We’d been discussing this trip for a while but never made any concrete plans until one evening, after far too many drinks the four of us, my girlfriend and our two friends, gathered around the kitchen table with laptop and credit card at the ready. The last time I bought something online after a few drinks was disastrous; I wanted a stylish pair of black cycling shorts, size medium. A couple of days later the large, garish, red pair arrived in the post. What could possibly go wrong this time?
Fast forward a couple of months and there we are, in a plane circling the small Norwegian city of Aalesund. The flights were correctly booked and we were well prepared for whatever our adventure would throw at us. The view from the tiny plane window shed some light on what we were in for over the next week in Norway. The dark, rugged, snow-capped mountains were intimidating, turning to sheer cliffs that dropped hundreds of metres into the dark blue fjords below. The vast pine forests clinging to the steep, rocky banks lining the fjord, flashed from dark green to light green as the occasional cloud passed over. We were in complete awe.
After a few days sightseeing in Aalesund, we loaded up our hired sea-kayaks for a week of adventure. We left the harbour walls and tracked along the coast looking back at the colourful, vibrant town we’d just left. Bemused tourists waved us off as we dodged the occasional yacht and out to sea we went, shaky and rocking at first but soon finding our rhythm.
The sun was shining and the sea was as still and clear as an empty swimming pool. The conditions were better than we could have ever dreamed of. Feeling a bit hungry after our first morning of paddling, a small island was decided upon for a lunch stop; I took this opportunity to test the water. It was freezing cold, a reminder of how far north we were and how lucky we were to be experiencing sunshine and calm as opposed to driving rain and wind. An afternoon paddle brought us to the Island that we’d planned to camp that night; imagine a desert island without the palm trees. After setting up camp we sat around the fire, cosy and warm reading Norwegian folktales and drinking mugs of hot chocolate – it was perfect.
The morning started with a feeling of slight trepidation. The second day was the only day that we would have to stick to a schedule; we had to navigate a very narrow funnel of water, being sure to reach it at low tide taking advantage of the strong currents to help us along. After a morning of paddling we reached the narrow funnel that connected the two giant fjords. It was quite an odd feeling going from a wide expanse of water to paddling through a gap barely big enough to fit two kayaks side-by-side. It was low tide and in the shallow water we could see a great number of fish; both big and small, occasionally jumping out of the water causing a splash. In the sky a pair of buzzards watched from a height ready to swoop at any given moment. This was our first real glimpse of the great variety of wildlife Norway has to offer.
Leaving the narrow funnel behind we paddled again into open water. Feeling so small we wondered what other wildlife was beneath our boats. After about an hour and a half of paddling across this great expanse of water, we reached the steep cliffs at the other side and tracked around the coast. Our thoughts began to drift towards finding a place to sleep that night. The cliffs presented sheer drops into the fjord and getting out of the sea kayak would have been virtually impossible, let alone pitching a tent. It was getting late, we’d been paddling all day and we hadn’t seen any flat ground all afternoon. To our surprise, as we rounded a corner there was a jetty in the distance. We headed straight there, got out of the kayaks and had a quick look at whether we could camp there.
We hadn’t seen anyone all day so it was quite a surprise when we heard a small motor boat in the distance; we were even more surprised when it headed straight for us. Just when we thought we were in the middle of nowhere the motor boat pulled up to the jetty and off hopped two young ladies with several large boxes of food and other supplies. It turns out they were looking after a museum over the summer that was located at the top of the cliff, accessible only via boat and a tough, almost vertical scramble. They spoke of a flat piece of grass at the top of the cliffs. It was very tempting but we were too tired to lug all our gear up so we opted for a tiny waterside ledge instead.
It was another great day on the water and another fantastic sunset turned the sky pink and orange. We were settling into, and really beginning to enjoy, the simple life; paddle, eat, paddle, eat, sleep, repeat.
The next day the weather had turned. It was raining, which didn’t concern us much; you get quite wet in a kayak anyway and we hadn’t showered for a few days. What did concern us was the tough headwind. We made slow progress in the morning and at around 2pm we reached the small fishing town of Stranda. This was the perfect opportunity to grab a coffee and cake in a small local café, get warm and search the map for a good place to sleep.
It was an odd town, there was quite a lot of traffic and a ferry shuttling vehicles across the fjord. The fish processing plant and a few other factory like buildings made it feel quite industrial and very different to anything we’d seen or smelled over the last two and half days. We didn’t much like it and the weather was clearing up, so we clumsily climbed down the slippery ladder, loaded the beer and chocolate, squeezed back into our damp kayaks and headed for a dot on the map.
We didn’t make it to the dot on the map that night. Instead we settled for a very idyllic spot which we think was a campsite. It had a small open air seating area made of rocks, in the centre of which was an old cast iron log burner and an abundant supply of firewood. There was a ramp for boats, a small shed and two patches of grass just big enough for our tents. The view of the cliffs opposite and down the length of the fjord was awe inspiring and we thought it an opportune time to get the fire going and jump back in the kayaks for a bit of fishing.
Hanging our fishing lines optimistically from the side of the kayaks, we drifted in circles, silent and full of anticipation.
What would we catch? How big would it be? What would we do when we hauled it in? After about half an hour we concluded that Norwegian fish are fairly uncultured and not particularly fond of chorizo. We left the fishing line and chunk of chorizo dangling in the fjord and went back to our temporary camp to stoke the fire and drink a fjord-chilled beer.
Later that evening we went to check on our fishing line and to our surprise we’d caught a fish. It wasn’t the biggest but it was a fish none-the-less. We decided to call him Jose, thinking he must have been on holiday and missing Spanish food. We quickly gutted him, wrapped him in a tin foil blanket and put him on the fire. The one bite of fish that we each got hardly satisfied our hunger but we were happy that we’d managed to catch something. Jose was the first and only fish we caught during our five days on the water.
The following morning nature called and I was forced to get out of my cosy, warm sleeping bag a good hour or so before my alarm woke me up. As I climbed up the steep, wooded terrain behind our camp to find a discrete spot I noticed a small rocky outcrop jutting out of the trees. After doing my business I headed up to the cliff to check out the view. It was early but the sun was trying to make an appearance through the clouds. Silent, still and brisk was the air as I looked out across the fjord thinking to myself ‘this is what I came here for’.
The sense of wilderness and remoteness was incredible; never before had I experienced it.
I paused for a while, taking it all in before trundling back down to the camp to prepare the coffee, the smell of which woke the others.
Once we’d had our caffeine boost and packed up camp we set off on our journey down the ever-narrowing fjord with the aim of reaching the mouth of the famous Geirangerfjord to find a suitable place to spend our final night. I think we will all remember this day on the water for three special reasons: Dolphins, eagles, and waterfalls. As the fjord narrowed, the cliffs got higher and the many waterfalls provided the soundtrack for the day as pods of dolphins frequently jumped out of the water. Eagles were shrieking from the cliffs and majestically circling, hunting for prey with the occasional downward swoop. We were all pretty excited to see such fantastic animals in their natural habitat.
That evening it proved very difficult to find a suitable campsite. Our eyes were playing tricks on us; what looked like a flat spot from a distance would turn out to be a rocky, inhospitable perch barely big enough for a tent when we approached it. This happened over and over. It was getting dark and we began to become slightly concerned that we might not find somewhere before darkness truly set in. Then we rounded a rocky outcrop and saw a jetty with a path up to a small house. We headed there excitedly, got out of the kayaks and walked up to the house. They had a lovely flat area of grass outside their front door and it had our names on it. Knock knock… knock knock knock… We waited in anticipation. Knock knock. Nothing; nobody was at home.
Fearing that if we camped in their ‘garden’ they might arrive home and be rather annoyed to see intruders camped outside their front door, so we moved on. Around the next corner were some slippery rocks with neck-high overgrown weeds on a bank behind them. Not ideal but we decided it would suffice. Once we’d negotiated the treacherous rocks and hacked down some weeds there was plenty of flat-ish ground and lots of driftwood to get a fire going on the rocks. It was actually pretty good; we realised that our expectations had been set very high from the previous nights’ camping spots.
It was our final night on the water before heading back to civilisation and as we settled down for the evening around the fire we reflected on what a wonderful journey we’d had. As we talked about how lucky we’d been with the weather, the camping spots and not capsizing, we saw a small black creature dip under a rock. Could it have been a squirrel or an otter? Unsure we carried on chatting away and poking the fire. Then we saw it again, it was now much closer and it showed itself for a few seconds before circling behind another rock. It was black and furry, far too black to be a squirrel and too small for an otter. Out it popped again giving us a better look. It was a mink and a very tame one at that. It played amongst the rocks below our feet for some time before it disappeared into the night. We later learnt that there was a ‘mink factory’ in the next valley where mink were bred for the fashion industry. Apparently they were set free by a group of animal rights activists a few years ago and now these super tame mink roam the forests looking for friends and food. We went to bed wondering if we might find them snuggled in with us the next morning.
The fifth and final day was a short one. We only needed to paddle a few miles until we would reach our destination; the tourist town of Geiranger, famous for its natural beauty. We paddled at a slow pace, I’m not sure if it was due to tiredness from all the paddling we’d done or whether it was a reluctance to reach our final destination; marking the end of our adventure and return to real life. We began to pass lots of small yachts and as we rounded the final corner we saw Geiranger. It was a picturesque town surrounded by big mountains, big cliffs and big waterfalls.
Unfortunately there were also some very big cruise ships docked in the bay; bringing thousands of tourists to the town to see the views and buy cheap tourist tat in the many overpriced shops.
It was not the final destination we’d imagined but the journey to get there was unforgettable.
The sun was out as we got the kayaks out of the water ready to be picked up and driven back to Aalesund by the Kayak More Tomorrow team. We filled the time by going for a very brief swim in the fjord, looking at the journey we’d just completed on the map and discussing what our next adventure might be.
We hired kayaks from Kayak More Tomorrow, a small family run business in Aalesund. They provided us with double kayaks, paddles, spray decks and maps for our trip and were really helpful in suggesting wild camping spots and places of interest. They also offer a full kit-out for your trip, should you require; tents, cooking equipment and even food.
Shorter trips are available and they also offer a guiding service should you feel the need to hire someone with experience.
They picked us up from our end location; Geiranger. Logistically it was super easy and they took all of the stress out for us.
Kayak tips & essentials
- Grippy kayaking footwear or sandals for getting in and out of the boat: I used crocs.
- Dry-bags for keeping kit dry and organised: We used Ortlieb dry-bags which have been going strong for over 12 years.
- Warm dry clothes for the evening: A lightweight insulated jacket and hat were invaluable, essential for getting warm should you capsize.
- Sun cream: We got really lucky with the weather and used a whole bottle of Reimann’s P20 sun cream which is oil based and highly water resistant.
- A few luxuries: Sea kayaks have quite a bit of storage space, we took proper coffee, a cafetiere and cooked good food every night.
- Fishing kit and fish gutting skills: we got this wrong, we fished at 10m and later learnt we should have been at around 50 – 100m. I’m sure we’d have caught more as we often saw fish jumping out the water and paddled through shoals of fish….
- If you plan to take any fresh food, it will keep fairly cool at the bottom of the boat which is submerged in the cold water. It will stay relatively fresh.
- If you drop something overboard, do not suddenly reach out and grab it (unless it’s a treasured possession). Your sudden weight shift can make you capsize.
- If possible, try and get some lessons. Mastering the technique is much more important than heading to the gym. Speak to your local kayak/canoe club to find out if they do beginner sessions. A few lessons will go a long way, both for technique and confidence.
- Get as much info from the Kayak More Tomorrow team as possible. They know the fjords well and it will greatly improve your enjoyment if you have some places to aim for and see.