Words and photos: Lucinda Norris
As a technicolour sunset descended over Svinesundsbroen Bridge, the sky above me looked aflame with orange and red sunbeams. The light danced between the bridge’s support cables, which marks the crossing from Sweden into Norway. Underneath I saw my first glimpse of a winding body of water spotted with little red houses along the banks of the Ringdalsfjord. I had arrived in Norway to explore its scenic waters in my self-built van conversion. I am not a SUP instructor, just an ambitious lady with a passion for SUP, with a heart full of adventure armed with an inflatable paddleboard. Norway is a diverse country holding some of the world’s most diverse landscapes. The following article is my experiences from exploring them on a budget as a solo female traveller.
Top SUP Destinations
From the North Sea’s wild waters to glacial lakes, Norway gives you the opportunity for some amazing coastal paddling to experience seals, dolphins, and whales in their natural habitats on the north coast. In the mountains to the east, turquoise lakes filled with freezing glacial water, flow thunderously into slowly winding fjords. Water has carved this ancient landscape into an adventure playground for a Paddleboard. Norway truly does hold some of Europe’s last wild and remote places. I spent 14 hours driving across alpine tundra in the Jotunheimen National Park, spending days without seeing a soul and eyes that ached from soaking in the majesty of the mountains that surrounded me. However, there are more popular paths and routes to take with good reason, so I have made a list below of some popular and less popular spots I would recommend for a SUP adventure.
The town of Dalen is located in the southwest of the country located in the Telemark region. This beautifully quiet town is a sleepy place to visit off the main tourist trails. The banks of Dalen lead into the Banak Fjord, a long straight expanse of water that is narrow and boasts calm conditions in the summer. Nestled inside a ridge lined valley with the sun setting to the southwest, a dusk paddle is a must following the sun down the valley. Clear waters and the sloping cliffs mean an excellent opportunity for a smooth paddle with little crosswinds. You can cast off from the campsite at the start of the town, just off the main road and use their all-day parking 50 metres away from the jetty.
The lake is situated next to the Preikestolen’s famous hike also known as Pulpit Rock (a four-hour moderate hike from the car park). The clear alpine waters in the sun dazzle a blue colour and with its shallow depth, gives you calm conditions and a 360-degree view of some of the breathtaking mountains. The lake is easily accessible from the Songesand car ferry from Lysebotn, or you can take the car ferry from Oanes to drive the 20-minutes to the visitor’s centre car park. SUP hire is available from the centre, and there are also lodges and camping available on site. I would advise you to go early or book ahead as the area receives many visitors during the summer season. If you prefer, you can also SUP the fjord underneath Pulpit Rock and start from Songesand; the Lysefjord is a wide and deep fjord. It boasts stunning views as you surf down under the rock faces towering 650 metres above you.
The Helgeland Coast
The Helgeland coast is an archipelago in the county of Nordland. This Scandinavian outcrop has some wild places to surf the waves of the North Sea on a paddleboard. I would highly recommend a paddling tour of this area to see the wildlife and experience the island culture just south of the Arctic Circle. I would also advise using the small ferries or take a walking passenger boat to some of the more remote island outcrops. Træna, Dønna, and the UNESCO-protected islands of Vega are spectacular. I would be especially careful of the cold, fresh waters of the Arctic here and stay close to the shoreline at all times.
A remote village that was not connected by road until the 1980s is a gem of the Fjærlandsfjorden, a place frozen in time. The fjord which branches north off the Sognefjorden and Nigardsbreen Glacier gives you a view of misty, snow-covered mountains as a backdrop as you paddle down this fjord seeing the seaweed dance about in the currents beneath you. There are a few different jetties to cast off from in the small town. I would recommend using the one on the high street to park your vehicle for a few hours. There are benches on the quayside, where you are welcome to use the local facilities, whilst you are drying out your gear. The village has become a giant bookshop. Its residents have lined the streets with shelves of open bookcases attached to people’s houses, street signs, and shop windows for you to read and enjoy amongst the silent splendour – a wonderfully weird and unique little place.
The famous Geirangerfjord is a UNESCO heritage site due to its thundering waterfalls cascading into the fjord below. The stunning surrounding valley has steep grass-covered mountains, which look like something from a fairy tale. Pioneers used to tether their sheep and children to the cliffs to stop them from falling down the steep slopes. There are many guided tours for SUP and Kayaking packages, which run from the Geiranger Kayak Centre in Hamlong. Or if you would like to be self-guided down for a few kilometres from Geiranger be careful of the cross current of fresh water, making steering at times difficult, along with traffic from busy cruise liners.
Loen is the adventure capital of Norway. Mountain restaurants, one of Europe’s highest Via Ferrata, kite surfing, paragliding, kayaking, and SUP fans are all drawn to this epicentre of adventure. SUP boards can be hired from the campsite to explore the bright turquoise glacial waters of the Innvikfjorden. I would also recommend the half an hour drive to the Oldevatnet Lake and camping in Briksdalen site as you sleep underneath the glacier and wake up to cloud inversions on its Peaks. It also has some sandy scheduled beaches to cast off from around the lake.
Oslo and Bergen also boast some beautiful opportunities for an urban adventure through travelling their inland waterways. I found Bergen a stunning place to explore by SUP taking in the Hanseatic heritage shop fronts and old cargo ports, which have backwaters that wind around Bryggans Harbour.
Top tips for an epic trip
- The SUP season ranges for most places from 20 May to 15 September
- Most fjords are many kilometres long but narrow; popular fjords especially have traffic from cruise ships and fishing boats. By researching local ferry times crossing times, you can avoid the traffic a little easier if you are self-guiding the waters alone.
- Wild camping is allowed across Norway, and free camping is widely encouraged. Most rest areas have overnight facilities like toilets and showers and are popular facilities that are well cleaned and maintained for a small fee.
- Ticks and mosquitos around the summer months are prevalent. I used a heavy-duty waterproof DEET if you are out on the water and I would recommend taking hydrocortisone and tick removal equipment whilst you travel.
- Coverage and reception can be poor across Norway’s wild spots. I carried phone emergency numbers at all times and had a separate GPS tracker. You can find these online, fuel stations, and tourist information centres as you drive through Norway.
- 3D route maps or GPS on phones can be downloaded beforehand as reception can be poor and you don’t want to get lost mid-paddle and end up in a busy shipping lane in the fog.
- Weather during July was 16-24°C (61-75°F) in August when I went, the temperatures soared to 31°C. I also experienced fog, ice and sleet on a board as I spent time at altitude, so pack wisely depending on your locations.
If you are driving to your various destinations, you will be using toll roads. Some ferries and bridges are also included within toll charges and are easy and frequent to use. To pay for the tolls, you have to register your private vehicle with the government through the EPC online website. EPC will invoice you when your trip is over as they use your plates to track your vehicle on toll roads. After 2,379 km around Norway, my bill was around £53 for all the toll roads, bridges, and ferries I used. If you have a hired vehicle, the car will be registered already, and costs may be included in your hire price, this is worth checking with the company. Daily food and drink costs for a five-week trip in Norway came to £12 per day. I prepared most of my meals in my campervan and brought local fresh produce. I am a pescatarian and an alcohol non-drinker. I only eat fish, therefore fresh fish is plentiful and cheap, but the tax on other meats imported and alcohol is costly!
For good hotels and hostels check out hihostels.no and visitnorway.com. In the places I have mentioned above the towns nearby have campsites, but wild camping is allowed in most of the National Parks and areas I have recommended. Out in the wild, I had no problem overnight camping; I used apps like ParkforNight to help me find a secluded place beside a lake or fjord to cast off from piers and beaches in the mornings. I built my campervan, which was my roaming accommodation and customised to make it a perfect adventure bus on a budget. If you would like to see and read more about my journeys, please subscribe to Vanlifewithluci.co.uk or follow me @vanlifewithluci on Instagram.