Lofoten Islands . . . Arctic Norway
Updated: Apr 12
We visited family in northern Norway in the fall. That country is justly famous for its beautiful scenery – deep fjords with steep rock walls jutting hundreds of feet above the sea. Through geologic time it experienced multiple episodes of thick glaciation. Massive ice sheets hundreds – even thousands – of feet thick covered the entire Scandinavian Peninsula and shaped its geography. The heavy, flowing ice slowly ground down and flattened the mountain peaks, while carving deep fjords through what were mountain river valleys.
However up in the north of Norway, above the Arctic Circle, there is a chain of small islands that is different. The Lofoten Islands jut far out into the Atlantic from the mainland. They were at the edge of the glacial ice sheet and escaped the worst of its bulldozing. What you find are rugged mountain peaks, untamed by glaciers, that fall straight into the sea. Fishing villages attach themselves somehow to their near-vertical slopes. It’s a place of extraordinary beauty in a land glutted with beautiful scenery.
If you know of Yosemite in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California with its shear granite faces of Half Dome and El Capitan, this is like a Yosemite set in the Norwegian Sea rather than the Merced River Valley. But it is ten times longer in length and maybe twenty times more remote.
Inboard of these rugged islands, about where they reach the Norwegian mainland, is where my wife grew up. Her family lives there still. In the midst of our family visit, she and I took a week away to roam the Lofotens with our cameras.
It was heaven. Or maybe Valhalla. We were lucky with the weather, getting lots of sunshine and clear skies in a region known for wind and rain. The fall foliage was at its peak. And Aurora (Borealis) paid us multiple visits. The week was tailor-made for landscape photography.
We experienced beautiful sunrises . . .
And spectacular sunsets . . .
We photographed iconic Nordland (Viking) boats suspended in thin air . . .
Boathouses at Unstad were lit by the setting sun. Unstad is the place to be if you’re a frostbite-crazed cold-weather surfer . . .
And one night in particular, on a remote north-facing beach with little light pollution, we were treated to an amazing display of the Northern Lights. It started out somewhat discreet – first seen behind a mountain peak . . .
Then Aurora really started to dance. The light show intensified, and covered much of the night sky. She would wave at us from one direction, then dim and suddenly reappear behind our backs. Aurora was bright enough to light up the beach. All of us fortunate to be there were whooping and hollering, and madly adjusting our cameras to try to capture a bit of the fast-moving show that we were privileged to see. It was magical; it was Hollywood; it was a giant, natural, green-tinted fireworks display without the noise and smoke . . .
After a couple hours the performance slowed down and dimmed. Exhausted, we returned to our cabins to get some sleep. The following two nights we were treated to more Northern Lights, but they were not as powerful as the first. We heard from a local who said that first night was the best display of Aurora Borealis he’d seen in almost two decades. We were grateful for the experience.
Here are a couple links to some favorite photos of ours from the Lofotens . . .
Lofoten Islands Aurora Borealis
Many thanks to Nathaniel Smalley (www.nathanielsmalleyphotography.com) for helping us to photograph this beautiful corner of the world.