IT’S a bleary-eyed 6.30am in the morning. The air outside is clean and cool, the wind brisk, the scenery intoxicating... and, no, it’s not a dream!
Norway’s coastal landscape is nothing less than stunning; sparkling blue waters dwarfed by an endless rolling backdrop of dramatic hillsides and stunning Lord of the Rings-esque valleys and rocky mountains.
I’m only a few hours into a voyage through Norway’s breathtaking fjords and, standing here on deck, it’s easy to see why this is considered to be one of the most beautiful voyages in the world.
Turn the clock back 24 hours and Tromso was the starting point for this three-day journey onboard the Hurtigruten coastal voyage ship MS Nordkapp, on the southbound leg of its 12-day, round-trip voyage between Bergen and Kirkenes.
Specialist cruise operator Hurtigruten has over 100 years’ experience of voyaging along the Norwegian coast, and operates a fleet of around a dozen ships up and down these sheltered coastal waters, a round trip of some 2,500 nautical miles.
And there’s plenty to see and do along the way.
Prior to boarding at Tromso, there was a chance to explore the largest town north of the Arctic Circle, which has earned it the nicknames the ‘Paris of the North’ and ‘the Gateway to the Arctic’. Here the streets are adorned with a blend of modern architecture and colourful, traditional, wooden buildings, the oldest of which dates back to 1789.
Ahead of the late-evening arrival of the MS Nordkapp, an opportunity to sample two of the excursions Hurtigruten offers passengers on its voyages.
First up is a spot of sea kayaking just off the beautiful mountainous island of Kvaloya, a short drive from the centre of Tromso, under the expert guidance of Tore Albrightsen from the activity centre Villmarksenter. With the wind in your hair and the water lapping by your side, this is a fun way of seeing Norway’s scenery and nature from a whole different perspective.
The second excursion was admittedly less physically demanding – a soothing midnight (yes, midnight) concert at the architectural masterpiece that is the Arctic Cathedral.
Onboard the MS Nordkapp, the casual dress code adds to the relaxed atmosphere.
Chill-out in one of the vast lounges (the Panorama Lounge offers the grandest indoor viewing pleasure) as the never-ending film reel of scenery passes by, or dine in the large restaurant with its delicious choices of breakfast and lunch buffets, and dinner menus. And if you feel really adventurous, there are two outdoor Jacuzzis!
Accommodation varies depending on cabin grades - my en-suite cabin was small and basic but nevertheless cosy, with an outside view onto the promenade deck.
Passengers are free to leave the boat at the many ports of call along the way – 34 in total during the full 12-day voyage – with further opportunities to explore small towns and take part in guided excursions.
A Taste of Vesteralen bus tour explores the sights and scenery of Harstad and Trondenes, the latter with its white medieval church and nearby historical centre, then a crossing of the Gullesfjord by ferry before rejoining the MS Nordkapp at Sortland.
Then, later into the voyage, having come face to face with the breathtaking peaks of the Lofoten Wall, and the slender Raftsund strait, you head into the Trollfjord, for many a highlight of the southbound trip with its narrow waters and steep-sided mountains suggesting tales of trolls and Norse mythology.
There’s also a chance to disembark onto a smaller vessel and get up close and personal with the king of the birds on a Sea Eagle Safari.
Capturing this majestic animal soar across the sky before diving into the water for its prey just meters from your eyes is a true Kodak moment.
The journey south towards our destination, Trondheim, reaps yet further rewards: the crossing of the Arctic Circle, The Seven Sisters mountain range, and the bizarre Torghatten mountain with a hole through the middle.
And what better way to cap off a trip than an unexpected midnight viewing of the mystical Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights.
Certainly a voyage to remember. Just don’t forget your camera!
With a ship departing Bergen every day of the year, a voyage with Hurtigruten is hugely flexible. Through the year it is possible to join a ship travelling either north or south and enjoy either the long summer months and the Midnight Sun or perhaps look to the winter for the Arctic activities and Northern Lights.
If summer is your thing then one option is the ‘Classic Norwegian Discovery’ – an 11-day voyage from Bergen in the south to Kirkenes in the far north and then back to Trondheim. Prices start from £1,686pp from August 15 to September 14 including ten nights’ full board on the ship. Flights are extra and can be added by Hurtigruten along with a scenic rail journey to Oslo if desired.
Depending on when and where you join the ship, a range of optional excursions can be added:
* Sea Eagle Safari – available from April 1 – October 15 – from £75pp
* Taste of Vesteralen – available April 1 – September 8 – from £57pp
* Midnight concert in Tromso – available most of the year – from £41pp
* Kayaking in Tromso – available May 1 – August 31 – from £129pp
For those who want to fly direct from Leeds Bradford, Hurtigruten has added a one-off charter flight direct on January 25 which combines with the full ‘Classic Round Voyage’ from Bergen to Kirkenes and back. Prices start from £1,199 per person including direct return flights from Leeds Bradford Airport to Bergen, 11 nights’ full board on the ship, transfers and taxes. Based on two sharing.