Where to start? Bergen of course, but here’s the background.
We were on a 15 day GAdventures expedition cruise
on their ship the MS Expedition
, starting in Bergen, Norway and ending in Longyearbyen, Svalbard. The boat holds just 134 passengers and during the next two weeks we were to visit a lot of interesting fjords and islands along the coast, and make a lot of trips in Zodiacs, often in far from pleasant weather. Ferries didn’t feature at all in our plans, but most days we saw some and I took a lot of photos of ferries in those two weeks.
Norway’s Atlantic coast is deeply indented by fjords all along its length. These are generally deep and steep-sided, making bridge building difficult. But the coast is populated, not thickly, but we were surprised how many people live there. There was nowhere between Bergen and Tromsø when we could not look out and see some signs of humanity. This means roads exist and they have to cross fjords, and that requires a multitude of ferries.
There is not a lot of detail here about the ferries; in most cases we just passed them in mid-fjord and I had to rely on my GPS logger to track down where they were. So this is just a chronological, or south-to-north photo album of the ferries I photographed on that trip, with a little added story here and there.
Norway has long been on my list of places to visit. What I always wanted to do was to drive up the coast from bottom to top and back – that was well before I had a special interest in ferries. Having experienced the landscape I now realise how long that trip would have taken, but I still fancy doing it if I can get a chance.
The locations and map links below are either from where one of the photos was taken, or of some representative point in the place being described.
Bergen is Norway’s second largest city after Oslo, and the main embarkation point for passenger boats plying Norway’s Atlantic coast. We arrived at the very end of May 2018 by train from Oslo – a fantastic 7 hour trip over the mountains. Oslo and Bergen were both experiencing record high temperatures of 33°C, and although our train passed through a high snow covered plateau the air conditioning struggled and we sweated most of the way.
We allowed a day to explore the city before we needed to board the MS Expedition for our trip up he coast to Svalbard. Our hotel was just behind the row of much-photographed Hanseatic buildings that line the Vågen, the original harbour of the city. We spent a fun few hours taking the funicular up Fløyen mountain – the good weather allowed us a great view of the city, the harbour and the outlining islands, and a chance to watch the comings and goings of several ferries.
is a small passenger ferry crossing the Vågen that dates back to the 1890s. It was powered originally by a rechargeable electric motor before being changed to petrol, and then recently changed back to electric.
We watched from Fløyen as the MS Bergensfjord ro-pax ferry arrived and unloaded from its service to Hirtshals and Stavanger. Later as we wandered the old streets we saw the Hurtigruten Polarlys depart. Bergen is the main southern port for Hurtigruten, which operates a regular 11 day passenger and vehicle ferry service between Bergen and Kirkenes and back, stopping at many ports on the way. As air travel has become the norm for people getting around Norway, Hurtigruten has changed their business to offer a more cruise-like experience in their ferries, and they now also run a variety of conventional cruises in many other parts of the world. We encountered several Hurtigruten boats during our trip up the coast.
Fodnes–Mannheller ferry, Sognefjord
We had spent the morning visiting Flåm, taking the spectacular train from sea-level up to Myrdal in the mountains, and one of the busiest tourist venues in the fjords. We spotted this ferry as we continued deeper inland along Sognefjord, heading for the stave church at Ornes, a much less visited site.
We watched this small vehicle ferry heading to Solvorn across the Lustrafjorden as we were setting anchor before visiting the Urnes stavkyrkje (Stave Church) at Ornes— a fascinating 12th century wooden church, Norway's oldest. The ferry has been running on this route since 1859.
Geirangerfjord is one of the most scenic—and most visited—fjords in Norway. When I awoke and looked out of the cabin window on the morning we visited it seemed like we were cruising past a large factory. It turned out we were being closely passed in the narrow fjord by a very large German cruise ship, named simply Mein Schiff. When we arrived at the village of Geiranger at the end of the fjord, Mein Schiff was already moored at the pier while we had to anchor in mid-fjord and use the Zodiacs to get to shore.
Even given its popularity, visiting Geiranger can be great fun. The fjord is steep and narrow with spectacular waterfalls. Once ashore there are opportunities to get high up the side and up the end of the fjord for absolutely magnificent views (if the weather is good as it was for us.)
But there is a risk. Geiranger is under constant threat from the mountain Åkerneset which has an ever widening crack in it. A large part of the mountain is expected to eventually collapse and dump from 50 to 100 million cubic metres of rock into the fjord. This will cause a tsunami estimated at 30 high which would reach Geiranger in about ten minutes. For this the town has some very serious evacuation procedures in place.
While we were there the ferry dock seemed to be constantly in use by the vehicle ferries to Valldal and Hellesylt.
We watched these two ferries cross in the middle of the Norddalsfjorden as we returned from our visit to Geiranger.
Magerholm–Ørsneset (Sykkylven) ferry, across Storfjorden
Our boat moored for the day on the outside of the harbour, giving the crew time to stock up on fresh food while we passengers roamed the city and surrounds. We started the day hiking some pleasant trails on higher ground to the west of the city. All very Canadian, even down to the trees which had been felled by beavers, but it did allow some excellent views of the harbour area of Trondheim.
We followed that with a tour of historic local buildings which had been transplanted into an open air museum, and then a look round Nidaros Domkirke, the cathedral—a magnificent building whose construction dates back to 1070. For those used to the big cathedrals of more southern Europe it would not seem out of place. But for Canadians the thought of such a large, ornate and old building so close to the Arctic Circle is mind-boggling. Such is the difference between the continental-cold Canadian Arctic and the Gulfstream-warmed Norwegian north west coast.
My favourite view was looking down from the Old Town Bridge at the colourful 18th century wharves that line the River Nidelva, and wandering through the streets of the Old Town.
Trondheim boasts three ferry termini spread around the harbour. The smallest is for the passenger ferry to Munkholmen, a small island with a fort about a mile offshore, popular for picnics as well visiting the fort. Then there is the Hurtigbåtterminalen, the Fast Boat Terminal, for passenger ferries to points across and along the fjord. And finally there is the larger facility for vehicle ferries and the Hurtigruten.
Flakk–Rørvik ferry, across Trondheimsfjorden
Agdenes–Brekstad ferry, across Trondheimsfjorden
We moored at Salhus to drive to, and then hike up, Torghatten—a fascinating small mountain with a large hole through the top.
We anchored just offshore and took the Zodiacs in beside a jetty where there was this small local passenger ferry. We then walked around the edge of Svartisvatnet to near the tip of the glacier.
We anchored just offshore and took the Zodiacs to land on the island of Lovund. Our main objective was to see the very large puffin colony on the north slopes of the island. There are more than 200,000 in the colony and it was impressive to see the sky filled with them. But there are better places to go to see puffins up close, as on Lovund they nest on an inaccessible steep rocky slope.
While on the island we saw two ferries. The vehicle ferry approaching in the distance was vital to the economy of the island, as there was a large fish processing plant that used trucks to export its produce. We also saw a fast passenger ferry pass close by.
Svolvær, Lofoten Islands
Despite being a large mountainous archipelago off the Atlantic coast of Norway, it is not necessary to take a ferry to get to the Lofotens. The E10 road connects all the main islands to Norway, and in turn to all of continental Europe, via a series of elegant bridges. We landed in our Zodiacs at the old fishing village of Å where the E10 finally ends near the southern tip of the island of Moskenesøya.
We spent the rest of the day driving north, being typical tourists and soaking up the magnificent views. Our boat was waiting for us at the freight dock in Svolvær. As we boarded we watched the Hurtigruten ferry dock one bay over at the dedicated passenger terminal.
I'm no flower expert, but I do enjoy visiting botanical gardens on my travels. Tromsø is way north of the Arctic Circle, so I was pleased but very surprised that the first stop on our tour was at the gardens run by the Tromsø University Museum. Not surprisingly they specialise in arctic and alpine plants. We saw many in bloom, many of which were unfamilar—a large proportion seem to be members of the primula family.
Most other attractions of the city seemed to be indoors. But the best part of the day was the visit to the modern Ishavskatedralen (Arctic Cathedral) across the Tromsø Sound, and the trip we made up the nearby Fjellheisen cable car. We had great views of Tromsø, even in the miserable weather we had that started as marginal drizzle and then turned into mist so thick we could barely see the cables from inside the gondola.
We left Tromsø heading north east, passing under the bridge, and continuing north. When we passed the island of Nord-Fugløya on our port side we said goodbye to mainland Europe, heading into the Barents Sea, first towards Bjørnøya (Bear Island) and then Svalbard. We saw no more ferries.
Draig goch—a little mystery
Watching from the deck of MS Expedition as the crew expertly manœuvred us from our parking spot in Tromsø I noticed this very capable looking steel sloop painted with a distinctive Draig goch—Welsh Red Dragon. It rang a bell—I had last seen her on the dockside in Sisimiut, Greenland in September 2013. If someone can tell me more about this boat and its travels around the Arctic waters, then I'd love to hear from them.
The MS Expedition
Here's the funny part… Our boat, the
actually started life as a ro-ro ferry. She was launched in 1972 and entered service under the name Kattegat running passenger and vehicle ferry services between Danish islands. Between then and 2007 she operated a variety of ferry routes across the Channel and around Denmark, under several different owners and under the names nf Tiger, Tiger, and Ålandsfärjan.
In 2002 she was rebuilt and side-sponsons added to improve stability (but not to improve her looks.) Finally in 2008 her life as a ferry came to an end when she was sold to GAdventures to replace their boat the
which had recently sunk in the south Atlantic after a hitting an iceberg. There was then an extensive rebuild to convert her to the role of polar cruise ship. This involved removing the opening bow doors (welding them shut and removing the mechanism) and building cabins in place of much of the vehicle deck. The stern doors were kept and are used now for loading and utility purposes. Some of the vehicle decks were kept open as the mud room, where we would kit-up before making Zodiac excursions and clean-up on our return.