A couple of months ago, my girlfriend and I packed up a van with a few surfboards and necessities and headed north to explore the fjords, mountains, and frigid coast of Norway.
We took the ferry from Hirtshals, Denmark, to Kristiansand. From there, our first stop was the small village of Lista, with its iconic lighthouse. The change in landscape from Denmark to Norway was noticeably striking. Sand dunes were replaced by vast stretches of grass scattered with large rocks and, in the distance, mountains unfurled from the Norwegian fjordlands. In Lista, the weather grew harsher. A constant chill blew from the sea, and it was much more likely to see a sheep than another human being.
In search of waves, we ventured to the known shores and manifold surf spots in Jæren. But when we arrived, we were met with a short-period swell and steady rainfall. After a visit to Stavanger for a hot coffee, we continued north to the hinterland and began our exploration of Rogaland.
The scenery continued to change with each passing kilometer. With wind and rain as our steady companions, we took increasingly longer detours into the country’s wild landscape. Around every corner, spectacular beauty awaited. Continuously in awe of the forces and eons of time that had shaped the sprawling landscape, we soaked up the beauty of Norway with every breath.
We betook ourselves to the craggy shores of Lysefjord and the renowned cliff of Preikestolen. But expectations and reality collided in the cliff’s crowded parking lot, where dozens of hikers prepared for the four-and-a-half hour trek to its fabled edge. The sight of hordes of people chauffeured by OmniBusses, stumbling over every non-standardized step of the trail swiftly wiped away our romanticized image of Preikestolen. Waves of uneasiness overcame us as we saw 50-odd tourists waiting in line to take the “lonesome adventurer” photo at the top of the cliff — a mere illusion of adventure created by the right angle and a bit of retouching. It made us question our generation’s motivation to visit places like this. Undoubtedly, those who go are rewarded with breathtaking views of rugged mountaintops, but the permanent presence of smartphones and Instagram stories dilute the magic of the landscape.
To get away from the pack, we climbed the peaks surrounding Preikestolen and watched the razzmatazz from afar. Just 15 minutes of walking made the madness disappear. We were soon sitting in solitude on a boulder, nibbling our vittles and counting the people on the plateau. Richer from the experience and shorn of a few illusions, we abandoned the minimal plans we had for places untainted by touristic development. We wanted to get lost in the vastness of the country.
Bend by bend, tunnel by tunnel, valley by valley, and fjord by fjord, we grew more familiar with the rhythm of the land. Dark clouds and heavy rain accompanied us, and trails turned to creeks along the precipices of the fjordlands. Soaked boots and exhaustion were considerably small prices to pay for the colossal views of the primeval landscapes that seemed to expand endlessly from our feet.
Our new path revealed hidden gems in the high valleys, secret beaches, pristine waterfalls, rock formations, dark forests, and swampy grasslands situated far away from the blemish of mass-tourism. We were able to hike in solitude and feed off the energy of wild nature, with its dark-blue waters, peaceful birch groves, and windblown peaks.
Every night, we set up camp in a new scene, cooked our meals over a bonfire, set our soaking-wet boots out to dry, and occasionally skinny-dipped in nearby fjords.
We had discovered firsthand that the most noteworthy vistas in the country were located right off the road. So we continued to chase those pure, wild places, even if that meant getting stuck in a few torrential downpours. As our beloved van got used to the ups and downs of the hinterland, so did we. But there was one more journey to be had before heading home.
We ventured deeper into the Telemark region, en route to Kristiansand. The further we drove, the fewer villages there were. Then, the expanse outside our widows displayed isolated hillsides that were only ornamented with the occasional solitary cabin. In the distance, dark-grey mountains with patches of snow stood tall above the lakes below them, glistening in the sunlight. The landscape looked like a mosaic of stone and water. We continued driving and reached lower altitudes filled with birches and dark fir groves. Soon enough, we found ourselves in a scene constituted by dense spruce forests, wide streams, rushing rivers, and clear lakes.
As we grew closer to Kristiansand, the roads started to appear familiar. We felt wistful, still in awe of our adventures, certain that this would not be our last venture in the depths of Norwegian wilderness.