(Editor’s note: This is Pt. 1 of a multipart travel post on Norway. You can jump to Pt. 2 here.)
Anyone who lives in the Netherlands understands that, although a beautiful country, it’s flat – devoid of curves both on roads and in the terrain. Motorcyclists find this even more of a challenge as they live for twisty roads, hills with twisty roads and, even better, mountains with twisty roads. So, imagine the joy when a ferry service opened for the first time this year between Norway and the Netherlands. The international group of motorcyclists I am a part of could barely contain their delight!
The June ferry dates were booked in January and the following months were spent planning routes and booking hotels. The Holland Norway Lines are the first ferry company to open a service between Norway and the Netherlands and its departure port is easily accessible for Dutch, German and even British travellers.
Leaving from Eemshaven in the north, just 30 minutes’ drive from the city of Groningen (2.5 hours from Amsterdam by car) it’s very accessible. With three ferry companies running from the United Kingdom to Rotterdam, Hoek van Holland or Amsterdam/Ijmuiden this also makes driving to Norway from the UK a doable option for camper van drivers, motorcyclists, cyclists and those who have no wish to fly these days.
The HN ferry, Romantika, runs three days a week. As the ferry runs overnight, you must book a cabin, all of which are private – basic but comfortable and clean. Onboard the ferry has an a la carte restaurant, a buffet restaurant and several bars and cafés. There’s also entertainment in the pub, Starlight Hall and a casino.
Pets can also travel, after fulfilling Norway, and NL’s, pet checklist, either in your cabin or in the limited number of kennels.
Our expat group, made up of six nationalities, gathered at Eemshaven and on arrival I was amazed at the large group of motorcycles that were heading to Norway. Once boarded we strapped the precious motorcycles down, with advice from the ship’s staff and went off to enjoy the 13-hour voyage, the levels of excitement brewing. The following morning, we arrived in Kristiansand, Norway at the small port. Once we had unloaded, we were on the way, thrilled at the blue skies and the forecast for a few more days of the same.
NB: Now, for the benefit of those of you who are not motorcyclists let me just explain
the rules of such a trip:
1) Ride, ride, ride
2) Stop for coffee and lunch at appropriate times
3) Ride, ride, ride
4) Only stop at limited touristic locations.
(I shall endeavor to add a couple of suggestions of places that I should have liked to visit, given the opportunity.)
Day 1: Kristiansand to Stavanger
Most of the day’s ride, heading north-west was through an area of rivers, lakes and rolling hills. We stopped for our first Norwegian picnic in a small wooded area over looking a river and everyone was excited. ”Great roads, amazing scenery!” was the constant chorus.
Slowly the terrain changed and before long we were riding curving roads through granite rocks, smoothed by glaciers in the past. Snow lined the winding road and blue lakes of crystal water, still trimmed by ice, drew the eye.
This was Utsikt Tjodanpollen and was on the way to one of our stops, the Lysevegan.
Lysevegan, Kjeragbolten and Lysebotn
We stopped at the Kjerag Café and Restaurant in Øygardstøl, for a coffee and a view of the stunning fjord thousands of metres below. The Kjerag massif is, literally, a sheer face of 1,000 meters of rock from which you can peer down upon the tiny toy-looking town of Lysebotn. This is also the trail head for the popular hike to Kjeragbolten, or to go base- jumping if that is your thing.
This is not a hike for beginners but – due to photos filling the internet – a lot of people want to visit and are not always prepared. At 1,084 meters above sea level weather can change quickly in the summer and the hike is 11 kilometers long, with an elevation gain of 800 meters and can take 6-to-10 hours.
There are guided hikes if you are unsure about going alone but you must have proper hiking equipment, warm and dry clothing, food and drink. Once you get there then your stamina will be rewarded with stunning views and the iconic sight of the Bolt, a boulder wedged between two mountain faces. If you have no fear of heights, or falling, you can climb on to the Bolt, but be aware that there are no safety arrangements!
Honestly, just looking at postcards in the café made me nauseous!
What the motorcycle group was there for though were the 27 hairpin bends on the road to Lysebotn. This road was built in 1984 during the construction of a hydroelectric station and before this the village of Lysebotn was only accessible by ferry.
The small town survives through employment in the hydroelectric power station built in the mountains, and tourism. Here you can camp, stay in the tourist cabin (Turisthytte) and kayak or hike. The ferry still runs and provides a super opportunity to relax and enjoy the majestic scenery surrounding the fjord and goes twice a day from Lauvvik (near Stavanger to Lysebotn).
The city of Stavanger is the fourth largest city in Norway and has boomed due to the offshore oil industry. It is also a popular port for cruise ships, so be prepared for crowds at times, and is a central location for people hiking in the area.
There is plenty to do in the city. It has great street art on every corner and a couple of Michelin-starred restaurants to treat yourself to. The charming historic city centre (Straen)has been beautifully preserved and has 173 wooden houses close to the harbor that used to house herring fishermen and Fargegaten, a street that is lined with colorful houses. The city also has many great museums.
Coming up: Jackie and her expat bikers head north in Norway to Bergen.
Photographer/writer Jackie Harding was born in the United Kingdom. As a long-time expat, she lived in Boston for 12 years and in the Netherlands for the past 10 years.
Trained as a nurse in the U.K., she worked for nine years in the United States as a special education teacher’s assistant. Since moving to the Netherlands, she has discovered writing and photography.
Contributing to Dispatches since 2016, Jackie has written about her travels around Europe as well as about expat life and issues.
She also covered the Women’s March Amsterdam.
She’s married to British businessman Martin Harding and is the mother of two international adult children.