Summer holiday in Norway’s arctic winter

After a tough year of work with few breaks, we finally manage to take our summer vacation – in October. We are set to go diving with some really big fishes. And what better place to go than to Norway’s arctic region.

Day 1 (15.10.): Its a rushed Friday evening. Last emails go out at the gate, while we wait for our delayed flight to Oslo. We arrive in Oslo too late to for the hotel shuttle and pay 30€ for the taxi for a 4km ride to the hotel. It may have been better to take a nicer hotel directly at the airport. We sleep well nonetheless.

Day 2 (16.10.): We leave early for the airport to take the morning flight to Tromsø. While we make it to Tromsø, one of our bags is not so lucky and was forgotten at Oslo Airport. SAS promises to get the bag to Tromsø by 8pm, so we decide to stay and visit the city.

We park our Suzuki rental in an amazing, deep cave, which once seems to have been an underground facility, now turned into a parking garage.

We buy a headband for Michi at Way Nor souvenirs and explore the city: Tromsø Domkirke, harbor front with awesome shrimp sandwich at Full Steam and Grønnegata.

We buy a pullover for Michi and do the same round around the city ca. 5 times, killing time and, at some point, looking for dinner. Eventually, we eat burgers at the Scandic hotel.

Our bag arrived at 19:50 with the last flight to Tromsø. We pack and hit the road. It is a ca. 4h drive to Sandteogholmen, an old trading post, where we intend to spend the night. It is a tough drive on wet / icy roads and Fabian being very tired. But we make it safely, arriving at ca 0:45.

Petter, our host, had promised to leave our keys out. But he tells us, he forgot, after we wake him up at 1am. The hotel is beautiful in its old style. We have a nice room, in which we fall asleep immediately.

Day 3 (17.10.): We have a late breakfast at 10am. We sit in the old loading dock and overlook the fjord.

We say goodbye and drive onwards to Lofoten. Our first stop is Svolvaer. On a Sunday in the off-season, everything is closed. We are not deterred and explore the town. Despite being the hub of Lofoten, the town does not seem to be very wealthy. In Osan, we find a supermarket that is open on Sunday, go shopping and drive to Henningsvaer.

Michi has organized a beautiful AirBnB apartment at Misvaerveien 2, overlooking the harbor.

We check in and walk around town and visit the famous soccer field and lighthouse. In the evening, we cook store-bought salmon.

Then we head out to see the Northern Lights. We walk to a hill close to the stadium and wait. Its windy and cold. We wait. We do not see anything and walk back into town.

We search for viewing a spot closer to our apartment. Then Michi spots it, a bright and sharp green Northern Light. We turn around and walk back to the stadium. Then we see the lights. Fantastic.

After another one or two hours, we decide to go back to our apartment to warm up and sleep well.

Day 4 (18.10): Fishing day.

Today, we rent a small boat to go out fishing. It is a beautiful day, although windy. We fish at the islands in front of the lighthouse but without much luck (although, Michi keeps feeding the fish). We catch one decent sized Haddock; all the other fish are tiny and we throw them back.

After 4h, we head back in. We use the beautiful evening sun to go drone flying and capture the famous soccer field.

We eat the Haddock with hashbrowns and self made aioli.

At 21.00 we head out to chase Northern Lights, again. It is a (relatively) warm evening with a clear sky. And the Northern Lights put on a fantastic show.

Day 5 (19.10.): Today, the weather is less friendly. Therefore, we decide to hike to Festvågtinden.

The path is quite icy. Therefore, Michi waits at the lake, while I climb a bit higher to get some pictures of Henningsvær.

We walk back to Henningsvær through strong winds and warm up with a hot chocolate, a shrimp sandwich and cinnamon buns in the Lysstøperi. We relax in the afternoon and cook spaghetti Bolognese and watch TV.

Day 6 (20.10.): Indoor weather. After a late start, we visit the Kaviarfactory, which shows an Ai WeiWei exhibition.

We don’t do much else but visit the Knusern Kafe and have dinner at the Fiskekrogen (Cod and Atlantic Char, excellent).

Day 7 (21.10.): Time to leave Henningsvær. It is snowing, and we drive slowly towards Leknes. However, we feel that -2°C and snow is perfect for a day at the beach and turn towards Uttakleiv Beach. It is a perfect choice as we are alone at the beach and can pick the best spot to put our towels…

From Uttakleiv, we drive to Nusfjord. Nusfjord lays under a snow blanket. We have a harbor cabin, again. First order of business is to eat waffles with strawberry jam and cream.

The Spa is open. So we sit in the hot tub outside, while it snows on our heads.

We have cod dinner at Karoline restaurant and go to bed.

Day 8 (22.10.): Day 8, Chinese lucky number and it will turn out to be a big day. After a great breakfast, we drive to Reine to climb Reinebringen. Again, conditions are icy and I have to continue to the top alone. The snow is 30-50cm deep in the upper section and, judging by the few footprints, not many people have made it, today. The view is spectacular, nonetheless.

We climb down in snow/light hail, which pierces our faces. We take a few instagram pictures (esp. the famous Moskenes rental car on Hamnøy).

We decide to go back to Nusfjord, eat some waffles and warm up in the spa.

Now comes the big moment after 14 years. On the cliff above Nusfjord, I ask Michi to marry me – and she said “yes”.

Coincidentally, we have a dinner Table at Holmen Restaurant, where we spend a fantastic evening. We sit around an open kitchen, while the cook prepares a perfect Lofoten meal. Fish from the sea, vegetables from a family who also visits, this evening, meet from Leknes. And overall, a very warm atmosphere.

In the way home, we see a snow hare.

Day 9 (23.10.): Fishing day. The day starts perfect.

The sun is shining, and harbor master Jan hands over the keys to our boat with the words “No good fishing, we have been out last week and only caught two small Haddock”. Challenge accepted. We know how and where to fish (on the plateau at the Nusfjord entrance). After ca. 30min, my line hooks on the ground… so it feels… but instead of an old boot or bicycle, I pull up a nice ca 10kg cod.

10 min later, we have a nice, small saithe to accompany our meal. Before my hook hits the ground, a nice ca. 2-3kg saithe bites. After the third saithe, we decide to tour Nappstraumen.

We drop down our hooks a few times on the way in but except for a huge bite but no hook we see no more action. After 2h, we go back in with enough fish for our remaining days on Lofoten.

The fish prep station is already in winter mode, so we prepare the fish inside.

After a last waffle in the Landhandel, its time to pack and go to Flakstad. One last time, we enjoy the nice weather in Nusfjord.

We enjoy a fantastic sunset at the Ramberg beach.

Then we go shopping in Ramberg and search for our AirBNB. What a place it is. The house sits high on the beach, overlooking the sea.

We cook one cod filet (we don’t have a skale but its about 6 portions).

We spend the evening in the living room, looking out on the sea. We see a tiny shimmer of Northern Lights. But as the clouds come in, we go to bed.

Day 10 (24.10.): Its a rainy day. We drive to Vikten and hike along the coast. While we see sea eagles in great abundance throughout our trip, we see something special. Between the rocks, a sea otter mother feeds her kids. However, they disappear as soon as they spot us.

We drive to Sakrisøya and visit Anita’s seafood shop.

We stroll through Reine, looking out for people on top of Reinebringen.

We spend the afternoon and evening looking out on the sea and calling home. Surprisingly, we have fish for dinner. Then we go to bed.

Day 11 (25.10): The weather is supposed to be rainy. Therefore, we plan to do an easy hike in Sørvågen. After breakfast, we drive to Sørvågen and park at the Tindstinden trailhead. We hike past the waterfall to Stuvdalsvatnet. From there, we turn right and make our way up towards Kollfjelet.

The trail is wet – actually, it is a waterfall. The climb is slow and sternuous. The higher we climb, the more snow and ice we find on the trail. On the saddle, we hike through 50cm snow.

After a short break, we hike down the same way we came. After ca. 1h, we reach our car. Slightly cold, we decide to go to Anita’s and drink a hot chocolate.

In the evening, we watch the sea again and relax. We have cod and saithe for dinner. The fire alarms sings loudly about my cooking skills.

Day 12 (26.10.): Our last day on Lofoten is a rainy one. We sleep in. The we decide to go to Vikten again to see if the Glashytta is open. And it is sort of. We talk a bit with the owner and spend way too much money on beautiful glassware.

On the road back from Vikten, we spot a sea eagle right next to the road.

As it rains none-stop, we visit Nusfjord again, to eat some waffles and take a last walk to “our” bench.

Back at home, we relax. I test my drysuite. It seems to work but its hard to tell because I did not close the zipper all the way. Rooky mistake and I am hit by the literally cold hard truth…

As the weather clears somewhat, we walk along Rambergstranda. I test my wetsuit. Works well.

In the evening, we cook our last saithe and relax.

Day 13 (27.10.): Today, we have to leave Flakstad. Our departure is quite unceremonious. We sleep in, have a nice breakfast and pack. It is raining as a farewell gift. We drive slowly along the southern coast and look for places, where we could buy a house. After Svolvår, the weather turns snowy. But we make it safely to Bogen at the end of Ofotenfjord. The Bogen hostel is run down but we have a beautiful view across the fjord. Michi cooks spaghetti and we watch a movie.

Day 14 (28.10.): In the morning, we drive onward to Tromsø. There is a lot of snow on the road. Driving is a bit difficult. But we safely arrive a Tromsø at 13.00 We check in at the Scandic Ishavshotel. Then we drop the car of at the airport.

We have a shrimp sandwich at Full Steam. Then, we go back to the hotel as I have a bad headache.

In the evening, we have a special treat. We have booked a table at Emma’s Dreamkitchen. We are greeted with a glass of champagne – Andre Clouet, we feel right at home. The food is fantastic.

Day 15 (29.10.): We sleep in but have a day of exploration ahead of us. We start with the aquarium, which is architecturally interesting. Next stop is a dive store a bit on the outskirts, as I need new gloves. I obviously need a new mask as well.

Next, we walk over the Tromsø bridge. The cathedral on the other side is closed due to a ceremony. Therefore, we first take the cable car up to the Fjellstua viewpoint. We arrive at the perfect moment: The sun comes out, the Hurtigruten Ship sails into the harbor.

Its cold at the viewpoint, so we warm up at the cafe before going back down. Now, the cathedral is open. Its nice but I find it more beautiful from the outside.

We walk back over the bridge and visit the Polar Museum. The exhibitions about the seal hunt are not so exciting, but the exhibits about the arctic explorers, esp. Fritjof Nansen are interesting.

We decide to have an early dinner at Matthalle. Dinner is excellent. After dinner, we go back to the hotel and relax. At 22.00, we see the first polar lights from our hotel room. We go out to the pier and see a fantastic display of polar lights until 1am.

Day 16 (30.10.): Today is the first day on the boat. But first, we get a surprise visit of the Norwegian fleet; the submarine S303 docks in front of our hotel. At 12, Pierre and Sebastian from the Orca Norway pick us up with a small boat and take us out to the Sula. Its super exciting. On the boat, we get a welcome by the group, a safety briefing and Michi gets her drysuit. We have the possibly nicest cabin on the boat, directly next to the door. We sail out for 3 hours, when we here a loud, rhythmic noise. An exhaust pipe is broken. Captain Olav decides to turn around and head back to Tromsø to get the boat fixed. At 18 we arrive back at Tromsø.

It takes only a short while and we are back on the way. Dinner, Orca presentations and a few Northern Lights make our evening. We sleep while sailing to Skjervøya, where we arrive at ca 1am.

Day 17 (31.10): First day of chasing Orcas. The day starts with a beautiful sunrise.

We head out after breakfast. The see is a bit choppy. We get dressed. After a short while, we encounter two Finn Whales.

This is our only encounter of the day. We spend the day sailing around the islands in search of calm waters and Orcas. We only find the former. Sun sets at ca 15.00 and we turn back to Skjervøya.

It is a difficult feeling. We have 5 more days to go, plenty of time, but what if the Orcas are even later? We discuss this and other topics over a fantastic meatball dinner. Then we go out to see the Northern Lights. They are supposed to be very strong tonight and even be visible in Germany. And they are amazing. We hike up a trail behind the soccer field (to the right) until we reach a lookout over the town. We spend 2 or 3 hours looking at a fantastic show of Northern Lights.

Day 18 (01.11.): Its officially the first day of the Orca season. Its a beautiful day. Herring have started to enter the fjord (Kvænangen). We see herring on the sonar, as we go north towards the open sea. Two Humpback Whales sleep along the way, wake up and wave goodbye with their fluke.

But no Orcas. Pierre and Sebastian turn the boat around to head towards Rødøya Island. Suddenly, things get hectic. “Gear up”! We rush into our dive gear. But then, we spent most of yesterday in dive gear. But hectic continues. Sebastian shouts instructions on how we enter the boat. Then we see them. Orcas crossing over each other while feeding. Other boats are already there. We get in our boat and start the chase. A whole fleet of boats chases the pack of Orcas around the island. On the south side, we start to get ready. We sit on the side of the boat, fins dangling over the water. But no opportunity presents itself. The chase goes on for 2h. Then, finally, we here the “go” and drop into the water. A moment of orientation, then I see 3 orcas swim underneath me. Awesome.

Back to the boat. We drive on. Second group dives just as a big male dives under our boat. Suddenly, Sebastian gives the command: “Everybody who can, get ready!”. We dive. A moment of orientation. I see a big ball directly below me. A herring bait ball. This sight is enough to bring tears to my eyes. But then they come. Orcas dive through the bait ball, grab herring or hit them with their fluke. Its amazing and total chaos. Orcas swim by within a few meters. Its beyond words. We dive for over 1h while they circle feed.

At sunset, a humpback whale joins the feeding, as Orcas rush feed, driving the bait ball. I only catch a glimpse as two Orcas pass below me. Waves are high, light is low so we decide to call it a day. It has been fantastic in every way.


Day 19 (02.11): After a long night, we are still tired at breakfast. But our post-breakfast nap is interrupted by shouts “get ready”.

With practice, we get ready more quickly and hop on the small boat. However, the Orca pods we spot are very shy. When we go in the wager, the dive immediately. We spend the day following the Orcas around the fjord. We see them somewhat close but have no more chance to dive with them.

At ca. 14.00, we call it a day and head back to Sula. Lunch is Pizza. We buy beer and sit outside on the boat and talk. After Pierre’s nightly Orca presentation and dinner (reindeer), we head out to the harbor wall and watch the Northern Lights.

Day 20 (03.11.): We wake up to another perfect sunrise. Engines start at 8.30 and we head out on the fjord.

Long waves, about 2m high roll through the fjord. At ca. 10, we get ready and into the boat. Out on the north east corner of the fjord, we follow a pod of Orcas. We have a nice dive with them as they pass under us.

The Orcas become more shy as more boats arrive. Not so a humpback that comes up directly beside us and gives us a nice chance to dive. Free diving is getting better. Although, as I follow the humpback down, I get the feeling that I should return to the surface – but I am only ca. 2m deep…

It is cold and windy. So we go back to the Sula for lunch. We head out again in the late afternoon. We follow a lone Orca on his way through the fjord but have no further chance to go in the water. So we call it a day.

In the evening, its Spa time. Pierre and Sebastian heat up the hot tub, which is fixed on the deck of the Sula. A wood fire heats the water to ca. 40°C. At 22.00, the arctic Spa is officially open. We enjoy warm water, cold beers and a fantastic show of Northern Lights. It is a Sula tradition to jump in the harbor to cool off. The experienced guys lead the charge. Eventually, its our turn to climb over the cold deck into the Haarek, Sula’s small boat and jump overboard. Swimming in 7°C water of the arctic fjords in winter was not on top if my bucket list, but it actually feels great. We heat up again, then take a shower and go to bed.

Day 21 (04.11.): Last full day on board of Sula. High seas force us to try our luck deep in the fjord. However, whales elude us. In the afternoon, we see three Finn whales (two adults and a juvenile). At 16.00, we are back at Skjervøy. Other whale watchers had more luck on the fjord entrance. We spend a quiet evening on the boat.

Day 22 (05.11.): Last day on the boat. And it delivers. The sea is calmer than we expected. Very soon we spot two male Orcas traveling west. The first dive of the day almost ends in a disaster for me. As I jump in, my camera leash snaps. Fortunately, I find the camera gently floating close by. Its not my best day for photos but the experience is great. The orcas join up with their pod and start feeding on the herring below. We get in the water, a male Orca gently swims towards me, looks and turns away. Michi swims besides mayby the same Orca, who is eying her. A humpback whale dives below us and a sea eagle joins the feeding from above. Amazing encounters and we come back to the boat very happy.

After a final, huge and delicious meal, we pack and say goodbye to the crew. Thanks, Olav, Pierre, Sebastian, Sophie and John for an incredible week. The bus takes us back to Tromsø. We see strong Northern Lights from the bus window. Norway waves goodbye. Back in Tromsø, we have a final dinner together as a group. It is amazing how strongly the love for diving binds a group of strangers.

Day 23 (06.11.): Time to travel home. We leave the SmartHotel at 6:15 to head to Tromsø airport. At 8.00 our plane takes off towards Oslo and from there, onwards to Munich.

It has been an increadible and emotional adventure and we hope to return