“A traveling New Zealand couple, Mitchell Collins and Tamson Armstrong, were taken into custody by Norwegian Police on Saturday after being found asleep inside their rental car in a ticketed carpark”.
Well, that’s how we expected it to turn out… Hiding under the door panels, peeking glimpses of any car coming into the park late at night. Several cars had passed and we remained undisturbed, huddled in our sleeping bags. Feeling the warmth of knowing that we were saving on one more nights expensive accommodation in Norway. Freedom camping, or access to land, is actually legal in most public places in Norway, with few reservations, such as camping no less than 150m from a cabin or house.
The last time we ventured north in Tromso we were lucky enough to rent a campervan. We had always planned on taking a tent this time around, but with limited luggage and forecast rain, we opted to rough it for a few nights. Picked up from Stavanger Airport, our accommodation was something a bit more unconventional – a hybrid electric car. Mitch was pretty excited, playing around with the dashboard to have a good look at fuel economy and other gadgets. It seemed to be that the car was really just schizophrenic, switching between an undersized petrol engine when you had your foot on the accelerator and an electric one when you were idling or slowing down.
The road to our first campsite took us via a ferry. Being dotted with fjords, ferries run like clockwork in Norway. The first from Lauvvik to Oanes we made and luckily they took card payment, otherwise we would have been stranded another hour. Once on board, we sat and waited for the ferry to set off, only to be surprised by the fact it had been travelling the whole time. The waters were so still and calm, you couldn’t notice any movement on board.
Finding a small flat section off road we put the back seats down and slept in the boot. This turned out to be quite uncomfortable. Mitch got about five surprise hands to the face when Tams’ arm shot out with pins and needles. The night got quite rapidly cool after about 2AM as well, making us dive for another layer.
After waking up from probably the most disrupted sleep, we were one of the first in the car park for the Preikestolen (Pulpit Rock) hike. This was an easy 3 hour return hike up some well worn and maintained path, past a few mountain ponds then around a narrow cliff path to Preikestolen. The feature itself is a large stage set over the Lysefjord, with a sheer 604m drop. We arrived to see others with a lot less fear dangling their feet over the edge, not really our idea of fun to be honest. It was here we first met the Australian group, who mistook us for their fellow brethren and we helped them take a few photos.
After half an hour the rock started to fill up and we escaped back down the path, dodging the highway of traffic coming the other way. Mitch loved telling people near the top of the climb “Don’t worry, you’re half way” then gauging their reaction. Tam shook her head.
Getting on the second ferry at Hjelmeland, we ran into the Aussies again. They had caught up to us as we waited to board. We awkwardly waved, stole a few sideways glances, then made our way back to the car for a doze before Nesvik. At a rest stop after half an hour of driving we again ran into them. Maybe they were stalking us, maybe we had been stalking them?
The drive to Odda was through the higher country passes, where large waterfalls crashed down the valley, spraying mist across the road. Norway generates over 98% of it’s electricity from these massive lakes and sheer drops, using their renewable potential to great effect.
Odda itself was a major tourist destination of the 19th Century, then subsequently became home to a large smelting industry. With the rain pressing, there wasn’t much to do apart from browse the supermarket aisles, looking at the salted licorice and seafood selection. We had watched a movie about two Norwegian surfers who told us; if you find food items that are out of date in Norwegian supermarkets, by law, they cannot charge you for them. This supermarket however, was cleaned out, or had good inventory management. Some of the tinned mackerel did look like it was close…
After an ‘all you can eat’ Thai meal in Ullensvang, surrounded by marauding Norwegian pensioners fighting over spring rolls, we found another place to park up, close to the Skjeggedal ticketed parking. This is where we nervously watched passing hikers on their return and cars with full headlights. Hoping we wouldn’t be busted sleeping. This time around we slept in the front seats, wound right back, a slight improvement on the night before.
Trolltunga (Trolls Tongue) is a solid 11km hike that takes about 10 hours return. Many camp out nearby the night before. Our tactic was to power through using our mountain running training in the Brecon Beacons, 3 Peaks and Matterhorn. Then hopefully we wouldn’t have to compete with the masses for a photo opportunity. Leaving the car parked at 7:30AM, we passed the Aussies filling their water bottles at the start of the climb. We had to shake them off our tail!
The first 1km of the hike was up muddy, steep and slippery hillside. A few ropes were laid down to help you along, but these too were greased with mud. This part of the hike was the most difficult, but eventually with a good pace we came out on a smooth rock plateau, dotted with holiday retreats bearing grass roofs. We passed a lot of the earlier groups and before long found ourselves out at the front of the long train. We wouldn’t normally call ourselves Norse hiking gods. But on that day, we were definitely the fastest.
Arriving at Trolltunga by midday, we had only nine others present. The view was stunning, with a rock jutting out at an almost right angle into the valley. Here there was a 700m drop to the hydro lake below. A couple of Americans were taking several different pictures in several compromising poses that was a good cringe-worthy laugh. Most had camped here from the night before and were on their way back, so it didn’t take long till it was our turn out on the rock. We grabbed a few pictures, one of Tam doing a hand stand, then a few of the rock itself. Once out there it wasn’t that scary. Being about 5m wide and tilted slightly backwards it felt relatively safe.
During lunch the other hikers started to roll in, including the Aussies. A few tensions were apparent as some photo seekers desperately staked their place in the growing queue. By the time we left, there would have been about thirty with another sixty to come. We just watched the show in amazement. Definitely recommend getting here early.
On the return hike we came across Claire from our netball team, her group had been staying near Bergen and were delayed by a landslide earlier in the morning – their offer of a warm shower was really good, but we had to keep cracking. The return was mostly downhill and the track churned to a thick muddy paste. Our shoes were caked and the effects of broken sleep in the car were starting to kick in. Mitch had a bit of a nightmare when the hybrid car didn’t want to start. The instruction to “depress the brake” turned out to actually mean “press the brake” when pushing the power button. Key-less ignition was not our friend.
Driving south we were starting to feel the effects of a couple days without showers, using only wet wipes – mastered in our time at Glastonbury. A water park in Hovden had only half an hour till closing. Tam managed to negotiate a childrens rates and we had the whole area to ourselves. Well, except for the guy we shared the spa pool with. He got out when they turned off the bubbles. Mitch did about five runs on the hydroslide and we ended up smelling slightly better, even if it was chlorine. For dinner, we sampled a staple Norwegian delicacy, a pølser, or hot dog, from the local petrol station. Everything else was either closing or ridiculously expensive.
The road to Kjerag, near Lysebotn, was narrow. A single lane with small bike lanes and every so often, little pregnant humps for passing. Oncoming traffic would often race past within inches. Our last sleep in the car was our best yet, waking before the warden arrived and getting another early start.
This hike was probably the most technical of the three. With 6km of steep rock climbs and valleys. Chains were in place to help you along. Once on the top of the lunar like landscape, we walked along until we found a deep rift. at the end of this was the Kjeragbolten, a boulder wedged between the cliff walls 984m above the gorge. A fall off the boulder wouldn’t quite be this far: After 600 or so metres, some trees would break your fall and you would then slide down an additional several hundred metres of valley face before the cool waters of the Lysefjord. Although no confirmed deaths on the Kjerag boulder have occurred – many have died basejumping here. We were really scared approaching the boulder on the small ledge beside. Once on the boulder, any small gust of wind was enough to send you sprawling back to safety.
On the walk back we were joined by an Afghan soldier, currently training in Munich. He came to Norway by train to Copenhagen, bus to Gothenburg, then rental car through to Norway. For him this was easier than flying due to visa issues. His home town was Bamyan, a town where New Zealand has recently invested in solar off grid projects, so we had a good reputation. We gave a Belgian couple a ride down the switchback road (with one switchback inside a tunnel) to Lysebotn before heading back to Stavanger. Along the way we couldn’t help noticing the huge number of cairns (small piles of stacked rocks). At first we thought they were built by kids as some form of monument to trolls, but on research realised they are mainly built by tourists. In fact, many of these cairns have been claimed “illegal” as they should only be built for navigation purposes, not tourist totems.
Stavanger itself was a nice small city for a quick stop. We were both a bit cranky again and the lack of quality sleep was really beginning to show. Mitch wanted to avoid the hip and trendy bars and cafes, mainly because the only shoes he had were muddy and had a horrible stench. We settled on a burger bar, where upon eating Tam found a staple in her patty. Long story short, we got our meals for free – so between that and the savings on accommodation, we managed to experience Norway quite cheaply.
Hiking in Norway was an amazing experience. The local people have so many opportunities to connect with nature and they actively experience it year round. If we could afford it, we would come back more often!