Norwegian Island Time: Senja & Lofoten and the Joy of Norwegian Ferries
With Nordkapp firmly in our rear view mirror, we continued our travels south through Norway. We had read good things about the island of Senja and decided to take our first Norwegian ferry over there. With an unintelligible ferry operator website and overly complicated pricing we were reminded of our experience attempting to reserve a campsite back in Washington State. In fact I must check LinkedIn and see if the Norwegian ferry dudes have experience in the Washington State Park system. The similarities in making something way more complicated than it needs to be surely can’t be a coincidence. But with all the fjords and water and stuff, ferries are a vital way to cut down gazillions of kilometers in road time so we resolved to work this ferry stuff out sooner rather than later so this was time.
We ended up taking lots of ferries during our time in Norway. Did we master the system? Well it’s all very haphazard and rinky dink with all of the ferry companies doing things a bit differently. Basically we learned it’s best to simply show up in your motorhome, get in line and there will either be room on the boat or you’ll have to wait until the next one. Somebody, somewhere will take your payment (we always paid by card), sometimes in the queue to get on or sometimes you have to find someone on the boat to pay. Sometimes they give you a boarding card to prove you paid, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes we were charged for being 7 meters long and sometimes 8 meters despite always telling them we were 7.5 meters. Some boats make you get out of the car and go to a passenger deck, some don’t. In a few cases we were unable to get out since we couldn’t open the doors on account of behind packed in like sardines. All said and done, we always got to the other side unscathed so we’ll call that mastering the system.
Senja was indeed beautiful. Our first stop was at a hiking trail head with gorgeous views. Unfortunately the weather closed in as we arrived so while we hiked a little, we didn’t do the place full justice. As the clouds cleared the following day we decided to move on to a second spot on the island. On the way to our intended destination we came across a small parking area and decided it may actually be a better place to spend the night than our original choice. It turned out to be one of the absolute best places we stayed in Norway and, believe me when I tell you, that’s a high bar. The spot was at the bottom of Steinfjord and just couldn’t be more picturesque. As we soaked in the beauty I joked to Iain that it could only be made more perfect if some dolphins swam by and, would you believe it, within an hour we spotted some frolicking near to shore. The perfect night was capped off with a incredible view of the midnight sun. The fjord faces almost due north so the position to view it could not have been better. That night will be one of those memories we will cherish forever.
From Senja we decided to head to the Lofoten Islands. We were in two minds whether to go there as we had heard they were becoming very over-touristed. Hailed as a victim of Instagram, the archipelago is struggling to cope with the influx of visitors to it’s tiny communities. We were so close that we decided to just go for it.
What we found was a mixed bag. It’s undoubtedly beautiful but not really any more so than other places we have seen so far in Norway. Yes, it is crowded and there were a lot of motorhomes but it wasn’t impossible to find some quiet either by branching off the beaten track a little or, more usually, by paying a modest camping fee which got us away from other folk who I guess object to paying and want to make the most of the Norwegian “right to roam”. The north part of the archipelago is much quieter than the south but no less pretty.
Most of the roadside parking that we used elsewhere in Norway was unrestricted but almost all of them that we came across in Lofoten had clear “no-overnight camping” signs. While some motorhomers flaunted the warnings, we are not those people. If you have been specifically told not to stay somewhere we think it’s a dick move to ignore the signage. Instead we parked in a couple of spots we discovered that didn’t have any signs and a few places where we paid a small parking fee for the privilege.
The other main thing I will say we learned about both Lofoten and a lot of Norway in general; the weather makes a massive difference. I know there are people who say there’s no such thing as bad weather just inappropriate clothes but I have always thought that’s bullshit. The fact is this place is all about the incredible scenery. You certainly don’t go to rural Norway for the food or the sparkling nightlife so if you have low cloud and no visibility it’s all a bit of a let down. We had mixed weather in Lofoten. When it was bright and we had good visibility it was breathtaking but when it was soggy with low cloud it wasn’t so much fun.
Overall we really enjoyed Lofoten. It is very pretty just like it’s much less crowded neighbor Senja. I would recommend a trip although visiting during a shoulder month like June or September might be better. By the time we got to the southern tip we were tired of the busy roads and the endless cluster of motorhomes clambering for parking spots. We decided it was time to move on to some less-visited parts of Norway. Decision time - we could drive back the way we came and add another 600 km to our trip or we could hone our newly acquired ferry skills. Yep, there’s only one way to master this system; practice, practice, practice so ferry terminal here we come!
Recommendations & Tips
Where we stayed: We visited at the end of July.
94. Free parking Metfjord, Senja. Large parking area for the nearby hiking trails. Nice views over the fjords, and of course lots of great hiking in the area. Toilets and trash here. GPS. 69.52112, 17.42999
95. Free parking Steinfjord, Senja. Simply stunning spot at the beach views are incredible, and an excellent place to see the midnight sun. We also saw dolphins quite close to shore. Unbeatable. Portaloo, trash and picnic tables on site. GPS: 69.45695, 17.34846
96. Garsnes Brygge, nr Sjøvegan. Great campsite, very scenic, also free laundry, warm showers and an excellent restaurant. Can have a spot with or without electric. GPS: 68.86956, 17.76909
97. Free parking Moysalen, Lofoten Islands. Simple gravel pull off, with no facilities, but lovely views from here. GPS: 68.46557, 15.53877
98. Free parking Holdoy roadside parking. Lovely views but a little close to the road and lots of people coming and going. GPS: 68.44754, 14.90516
99. Paid Parking near Henningsvaer. Gorgeous views from here and more spacious than the free roadside parking nearby. 15 minute walk into the lovely town. 150 kr GPS: 68.16352, 14.21483
100. Parking spot Eggum. Beautiful location, no services but lovely views and coastal walking from here. 100 kr GPS: 68.30677, 13.65103
101. Nr Fredvang Pretty spot with a few spots laid out for overnighters. 7 Euro or 70 NOK in cash GPS: 68.08371, 13.18876
You can always find details of where we stay on our overnight stays map.