Two weeks ago, I took a mini “cruise” from Tromsø to Kirkenes and back, on board the MS Lofoten. The Hurtigruten company runs ships from Bergen to Kirkenes and back, with one ship leaving Bergen every day (total journey time for the round trip is 11 days). They stop in Tromsø both ways, and this means the Hurtigruten becomes a part of daily life in a way. For example, it blows its horn loudly every time it arrives in the afternoon and you can hear it from nearly everywhere in town. When I hear that, I know it’s 14:30 and I can sometimes even recognize which ship is coming in 😀 It stays for 4 hours and it’s quite easy to recognize tourists from the ship when you’re in the town centre 😉 The southbound one comes in just before midnight and doesn’t stay very long, but if I work the night shift it passes the south tip of the island just when I am on the roof to observe, and I love watching the ship (all lit up) sail into the dark night.
Anyway… I found out they had a special discount on tickets between Kirkenes and Tromsø. It’s a part of Norway that I don’t know very well, and was curious to see. It would also be good for work, as this is one of the areas we write forecasts for – much easier when you have some local knowledge 🙂 Paul couldn’t come because of work, he wasn’t very keen either after nearly a month at sea in September :D. So on a rainy Saturday evening, I boarded the MS Lofoten on my own. Below is a photo of the ship, and a map of the route it took.
I knew it was risky taking this trip in October, and indeed I didn’t have very nice weather. The ship left Tromsø in the dark, and by the time I got up the next morning, we had just left Hammerfest. I spent some time on deck looking at the landscape, discovering how many shades of grey exist 😀 Grey sky, grey mountains, grey(ish) snow, grey wind turbines… Still, the landscapes were quite impressive!
This part of Norway is called Finnmark. It’s bigger than the Netherlands – but has a population of only 72,000 people. I did know this, but it’s hard to imagine such a big area with so few people in it. I never realised just how small all the towns in Finnmark are… honestly, I don’t think I could live there, much too isolated. Tromsø has 67,000 people and I already wish it was bigger sometimes 😛 The ship visits all “major” towns/villages along the coast, some of which are tiny – like Havøysund in the first photo below – only about 1100 people live there. In those small places, the ship only stops for 15 minutes, to deliver cargo or receive goods, and people can get on and off as well. The Hurtigruten was originally set up as a postal service, and it obviously still hasn’t lost this function completely – of course it doesn’t take the actual mail anymore (that’s taken over by planes), but it does deliver a lot of bulkier things like building materials and car tires :D. It makes the Hurtigruten a mix of partly ferry, partly cargo ship, partly cruise ship. Lots of tourists do the full 11 day trip, or at least one way. Locals use it more as a ferry, often getting off at the next stop. I quite like this mix, I don’t think I would enjoy a “proper” cruise.
Just before noon, we arrived in Honningsvåg, and the sun came out – what a nice surprise! This was one of the longer stops (3.5 hours), mainly because they organize an excursion to the North Cape from here. I was more interested in seeing Honningsvåg itself, so I skipped the (expensive) excursion and walked around town. It was Sunday and very quiet. I enjoyed walking around the docks, and I even met this cute little creature running around the shore. I first thought it was an otter (though it was much smaller than the ones I’ve seen before), but after looking it up, it must have been a mink.
I also walked around a place where they stored LOTS of fishing float balls, and where they also had all kinds of colourful roles of rope – a paradise for a photographer 😀
I walked up to a viewpoint over the town. Honningsvåg is a small (pop. 2400) and quiet place (at least on Sunday), but it does have everything you might need (even a cinema and several cafes) and I really enjoyed my visit 🙂
We left Honningsvåg at 15:15, and our next stop was Kjøllefjord at 17:30. It was almost dark by the time we got there, but we were just about able to see the impressive rock formation called “Finnkirka”, shaped in the form of a church. The day after I came back from my cruise, they installed flood lights on the formation, pity I didn’t get to see that.
In spite of the cloudy/rainy weather we had most of the day, it cleared up at night and we saw beautiful northern lights. It was very special to see them from the ship, in complete darkness and with a clear view of the horizon in all directions – magical! I tried to take photos, but the waves were too big to keep the camera steady 😀
The next morning we arrived in Kirkenes. I had been there before (on our way to Murmansk), and there isn’t much to see anyway – so it was quite a boring visit, especially since the weather was particularly bad when we were there. I looked around the shops for a bit and used the internet in the library ;). This is the final destination of the ship, and from here we turned back. That afternoon, we stopped for about an hour in Vardø. What a nice little place! It’s located on an island out in the sea. It really feels quite remote, but cosy and comfortable at the same time. This was my favourite stop on the cruise – perhaps slightly influenced by the amazing mobile bakery I managed to find 😛
That night, the skies cleared, and again we had a great northern lights show! This time the sea was very calm and I tried to take some photos. It doesn’t work very well (they become quite grainy and blurred), but it gives you an impression anyway 🙂
The next morning we stopped in Hammerfest for 1.5 hours. First we passed the Snøhvit project on the island of Melkøya – an enormous installation that collects natural gas from the Barents Sea. Hammerfest is very proud of this installation, and no doubt it created a lot of jobs and money… They claim it’s environment-friendly… I guess that depends how you look at it!
I thought Hammerfest would be one of the highlights of the cruise, but I didn’t really like it. I guess the bad weather didn’t help much, and the entire city centre seemed to be under construction (with the main street turned into a muddy mess). It’s also a strange mix of modern and more traditional buildings. None of the buildings are very old though -Hammerfest was completely destroyed at the end of WWII.
The ship arrived back in Tromsø late that evening. I travelled more than 1600 km in just over 3 days! All in all, it was an interesting trip and I really enjoyed it 🙂 The MS Lofoten is small and cosy, I much prefer that over the newer (massive) ships. There were only about 50 passengers on board, and it’s nice how you get to know people after a few days 🙂 I’m quite keen to take the Hurtigruten south as well (to Trondheim, or perhaps all the way to Bergen) one day, but perhaps in a better season 😉