Nine Things You Might Not Know Before Planning a Lofoten Cruise
If you’re searching for a travel destination with wildlife, a variety of activities, and some seriously stunning scenery then you should consider a Lofoten cruise. Just be warned – if you go once you’re going to want to go again, and again. There’s simply too much to take in with just one voyage. Here are nine things waiting for you amongst Lofoten’s fjords.
1. Lofoten Islands Geography
Lofoten is an archipelago (a chain of islands) that sprays off of the northwest coast of Norway. There are seven main islands that make up the chain – Austvågøy, Flakstadøy, Gimsøy, Moskenesøy, Røst, Værøy, and Vestvågøy. Lofoten also claims the southern part of Norway’s biggest island, Hinnøy.Taken altogether, Lofoten holds a little less than 1,230 km2 in land and is home to roughly 24,500 hearty and happy souls. Travelling above the Arctic Circle (but enjoying surprisingly mild temperatures) a Lofoten cruise carries you in and out of numerous virgin fjords, introducing you to the Islands’ mountainous landscapes and human-free shores.
2. Lofoten Islands History
Evidence shows that the first people who arrived via their own version of a Lofoten Island cruise did so back in the Stone Age, 6,000 or so years ago. At that time the mountainous islands were covered with forests (mainly birch and pine). For 2,000 years these early settlers hunted the woods (bears, beavers, deer, lynx, and reindeer) and fished from the abundantly stocked seas (fish, seals, and whales). Those early fishing practices are still seen today with the region’s famous fish-drying season where thousands of Arctic cod are hung out to dry for months at a time, making for an astonishing visual spectacle (and an occasional adventure for the nose as well).
About 2,000 years after those initial Stone Age pioneers had settled in someone thought they might give farming a bit of a go. Agriculture took hold with grain being the principle crop. Starting around the year 800 A.D. a new kind of Lofoten Islands cruise began to arrive – the Viking longboat. Now politics of a sort began to divide the islands, invisible lines drawn where one Viking chieftain’s hold ended and another began. The largest Viking banquet hall ever discovered was built on the island of Vestvågøy, being almost 85 metres long and 8.5 metres wide.
It was during the Viking era that fishing began to be more than just about sustenance – it became the region’s (and all of Norway’s) biggest form of trade. It became so important that in the year 1103 A.D. King Øystein began to officially create a working town around the fisheries, including fishermen’s cabins and a church at Vågan. Vågan is the first known town in all of northern Norway.
Skipping ahead to WWII, yet another form of a Lofoten Islands cruise emerged – an invasion by British forces on 4 March 1941. Lofoten’s fisheries were an important resource centre for the Nazi war machine not only for food, but also for fish oil and glycerine (which has a wide range of chemical uses). The British accomplished their objective of destroying the fisheries, as well as 3,600 tonnes of the oil and glycerine. The mission also caused the Germans to have to divert troops from the main fronts to protect their holdings in the area.
3. Lofoten Islands Climate
A Lofoten Islands cruise encounters surprisingly mild weather considering that it travels above the Arctic Circle. Thanks to the ocean’s Gulfstream the coldest months of the year usually only dip down to around the freezing mark. During the summer temperatures can reach an average high of around 15°C. As for light, the Midnight Sun (when the sun doesn’t truly set) arrives on the 25th of May until around the 17th of July. Conversely, you won’t see much of the sun in the area between the 9th of December and the 4th of January.
4. Lofoten Islands Wildlife
A Lofoten Island cruise is a bird-watcher’s dream. Millions of sea-birds call the fjords home, and one can usually count on seeing to see puffins, cormorants, and sea eagles. Sea wise the area is obviously well stocked with cod (being the cod capital of the world) as well as halibut and Pollock. Lofoten is also home to the world’s largest deep water coral reef, the Røst Reef, located west of Røst Island. In addition, just recently (in the last couple of years) whales have been seen within the channels and straits between the islands after a long absence. Large numbers of Humpback whales and Orca’s feed in the winter months in the area.
5. Lofoten Islands Mountains
A Lofoten cruise takes you through a dramatic landscape that looks like something out of an epic fantasy tale. The islands are in fact a line of mountains, the largest within Lofoten being Higravstinden at 1,161 metres. Just to the northeast of the Lofoten region is the Møysalen National Park in which mountain tops exceed 1,250 metres.
The Trollfjord (or Trollfjorden) is a branch off of the Raftsund strait that lies between the archipelagos of Lofoten and Vesterålen. Northern scenery doesn’t get much more dramatic than this. The mouth of the Trollfjord is only 100 metres wide, widening to 800 metres as one ventures further in. Ruggedly beautiful snow-capped mountains soar up on each side to as high as 1100 metres.
In 1890 this beautiful hidden basin was the sight of a battle between two generations – traditional open-boat fishermen versus younger whipper-snappers with their steam-powered fishing vessels. Immense schools of fish had made it a habit of swimming into the Trollfjord, making the area very attractive to local fishermen. The steam-ship crews were able to carry large nets which they used to block off the entrance to the fjord, trapping the fish inside. As one can imagine, this didn’t please the traditional smaller-vessel fishermen. It got worse when the steam-powered captains said that they would allow the smaller boats into the fjord to fish… for a price.
According to a ballad written in 1890 the fight wasn’t quite an epic clash of the seas involving swords and pistols and men with peg legs swinging by rope from one ship to the other. Instead water hoses were used to blast the opposing sides. The steam-ship captains capitulated and new regulations were enacted that banned the use of seine nets and limited where lift-nets could be used in the Lofoten region.
7. Lofoten Islands Fisheries
We mentioned earlier how important the fisheries were to the creation of Lofoten’s population centres, and also how cod fishing still plays an important role in the economy to this day. If you want to take in the hustle and bustle of the annual fishing season then you’ll want a Lofoten Islands cruise that voyages between the end of February and May. The towns and villages spring to life, fishers heading out to sea, the fisheries buzzing with activity around the clock. Once a catch is brought in the head is removed and the fish is split open. Each fish is given a mate and the pair of them are tied by the tail and hung over traditional wooden drying racks, all facing the same way. They’ll stay that way for the next four months. The temperatures are perfect – no so hot that they’ll attract insects, and not so cold that they’ll suffer damage from frost. It’s an astounding sight – like millions of fish-shaped flags waving gently in the breezes off of the ocean.
8. The Northern Lights
If you want to catch the Aurora Borealis then you’ll want to take a Lofoten Islands cruise sometime between September and April (which coincides nicely with the fishing frenzy). While the Northern Lights can be visible all the year round in Lofoten, you’ll have a better chance to see them between September and April thanks to the extended nights.
9. Lofoten Islands Photography
You’d really have to put some effort into it if you wanted to take a bad picture during a Lofoten cruise. Everywhere you turn there is a dramatic landscape with snow-capped mountains or picturesque brightly-coloured houses. Not an experienced photographer? That’s okay. You’re still going to come back home with images that will make your friends jealous. Here’s a special tip – if you’re trying to shoot the Northern Lights, put something in frame with them that will relate to the viewer just how big the Lights truly are. Use a mountain, a rock, or even better, use a friend looking up at the spectacle overhead (more photography tips here).
Sailing aboard s/v Noorderlicht, you’ll sail through the Lofoten Islands early spring or late autumn, exploring the beauty of the fjords, catching sight of sea eagles, and spotting whales. You’ll be able to go ashore and explore historic ancient sites, including the Stone Age petroglyphs found at Leiknes. You’ll have a chance to take in some of the famous Svolvær night-life and visit with the local artists of Tranøy. There are three upcoming cruises (NOO03-16, NOO07-16, NOO08-16) that truly take advantage of both the extended nights (for the Northern Lights) and the fishing culture season.