looking at the prices of flights from Amsterdam to Svolvaer. Now of course there are no direct flights to the Lofoten Islands, not from Amsterdam anyway. If you book well in advance you can get flights from Amsterdam to Svolvaer for just under 500 euros, or even cheaper, with Scandinavian Airways:the shortest journey being 6 hours 27 minutes, with three flights and two connections. When I was looking in September I should have booked the flights then but no, I left it too late. The next time I went to go look at the prices at the end of December, the shortest flight price had gone up to 900 euros. I also looked into the possibility of taking a package holiday organised by a travel company based in the UK. That would also cost me a fortune. More I think that organising everything myself. So an Italian friend of mine, found cheaper flights for me on an Italian travel website and I booked the flights at the end of January for a total of 485 euros. I had to take the 10 hour option though which included 4 flights. There are other options though that can be considered, such as flying to Bodo and taking the Hurtigruten to Svolvaer and this cruiser leaves Bodo at 3pm everyday, stopping off at various ports in the Lofoten Islands, going northbound to Kirkenes.
I was looking both at the Rough Guide and the Lonely Planet Guidebooks of Norway and realistically, with Svolvaer being a small town, there weren’t too many cheap accommodation options. I wasn’t going to pay a fortune for a hotel and the rorbuers would have been nice to stay in but as they were pretty expensive too and more economic for groups of people sharing, I decided to stay at the Svolvaer Sjohuscamp. The rorbuers are the old fishermen’s houses which date back to the twelfth century. King Olsten ordered them to be built for the visiting fishermen who used to sleep under their boats. Sjohus are sea-houses where the catch was kept and the workers slept. Svolvaer sits on the south east coast of Austvagoya, the largest of the Lofoten Islands. It seemed to be the best place to base myself, as all the tours had pick ups and drop offs in Svolvaer, the Hurtigruten stops there on its way northbound and southbound and it seemed to have more cafes, restaurants and hotels there than anywhere else. So I guessed it would be fairly lively.
I was told that it would be a good idea to buy thermal underwear as it could get down to between minus 6 and minus 10, especially at night. So I went about looking for warm thermal underwear. Better be prepared than not! It brings me back to the time when I was in Berlin for 6 months and the winter there was minus 15 in the daytime and minus 20 at night. How my ears and nose didn’t fall off, I don’t know. But that’s another story! There’s a good outdoor women’s clothes shop in Amsterdam and I found a thermal top and pants. What did they happen to be made of: New Zealand Merino wool. What else! Proud to wear it, although it was expensive. I’m sure though that I’ll get more use out of them, with the winters turning colder here every year.