Exploring the Lofoten Islands
Towering jagged peaks rise like majestic formidable granite columns
overlooking a pristine white sandy beach, that at times seems to fade into the low level clouds farther beyond the incoming receding waves. Norway’s Lofoten Islands have many other transcending scenes, which will grab immediate attention for those curious visitors traveling to this enchanted archipelago, high above the Arctic Circle.
For the last segment of our journey, we took a twenty-five minute flight from Bodø on the mainland to Svolvær, which has one of only two airports on the islands. On the outskirts of Svolvær, we discovered the spectacular northern lights which displayed intriguing patterns on a dark canopy, illuminated by swirling greenish colors of light overhead. This most unexpected encounter lasted less than an hour, but will be an unforgettable personal experience.
This unexpected event took place during a quiet leisurely stroll along the harbor, not far from our hotel, but far enough away from the town lights, which had gradually begun to fade into the distance. On our hotel balcony later that evening, we enjoyed the light of the shimmering moon that seemed to shiver in the cold still air while bright reflections lightly flickered on the calm waters of the harbor below.
Staying in Svolvær at the Scandic Hotel (www.scandichotels.com) turned out to be the ideal location, as it is situated near the middle of the harbor on a small island, connected by a short causeway. The views of the surrounding harbor, town center, the fishing boats leaving early in the morning and returning at night, various species of arctic seabirds on the water, the spectacular mountains that seem so close – we saw them all from the comfort of our hotel balcony.
Local guide, Jann Engstad of Lofoten Aktiv (www.lofoten-aktiv.no), came to our hotel to begin a personal tour of two fishing villages, Kabelvåg and Henningsvær. These two small, tightly-knit communities provided picturesque and interesting scenes that fulfilled our keen photographic interests. Jann, who is an enthusiastic photographer himself, knew the time and place best for capturing some unique local aspects of daily life of the community. Fishermen mending nets onboard while making repairs to the boat docked on the jetty offered plenty of photo opportunities. Other memorable moments were observing some children and older folk sledding to school or to the local shop. Another special moment was observing the commercially harvested fish that inhabit the local waters at Lofoten Aquarium (www.museumnord.no/en/our-venues/lofoten-aquarium). According to the aquarium curator, the cod can weigh as much as 4 kilos.
Wandering near the fishing boats, we saw racks of cod fish hung for drying in the cold fresh air. The centuries old tradition of preserving cod in such a way is very much part of the cultural fabric of Lofoten islands. Many of the local restaurants, such as Nordis Restaurant Svolvær, prepare this stockfish as a main course that is quite delicious.
In these small vibrant communities, we had the opportunity to meet many locals whose genuine friendliness and refreshing openness will always be fondly remembered. Many shared their personal experiences of living on these far away islands and in doing so, provided meaningful insight into another way of life. Later in the day, Jann drove to an adjoining island and brought us to Leknes where we spent a few nights at a new hotel.
Cod Fishing & Harvesting
For centuries, most of the local population relied on the fishing of cod as a mainstay of their livelihood. In early mornings, small fleets of fishing boats head out to sea and in the afternoon, some of these boats return with a catch of cod. After hauling the cod out of water, fishermen clean, fillet, and salt the fish before drying the cod by the traditional method of hanging it on huge wooden racks in the open air for several months.
Lofoten is one of the finest fishing locations where the cold waters from the Arctic Ocean meet the warm Gulf Stream current. Every winter millions of Norwegian Arctic cod, called skrei, swim down from the Barents Sea to spawning grounds off the Lofoten islands from mid-February until the end of April.
Coastal fish farms take advantage of the deep protective fjords with just the right currents and temperature for seafood production. Sustainable food production is important to the island now and in the future. Sustainable fishing practices are used to protect these valuable resources of the sea.
Lofoten Seafood Center
Visiting a fish farm provides a fascinating opportunity to learn about the economic mainstay of the archipelago’s fishing industry, while experiencing an enjoyable introduction to salmon farming. During our visit to Lofoten Seafood Center in Leknes (www.lofotenseafoodcenter.com), snow fell gently as our launch left the jetty heading for the salmon pens. As our boat plowed through the icy waters, the charming young skipper kept up an interesting banter of relevant details about daily operations of the salmon farm.
Reaching the pens, some of these fish leaped upward and seemed to perform a dance above the water before plunging back into their ring enclosures. Much of the farming of salmon has become high-tech and automated using the latest technology. The entire fish stock is fed four times daily and the feeding is fully automated, done by an above-water machine, spraying food back and forth, much like the action of a swinging
As the snow fell heavier, we returned to the dock to view the small adjacent fish processing factory and saw the newly arrived catch of cod, which is the very traditional fishing mainstay of the region. Spotlessly clean stainless-steel containers held the cod fish. Later that day we had the great pleasure of dining at the Lofoten Seafood Center Restaurant and enjoyed tasting the fresh, locally caught halibut, cod and monkfish that was prepared by the executive chef.
The town of Leknes is conveniently located within striking distance of the coastal Lofoten Seafood Center and is central to most other major attractions on the Lofoten archipelago. The town itself is unassuming with a main street and a small residential population scattered outwards from the main shopping district. We stayed at the Scandic Hotel (www.scandichotels.com), which proved to be a well-placed choice as it has an in-house dining room serving wholesome and satisfying three-course dinners. Sometimes just relaxing in comfortable quarters after dinner without a constant need to venture out to restaurants can be a most desirable option.
Beaches, Fjords & Mountains
Only about a ten-minute drive from Leknes, Haukland Beach is a beautiful wide stretch of blond sand and gentle waves, and can be even more beautiful when light snow falls on all these natural surroundings. The beach is enclosed by steep rugged mountains that are like Viking gods towering over large barren rocks, which seem to break the momentum of the surging sea. Walking along the beach, we observed the incoming clear aquamarine waters that are almost translucent as if they were a mirror. Watching these retreating waves along the beach evoked a feeling of solitude and connection, which sometimes can be experienced when confronted with such an appealing scene. Lofoten Islands can produce experiences that can last a lifetime.
Lofoten’s allure is not just its stark and breathtaking beauty, but rather, its many astounding features — the craggy mountain peaks, the white sandy beaches, and the giant glacier forming fjords that make these islands spectacular. The archipelago’s ruggedness is offset by the quaint fishermen’s red cabins and rows of codfish hanging out to dry that are distinctive of Lofoten’s charm and tradition. With all these amazing phenomena to explore, active travelers will find plenty of adventure and enjoy the brazen feel of the islands as the Vikings once did.