Have you ever wanted to see the Northern Lights? The midnight sun? To see Norway and Europe’s most northerly point - Nordkapp? Or wanted to explore the northern coastline of Norway? Well if you do, you should make your way to Tromsø (1,200km North of Bergen) which is located on an island in the Troms region of the far north.
Within hours of me arriving into Tromsø, which is above the Arctic Circle, on a warm June evening I would witness my first midnight sun. The sun wouldn’t set for me for another two weeks while I was in northern Norway. It’s not as strange as you might imagine though, as you sleep at some stage so you get your eight hours of darkness one way or another.
I would spend a few days in Tromsø to explore the town and some of its attractions; such the Rock Cavings at Tennes, the Tromsø Lutheran Cathedral, Folkeparken Open-Air Museum, The Arctic Cathedral, The Polar Museum, the Perspektivet Museum and the Arctic-Alpine Botanic Garden.
The main reason I came to Tromsø was to board the MS POLARLYS (polar lights) for a midnight sun cruise for three and a half days around the top of Norway and back. The MS POLARLYS is run by the Hurtigruten Line which has ships that sail the entire length of Norway’s western and northern coast line all year round. What started as a ferry and good service has developed into one of the most popular nature cruises in the world taking in the splendid views as it navigates the jagged coast calling in upto 35 remost ports from Bergen to Kirkenes near the Russian border.
Demand for berths is understandably high, meaning tickets and packages aren’t cheap, out of the range of most intrepid travellers, but it’s one of the world’s best coastal sea voyages due to the unique setting on the globe and the amazing fjord scenery; so I just had to do it. Plus it takes you to 72 degrees north, a mere 2,100km from the North Pole, which isn’t all that much when NZ is 1,600km in length. If I was at that latitude in the southern hemisphere I’d have been in Antarctica, so I thought that’s a pretty cool fact.
We made 20 port calls during the return trip to Kirkenes from Tromsø, mostly small fishing villages which were very picturesque, especially when the weather was fine. We saw a LNG processing plant, evidence of where the majority of Norway’s wealth comes from and what has made Norway one of the richest countries per capita in the world; oil and gas fields.
Kirkenes’ clouds were crazy and Vardo had to be the most picturesque of all the fishing villages (incidentally it’s the world’s northern most fortified city, although by now I was realizing that a lot of things up here were the “world’s most northern”).
On the second to last evening, on our return leg along the edge of Barents Sea, it was brilliantly still and cloudless. I just couldn’t stop taking pictures of the midnight sun that evening; simply outstanding! To think it was the middle of the night and nearly all aboard were asleep, as there was no one about, yet the sight of the sun hanging low over the glassy Barents Sea was phenomenal. Without that last fine evening I would have felt a bit disappointed with the ship experience as the weather had been grey and cool up to this point.
Not long before we returned to Tromsø, we had a final surprise; a rescue helicopter practiced a medical evacuation while the ship continued to steam ahead. Yet another awesome sight to be standing under such a loud and powerful machine as it hovered over us as we steamed along at 15 knots. Little did I know in the years to come when I’d work offshore in the North Sea I would experience similar experiences as part of my routine of going to work.