Thursday, 30 March 2017

Norway Trip - Part I (Tromsø Coastal Driving)

Ok, I had to get this post out ASAP after our trip because all of our family and friends are eager to see the beautiful photos I've taken after seeing Graham's teasers on FB. Part I of this post is about our driving tour around the area, and Part II will be on Aurora hunting and Tromsø City.

First, we visited Tromsø in northern Norway mainly in hope of seeing the Aurora Borealis before the season ended. Why did I decide to pick Tromsø? It is not even on the top 10 destinations if you search for 'Aurora hunting' on Google! I didn't want to fall for those overpriced, potentially overrated tourist traps anyway, so I searched for the most populated cities in the Arctic Circle instead. After some internet research and Google Maps reading, it became more attractive to us as it offered many outdoor and wildlife activities, beautiful and unique landscapes, a good chance of seeing the aurora even with a really low Kp index (< 1), and it is not an overcrowded tourist destination. Here are some information on Tromsø and what it offers.

We hired a car to drive around the islands and fjords for a day, we highly recommend it if you like to drive. Fortunately the weather was good enough for us to have a pleasant and safe drive along the coastal roads during the day, and allowed us to see plenty of aurora in the evening on our own hunting trip. We only drove one day, since it was only a 3-day holiday.

As is my posting style, I'll be explaining the details of our trip with route information on some cutely edited maps. The roads are super windy and there are plenty of pit stops along the way for photo opportunities.

I have to also define what a Fjord is. We were super confused at what we were looking at and were calling everything a fjord, our Norwegian tour guide (not from this part of the trip) had to keep correcting us. Lol! Check out the National Geographic for fjords with nice photos and Wiki for Norwegian geography if you're interested in some extra reading.

A Fjord (inlet) is a long, deep, narrow body of water that reaches far inland, often ends in a U-shaped valley with steep walls of rock on either side. There are lots of rivers, lakes and straits as well, so it's really hard to tell unless you look at the map. Or it'll just be in the name of the town! Lol! 
Before we started, I had to hire some winter walking boots since my leather boots had no tread or insulation whatsoever! We asked the shop assistant and he suggested Sommarøy island as a nice destination. There are two ways to get there, through the mountain pass that cuts across the island of Kvaløya or the longer coastal road. We decided to check out Ersfjordbotn first and taking the mountain pass to Sommarøy first. It was the correct choice, as the mountain pass was more treacherous and was better navigated in daylight than no light at all if we came back late in the afternoon! The coastal drive was a little featureless, just mountains after mountains. Pretty, but boring.

At Ersfjordbotn, there's a little rocky outpost that is still covered in snow, so we walked all the way out to the tip of it. Not sure if it's as accessible when all the ice and snow melts. Be Careful where you step! Follow previous footsteps if possible, or you might end up in a wet rocky foothole!
Ersfjordbotn - this side of the land strip appears to be a boat/yacht harbour. The road ends here and our car is parked all the way back there.
The other side of the strip and around the U-bend valley is where most people live.

Half way there, aiming for the big rock in the far centre right.
Despite the heavy clouds and a glimpse of sunshine, this place looks pretty amazing!
At the rock, it has now been claimed by Captain Squeaky as the first Seal landing!

Finally reached the end, I don't think testing the water was a good idea.
Panorama of Ersfjordbotn! Must be nice to live with such a view!
Just realised how clear the water is even this close to the shore! More super clear, blue water to come!
The drive across the island was quite scary at first; the path is lined by some red light-reflecting sticks and a 1-2 meter pile of snow as your crumple zone. Fortunately, not many people drove at this time of the day, and we got used to the condition quite quickly. Until you have to pull so far off the side that you're just about to fall off the track to let some truck go past...phewwwwww

The next fjord we drove past was frozen halfway up the inlet! Apparently it's quite normal for that to happen, but it was a big deal for us since frozen canals are no longer a thing. :( 
Wonder if people actually just walk across it, maybe with snowshoes, would be so much faster than driving around it.
Can you see the thin line of water where the fjord is no frozen? These red sticks are not  really a good indication of the road, cos they're in the snow!
More panorama of the magnificent view! IMO, this fjord looks nicer than the last one. :p
As we get closer to Sommarøy, a unique mountainous island started to emerge from the background. It piqued Graham's interest when it was only an interesting-shaped peak behind all the other mountains along the coast. Then it turned out to be an awesome mountain island (added by Graham).
Here I present Håja, Graham's favourite landmark from this entire trip, aka. Graham's island!
The bridge to Sommarøy is one-lane only, so you have to wait at each end at the lights to cross. There's a little cafe for refreshment and a Hotel in the first section of the island There's a smaller second bridge that connects to the rest of the island where people live. According to our tour guide, this island is a fish receiving port from fishing boats. It is also a great spot for aurora viewing.
You can walk over this bridge just like most other bridges, but it's so narrow I don't know if it's a good idea...
The Arctic Hotel looks like it has some nice houses and a great view of all the small islands (skerries) in the area. It even has a rockpool/lagoon!
Really shallow water here, would be really nice in summer!
The last leg of the drive was along the bottom of the Kvaløya island. Because it was so boring and relatively more populated that the middle of the island, we decided to do a little detour to a small island of Håkøya between Tromsø and Kvaløya. Again, there's only 1 road in and out of the island and the end of it was big enough for a bus to turn around. We were pretty exhausted by that time and went home for a nap before more driving for an evening of aurora hunting.
Yeah, another bridge! This one is flat though.
This is the large bridge connecting Tromsø and Kvaløya. There's just too much incline on these Norwegian bridges!
Overall, driving allowed us to see a lot of interesting things at our own pace. We were interested in a tour that also takes you on this island, but it was booked out. We didn't see any reindeers despite passing several 'Reindeer crossing' signs. We did see a herd of cross-country skiers preparing for their adventure across the middle of the island though. :p

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