Merge & Al's Excellent Adventures

7 min read

North of the Arctic Circle – the Lofoten islands archipelago

Lofoten Islands, located at the 68th and 69th parallels north of the Arctic Circle in Norway, are renowned for their striking natural beauty, characterized by rugged mountains, pristine fjords, and charming fishing villages. Among these villages, Leknes on Vestvågøy Island serves as a central hub, offering a range of amenities and convenient access to Lofoten’s attractions. Nearby Gravdal, also on Vestvågøy Island, is celebrated for its serene ambiance and close proximity to idyllic beaches.

I (Merge) visited the area on the cruise ship Island Princess in early August and docked just off the Leknes Cruise pier. The pier itself was too small to accommodate a ship this large, so passengers were tendered in on smaller boats into the port. For the first half of the day, I had booked a kayaking trip amongst the fjords with Northern Explorers AS. So my first plan of action was to find the tour guides who were waiting in the pier area. Once all the participants had arrived, we climbed into a van and took a short 30-minute ride to get to the kayak launching spot. Our destination was the Eggum Nature Reserve, a beautiful spot very close to the town of Eggum (surprise!), also on the island of Vestvågøy.

Map 1: shows the general area
Map 2: magnifies the inset on Map 1 to show the location of the three towns and the cruise ship terminal

At the site, the two tour guides handed out paddles and safety equipment, and then gave everyone a quick lesson in paddling and safety. Then we all settled into our two-person kayaks and the staff came around to make sure that the seats were positioned correctly and that the rudders were working well. A quick practice paddle in the area, and then everyone was ready to get going. I am a fairly experienced paddler, but this trip really doesn’t require any prior experience since the guides did a good job of making sure that everyone, even the first-timers, were comfortable.

Getting geared up
Practicing before heading out …

This was intended to be a scenic leisurely paddle for about 90 minutes, and it was. In total, the paddling distance was about 4 km (2.5 miles) return, and it was a comfortable distance at an easy pace, with plenty of time to enjoy the surroundings.

Map 3: this magnifies the inset on Map 2 and shows the paddling route from the Vestvågøy Island shore line (on the left) to the Eggum Nature Preserve (on the right). Merge was able to trace this ~2 km route on Google maps using the location feature on her iPhone 14 Pro

The paddle itself was spectacular — the views were breathtaking, and the sound of the water lapping against the side of the kayaks oddly calming, despite the excited voices around me. After kayaking for about 45 minutes, with plenty of pauses to take photos, we landed our kayaks on one of the shores in the Nature Reserve. We climbed the short distance to the top for a fantastic 360-degree view of the ocean and islands around us. There were wildflowers and berries in the meadow which was surprisingly springy underfoot.

I think this photo says it all!
Not far to the top!
Looking out towards another direction

The guides whipped out thermoses with coffee and tea, and passed around cookies, as we all sat in the sunshine and enjoyed the views. About 20 minutes later, we made our way back down to our kayaks and loaded in for the paddle back to our starting point. Once there, we gave our gear back to the guides, said our goodbyes, and then boarded the van that was taking us back to the cruise ship pier.

Overall, seeing the Norway landscape from the down-low perspective of a kayak is truly magnificent and awe-inspiring. I would highly recommend this activity and this tour company.

In addition to kayaking, my other must-do for the day was a visit to the Lofotr Viking Museum. Turned out there were a couple of other travelers who also wanted to visit. So as I boarded the van to take us back to the terminal, I asked the driver if he would mind dropping us off at the Museum (we drove right past it). He obligingly agreed. I asked about getting a taxi from the Museum back to the cruise ship at the end of the day, and he said that it wouldn’t be a problem. As he dropped us off at the Museum, he told us not to worry about getting a taxi as he would come back to pick us up in 90 minutes!! He didn’t want us to worry about finding transportation. What a thoughtful kind man! I have always noticed that people in small towns are so much more welcoming and thoughtful to visitors and strangers. I think in the bigger cities, people get jaded over time.

The Lofotr Viking Museum is an interesting historical site that offers a glimpse into the Viking Age, and I was so glad that I stopped to visit. This living museum boasts an impressive reconstruction of the Chieftain’s longhouse, a structure dating back to the 8th century. I had enough time to explore the reconstructed longhouse, complete with period-accurate artifacts and interactive exhibits. The guides inside, who were dressed in garments and engaged in activities that were true to that period, gave a fascinating insight into the daily lives and culture of the Vikings who once inhabited this area. In the large central room, they were cooking up a huge cauldron of hot lamb soup, using ingredients and methods also from the period, and you could purchase a bowl for lunch. I was seriously tempted (it smelled delicious!), but I wanted to make sure that I got to see all that the museum had to offer, so I kept walking …

A view of the longhouse from outside.
Sheared lambs wool was combed and sorted for weaving
A cauldron of lamb soup – yum!
The combed and sorted wool was woven into fabric
The Norse god Odin is usually depicted with only one eye

One the English-speaking docents explained to me why Odin, a chief god in Norse mythology, is always depicted with only one eye. According to the myth, he willingly sacrificed his eye by trading it at the well of Mímir in exchange for a drink from its waters, which granted him profound insight and foresight. Odin’s sacrificed eye symbolizes the lengths he was willing to go to acquire wisdom.

An authentic bed from the period
And of course, authentic period attire

After a thoroughly enjoyable 90 minutes I returned to the parking lot, and the van driver, as promised, was waiting. Once the three of us got on, it only took about 15 minutes to get back to the pier. As we got off, we gave him a small monetary token of our appreciation, and he was genuinely surprised. It’s not customary to tip in Norway, but he was so nice that I felt he should get some of the money I would have used to pay for the taxi.

There was a tender boat leaving in about 10 minutes, so that gave me just enough time to get a photo of the giant dried fish hanging in the pier. While this was no doubt there for tourist photo-ops, this is actually how the Norwegians preserve stockfish. In Viking times, it was how they preserved fish for later use. When the fish are completely dry, they last for a very long time. They are also as hard as wood! I gather that they would have to be rehydrated in order to be edible (but I never did get a chance to ask!)

Fish hanging to dry. When you tap on them, it sounds like you are knocking on a wooden door!
That’s the boat behind me that tendered me back to the cruise ship (which you can see off in the distance)

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