Friday, October 5, 2012

Cycling through Lofoten

The coastline of Norway is not a straight line. The innumerable islands and fjords create a complex and stunning mosaic of land and sea. This becomes particularly evident around Tromsø, a city situated on an island, and further southwards. Ferries link the road network in strategic places, making it possible to explore the best of this magnificent coastline. However, timing is of essence if one wants to enjoy the benefits of the ferry route. While staying in Tromsø I learnt that two of the ferries I was planning on taking from Tromsø had closed a week earlier, as these were summer ferries and therefore only open during the vacation period. I had no option but to take the busy E6 highway in order to get to my next destination, Lofoten, a massive peninsula made up of large islands and fjords. 

A typical small town in Lofoten, surrounded by mountains.
The three days it took travelling the E6 highway were rather uneventful birding-wise, but at least I reached Bjerkvik in good time. From here I left the E6 and took the E10 which would lead me all the way to the end of Lofoten. From Bjerkvik the road passed through magnificent landscapes with mountains and idyllic lakes. Some of the lakes held species such as Whooper Swans (up to 20 at one lake), Slavonian Grebes, Black-throated Divers, Pintails, Mallards, Teals, Goldeneyes and Tufted Duck. Road tunnels were fairly frequent in places, adding another interesting element to the route. After passing through one particularly long tunnel, I decided to take some time out at a parking space beside the road. Much to my surprise, I was greeted by the sight of a Merlin perched on a nearby pylon. After watching me with interest the small falcon took off only to land a short distance further down the road, providing more excellent views. Though I was not able to photograph this individual, I was able to get another a few days later, perched on a road sign.

An obliging Merlin perched on a road sign.

I saw my first Golden Eagle from a bridge over the Jågsfjorden. The eagle was feeding on a prey item along the shoreline of the fjord, while two White-tailed Eagles were watching from a safe distance. This gave me the impression that Golden Eagles are dominant over the latter, which I subsequently heard from local ornithologists to be the case. A number of Hooded Crows were also in attendance and although they approached quite closely, they did not get a chance to sneak any scraps. I saw a good number of Golden Eagles between the towns of Fiskebøl and Svolvaer, where the mountains were particularly impressive with steep cliffs crowning their tops. Though always seen at a distance either perched on a mountain top or soaring past almost vertical cliff faces, these birds had an unmistakable presence about them. A majestic bird in a majestic environment. 

I made a stop-over at the Viking Museum in Borge, a famous site where the foundations of a Viking longhouse dating back to the period 500 - 950 can be viewed. Original artefacts such as glassware, stone, bone and metal tools and other items found at the site are also on display here, making this a unique museum. Taking the self-guided tour, which included a short film, reminded me of the Big Hole Museum in Kimberley back in South Africa. After visiting the museum’s main centre, I headed down to the shore where a replica of a Viking ship was moored. By this time a fierce storm had reached Borge and I suddenly felt the need to find shelter from the gale and rain. It was already late afternoon and with nowhere to go, I pitched my tent in a dense pine forest close to the Viking ship. The storm lasted for hours, pushing the walls of my tent in all directions. Next morning I woke to a calm and serene atmosphere, as if there never was a storm. The call of a Robin in the woods close to my tent sounded absolutely amazing, almost like it was striking a cord inside me, reminding me of how often we take the simplest things in life for granted.  

Replica Viking longhouse at Borge, with original foundation to the left of the tree.

The next town I passed was Leknes, where I visited a small but nutrient-rich lake which looked promising even from a distance. Indeed, there were several waterbird species present, including Slavonian Grebe, Grey Heron, Tufted Duck, Goldeneye and Mallard. A small flock of Ruff made a fly-by, and I was reminded of reports from friends back in Kimberley that this shorebird species had already started arriving in South Africa. Close to the lake’s bird hide I heard the alarm call of a Snipe; closer inspection revealed a number of birds hiding in the flooded grassland at the edge of the lake. 

The small but productive lake at Leknes.
Cycling further towards the town Ramberg on the northern side of Lofoten I passed some agricultural fields where I was surprised to find my first Lapwing for Norway. A pair of Whimbrels was also enjoying the flooded fields, while Meadow Pipits occasionally flushed from the taller grass. Further on I reached Ytresand in the late afternoon, another recommended birding spot with enormous potential. A small lagoon surrounded by extensive marshland alternating with agricultural fields seemed the perfect environment for shorebirds. Unfortunately my attempt to bird the area well was short-lived when yet another storm moved in for the night. By the morning the wind had subsided but not the rain, allowing only a small window for birding. I did however manage to see a Black-tailed Godwit and Dunlin feeding on some mudflats on the way out.

The marsh at Ytresand.

By now I was close to the end of Lofoten with my final destination being Moskenes. From here I would take the ferry to the Vaerøy, an island some 15 km from the tip of Lofoten. A second ferry ride would get me to the next island called Røst, before catching a third ferry to Bodø back on the mainland. So in order to make my first ferry ride, I pushed on for the ferry town of Moskenes. On the way, I met Derek and Laura at the picturesque town of Reine. Unknown to me at the time, we ended up taking the same three ferry rides from Moskenes to Bodø, and so got to meet up on more than one occasion to share our experiences of this amazing part of Norway. 

The mountains near Reine in Lofoten.

Arriving at Moskenes with ample time before the ferry departure to Vaerøy Island, I made a quick trip to Å, a small town some 5 km from Moskenes. Å is the most southerly town in Lofoten, from where one can see the steep and imposing mountains of Vaerøy. From where I was standing, I could see Cormorants, Shags and Kittiwakes negotiating the light gale blowing from the south. I have been warmer, but rarely quite so content.   

At the end of Lofoten, looking in the direction of Vaerøy.


  1. Hej Eric, You are slightly further south than when you left, but I think further away from the far east destination! We had the first frosts here yesterday so must be getting cold further north? Still the birding and adventure sounds good. I successfully completed here, and we leave Sweden for the UK on Tuesday, pity you are not crossing over to our isles. May be a while till I get to read your reports again so good luck down the rest of Scandinavia. Jonathan

  2. Hey Eric, sounds like you are having a wonderful time, meeting many interesting people and the scenery looks stunning! What an adventure :-)