Helgeland is one of the most scenic parts of Norway. For various reasons most visitors to the country ignore it. I may be slightly biased, having grown up in the area, but I challenge you to name a less visited region in Norway that looks this astonishing.
That’s obviously a good thing for the few who actually visit. On second thought, Helgeland is a horrible place. Please ignore the following trip report and keep on going to just Lofoten and Trolltunga instead.
It’s early July when I visit family in Brønnøysund. It’s often a rainy place, but this morning the forecast is perfect summer weather for the next 24 hours or so. I borrow a car and set off on a short road trip to a few nearby islands. They’re always visible on the horizon, but getting to them requires travel by ferry, so it’s all too easy to postpone visiting them.
Getting to Brønnøysund is easy enough. There are direct flights from Oslo, Trondheim and Bodø. If you book ahead or travel on Widerøe’s Explore Norway Ticket, it can be pretty cheap.
The airport is within walking distance from the town center! If you can’t or won’t rent a car, the local tourist information has bicycles for rent as well. The area is ideal for traveling by bike. These are mostly flat islands, making travel by pedal quite comfortable.
Behind the airport in the photo, you see the mountain Torghatten. This wonder of nature is not a part of this trip report, but make sure you add Torghatten if you ever visit Brønnøysund. The geological explanation for the giant hole going straight through the mountain is fascinating. It involves plenty of trolls.
After a rainy day, the clouds gradually disappear the evening before we start our trip. It’s one of those nights where going to bed feels simply wrong. Instead we go for a walk in the quiet streets of Brønnøysund, enjoying this white night just south of the Arctic Circle.
North of Brønnøysund we can only drive 14 kilometers before the road ends at Horn. A 30 minute ferry ride will take us across the narrow strait to Andalsvågen. This is basically what every ferry we will travel on today looks like.
They’re basic, doing their job well in all kinds of weather, and extremely well in this kind of weather.
A typical coastal Helgeland view, framed by one of the windows on the ferry.
The car deck on the ferry isn’t the most exciting place to be. You just drive onto the ferry, place your car where the crew tells you to, and then you can go out and enjoy the view. Usually you can buy some kind of basic meal or snack as well.
The ferry ticket itself is probably less expensive than you expect from Norway. Ferries are heavily subsidized by the Norwegian government. If you think you pay too much for your mini cruise, take comfort in that it’s just a fraction of what transporting you across the water actually costs. The rest of your bill is picked up by Norwegian taxpayers.
Waiting for the ferry in a location like this is more of a bonus than a pain, really.
Yup, traveling by sea today is 100 % smooth sailing. No need for seasickness remedies here.
We stop by at Vevelstad Museum near Forvik after another 16 kilometers of driving. The main attractions here are the buildings themselves, looking particularly splendid in warm sunlight.
Nearby there are prehistoric rock carvings to explore. We have to catch another ferry from here to Tjøtta (about an hour). Waiting for that ferry can easily be combined with learning about the past here.
Surprisingly, there are alpacas to keep us company while we wait. Although evolution meant for this creature to live on the other side of the planet, he looks quite pleased to be here.
The view from the ferry landing pleases me. There’s no doubt that we’ll have an enjoyable crossing of these waters.
Our ferry ride will bring us close to that row of mountain peaks in the distance. Those mountains are collective named The Seven Sisters, another group of characters from the ancient fairytale that involves the mountain Torghatten from earlier on.
An oystercatcher passes by, showing off its talent for flying so close to the surface of the sea that there are actually droplets at the tips of the wings.
You can pay thousands of dollars to see the Helgeland coastline from a cruise ship, or you can pay close to nothing to see it up close on the local ferries. You choose.
We pass several small and large islands, and on many of them people have managed to find a way to survive on whatever nature provides. A sturdy house, lots of fish, a few cows and proper broadband Internet access is all you need to be happy.
While the sudden sun-induced fossilization of trolls from the folklore may not be an entirely accurate explanation of how this landscape came to be, the geology that produces rocks in these colors and shapes is no less fascinating.
Until only about 10,000 years ago, all this land was buried deep beneath layers of ice. Huge glaciers advancing and later retreating scrubbed all vegetation and life off the rock, leaving a barren landscape. Since then, a combination of erosion and millions of seabirds shitting on the stony ground has helped nature build up patches of dirt and soil, on which vegetation can thrive. But this land is still mainly rock. And it’s a wonder to behold.
A wall of granite rises straight out of the ocean. If you came by here in a small boat centuries ago, you would be more tempted to stick to fishing than to enter the shore and build a homestead. But a few did just that anyway.
We dock at Tjøtta, which curiously stems from an old Norse word for “the thickest part of the thigh”. About two hundred people live here, and there’s a grocery store where we buy ice cream. Because it’s summer.
A little bit up the road we stop at a war cemetery.
Most of the roughly 7,500 souls who rest here were Russians, and this monolith leaves no doubt about that. In 1944, British bombers destroyed the German ship Rigel, traveling south full of prisoners of war. More than 2,500 people died in that single attack, just behind this monument.
World War II suddenly comes a lot closer when you see a rusty helmet with bullet holes in it lying around on the war cemetery.
On a small dock nearby we come upon another dead red star, albeit a smaller one.
This starfish was likely murdered by a seabird, of which there are many in this area. The culprit in this case may have been just a seagull, but throughout the day we see several large white-tailed eagles, with a wingspan of more than a man’s length.
The scenery keeps tempting us to stop the car and go for minor walks down various side roads. It never leads to disappointment. Summer on Helgeland may come in small portions, but it’s delicious.
Although my praise for most things we see today may be heavy, I’ll be honest and say that I can’t really recommend the local golfing.
I’m no expert, but this doesn’t look much like the golf courses I’ve seen in places like Pebble Beach and St Andrews. Maybe it’ll be better when the harvesting of hay has finished.
Riksvei 17 is the main road along coastal Helgeland, but it’s no highway.
Driving at a lazy pace here is a good idea anyway. It allows you to enjoy the scenery more.
After yet another relaxing ferry trip, 40 minutes from Søvik to Herøy via Austbø, we’ll do some serious island hopping by car.
First we drive south, to Tenna island. There aren’t many people around, but lots of sheep enjoy the absence of most predators. An eagle might swoop in for a meal of lamb, of course, but generally it seems like life here is good for the grazers. They certainly can’t complain about the view.
Few places in the world have more white, sandy beaches than Helgeland.
That said, most of them are tiny, and the crystal clear water of the open North Atlantic Ocean is freezing cold. Together with the turquoise water they look amazing, much like tropical atolls.
Anything man-made around here usually comes in rich colors. Thanks to the often stormy weather or dense fog, it makes sense to paint things for maximum visibility.
Hiking on these islands is either really easy or really hard. On Øksningan island we go for a really easy one, crossing a mini marsh before we climb a mini mountain.
Some of the other islands offer steep stone walls rising straight up from the ocean. Those can be significantly harder hikes.
Upon reaching the “peak” of Øksningan, at 87 metres, we enjoy a great view in every direction. This is what we see north-east towards the next island, Dønna. Thanks to a series of bridges we can actually drive there.
The view towards the south is just as good.
People have plowed these tiny fields sheltered between rocks for centuries, maybe more.
The smallest dot on the horizon, right at the center of the photo, is actually Torghatten from earlier. It feels like we have traveled a long way, but as the crow flies, or rather the eagle, we’re only 60 kilometers from where we started 8 hours ago.
Straight north from Øksningan, the mountain Lovundfjellet hogs all the attention. That is one of the harder hikes I mentioned, with the top of the rock standing up more than two Eiffel Towers tall from the ocean that surrounds it.
In case of a zombie apocalypse, a person could probably live safely here for eternity, using just the ocean as a supermarket.
There are around 12,000 islands on the coast of Helgeland. A good number of them are connected by bridges.
The further away from the mainland we go, the narrower the roads are.
Eventually they become just one-lane roads, with designated spots where cars can pass each other. When you start seeing the M signs (for meeting point), it’s time to slow down and pay extra attention at every bend in the road.
I’ll just casually throw in a penis for your enjoyment.
This marble phallus has been standing on top of a mysterious burial mound at Glein on Dønna island for at least 1,500 years. No one knows from where it came, or why.
We have come about as far north as we will on this trip. From the northern coast of Dønna island, we look across to Tomma island. There’s nothing more soothing than to sit on a beach and listen to the gentle waves finding their way along a thousand trails between rounded rocks.
The time is now past ten in the evening, and summer is still on. This mountain at Dønnes is doubly attractive thanks to the water that is suspiciously quiet in preparations for the next storm.
While we sit and watch the warm colors brought on by the setting sun, suddenly a body of cloud comes clambering over the mountain we drove past just an hour ago.
We have to hurry up sight-seeing northern Dønna, because this little piece of summer is quickly coming to an end.
Once more and from another angle, we look across to Lovundfjellet. It’s such a temptation.
Midnight is not far away now, but the sun is up, and we can explore the northernmost part of Dønna. What at first looks like a peaceful hill by the sea, is actually the remains of a massive German fortress from World War II.
Just fifteen minutes after our clear view of Lovundfjellet, it has now grown a hat, literally out of thin air.
Cold and hot air meets, clouds form and the winds are picking up. It’s time to start looking for shelter.
The marshmallow cloud in the background is about to roll over this hill and bury this pretty house, that at least for a short while longer must offer a spectacular view.
When you see the sun like this, most often it will be moving straight down towards the ocean. Here and now it doesn’t do that.
Instead, it’s moving in almost a straight line along the horizon. That’s a clear indication that this isn’t the normal sun, it’s the midnight sun! They can be so hard to tell apart.
This may seem like a nice sunset scene, but it’s not. As evidenced by the stirring sea, there is now enough wind around to qualify as a storm. Clouds rapidly form around every mountain we can still see.
This is the last photo I have from this day. A couple of minutes later I will slip on a wet rock on the beach down there, and utterly smash my camera to beyond repair.
Apart from that tragedy, our 24 hour Helgeland road trip has been a success.
We take another ferry from Dønna to Sandnessjøen, and from there we make a ferry-less detour via Mosjøen and an inland route, back to Brønnøysund. Sadly, I have no photos of that part. At least it was rainy and windy all the way, so life without a camera wasn’t as bad as it could have been.
That is all. If you have any questions about anything, do ask them below.
Thanks for coming along!
I’d love to see you make a similar trip, so here’s some information that may help you in planning your own adventure in the region.
In addition to the places mentioned in this post, I really recommend including the Vega archipelago on any trip in the area. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site, and rightly so.
(Click on the map for a closer look.)
The map above shows the route traveled. It wouldn’t be difficult to split the trip into two or three days. If you travel by bicycle instead of driving, three days would probably be the minimum time spent.
Keep in mind that the route includes several ferry rides, during which you can relax and just enjoy the views.
You can fly to Brønnøysund direct from several larger airports in Norway. The most economical way to do it is probably to do this as part of the airline Widerøe’s special summer-only “fly as much as you want” option, the Explore Norway ticket, which can be bought for two or three consecutive weeks of travel.
If you prefer to stay on the ground, get on a train north from Trondheim to Grong and change to a corresponding bus from there. You can also travel by sea, using the services of Hurtigruten, from Bergen, Trondheim or Bodø.
There are three ways to travel in this region, each with its advantages.
Having a rental car will let you move around quickly. It makes traveling on the ferries more expensive, but not prohibitely so. You can rent a car in Brønnøysund or Sandnessjøen, or you can make this section a part of a longer road trip of Norway, starting elsewhere.
Going by bike means slower travel, and some of the roads are so narrow that you may feel uncomfortable. There aren’t many cars around, though, so you won’t be bothered much. You can rent bicycles, including electrical ones, at the tourist information offices in Brønnøysund or Sandnessjøen. They have all kinds of packages including various accommodation and transportation of luggage, so they’ll help you figure something out, whatever you need.
If you have experience with kayaking at sea, you’ll love exploring this area. You’ll have thousands of islands to choose between, where you can camp for free and feel very close to nature. Because of the many islands and islets, it’s generally easy to find a sheltered route between them.
If you have less experience, you can still go on various shorter kayak trips. Kayaks can be rented many places, with or without a guide.
Helgeland is a great place to bring a tent and stay for free, taking advantage of Norway’s Right to Roam. If you prefer some luxury, you can stay at camp sites where you pay to have access to restrooms, a hot shower and kitchen facilities. Or you can splurge on really comfy hotels and guesthouses.
See the Visit Helgeland web site for many options. I can personally vouch for “3 kalver” as a good place to spend the night camping on Dønna. (Do not be scared off by their web site. They’ll take good care of you.)