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Hurtigruten Cruise
Norway: “Green” & Serene

Article & Photography by Alan Luke & Jacquie Durand

One century ago, Roald Amundsen completed his journey through the Northwest Passage. Several years prior, fellow Norwegian Richard With, initiated a coastal steamer cruise along the country’s shoreline. Today, the Hurtigruten (derived from “hurtigrute” meaning “fast route”) cruise line plies the pristine passages for patrons worldwide.

A steamship company based in Stokmarknes had been compiling information pertaining to the viability of an express service between Trondheim and Hammerfest, Norway. In 1893, Captain Richard With received governmental approval to provide a weekly summer sailing along this route, as well as between Trondheim and Tromso during the winter season. Initially passengers and mail were on board and then cargo was transported. The advent of this Coastal Express hastened visitations from international travelers to areas previously inaccessible and expedited organized tourism in the region.

The Hurtigruten route currently encompasses 35 stops, extending from Kirkenes in the northeast and Bergen in the south. Boarding the Polarlys, one of eleven Hurtigruten ship in regular service I felt like an arctic explorer embarking on his first voyage. I commenced my six day environmental excursion at Kirkenes to witness how clean and “green” Norway truly is.

Environmental-friendliness begins with the vessels themselves. Using a more diesel-like marine distillate produces fewer emissions. The fleet also practices recycling and each has their own sewage plant on board. A water filtration system that utilizes carbon filters produces the bottled water available during meals. Norway is at the forefront of developing environmentally safe solutions to sustainable concepts for the production of clean water. The solutions are flexible and can be tailored to high-tech environments such as cruise ships and modern residential developments. Industrial consortium, Ecomotive Group of Norway, specializes in the design of sustainable water and sanitation systems based on resource recycling. Ecological sanitation systems have become available, transforming waste into a valuable resource for agriculture.

An official Nordic environmental label is an abstract Swan symbol. The eco-label takes into consideration a product’s impact on the environment throughout the product’s life cycle, a criteria that is revised regularly. The Swan’s mission is to contribute to reducing the consumer burden on the environment to promote a green society. Through eco-labeling, Swan encourages manufacturers to develop environmentally-friendly products and services.

Our initial stop was at the fishing community of Vardo. A well-preserved octagonal fort dating from 1738 is situated in the town making it home to the world’s northernmost fortress (Vardhohus Fort). I was introduced to the turf roofs which provided practical insulation for the sod-shingled structures in the former military grounds. For centuries the grassy roofing has been an enduring tradition utilizing sustainable natural resources. A few days later the medieval city of Trondheim provided me with a view of an attractive, half-timbered turf roof where copper miners used to reside in the 1650s. In many regions of Norway, one can experience authentic nature-based “down-to-earth” cabins.

Stopping at Honningsvag, we boarded a bus to the northernmost point on the European continent, North Cape (Nordkapp). A large steel skeletal globe monument sits adjacent to the jagged cliffs. The facility houses a tunnel displaying historical exhibits, a cinema, bar, restaurant, gift shop and post office. A brochure on North Cape Hall states: “Show respect for nature! Building stone cairns erodes the soil and destroys vegetation.”

Our next port-of-call was the northernmost town in the world established in 1789. Hammerfest is home to the exclusive and internationally renowned Royal and Ancient Polar Bear Society. The Society preserves the town’s long tradition with hunting and fishing in the Arctic. “The Gateway to the Arctic” sculpture is representative of the city’s Arctic history. Meridian arches are crowned with the Hammerfest coat of arms while polar bears on ice floes flank the entrance to the Radhus (Town Hall).

In Tromso, the capital of Arctic Norway, I located evidence of Hurtigruten’s founder, Richard With in the form of a local square that bears his name. Our vessel passed the MS Richard With en route to this “Paris of the North” from which many arctic explorations originated. Roald Admunsen’s statue stands in front of the Polarmuseet (Polar Museum) which showcases explorers, hunters and fishermen who made the Arctic their environment of choice.

I felt I should honor the town that is home to the world’s northernmost brewery and undertook an environmental exploration to glean cultural impressions at the Skarven, Tromso’s premier tavern. I enquired of the barkeep why Tromso was considered to be the “Paris of the North”. “Many years ago visitors were surprised by the lifestyle and fashions so far north that we developed a reputation that continues today,” he said proudly. With the tavern’s nautical decor, amiable ambiance and the hypnotic warmth of the blazing fireplace, it was easy to recognize the popularity of this Arctic watering hole.

Continuing southward we arrived in Harstad and visited the Trondenes Historical Museum. This turf roofed museum lies in a region that was the center of power for the Vikings during the Medieval Ages. Myriad artifacts and displays depict centuries of history. After a bus tour of the region we re-connected with our ship as it sailed to the next port. With perfect timing, we traveled over the Sortland Bridge as the Polarlys sailed underneath it. Our next harbor hop took us to the Coastal Express Museum in Stokmarknes.

The significance of the Coastal Steamer on settlement and trade along the Norwegian coast is exhibited in the museum as it takes you on a journey through more than a century of coastal voyages. In honor of the birthplace of the Coastal Steamer, a bronze bust of Richard With who initiated the “world’s most wonderful voyage”, is prominently placed near the museum.

The onboard essentials are the contributing factors that make this adventure truly wonderful. This includes breakfast and lunch buffets with an a la carte dinner. Indigenous edible entities included fish fare such as “bacalao” (boneless, skinless, salted cod) and “finnebiff” (dark brown reindeer stew). There are an estimated 180,000 reindeer that roam the Norwegian terrain, many of which are privately owned. The annual slaughter in September maintains the ecological integrity of the herds.

The Polarlys with 225 cabins is just over 11,000 gross tons and can carefully meander along the Norwegian coastline of more than1,300 nautical miles into a series of fjords. Heading into the 1.25 mile (2 km) long Trollfjord, the ship comes dangerously close to the sheer walls of the submerged glacial valley and then proceeds to make a 3-point turn to negotiate the passage back on course. Further along our ship became enveloped in fog. Asked if navigating with zero visibility was scary, the captain replied “I’m never scared, it just makes it more of a challenge.” “Being equal to the challenge, I imagine careening off a fjord wall would upset the ecological balance of things,” I said. “Our navigational system and the eco-system always work in harmony,” he responded confidently.

A bus tour on two of the Lofoten islands took us across the rugged landscape to various fishing villages. The sea has been a valuable resource for the nation providing fishing with 80% of the cod harvested being exported. This bountiful sea has both claimed and sustained lives. “The sea giveth and the sea taketh away,” explained our guide.” “If it wasn’t for the sea, the Vikings would have needed to carry their longboats,” she quipped.

Arriving at the fishing village of Henningsvaer, we drove past the wooden cod racks which hang the wind-blown fish that are dried for three months by the arctic air. To create this stock fish (torrfisk) some locals dangle cod outside their windows and on their clothes lines. Although the wealthy reside in houses painted in (zinc-based) white paint, the dwellings of ochre and red coloration are common to the less well-to-do owners.

The use of sustainable resources is evident in the ochre derived from plants to produce paint. Ferris oxide is also utilized from minerals, cod oil and copper dust, as well as animal blood and a cod liver oil mixture. These create a reddish paint to apply on houses and fishing cabins (rorbu) that are available as cottage rentals to the public. “I imagine the homes can get a little funky in the summertime heat,” I commented. Our guide euphemistically added that “there are so many smells competing for your attention that it is just another note in the symphony.”

After the ship arrived at Sandnessjoen, we had time for a brief walking tour before we were back on board and cruising past the Seven Sisters Mountains. South of Bronnoysund, we passed by another readily identifiable mountain. Mount Torghatten has a hole about 85 feet (26 meters) high by more than 43 feet (13meters) wide going all the way through it.

Before we arrived at our final destination, Bergen, it became apparent that one could comfortably commune with nature exploring this clean and serene coastal scene. Our cruise ship tour manager, Bjorn further conveyed to me that this is “a voyage where you get to see Norway in its purest state and your body and soul have a chance to catch up.” One may viscerally envisage oak timbered Viking vessels being propelled by sturdy synchronized oars as the glacially gouged rock walls dwarf the dauntless longships.

By 2030, it is estimated that Norway will become a nation with virtually no industrial carbon dioxide emissions. This is due to their perpetually progressive environmental legislation enacted. They maintain impressive “green” projects, sustainable resource concepts and intrinsic practicality. Ironically, the formerly ozone-depleting aerosol can was a Norwegian invention.


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