Watching Denmark slip away as the ferry departed for Norway, you could have been forgiven for mistakenly thinking you were off the South West coast of Western Australia – long stretches of beach sand with low scrubby vegetation sporting all the same greyish salt drenched colours.
Arriving in Kristiansand in Norway, however, was an entirely different matter. It was pretty obvious straight up that the topography had changed dramatically. Rough granite fingers slipping into the sea and rapidly disappearing beneath the inky dark waters was an indicator of the grandeur to come.
Norway is unique in so many ways and it’s very expensive! But you’re aware of that and prepared for it before you arrive. The savvy shopper can exit the supermarket with a reasonably priced hoard of treats but fill your basket willy-nilly and I guarantee you’ll need a Valium at the checkout when you do the conversion! (Erik)
On the bright side however you’re able to free camp all over the country, although some effort may be required to find a suitable location at times. Fuel is also reasonably priced compared to the UK but dearer than the rest of the EU.
In short if you have your own car and accommodation in the form of a motorhome, along with cooking facilities, Norway can be very affordable. If you fly in and pay for a hire car along with accommodation and all of your meals, be them purchased from a street café or restaurant, then make sure your VISA card is ready for a hard workout! After a fish market serve of fish and chips at $AUD28 each and small coffees at $AUD7 each, you will find you’re eating less!! Not to mention cans of beer at the supermarket costing an average of $AUD5 each!!
For me however this country is unique in the fact that it delivers the moment you hit the ground, you don’t have to drive any distance at all and you’re in the thick of it.
Off the ferry and you’re into dense green forest before meeting your first fjord.
The grandeur of these amazing waterways is difficult to describe in a manner that could even remotely convey their beauty. The panorama before you is so vast and expansive with mountains shooting skywards in excess of a 1000mtrs then changing to lush green forest from the stark white of snow laden ridges on each side of a narrow dark fjord as it snakes it’s way toward the ocean!! You can only marvel at the immensity of it all.
The picture is so grand and overwhelming that it appears to shrink away, becoming like a post card in some ways! I guess it’s the only way that you’re brain can take in such a vast kaleidoscope of scenery.
We spent 3 weeks in Norway and managed a free camp every night, generally next to a waterfall or on the banks of a Fjord or some other stunning location. We did however have 1 very average camp along the side of a main road; we weren’t alone however as 2 others shared the roadside bay with us! But it was still on a Fjord!!!
Days spent driving high up over snow covered mountain passes void of trees and loaded with snow at times up to 7m high along the roadside only to descend back below the freeze into another valley containing pristine waterways and spectacular scenery.
Waterfalls descending hundreds of feet from reservoirs of snowmelt litter the mountains. Often there are so many of these natural beauties that it is all but impossible to count how many you may see in a 5-minute period.
The Norwegians have a talent for engineering and conquering nature with rough-hewn tunnels through amazing mountain ranges in order to facilitate free movement between small villages that would otherwise be totally isolated from each other.
We’ve driven the longest land tunnel in the world at some 24.5km in length. Thinking of the 1500mtrs of solid granite above you as you pass through it’s belly makes you hope for a continuation of stable geology which Norway is obviously blessed with. They have even constructed roundabouts in some of the tunnels and Y junctions in others just to prove they can, Amazing!
There are however a lot of tourists! Should you target the obvious scenic routes, then you need to be prepared to share with a plethora of others. I don’t tend to enjoy spending time amongst hoards of tourists but a necessary evil it is for us; after all we are also tourists wanting to enjoy the spectacle of such natural beauty so it’s a little rich to expect an individual experience!
I do however love watching different nationalities behave in different ways when in groups or on a time limit. I just love it when someone walks in front of me wearing a mask and Darth Vader style sun bonnet just as I’m taking an obvious photo! The glazed look in their eyes as they hold their selfie stick(also known as a selfish stick! haha) and record themselves for prosperity does get the better of me after a while!
Timing has a lot to do with how your experience plays out at many of the promoted sights, if your fortunate enough to slip in between tour coach visits then it’s a far more relaxing experience.
Arriving in Geiranger, we managed a camp just out of town. It was a disused quarry and not overly attractive but in a great location. Quite often we can find a campsite within an area already inundated with motorhomes as there is generally a free campsite that is only accessible to either 4×4 or high clearance vehicles almost as if it’s been prepared and left vacant just for us!
The following morning we were greeted with the spectacle of 2 cruise liners moored within the harbour disembarking somewhere in the order of 3000 visitors, at a guess, into the tiny hamlet. Tour coaches and souvenir shops moving into melt down phase as they make hay whilst the sun shines so to speak! A great boost to the local economy no doubt!
The more we see of this country the less we are bothered with planning. It doesn’t seem to matter in which direction you point yourself – it’s unbelievable.
We try and frequent the smaller roads as much as feasibly possible. The scenery isn’t limited to the tourist drives but travelling the minor roads makes it yours, alone.
Whilst camped in the town of Kinsarvik, we spotted a Toyota Camry with Chinese number plates! The occupants approached us with iPhone ready and Google translate loaded! They were looking for the car ferry loading area and, with the use of hand signals and our world map, we gleaned that they had driven north out of China in the trusty Camry and across Russia before entering Norway in the far north east, now heading onward south through Europe to the Mediterranean and back to China!
We’d just met our first Chinese overlanders!
We were really impressed! A doona and some pillows on the back seat and a couple of suitcases in the boot seemed to be all these people had with them. I would like to have had a longer discussion with them but the language barrier along with imminent arrival of the car ferry wrapped up our interlude rather quickly. Unfortunately we didn’t get a photo of them, just their car!
After seeing our journey on our map they indicated that we should come to China. For a foreign car to enter China you need a registered guide with you in you car and our first quote from a Chinese company providing this service was $AUD10,000 for 30 days + the guides expenses! You can shop it out or travel with other vehicles, which can reduce the fee dramatically, but it was outside our budget.
These Chinese overlanders, however, were unaware of this hurdle to international travellers and beyond language constraints to explain to them! It would seem that they have free unobstructed movement! Hmmm… not really sure why it’s all China’s way on this issue??? Hopefully the situation will become more equitable in the future and maybe we can put China on the list.
The city of Bergen was on our agenda and we arrived to find it just as stunning as we’d hoped, managing to street park only 100mtrs from the old Hanseatic Wharf which is the real highlight.
Incredible timber buildings resisting gravity and age by leaning on each other, small alleyways here and there beckoning you to explore them and little café’s and shops made wandering around rather relaxing. Harbour towns always seem to have a certain appeal….
Since hitting the ground way back in Vladivostok we’ve not travelled with anyone else at any stage. We have met like-minded travellers sporadically along the way but ours has been a solo effort.
For a few days in Norway however, we were keen to travel in convoy with Erik and Mieke from Adventure Trucks. We’d been keeping in touch, as they were making their way north from the Netherlands via Kristiansand for a few weeks holiday.
Having travelled half way around the world it would seem that we have met 2 like-minded souls – Dutch versions of ourselves! We really had an awesome time with them, not to mention following another vehicle for a few days and not having to navigate, which provided us with a really nice break. After some very late nights, which are easily confused with days, as it doesn’t even get remotely dark at this time of year, we went our own ways – they to the south and our journey continued to the east. Hopefully we will meet up again and share some more travel experiences in the future.
Heading east toward Sweden and suddenly the mountains vanish, just like that! It really flattens out and more substantial farming becomes present. The weather is improving and I’ve even managed shorts, well only because my jeans were in the wash but I’ll claim it!
We pushed on and arrived in Stockholm in a couple of days, wow! A lovely City nestled amongst an archipelago of some 30,000 islands. Unfortunately we had to break our run of bush camps and campfire cooking and settled in for a couple of nights in a campground, nothing like noisy children and stereo’s to remind us why we like to camp on our own!
There is a lot to see and do in this City, the old town is lovely with it’s cobbled streets and relaxed atmosphere and island location, but the must do is the Vasa Museum! A complete 17th Century war ship is the highlight, and it’s absolutely amazing! For me I’d have to say it’s the best Museum piece I’ve ever seen and it will be very hard to beat.
With a myriad of back roads plotted into the sat-nav, we left Stockholm heading roughly for Copenhagen. The centre of Sweden is a camper’s paradise. Norway is by far the more stunning, but Sweden offers much more in the way of accessible forested areas due to its flatness, so if your vehicle based it’s relatively easy to find a suitable location.
Much of Sweden is peppered with lakes from large to small. We spent 2 nights in a relaxing campsite on the banks of the massive fresh water Lake Vattern with the other side of the lake just a shimmer on the horizon. Boats and yachts were enjoying a dose of watersports for the weather has suddenly turned it on. As one Swedish girl remarked to Jen, summer has arrived like a bomb! An unusually long lasting spell of cold temperatures has certainly come to an abrupt end.
So we’ve been soaking up some sunshine whilst catching up on some maintenance on both the Patrol and ourselves. And just for a laugh one evening we had ABBA playing on the iPod as we watched the moonrise!
Throughout both countries we’ve encountered amazingly well kept and picturesque villages. In Norway, earth and grass is commonly used as a roofing material as it apparently provides excellent insulation and it gives a unique feel to the buildings there.
We’ve also encountered a few towns that are obviously suffering from a lack of maintenance and people for that matter, with broken windows and graffiti along with failing concrete infrastructure. There is just as large a contrast between socio-economic groups in these wealthy Scandinavian countries as anywhere else on planet Earth. I suppose one of the most notable differences between the two countries, leaving out the topography for a moment is the friendliness of the people!
Not quite up with the Dutch, the Swedish were nearly always willing to engage. Sometimes just curious regarding our vehicle and travels or fortunately for us quite willing to help when we find ourselves totally confused in the supermarket or trying to buy fuel from a card only machine with no English.
The Norwegians on the other hand, well I’m not sure what they are like. Except for 2 bikers from Alesund who were really friendly, hardly anyone would engage with us! Quite unusual, maybe not unfriendly, but definitely standoffish!
Copenhagen and the run south next, until then!