For every unusual rock face, dramatic peak or epic natural phenomenon in Norway, there’s a myth or legend that’s to blame. In fact, it would seem, as malicious as Norway’s trolls have been portrayed over the centuries, they’ve had quite the magic touch in crafting one of the world’s most soul-stirring landscapes.
Legend has it, the distinctive hole in the middle of Torghatten was formed when the jilted troll Hestmannen shot an arrow after his young love Lekamøya. It’s said that the Troll-King in Mount Sømnafjellet saw this and threw his hat between them. The arrow went straight through it and formed the hole. True to all things troll, as soon as the sun rose, everything turned to stone.
Then, there’s the dramatic cliff that juts out horizontally 700 metres over Lake Ringedalsvatnet. You guessed it, Trolltunga (troll tongue) was formed by an arrogant troll who stuck his tongue out as the sun rose, not believing for a minute that he would be turned to stone.
There’s also the Troll Wall (Trollveggen), Trollfoss waterfall, Trold-Tindterne (Troll Peaks), formed by two troll armies that were caught battling out in the sunshine, and the man-made Trollstigen or Trolls’ Path.
In fact, when you travel across Norway, you have to stop yourself looking under every bridge and along the craggy rockfaces of Norway’s fjords to see if a troll has met its untimely end and been immortalised in stone.
The world’s most beautiful voyage
While Norway’s ethereal landscapes may seem more the stuff of legends than reality, they truly are unlike anything you’ll encounter on earth, as I was soon to discover.
And, an extraordinary way to do this, whether you’re searching for trolls or not, is on the world’s most beautiful voyage with Hurtigruten.
From Bergen in the south to Kirkenes on the border with Russia in the north, Hurtigruten has been plying the Norwegian waters that lap at isolated islands and towering granite fjordscapes for over a century.
Before a time of radar and modern navigation systems, the Coastal Express served as the lifeline of northern Norway, linking remote coastal communities with the rest of the country and the world, when nobody else was prepared to brave the “dark and stormy” waters between Trondheim and Hammerfest, the world’s northernmost town.
It still does this today, rain or shine, ferrying cargo and passengers to 34 ports dotted along Norway’s undulating, wild and fragmented coastline.
But more than getting from A to B, Hurtigruten also provides the means for nature lovers to get up close to the Land of the Midnight Sun and Northern Lights to view its extraordinary natural treasures, from a different perspective and in comfort.
Banish all thoughts of cargo-laden ferries and abrupt crew. Although Hurtigruten operates a fleet of working ships that serve the coastline, the voyage is anything but routine.
Ship cabins and suites for overnight passengers are comfortable and on-board facilities range from a well-stocked shop with a post-office service, lecture rooms to learn about the surrounding nature, a bar and lounge area with panoramic windows and couches, to a delightful coffee shop and two restaurants serving Hurtigruten’s signature concept of Norway’s Coastal Kitchen.
Featuring fresh ingredients, procured from smaller local suppliers along the Coastal Express journey, Norway’s Coastal Kitchen reflects the cuisine from each of the areas along which Hurtigruten sails – from codfish in the Lofoten Archipelago to reindeer steaks from Finnmark, King Crab from the Barent Sea to lamb from Geiranger.
But the star of the show is undoubtedly the wilderness outside – the inky-black to cerulean blue waters of Norway’s fjords, the towering peaks sprinkled with snow, and the colourful fishing villages for whom Hurtigruten is more reliable than sunrise and sunset in the Arctic.
And so I found myself after several days of recurring pinch-me moments, in the Lofoten Archipelago, renowned as a Mecca for outdoor enthusiasts with a milder climate because of the Gulf Stream.
Sounding its arrival in Stokmarknes, with its characteristic bellow, the MS Polarlys docked just metres away from one of the fleet’s decommissioned ships which remains today a reminder of expedition cruising in the 1960s and 1970s and is open to visitors as part of the Museum of the Coastal Express experience. The town of Stokmarknes is where Captain Richard With originally founded the expedition line in 1893.
Our fellow passengers were to explore the waters of one of Norway’s most beautiful archipelagos on board the ship. We, on the other hand, donned our crimson Survival Suits and got settled on a RIB boat bound for Svolvær.
Jetting through Raftsundet, a 20km strait between the islands of Hinnøya and Austvågøya, at speeds of 70km per hour, we willed MS Polarlys to keep up with us. I still hadn’t spotted a troll, despite having passed the Vesterålen bridges and countless cliff-faces rising up from the fjords of northern Norway.
We sped through the mouth of a smaller fjord, the sun glinting off its beryl-blue waters stretching only 100 metres in each direction between the granite cliff-faces that ended abruptly in a cul-de-sac of snow-capped peaks. It’s a view you never get used to.
Surrounded on three sides by mountains that are said to be older than the Himalayas, our Dutch-born guide Rafael Huigmink, shared the story of a battle that broke out in the fjord in 1880.
Huigmink, whose explanation for a Dutchman being in Norway was that his ship happened to blow here, says huge quantities of fish had swum into the fjord at the time and larger steamships were trying to prevent local fishermen from getting to them.
In the end, the fishermen prevailed and the Battle of Trollfjord, yes the name of the fjord within which we found ourselves, remains as Norway’s own example of the victory of David over Goliath.
Still no trolls in sight, but perhaps the fjord inherited its name from the Trolltindan peak to the south and Trollfjordvatnet Lake to the west. Clearly this is as close as I’m going to get to Norway’s trolls, which is just as well because they have a reputation for throwing stones at ships after waking up from their midday nap spanning 1,000 years.
But, says Huigmink, keep an eye out for eagles as hundreds of white-tailed eagle pairs find sanctuary in the granite peaks that surround us. We can see them circling hundreds of metres above us.
As we exit Trollfjord, the MS Polarlys sails poetically past us, dwarfing our RIB boat as she lines up for her very own exploration of the narrow fjord. We taunt her, whizzing around her black and red hull, while she bellows in amusement and proceeds towards the fjord with characteristic Norwegian determination.
Out of nowhere, an eagle swoops down alongside our boat and catches his supper – gone as quick as he arrived, with dinner to go. It seems the eagles and fishermen of Lofoten share a mutual passion and one that has shaped the history of this region for hundreds of years – Norwegian Arctic cod.
Fish remains important to the people of Lofoten today, sustaining the local economy and providing a rather pungent welcome for visitors who arrive in the region’s undisputed capital, Svolvær. Here, countless racks of drying stock fish outnumber the village’s quaint fisherman cottages.
As the Midnight Sun refuses to set between the horns of Svolværgeita on our final night in Norway, I wonder what legend gives its name to these two rocky outcrops that loom over the sleepy fishing town.
STORY By Natalia Rosa
Visas: South Africans require a Schengen visa to visit Norway.
Getting there: Fly from South Africa to Europe, then Oslo or Bergen.
Currency: 1 Norwegian Krone is valued at around R1,60.
Language: Most Norwegians speak English.