In March 2014, Linda from the Nature Travels Team travelling to the Bodø and Harstad regions in the north of Norway to research new products for our portfolio.
Harstad is a fairly small yet charming town, 364km² and has around 23,000 inhabitants, approximately 313km north of Bodø, located on Hinnøya , Norway’s largest island. If travelling by car (and ferry) it takes bout 5.5 hours but due to our schedule, we hopped on a quick flight with Wideroe, a journey made all the more swift with the rather inclement weather at the time. Tried ‘n’ tested – they are not wrong when they say these are some of the best pilots in the world!
When visiting Harstad, you really need to take the time to soak in the atmosphere of the town itself. There is a wonderful array of unique little shops to visit, from boutique clothes and funky kitchenware to chocolatiers that make the most scrumptious organic chocolate (my favourite was the strawberry flavour!).
Although the municipality is not huge, what it lacks in size it makes up in location and the abundance of outdoor activities that you can experience: kayaking, hiking and horse riding in the summer to dog sledding, ice climbing and various fun snow activities in the winter months.
If you are looking for a pocket of Scandi-chic – you’ll be sure to find it in Harstad.
First on the list of things to do is visit the Trondenes Pininsula with the Adolf Gun, and it is an almighty big gun believe me! Built by the Germans during WW2, it is the only fully restored fortification and one of the largest land based guns in the world.
Take the opportunity to tour round the arms bunker too, it is a fascinating and yet stark reminder of German occupation. We were very fortunate to have had a very knowledgeable guide on the subject (although secretly I do think she reminded me of a Bond villain!). Anyhow.. .moving on…the arsenal of weaponry is quite something and the explanation of how the gunners were able to plot exact targets was quite extraordinary. The very bizarre fact is that the Adolf Gun itself was never actually deployed on active duty, it was of course tested and we understand that there is a 2 minute recoil after each BOMB has been fired. Rumour has it that it was tested sometime after the war, although the most damage ascertained was caused by the reverberation, shattering a neighbours greenhouse, as you can imagine the owner was not amused, but at least it proved that the armoury did still work.
Trondenes was also home to a large Russian Prisoner of War (POW) camp at the latter part of the Second World War. Eerily you’ll be reminded of the terrible history of the camp, 800 or so Russian POWs perished in the horrific conditions within the confines and the majority enslaved by the German military or in areas of the town itself. A memorial remains today erected in 1945 as a reminder of the prisoners and fallen comrades and their plight.
Trondenes Historical Centre invites you to take the opportunity to experience an interactive and informative history of the region, you to gain a little more knowledge and historical facts from the early The Stone Age period although it mainly focuses on the Viking era and the Middle Ages. I particularly enjoyed sampling the local Aquavit and listening to the enchanting music .
Trondenes Church is medieval stone building and the world’s northernmost church, built in the 13th century, it is known for its beautiful surroundings at the water’s edge. Today. Three of the seven original alter cabinets remain in the choir today, these are an important part of the Catholic history and can be viewed today. The surroundings churchyard walls are known to date back to the 11 century, it is also said that the first baptisms took place just across the road from the church in a small lake ‘Laugen’ around the 1000’s.
After a few days of the most extraordinary and dramatic weather, we finally found a gap of calmness and jumped on a bus to the port at Harstadbotn to zip out on the rib boat for a couple of hours. We passed by a very special area were the Kittiwakes have chosen as their nesting ground. At first I must admit it just looked like another big rock protruding outof the ocean, but as we drew closer and the rib curved round the island, we were greeted with the most magnificent chorus (OK, overwhelming squawking racket) which I would say registered into the decibels. A truly awesome sight even for a non-twitcher! A good few thousand birds flitting about their business whilst at the same time defending their young from the predatory white-tailed sea eagles that soared above! Sadly we didn’t spot any whales this time but we know they are there to visit in less stormy weather.
Harstad is also another destination en-route for the famous Hurtigruten cruise line and daily passenger service. Founded in 1893 and originally a postal and freight service, the route runs on the north west coast from Bergen to Kirkenes. Today the Hurtigruten is a very popular way for visitors to explore Norway’s northern fjords and coastline, hopping on and off on a ‘Port to Port’ ticket, to visit the various areas to enjoy the harbour towns and many land-based activities offered by local companies. We were lucky enough to be invited on the MS Midnatsol, one of the oldest vessels in the fleet, to have a sneaky peek at the ship before the mass of passengers boarded! Behind the scenes, the staff and crew are busy keeping everything clean and literally ship-shape before the guests step aboard for the next leg of their voyage.
Northern Norway is a truly stunning part of the Scandinavia to visit, with its dramatic breathtaking scenery and beautiful wildlife and wonderfully friendly locals, not to mention the monumental amount of history, art and culture to get absorbed in and learn about. I adore everything about the area and I’m sure you will too when you visit. Enjoy the freedom ‘Powered by Nature’.
Best wishes – signing out – Linda @ Nature Travels