The perfect trip: Norway
The source of the engine noise – the jaunty blue-and-white MS Stjernsund – approaches, weaving deftly between the islets and into the pale aquamarine waters of the harbour. This vessel doubles as a postal boat and passenger service, and it’s a lifeline for the tiny communities spread out among Solund’s 1,700 islands, as well as the Askvoll archipelago farther north. It arrives daily in the warmer months, bringing visitors, news and mail – and, in Anne Marie’s case, her son David, the young postman himself. She welcomes the boat and ushers its half-dozen passengers into a nearby fisherman’s shed for an afternoon tea of crêpes drizzled with melted butter and heaped with sugar.
The boat’s journey begins from the island of Sula at the mouth of the Sognefjord, north of Bergen. Departing from the pretty harbour at Hardbakke, it plots a course through narrow channels and around sharp headlands. The landscape changes suddenly from island to island: one rugged and dramatic, sheared by ocean winds, another with perfect sheltered bays and gentle hills dotted with bright red houses. At each stop, David leaps from the boat to place the mail in dockside letterboxes or to pass it into the hand of a waiting island resident.
Roar Moe walks with a rangy stride to the dock on the beautiful curved harbour of his island, Little Færøy, greeting the boat’s crew with a familiar shout. Roar is the island’s only resident and has been living here alone for more than a decade, restoring classic boats and running wilderness skills workshops for schools. ‘It’s the lifestyle I choose,’ he says. ‘I want my life to be as slow and lonely as possible. It’s so beautiful here – it’s a privilege.’ An appearance by Roar on television recently led to a flood of letters from amorous female fans offering to join him on his lonely island – he refused them all.
‘It’s so important, especially in these modern times, for people to experience nature – to really feel it,’ he says. ‘Most areas along the coast are filled with heavy industry, but not this part. Out on these islands you can see the original landscape, as it has been for thousands of years.’
Aurlandsfjord: Best for fjord views
‘It’s impossible to improve on this pristine environment, so we tried to add something to the experience, not the landscape,’ says architect Todd Saunders. He nods at his creation, the smooth wooden shelf of the Stegastein viewpoint, stretching out from a high mountainside.
The broad sweep of the Aurlandsfjord lies below, a southerly offshoot of the mighty Sognefjord, with steep, snow-dusted mountain walls rising straight up and curving into the distance. The scene took millions of years to perfect, as gargantuan fingers of glacial ice tore inexorably through the landscape, leaving a chasm of steep rock, part-filled with an expanse of seawater. Today, the water is so calm that, as a boat passes through the fjord, its wake fans out for hundreds of metres behind it like a bridal train of clear blue.
The timber walkway juts out 30 metres from the mountain wall before plunging suddenly downward in an elegant curve, leaving viewers suspended over a 650- metre drop, with only a pane of glass in place to prevent a tumble. Several visitors approach the edge, only to scurry back or grasp at the security of the glass panel, some with small squeals of alarm.