- Graeme and I both thoroughly enjoyed the trip, which at various times proved exciting, challenging, tiring, hard work and lots of fun.
- The preparation beforehand and our flexible approach helped us get the most out of our trip to this beautiful part of the world.
- Safety considerations form a big part of planning.
Fjords, Mountains, Waterfalls, Orchards and a Glacier
Peter Talbot takes us on a 135-mile, small-boat journey in the Hardangerfjord region in Norway …
It was raining as my friend Graeme and I drove into the town of Odda, at the inner end of the Hardangerfjord in southern Norway. We’d been caught in a heavy downpour while packing the tent away that morning just before leaving Stavanger, so we already had some wet gear in the back of the car. It had taken three days to get the car and boat to Stavanger from the UK. I’d driven via ferries from Harwich to Esbjerg, then Hirtshals (at the top of Denmark) to Larvik in Norway. Graeme had only been able to get seven days away, so he’d flown to Stavanger where I’d picked him up.
Remaining optimistic due to an improving forecast for later that afternoon, we continued 7 miles north along the west side of the Sørfjorden (another name for this part of the Hardangerfjord) to our launch site (Eikhamrane Camping) and began making preparations to launch the boat (a 3.1m Zodiac with 6hp Suzuki outboard). We’d come to Norway to experience the fjord scenery, and as we got ready to set off, more of the scenery came into view as the rain stopped and we launched into some late-afternoon sunshine. With Graeme at the helm, we motored north, with 4,000-foot mountains lining both sides of the fjord and the top of the Folgefonna Glacier just visible behind us. On the shore we could see well-kept orchards bearing fruit and patches of snow on some of the higher peaks. The water was flat calm, there was no wind, and after the earlier rain it had turned out to be a great start to our trip.
In 2005 I’d bought a 2.6m Zodiac Cadet (slatted floor) with a 4hp Suzuki. While buying a day licence for the North Yorkshire canal/river network, I’d noticed the Caledonian Canal on the application map of the UK’s navigable canals/rivers. The Caledonian Canal is around 20 miles of man-made canal connecting Lochs Lochy, Oich and Ness and linking Fort William to Inverness, 60 miles away. A couple of years later, this had been my first multi-day camping journey on the boat with my friend Lee. Deteriorating weather meant we only got halfway along before deciding to come back another time. I’d returned a year later and did the whole route, which follows the ‘Great Glen’. Lee and I had then been from Oxford to Teddington on the River Thames travelling in the same way, with a tent and camping each night. In 2010 I’d upgraded to a 3.1m Zodiac (wooden panelled floor) with inflatable keel (giving better performance) and a 6hp Suzuki, which uses an external tank for greater convenience (but is the same weight and size as the 4hp). That year, with another friend, David, I’d travelled 150 miles in six days inland from the east coast of Sweden along the Göta Canal, which links a number of very large lakes in Sweden. The highlight was crossing Lake Vättern (80 miles long and 18 miles wide at its widest part), by keeping close to some of the islands near the top of the lake. I’d found out about the canal through a plaque at the end of the Caledonian Canal in Inverness, as Thomas Telford had surveyed the route for the Göta Canal after finishing the Caledonian Canal.
Having been fortunate to have several trips over a number of years to Norway, both in summer and winter, I’d always thought the fjord area would be an interesting and challenging location for a boat trip to follow on from my earlier ones. I selected Hardangerfjord for the trip due mostly to its size (at 111 miles long it’s the second longest in Norway) and shape, which would offer several different multi-day trip options depending on the weather we experienced when we got there.
Hardangerfjord has very impressive classic fjord scenery and is in the south of Norway, which would make it easier to get there by car (the boat rolls up and travels in the back), and would also give Graeme the option of arriving at Stavanger Airport, which was on my route.
Launching just north of Odda gave us the option of turning left or right when we got to the top of the fjord. Right would probably be the more sheltered option, while left would take us down the fjord in the direction of the sea. Ahead of the trip I had done my usual preparations, which include checking to see where we could launch, leave the car, camp on the route (are the campsites right on the water’s edge?), get petrol, get the boat off the water, and also get public transport back to the car at the end of the trip. We were planning to stay at campsites along the way, but were also fully prepared to ‘wild camp’ if plans changed (we’d read the wild camping rules – see links below). I also needed to sort various types of insurance (i.e. personal, car, breakdown and boat).
Safety considerations form a big part of planning. We carried three mobile telephones and a handheld VHF, wore our standard boating kit, used the kill cord, carried repair kits for boat and engine, carried oars and a sea anchor, and also ensured our plan (and any changes to it) were communicated back home on a daily basis. The majority of our equipment was stored in waterproof bags to keep it dry. Weather forecasts were analysed each morning and plans made/altered accordingly for the day.
Our first night of the boat journey was spent in Kinsarvik, on the east shore of the fjord. It had taken us two and a half hours to get there from the launch site, at Eikhamrane Camping, the owners of which let us launch and leave the car there for the duration of the trip. We woke the next day to views out over the fjord from the tent door (we managed to achieve this ever-changing view at most of our campsites) and forecasts suggesting a maximum of 10mph SW winds, which would suit us for proceeding ‘down’ the fjord towards the sea. Rounding the corner just after Utne, the conditions understandably got a little more lively, as while the 10mph SW wind wasn’t strong, its effect over 10 miles of the fjord caused waves of up to around 2 feet for a while. We assessed the conditions and safely crossed to the northern side of the fjord. The rest of the afternoon was spent heading into the wind towards Norheimsund. This part of the Hardangerfjord is the deepest, with depths of up to 2,800 feet in places. We camped overnight at a site near Vikoy.
We had covered around 40 miles in our first couple of days and used up about 12 litres of fuel (about half our supply), so while on our way we crossed to Jondal on the east side of the fjord the next morning to top up the tanks from a service station by the shore. We then motored on and were fortunate to see some porpoises near Belsnes, and our first waterfall on the eastern shore, before rounding the corner just after Kysnes. The wind-induced waves were now approaching us from the starboard side of the boat, but never caused us any problems, and we were soon getting some shelter from the island of Varaldsøy. Before long we were playing our now usual late-afternoon game of ‘spot the campsite’, with Graeme and I each trying to be the first to see it from the water. Aenes Campsite was probably our favourite campsite of the trip. The campsite had its own new small harbour holding about 12, mostly open, boats (up to about 25ft), with space for us. The campsite was up a slight hill with views straight out over the fjord from the tent. We had our boil-in-the-bag meals that night on a convenient picnic bench overlooking the fjord. The site also had Wi-Fi (which sped up the weather forecasting the next morning) and all the usual facilities, including a small kitchen, for the equivalent of £16 for us both to camp for the night.
As we were now at the end of day three (of a maximum possible six on the boat, before we’d need to head home in the car), and knowing there were buses in the area we could catch back to the car when necessary, we decided, weather permitting, to continue rather than retracing our route back to the car by boat. Boating back to the car was an option we’d have probably only used if conditions at the seaward end of Hardangerfjord had proved unsuitable for us, as it would have meant seeing less of the whole fjord, and repeating our journey so far to some degree.
The next day, a few hours of sunshine when we passed by Rosendal had us hunting for the suncream, which we hadn’t needed until then. We decided to carry on past Uskedalen and head for a campsite in Akrafjorden. We were watching out for the conditions as we rounded the headland at Sunde, and turned away from the Hardangerfjord itself for the first time; but there we were fine, with only a little wind, a small swell and no whitecaps. We stopped for fuel at Eidsvik, from where we proceeded down to Hoylandssundet (where we saw more porpoises), and then into a NE wind and across to the peninsula that guards the opening to Akrafjorden. This was our longest day on the boat, and we’d covered around 45 miles by the time we reached Kyrping Camping at 8.30pm. This campsite was the largest we’d stayed at, with a harbour for around 60 boats (of around 25ft), and based on the fish we saw being landed (large cod, blue ling etc.), it was an excellent location for sport fishing. The Hardangerfjord is known for its fish farming as well as its orchards (it’s said to be in the top four fish farming regions in the world).
The day after, we did a return trip totalling 30 miles to Fjaera at the head of Akrafjorden. We had a couple of showers during the day, but the wind was light and we also enjoyed some sunshine, in what was the narrowest fjord of the trip. Slopes covered in trees alternated with steep rock faces dropping into the fjord for most of the way. We passed our largest waterfall of the trip, the Langfoss waterfall, which spectacularly has a total drop of just over 2,000 feet.
The next day I caught two buses back to Odda, then a third to the car, and drove back to the campsite. The whole journey took six hours, but I was able to have a look around Odda while waiting for the final bus. Once I was back, we had an hour’s trip on the boat (becoming our sixth day on the boat) before taking it off the water and packing it into the car, ready for an early alarm for the drive back to drop Graeme at Stavanger Airport before I continued on the journey home.
Comparison with other trips
I’ve travelled over 1,000 miles in total in my two boats since 2005. The experience I’d gained from my earlier cruises and day trips was really important in the fjords. In the past I’ve also done a few sea kayaking courses/trips, which teach you about the effects of wind on water, tides, planning and finding shelter. I also hold RYA Advanced Powerboat and Safety Boat certificates and have a number of seasons’ experience of helming safety RIBs for both the local sailing club and Sea Scout group. On my boat in Lochs Lochy and Ness we’d experienced blustery conditions and some lively waves, which stood us in good stead for Norway. Norway was the first trip where I’ve had use of a smartphone, and having it made a big difference to the amount of weather forecast data we had direct access to. We were careful never to assume we’d always be able to get a signal, but in reality the coverage was very good. We used the Norwegian Meteorological Office’s website (yr.no) for local forecasts and found we could also get rain radar image sequences from as recent as 30 minutes earlier from their website. The images showed the location and intensity of the rain, and the sequences indicated the direction in which the rain pattern was heading. Among other sites we used (it was important to check several), Windfinder.com was useful and is one UK boaters will already be aware of.
The weather was also affected by the local mountains, with some of them rising to heights of up to just over 5,000 feet near the fjord. My previous trip along the Great Glen, which the Caledonian Canal follows, also had mountains either side for a lot of the way, but it mostly followed a straight line SW/NE, unlike our route on the Hardangerfjord, which was roughly anticlockwise and had lots of twists and turns. These direction changes round headlands kept us on our toes in case of sudden weather changes, but this can also be a benefit as they can provide better opportunities for shelter.
We were told before the trip that the tidal range was minimal in the area. We observed small changes in the height of the fjord when stopped overnight. Local people told us that the fjord height is also seasonal, presumably affected by snow melt/rain running off from the mountains.
On our previous trips we’d always planned an A to B route and knew we’d finish up somewhere on that line. On the Hardangerfjord we had a much more dynamic trip. We’d studied the maps and worked out a number of possible routes for the trip before we went. The route we ended up doing was the longer route we’d identified, which we’d hoped to do, but with the weather it wasn’t fully clear until near the end of the trip that we’d actually complete it fully. We treated each day as it came, and found it essential to always have options for deteriorating (or improving) weather each day. It was hard to investigate every possible option fully before the trip itself, so I did as much as I thought was necessary and then used the smartphone to investigate/plan changes as the trip progressed.
The total distance we covered in the boat was 135 miles over the five days of the journey. We used a total of 40 litres of fuel, working out at around 0.34 litres per mile, which is fairly standard for the boat when cruising at somewhere around 6mph with a couple of people in, and all the gear.
Graeme and I both thoroughly enjoyed the trip, which at various times proved exciting, challenging, tiring, hard work and lots of fun. The preparation beforehand and our flexible approach helped us get the most out of our trip to this beautiful part of the world. The road trip to get the boat there was definitely worth the effort, and it also allowed us to bring most of our supplies with us. In terms of the weather, a low-pressure weather system off the Norwegian coast ended up providing us with fairly settled weather with light winds, which varied in direction slightly throughout our trip but never stopped us getting out on the water. The rain we did experience fortunately was mostly at night, and we enjoyed several sunny spells.