Kayaking Trip to Northern Norway – Lofoten

Estimated reading time: 17 minutes

Yo guys, kayaking in Northern Norway is a sea kayaker’s wet dream but it can also be a pretty tiresome journey if you don’t do it “right”. Here I will share my experiences with you about my last two kayaking adventures to Lofoten in Northern Norway (2020 and 2021) with the aim that you can hopefully learn from my successes and my mistakes, so that you may have the most epic f**king trip possible. My aim is to give value; I have tried to think what someone who is planning a trip to Lofoten needs to know before going, and this is what I hope to deliver in what follows – let’s gooooooooooat!

Lofoten by air, renting kayaks and using public transport

In 2020 I had the opportunity to visit Lofoten with two staff members from the Brim Explorer (an awesome electric tour boat based in Norway) whom were going up to meet their colleagues in Svolvaer, where their other boat was / is located.

We flew up from Oslo to Bødo, which is a super fast flight. There is also a super comfy, modern, and fast train ride to the airport (Gardermoen) from Oslo Central Station. Once we arrived I realised that my god damn luggage had been forgotten and, was still in Oslo, which was a bummer – luckily we had some wetsuits in the girls luggage that I was able to sleep on that night. We ended up staying at a camping ground in Bødo, which we caught a taxi to, but you could also walk or bus – it was late and we could not be arsed. In the morning, luckily my luggage had arrived, so we headed straight to the ferry terminal and caught the ferry over to Moskenes. Because we were not driving, and thus had not car, we did not have to pay for the ferry – feeerrk yeah!

Once in Moskenes we caught the bus to Sakrisøy which is close the main town of Reine. From here we got picked up via boat by a friend (a local Lofoten’er called Julie) who took us to Vindstad, where she has a cabin. Vinstad is a lovely spot and there is a really sick hike over to a golden beach, surrounded by mountains that look like they where made by an alien civilisation, or the gods of old. That night we camped outside one of her friends houses. That night we also drunk too much beer, ate whale, dressed up in vintage clothes, painted drunkenly on canvas and jumped in the icy cold fjord! – a tradition that has been ongoing for the last few years. In the morning we caught the ferry back to Sakrisøy, and then rented kayaks from Reine Adventures to go on our first paddling adventure.

Note: to rent kayaks just for the day, Reine Adventures wanted us to at least have completed a Grunnkurs Hav Våttkort course.

Photo from kayak trip in the Reine Fjord: https://www.instagram.com/p/CDQy1zoAetT/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

After packing the kayaks and jumping on the water, we paddled into Kirkefjord and found an absolutely amazing place to set up camp, underneath a waterfall cascading from mountainous heights! We went foraging for some mussels, cooked em up, and then went to bed. The next day we hiked up to the top of the waterfall, which was quite steep and, I recommend you do it with care. After getting down again, we packed up and headed back to Sakrisøy. On the way back we saw ravens fighting with crows – probably a battle that has been playing out for many millennia. Once back to civilization, Reine Adventures allowed us to have a shower, which we were very grateful for, then we had a burger at Anitas Sjømat, and jumped on the bus heading towards Svolvær (Svolvaer).

Once in Svolvær, we made our way to the Brim Explorers staff house, where we stayed the next few days. I am sure there is a camping spot in Svolvær, if you do not have this opportunity. Remember to book stuff in advance, as Lofoten definitely gets busy in the summer months. During my time in Svolvær, I went on an amazing boat tour with the Brim Explorer to Troll Fjord and hiked up a famous mountain with an incredible view.

Now it was time for our next kayaking adventure to Skrova. We caught the ferry to Skrova from Svolvær and then rented kayaks from Skrova Kayak Adventures. The initial plan was to paddle around Skrova, Lille Molla and Store Molla, but when the planning fallacy reared it’s realistic head we opted to just paddle around Skrova, which ended up being more than awesome! On the way, we hunted down a pretty massive crab, which was sitting high on a vertical sea cliff – make sure you are sneaky, fast and careful when hunting these monstrous sea beasts! We camped on the northern tip of Skrova and paddled back around to the starting point the next day – call it a circumnavigation if you will!

Note: to rent kayaks from Skrova Kayak Adventures, we needed to have completed a NPF Introkurs Hav våttkort course.

Photos from trip around Skrova @tomas.hansson1

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We then caught the ferry back to Svolvær, and went for a short trip to Henningsvær where I hiked up yet another steep but short mountain path, which ended with an epic view. The trip for me was now coming to an end so I tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to catch the ferry back to Bødo from Svolvaer. Yes, it is called “Svolvaer”, not “Solvaer”, which is an island 100’s of kilometers away… Unfortunately for me, I booked a ferry from Solvaer, so when I turned up at the ferry terminal at Svolvær (Svolvaer) and there was no ferry, I realised my big error in spelling. Anyway, I ended up getting a taxi down to Moskenes, and still getting back to Bødo in time for my flight that day at 1700-ish, but it was both costly and stressful – not recommended. If I was not in such a rush, I could have left the next day from the Svolvaer Hurtigbåt Kai, or caught the bus down to Moskenes ferry terminal, and gone from there. What a god daaaamn ride that was!

Learning for next time, if I would decide to fly from Oslo and use public transport instead of driving:

  • Spell Svolvaer correctly when booking a ferry ticket – blluuuurrgghh
  • Give myself more rest days in-between adventures, so that the holiday was not so fast-paced and I was not a total wreck, that needed 3-days to recover once getting back to Oslo
  • Don’t camp out on a wooden veranda and compromise your sleep, or have a better sleeping mat – either or!
  • Drink less alcholol
  • Bring an eye patch, because it is light as fruck in Norway during the summer
  • Treat yourself to strategic stays in either campsites, or the famous Lofoten Rorbuer (renovated old fishermen cabins that you sleep in) or a hotel – last resort.
  • Bring a big powerbank
  • Pack light, pack smart – remember, you are not in the middle of nowhere
  • Safety: first aid kit, communication device that works wherever you are going and can be kept waterproof, warm clothes, rain clothes, solid kayaking skills (this is not Oslo Fjord folks, it is the Norwegian Sea and it won’t forgive complacency). Check tides, weather, wind, etc, and plan accordingly.
  • Be ok with plans changing due to weather – it is an island north of the Artic circle after all, so don’t go expecting 30 plus degrees and palm trees!

Driving from Oslo to Lofoten and bringing my own kayaks

This year (yes, I am writing this blog sitting at Mad Goats Sjoa in the beginning of September 2021) I / we, changed tactics and visited Lofoten in not an entirely different fashion, but notably different to warrant writing about! This year, my girlfriend, Anoushka, and I, drove to Lofoten from Oslo, with our own kayaks and equipment. We were meant to have our own car (a Volkswagen Transporter) but life didn’t allow it, so instead we had a grunty ol Toyota Hiace, with a loud engine and no air conditioning – well well. First we drove up the E6 to Sjoa in the Heidal Valley (which you pretty much stay on until you get to Bødo, apart from the last 45mins or so) and stayed there for a few days, whitewater kayaking at our base in Nedre Heidal. To drive from Oslo to Sjoa only takes about 3.5 hours.

After a few awesome days river kayaking on the Sjoa, Lågen and Otta Rivers (all which eventually flow down the Gudbrandsdalen Valley, and into the Mjøsa lake beside the town of Lillehammer) we started driving North up the E6. We drove for a good while, deciding to try shave off a good portion of the trip in one fell swoop – in hindsight, quite a tiresome goal! Anyway, we tried to book a cabin or a tent spot that night at one of many lodging facilities along the E6 (north of Trondheim), but all were fully booked, so we managed to find a beautiful free camping spot instead. The next day we drove all the way to Bødo and didn’t manage to find one proper cafe latte along the many 100’s of kilometre route – like seriously guys, sort it out!

We arrived in Bødo in time for the ferry, drove aboard and made our way to Moskenes. Once there we realised we had no idea where we would stay, so we tried the first and closest camping site: Moskenes camping. Initially they said they were full, but Anoushka managed to beguile them with her wits and beauty, thus finding us a place to rest our weary heads – we recommend this camping ground!

The next day we drove all the way up to just north of Svolvaer, where we parked up, unpacked and got on the water. The wind was approx. 7m/s with gusts up to 10m/s. Lucky for us we had planned to cross two canals, with the need for minimal upwind travel, so the 6-7km trip to our island destination was not so tiring.

Note: the sea was rough, cold and unforgiving, and if we were not to have proper paddling skills and rescue training, we would have been asking for trouble. Make sure you get trained up properly before you go on your own kayaking adventures. Attend a course, and get yourself prepared.

Once reaching our destination, a small and magically beautiful island, we set up our tent and settled into island life. During our stay we paddled to a small as fruck town on the southern tip of Store Molla, where we met a lovely Polish family who run a fishing centre located there. Along the way, we saw many sea eagles and schools of mackerel jumping out of the water, which we unsuccessfully tried to catch from the seats of our kayaks. The plan, originally, was to circumnavigate the three islands of Store Molla, Lille Molla and Skrova, but the weather just wasn’t in our favour, as there was a consistent and strong wind coming from the north. Again, this just reiterates the need to leave time and space (mentally as well) to be flexible with your plans – the weather is god damn unpredictable, even in the relatively calm months of July and August.

We ended up spending 3 nights on the same island, which turned out to be the highlight of my trip, as we got to pick wild blueberries, view amazing sunsets, forage and eat mussels, and even do a beach clean up on the last day – unfortunate how much rubbish there is even on an island in the middle of nowhere! There are also amazing hiking opportunities in the area if you have the weather and time. So, after 3 nights we packed up and paddled back to where we left the car, with the same side wind from the north, which was not so troublesome. Tip: if you have to go upwind, then paddle close to the land, as it creates friction with the wind, thus reducing its speed.

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After packing up we headed south, stayed in a hotel in Svolvaer (over priced and not as fancy as you would think the price would justify), so a good solution to this would be someone offering some semblance of competition – get in there guys as the bar is set pretty low. Am I behaving like a snobby Oslo hipster? If so, sorry but not sorry…punk. If you can peirce through the shroud of local conservatism that tries it damndest to keep everything “the way its always been” – whatever that looks like – then I believe there to be massive opportunities up for grabs. Hate it or love it all the goats on top, and I’m gna shine until I fall of a sheer cliff face – mmaaeeehh – with a sheaf of grass in my gob and crazy glint in my eye – goat life!

Ok, back on track, so the next day we headed south down to Reine, where we stayed two nights in a lovely Robuer at Reine Robuer, and during this time we hiked the famous Reienbringen and had dinner at the famous Under Huset restaurant with our local friend Julie, who works as a teacher in Lofoten, as well as working at Reine Adventures, and used to work at the aforementioned restaurant.

Next up, back to Moskenes to catch the ferry to Bødo. While waiting, Anoushka caught two innocent (as far as I know; they may have been under sea villains) mackerel, which made up for our dismal kayak fishing effort earlier. These mackerel were subsequently filleted in the hotel room we stayed at in Mo i Rana, an unflattering town on the way back south – I hope they didn’t think someone was murdered in the bathroom.

The next day we passed through Trondheim (the Heim of Tronds), where we checked out the quite insanely spectacular Nidaros Cahtedral – what a touristy thing to do, right?! Luurl. I became religious (not saying I ain’t spiritual or religious in one way or another) for about 3 minutes, while inside listening to the pipe organ being played – just wow! We stay at Anoushka’s awesome uncle’s place that night, before finally heading back down to Mad Goats Sjoa, in the Heidal Valley. Here, I taught a whitewater kayaking course before finally heading back to Oslo – geeez Louise, what a triiiiiip!!!

Learning for next time, if I decide to drive from Oslo to Lofoten again – which I definitely would!

  • Take more time driving up and drive in a nicer car – not a grunter!
  • Give myself more rest days in-between adventures, so that the holiday is not so fast paced. Still need work on this obviously… are we seeing a trend here? mmmmhhh
  • Be more organised with my equipment, clothes and stuff in general
  • Book accommodation in advance if possible

My next trip to Lofoten (based on lessons learned)

The fact is, is that if you want to kayak in the areas that are off the beaten path, which I do, then you need to bring your own kayak, or join an organised tour (Kristoffer Vanbakk offers guided kayak tours in Lofoten for intermediate to advanced kayakers through his company “Kajakk Nord”).

My next trip will be around the island of Værøy, which includes jumping on the famous Moskenes tidal stream. So yes, I would drive from Oslo, but I would take my sweet time because I personally hate long drives. I would also not drive in a grunty, noisy af, and un-airconditioned vehicle. I would leave about 4 days to get to Lofoten, and If I wanted to stay at a camp ground, I would make sure to book this in advance. I also now know to leave extra days for resting & chilling in-between missions. Having more time is also a good idea, as the weather is likely to change, which may mean you have to wait out some strong winds, heavy rains, etc.

My trip budget needs to include the financial capacity to afford to stay at hotels and Robuer’s alike – as I am a diva at heart, like my daawgy best friend “Thug the Whippet” – but I don’t think this is absolutely necessary, just my personal preference. It would be cool to also finally circumnavigate the 3 islands of Store Molla, Skrova and Lille Molla, and to kayak into the Kirkefjord in Reinefjord, and do the hike over to this cool looking beach.

All in all, take your time, plan, save your money as it is not a cheap place, and make sure you have solid kayaking skills. Sometimes it is not about squeezing everything into a short time, as it’s not how much you do, but how much enjoyment you get from doing what you do – quality over quantity is a good lesson. I really never understood those tourists visiting New Zealand (my home country) who tried to see both the north and south islands in only two weeks!

Lofoten on a budget

Just briefly, doing Lofoten on the cheap is possible. Here’s how:

  • Fly to Bødo, don’t rent a car a drive
  • Ferry to Moskenes as it is the only way and free
  • Stay at Moskenes camping or other cheap – but wonderful – campsites (i.e. don’t stay at hotels or Robeur’s)
  • Use the public transport, it is not half bad
  • Walk instead of taxi – hopefully you won’t have to repeat my mistakes..
  • Find free camping spots, but don’t fucking litter, as then you ruin this opportunity for everyone else
  • Buy food from the supermarket and not restaurants
  • Rent kayaks, don’t bring your own
  • Use free WIFI, and don’t spend large bucks on mobile data

Top tips for an awesome Lofoten trip

Photos of Lofoten to blow your noggin!

Some closing thoughts

Like many areas of outstanding natural beauty, Lofoten has a contradictory relationship with tourism. Thankfully there are lots of bright people wanting to do good things in Lofoten (and the world at large) and to turn this place into the world class eco tourism destination, that it definitely has the potential to be.

As I wrote about earlier, we did a clean up on the island we stayed at off the coast of Svolvaer. Unfortunalty, rubbish is everywhere, even in places you would least expect to see it. The local authorities are already cracking down on free camping as a result of people leaving shit (literally) and rubbish lying around and this is a crime against the planet, so simply don’t do it.

Thank you for reading and taking care when visiting not only Lofoten but anywhere and everywhere, as a considerate and responsible global citizen of planet Earth. Much love you to my fellow human brother or sister, or brother-sister – namaste. ❤

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