Hurtigruten: The World’s Most Beautiful Voyage
The bodies huddled against the bulkhead were clad head to foot in down, fleece and wool, completely indistinguishable from one another. Only the eyes were visible, fixed on the growing mist off the port side of the ship. It was an eclectic gathering of old, young, couples, singles, friends, German, American, Japanese, Norwegian.
Most people would question the sanity of anyone plying the coastal waters of Norway in January, but everyone standing on deck had good reason for braving the brisk wind and light chop of the Arctic Ocean in winter. Some were lured above the Arctic Circle by a sense of adventure. Many came to chase the Northern Lights.
Others wanted to explore Norway’s rugged coastline by ship and take part in a longstanding Norwegian tradition… traveling on Hurtigruten, the Norway Coastal Express.
The Hurtigruten, or “fast route” was formally established in 1893 as a way to connect and supply the remote communities along Norway’s long coast with cargo, postal service and point-to-point passenger service. The ships evolved over time from utilitarian to passenger friendly vessels, but their underlying mission remained the same.
Hurtigruten ships sail from Bergen daily carrying their usual cargo, local passengers and a fair number of tourists headed to Kirkenes on the South to North leg of an 11 day round trip journey often called “The World’s Most Beautiful Voyage.”
A trip on a Hurtigruten ship is not, however, a cruise. There are no on-board casinos, broadway shows or table-tennis competitions. Dressing for dinner involves choosing appropriate base layers and outerwear in case the “Ladies and Gentleman, the Northern Lights are now visible” announcement comes during a meal.
Norway’s stunning fjords, majestic glaciers, remote islands and tiny villages floating by the panoramic windows provide the daytime entertainment as the ships weave in and out along the coast, calling at 34 towns along the way.
Some port calls are just long enough to load and unload cargo and local travelers, some lengthy enough for passengers to disembark and explore the larger cities and towns.
Hurtigruten arranges city tours, scenic drives, snowmobiling, dog-sledding and other seasonal adventure activities for those who manage to tear themselves away from the National Geographic-worthy scenery scrolling by the ship’s windows.
Travelers content to create their own experience walk into town, poke around the shops, explore independently or just stand dockside and watch the ship load and unload a fascinating array of cars, people and cargo.
For many, the most enjoyable parts of the journey are unplanned, unscheduled and unexpected…the two hour sunrise and sunset that spread spectacular colors across the sky, the unpredictable Northern Lights that magically appear for seconds, minutes or hours and a night sky so thick with stars, it resembles a pointillist painting.
Handfuls of shooting stars, a fortifying whiskey from the bar and the huddled group on the bow provide evening entertainment for heartier travellers. A comfortable chair, long conversations and a good book occupy those uninterested in channelling their inner Norwegian on a frozen deck. Everyone is content.
We decide to brave the cold and join the other passengers gathered on the bow, watching the faint mist grow into a milky green light. The light grows, shifts and morphs into a ribbon of light that encircles the ship. I look up at the bridge overhead and wonder if the crew ever tires of this uniquely Norwegian adventure, sailing a Norwegian ship in Norwegian waters, surrounded by Norway’s spectacular scenery and cared for by a Norwegian crew. I can’t imagine it’s possible.
I watch as fingers of color reach down the night sky into the sea and marvel at our good fortune.
Note: This is not my video, but a video made by Ole C. Salomonsen on Vimeo for Hurtigruten. It’s spectacular! Enjoy.
Things to Know About a Hurtigruten Cruise
Hurtigruten offers a number of different voyages departing from a variety of locations. You can do a little investigating here while you wait for my upcoming posts detailing our experience sailing on the MS Trollfjord from Bergen to Kirkenes. Update: Here’s the new Q & A page.
If there is anything you’d like to know about sailing with Hurtigruten, ask away in the comments below!
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