A hundred shades of grey

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.

The MS Lofoten The route from Tromsø to Kirkenes, with all stops along the way indicated

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!

Grey, grey, grey! Impressive rock formation near the North Cape A rusty fishing boat
Wind turbines near Havøysund Very low clouds
A mountain hiding in the clouds A pointy mountain and dark sky, at Havøysund

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.

Havøysund A lonely cabin

A small settlement, close to the North Cape, which can only be reached by boat Dark rocks

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.

The harbour at Honningsvåg 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 😀

Cormorants Fishing float balls in Honningsvåg

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 🙂

Honningsvåg from above Panorama over Honningsvåg, the MS Lofoten on the right side

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.

Finnkirka, a rock formation that looks like a church. In the background you can see Kjøllefjord Kjøllefjord

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 😛

Vardø. The light house is actually on a separate island! The harbour of Vardø A mobile bakery, which had a constant stream of customers - and sold the best smultringer (a Norwegian type of donut) I've ever tasted!

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 🙂

Northern lights seen from the ship

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!

Snøhvit, a natural gas project in Hammerfest A church in Hammerfest

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 M/S Lofoten and part of Hammerfest in the background Just in case you don't recognize the church!

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 😉

10 Responses to “A hundred shades of grey”

  1. Good article about Hurtigruten. I’ve travelled with them a couple of times, although I’ve travelled on the newer ships not the Lofoten. I think whatever ship you choose, it’s a great way to see the superb scenery of the Norway coastline.

    • Hanneke says:

      It is indeed! Now I would like to do the other part of the trip too, Tromsø – Bergen – must be so pretty crossing the Lofoten. Perhaps I’ll try the other old ship, they do have a special atmosphere 🙂 I think I’d be a bit overwhelmed by the newer ones, some are so big!

  2. Lucky you… I’d love to take that trip 🙂 See what the other end of Norway looks like 😉

    • Hanneke says:

      Hope you can make the trip one day! They have interesting offers sometimes, especially off season. I didn’t pay very much for my ticket at all, about 2000 NOK in total for 3 nights in a single cabin, including breakfast.

  3. Dave says:

    Hanneke-really good insight into the Hurtegruten ferry-shame you had ‘grey’ weather. Despite that there are some lovely photo’s and descriptions. And I found it interesting to see the size of the towns and villages. Hope all well there despite the darker days! Dave

    • Hanneke says:

      Hi Dave – glad you liked it! I enjoyed my trip even though the weather wasn’t the best. I will try to take the Hurtigruten south one day as well 🙂

  4. Susan says:

    Hi Hanneke
    What a great blog – I am thinking of travelling from Tromso to Kirkenes on the MS Lofoten – did the sea become rough at any point? Was the boat rocking much?!
    Thanks
    Susan

    • Hanneke says:

      Hello Susan,
      Thank you! The MS Lofoten is a wonderful ship, I’m sure you’ll enjoy the trip. My trip was very calm, not much rocking at all. Except on the way back when we passed Loppa, a notoriously windy place. Suddenly the waves were big, things were falling over and dinner had to be postponed. It didn’t last more than about 30-45 minutes though, then it was calm again. Of course it depends a lot on the weather, in general it will be much calmer in summer and more windy in autumn and winter.
      Have a great trip!
      Hanneke

  5. Susan says:

    Thanks Hanneke
    I think we’re actually going to be on the MS Finnmarken as our dates have changed – so I hope on a bigger boat it’d be less choppy! Does the boat not pass by Loppa on the way from Tromso to Kirkenes?
    So do you live in Tromso? I’ve been twice and next Feb’s visit will be my third time – I love it! Do you have any tips for Northern Light hunting (not sure we’re brave enough to drive ourselves) or activities? I’m always up for something new…
    Thanks
    Susan

  6. Charles Gordon says:

    A great blog, Hanneke. We did a round-trip voyage with my father to celebrate his 85th birthday, and it was indeed an amazing experience. Because of the mixed nature of the passengers, even the new larger ships have a really friendly atmosphere.
    Thank you for reminding me of a wonderful holiday, and a great time with my father who has since died…
    Charles