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Eight of Norway’s ultimate adventures, from a musk ox safari to Arctic surfing

Nothing is as expected in the wilds of Norway: it’s bigger, darker, brighter, colder and bolder. Whether you’re hiking under the midnight sun or sailing Nordic swells, here are eight unmissable experiences.

From May to August, conservation-focused Secret Atlas runs 15-day, leave-no-trace expedition cruises that circumnaviagate Spitsbergen. Crossing icy waters on vessels carrying just 12 passengers, you’ll get thrillingly close to Arctic wildlife, including whales, bearded seals, walruses and reindeer.

Photograph by Lars Korvald
Published 14 May 2022, 12:00 BST

The Norwegian concept of friluftsliv (a love of outdoor living) means heading out into the wilds come snow or storm, sunshine or showers. Whether you’re darting across the world’s most powerful tidal current on a rigid inflatable boat, surfing Arctic waves in the Lofoten Islands or getting up close and personal with polar bears on an eco-friendly cruise to Svalbard, this is a region of unnerving beauty.

1. Spot wildlife on a cruise to Svalbard

At 78 degrees north of the Arctic Circle, Svalbard is home to more polar bears than people. The North Pole is just 650 miles away across the pack ice, and you can feel it in your bones and see it in the brutal angles of the mountains, the ethereal blues and pinks of the sky, the glaciers and the icebergs and the undying light of summer. From May to August, conservation-focused Secret Atlas runs15-day, leave-no-trace expedition cruises that circumnavigate Spitsbergen. Crossing icy waters on vessels carrying just 12 passengers, you’ll get thrillingly close to Arctic wildlife — the bears, yes, but also whales, bearded seals, walruses and reindeer.

2. Climb Pulpit Rock at daybreak

It’s the huge fist of rock that everyone wants to climb. But start off at sunrise to Preikestolen (‘pulpit rock’), and you’ll beat most people to it. At this golden hour, it’s as though the Nordic gods themselves are beaming down on the 1,982ft-high rock. Best hiked from April to October, the two-hour, 2.5-mile trek to the top wriggles up through woods and along a boulder-dotted trail built by Nepalese Sherpas. It’s easy to navigate, but slippery after rain. The rock lives up to all the Instagram hype, nose-diving to the sapphire expanse of Lysefjord. For a crack-of-dawn start, glamp at base camp by the lake.

Musk oxes are Norway's most unusual creature. The remote, savagely beautiful Dovrefjell-Sunndalsfjella National Park is their last Norwegian refuge.

Photograph by Lars Korvald

3. Go on a musk ox safari

Of all Norway’s wildlife, the musk ox is the oddball. Not as cute as a reindeer or as iconic as a polar bear, it relies on muscle and might for its place in the hall of fame. Native to the Arctic, these shaggy beasts — more closely related to sheep than cattle — get their name from the strong, musky smell they give off during mating season. Seeing one will blow your mind, not least because the camouflage is so meticulous you’ll probably think it’s a rock until it begins to move. The remote, savagely beautiful Dovrefjell-Sunndalsfjella National Park is their last Norwegian refuge. Join a summer musk ox safari (June to September) in Oppdal and let the experts reveal their hiding places. Bring binoculars and you might also glimpse wild reindeer and willow grouse.

4. Sail across Saltstraumen

Clinging on for dear life to a rigid inflatable as you bounce across Saltstrumen’s vortices, with icy seawater lashing your face, you might feel as though you’re about to be sucked down a giant plughole. Just south of the city of Bodø in Northern Norway, the world’s strongest tidal current rips through a 1.8-miles-long, 150-metre-wide strait every six hours. Its scale and force are staggering, as are the views of dark, snow-iced mountains and the wrinkled cliffs of the Caledonian Fold Belt, 460 million years in the making.

When the engine is switched off, keep an eye out for sea eagles, puffins, eider ducks and whale porpoises. Still keen for more adventure? Certified dry-suit divers can take on its steep walls and currents, which are at their most powerful every full moon. But even with no experience, you can stil snorkel among frilly anemones and prehistoric-looking wolfish in the calmer waters away from the whirlpools.

5. Run the Tromsø Midnight Sun Marathon

After a tough Arctic winter, Norwegians pounce on summer with a biological urgency. Many celebrate the midnight sun with parties, bonfires and flower garlands, but Tromsø goes one step further with its nighttime marathon. Held on the third weekend in June, when the sun never dips below the horizon, this race — at 69 degrees north of the Earth’s equatorial plane — is a thing of beauty, heading around the island and wowing with views of shining fjords and eternally snow-capped mountains. If you’re not quite ready to run, take the cable-car up to 1,381ft Mountt Storsteinen instead to see the midnight sun burn above the silhouetted peaks of Ringvassøya island.

November and March are the best times for Arctic surfing in Norway, with the best swells, pastel skies, the crunch of snow and sand under your neoprene boots. If you're lucky, the Northern Lights may even come out to play.  

Photograph by Kian Bourke

6. Surf in the Lofoten Islands

To surf in the mind-numbingly cold waters of the Lofoten Islands in the Norwegian Arctic demands an extra level of daring and the thickest hooded wetsuit you can find. But Unstadt, on the island of Vestvågøya, makes up for any initial discomfort by being utterly beautiful, with its great arc of creamy sand fizzing into the North Atlantic. The waves are tamest — ideal for beginners — in summer. In winter, it’s wild out there, with rollers bashing ice-frosted mountains that rise like an amphitheatre around the bay. Come between November and March for the best swells, pastel skies, the crunch of snow and sand under your neoprene boots and regular appearances from the Northern Lights. Unstad Arctic Surf offers instruction, a range of packages, rental gear and cosy cabin digs.

7. Hike the Trolltunga Via Ferrata

Trolltunga (‘troll’s tongue’) is a diving board and a half. The 3,870ft-high precipice and its backdrop are geologically astounding, with the blue shock of Ringedalsvatnet lake far below and the snow-streaked mountains of Hardangervidda all around. The 10- to 12-hour hike to the top is tough, involving a 2,625ft ascent, but it’s tougher still if you brave the via ferrata. Guided trips run from April to October and include all gear. It’s a full-on day of cycling, hiking and clambering up a razor-edge cliff on metal rungs, trying desperately not to lose your nerve. Get a sunrise start.

8. Explore Jotunheimen National Park

Jotunheimen is Norway’s magnum opus. The ‘home of the giants’ is precisely that: a 444sq-mile national park capped by the country’s two highest peaks — 8,100ft Galdhøpiggen and 8,087ft Glittertind — which loom high above fjords, glaciers, waterfalls and lakes of bluest blue. Come summer or winter, this isn’t a landscape to observe — it’s one to embrace with abandon: hiking to sky-high summits, bedding down in remote cabins after backcountry skiing, catching glimpses of reindeer, elk and wolverine, and wild camping at trail’s end under the white spray of the Milky Way.

Published in the June 2022 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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