A Norwegian Adventure: Fjord Norway

Someone once said that Norway is like Canada without the prairies in the middle. While they don’t have the majestic Rockies, they make up for it with spectacular fjords. The west coast of the country is littered with thousands of them, making it one of the most stunningly beautiful yet inhospitable regions in the world. “Region” is perhaps too modest a word as Fjord Norway stretches thousands of kilometers from Stavanger in the south to Tromsø in the north, the primary gateway to the High Arctic.

I had always been fascinated by the pictures I had seen of the region and promised myself that I would one day visit. Researching a potential trip, the greatest challenge was choosing between hundreds of equally stunning locations. After convincing two friends to join in on the adventure, we settled on the Aurlandsfjord region, situated 150km northeast of Bergen, the primary hub on the west coast and Norway’s second largest city.

There is something you should know about Fjord Norway before you visit. Distances are deceiving. Very deceiving. There are also tunnels. Many tunnels. If you look at a map of the region and find that a road looks excessively straight, it’s as tunnel. As we were to find out, these are arteries which can be quickly snuffed out…

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Our adventure began about an hour east of Bergen on E16, the primary highway between Bergen and Oslo. After making good time, traffic quickly brought us to a halt in one of the tunnels. After inching ahead for an hour or so, we learned that an accident had partially closed the next tunnel. As it turned out, our adventure was only beginning…

Traffic delays due to a tunnel accident. Our adventure was only just beginning...

Traffic delays due to a tunnel accident. Our adventure was only just beginning…

When we learned about the accident, we were informed that there had been a much more serious tunnel incident on E16 the previous day. 160 people had been rescued from the 11 km long Gudvangatunnelen tunnel following a truck fire, with 73 hospitalized for smoke inhalation. Structural damage to the tunnel meant that E16 would be closed for up to a month. Welcome to Fjord Norway…

Looking at a map, we quickly realized that we had to pass Gudvangatunnelen to reach Aurlandsfjord. Recognizing our predicament, we continued to the regional town of Voss to assess our options. Soliciting advice from friendly locals, we quickly realized that it would be impossible to reach Aurland that night. Options included a 6 hour detour on secondary roads through treacherous mountain passes or a 10 hour detour involving two ferries.

Sunset over the town of Voss

Sunset over the town of Voss

After much searching, we found a hut (hytte) outside of Voss where we could stay the night and regroup. Although Norway has an extensive network of huts, demand is high during the busy summer months and we recognized our luck finding one on such short notice. The location of our huts was gorgeous, situated in a deep glacial valley beside a swift-flowing stream.

Toulen Hytte, our last-minute accomidations

The site, situated next to a fast-flowing mountain stream, was a popular destination for playboaters

The site, situated next to a fast-flowing mountain stream, was a popular destination for playboaters

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With our entire travel itinerary in limbo, crisis talks began on how to salvage our trip. It quickly became apparent that our car was a liability and would have to be abandoned. However, we faced the cold reality that doing so would leave us reliant on non-existent public transit. In other words, we would be on our own…

After weighing our options, we decided to abandon our car in the hamlet of Gudvangen at the head of the famous Nærøyfjord. Although Gudvangatunnelen is the primary route between Nærøy and Aurlandsfjord, there is also frequent ferry service. Traditionally catering to tourists and small communities accessible only by boat, the ferries had been transformed into a vital transportation link between the two largest cities in the country overnight. Needless to say, they were being overwhelmed by traffic.

Gudvangatunnelen linking Nærøy and Aurlandsfjord. The location of the truck fire is denoted by the marker

Despite the rather inauspicious start to our trip, luck was about to turn in our favour. On our way to Gudvangen, we visited the famous Stalheim hotel in the upper Nærøydalen (Nærøy valley). Although rather mundane, the hotel is perched on a cliff several hundred meters above the valley floor, surrounded by Stalheimsfossen and Sivlefossen (fossen = waterfall). Between the two lies Stalheimsklevia, the steepest road in Northern Europe. Our Norwegian adventure had well and truly begun…

Oppheimsvatnet, an alpine lake situated between Voss and Gudvangen

Oppheimsvatnet, an alpine lake situated between Voss and Gudvangen

Nærøydalen, viewed from the patio of the Stalheim hotel. There is a sheer drop of several hundred meters on the other side of the wall

Nærøydalen, viewed from the patio of the Stalheim hotel. There is a drop of several hundred meters on the other side of the wall

View down into Nærøydalen, viewed from the patio of Stalheim hotel

View of Nærøydalen from the patio of the Stalheim hotel. The path on the lower right was the one we took to Stalheimsfossen

View of Stalheimsklevia, the steepest road in norther Europe, with a max gradient of 20 degrees

View of Stalheimsklevia, the steepest road in northern Europe with a drop of 270 meters (885ft) in 2 km (1.25 miles)

Stalheimsklevia

Stalheimsklevia with a maximum gradient of 20 degrees

Our peppy little Peugot at the bottom of a particularly steep section of Stalheimsklevia

Our peppy little Peugot at the bottom of a particularly steep section of Stalheimsklevia. There are 14 hairpin turns on the road

Sivlefossen (126m/415ft) viewed from Stalheimsklevia

Sivlefossen (126m/415ft) viewed from Stalheimsklevia

Stalheimsfossen (140m/460 ft). The Stalheim hotel is located on top of the cliff on the upper right

Stalheimsfossen (140m/460 ft). The Stalheim hotel is located on top of the cliff on the upper right

A brief history of Stalheimsklevia and Stalheimsfossen

A brief history of Stalheimsklevia and Stalheimsfossen

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About Canadianindenmark

A Canadian expat working in the biotechnology industry in Copenhagen, Denmark
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