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The exhilaration was palpable as we darted across the Norwegian Sea in our rigid inflatable boat (RIB) at 35 knots — boat-speak for 40 mph. As the wind whipped against my face, I was hesitant to take out my iPhone to snap photos for fear of involuntarily leaving it behind in the watery depths.
So there I was, sitting horseback-style along with 11 others from Hurtigruten’s 590-passenger MS Nordkapp, all facing forward, all dressed head to toe in waterproof survival suits, all eager to experience the breathtaking fjords. I mean, that’s why you go to Norway, right?
We zipped along from Stokmarknes, our port stop, across the dramatic, narrow Raftsundet strait to Trollfjord. Our guide, Roar Susaeg, deftly navigated our watercraft through the mouth of the fjord, which is about 300 feet wide and surrounded by nearly 10,000-foot mountains that dwarfed us with their sheer size and magnificence.
A small pier and a hydroelectric power station greeted us as we entered Trollfjord to go onshore and snack on klippfisk (dried and salted cod) before continuing on our high-adrenaline ride. But first, we waited and watched as our 11,000-ton ship entered the fjord and exquisitely maneuvered a 360-degree turn, getting so close to the towering mountains that it seemed passengers could reach out and touch them.
Once we reboarded the RIB, we scudded across the water toward Svolvaer in search of sea eagles. They began to swoop down from the soaring cliffs, eager for their share of the frozen fish that Susaeg had brought to attract them. They quickly plucked the fish up from the water, much to our photo-snapping delight.
It was past sunset when our three-hour tour came to a close in Svolvaer, the capital of the picturesque Lofoten archipelago, and we stripped off our weatherproof survival gear. We were greeted by Thorvardur Gunnlaugsson, owner of Lofoten’s first and only craft brewery, Lofotpils. We sampled several brews before reboarding the ship, including the Nordlands IPA and Godt Haill. My favorite was the Blonde Ale, and thanks to partnerships Hurtigruten has forged with food and beverage producers all along the Norwegian coast — including Lofotpils — I was able to order a Blonde Ale on the ship, too.
The thrilling RIB water-based safari is one of dozens of nature-oriented excursions available to Hurtigruten passengers on six- to 12-day itineraries. Created by newly formed expedition teams, excursions range from whale watching and dogsledding to horseback riding under the midnight sun, enabling passengers to experience what Norwegians call friluftsliv, a connection with nature and the outdoors on a physical and spiritual level.
“Hiking is also very popular, given how dramatically the landscape changes from Kirkenes to Bergen,” said Martin Emhjellen, expedition leader onboard Nordkapp.
On another day of our voyage, Emhjellen led a hike in Hammerfest, the northernmost town in the world, to the top of Gammelveien (The Old Road) for a cup of hot tea, a Kvikk Lunsj (similar to a Kit Kat candy bar) and spectacular views of the town down below.
The most popular excursions, however, are the high-speed RIB tours that allow passengers to explore small waterways and remote fishing villages that cannot be reached by ship.
Hurtigruten offers a half-dozen RIB safaris, including one in Kirkenes that includes catching king crabs. In 2018, the company will introduce a RIB tour to the North Cape, the northernmost point in Europe.
As our voyage ended in Trondheim, it was bittersweet to disembark the ship for the last time — there was so much more to see, and so many more excursions to enjoy. Before I flew home, I stopped in a Narvesen convenience store in town and bought a few Kvikk Lunsj chocolate bars. Until next time, Norway.