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Dublin: 6 °C Thursday 13 December, 2018
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My best road trip: a solo adventure in Nord-Norge during the Polar night

Driving around Nordland, Troms and Finnmark in Northern Norway under the Northern Lights.

Source: Google Maps

  • Each week, TheJournal.ie/DoneDeal motoring mag will feature a reader’s best road trip. If you’d love to see your top trip featured, email us on melanie@thejournal.ie

MY BEST ROAD trip was touring around Nordland, Troms and Finnmark in Northern Norway.

Who: Sibéal Turraoin, Co Waterford, www.sibealturraoin.ie, Instagram @sibeal_turraoin

Route: Tromsø, Hinnøya, Lofoten, Hammerfest, Alta, Tromsø

Distance: 1,050km

Time: five days

When: January 2016

Vehicle: Volkswagen Golf

Source: Sibéal Turraoin

I’ve spent summers in Arctic countries and always loved the long days and midnight sun. But I really wanted to experience the opposite, when the sun doesn’t rise during the Polar night.

I tend not to plan my trips much and bar checking out driving distances and the Hurtigruten boat timetable, as recommended by my uncle who sailed there last summer, I thought I’d figure out the rest as I went.

Source: Sibéal Turraoin

I booked a car through Norwegian Airlines – about €125 per day for a Volkswagen Golf. All cars must, by law, be fitted with snow tires and use dipped headlights at all times. The road network is excellent but there is snow and patches of ice on the roads. Think a very snowy Ring of Kerry and you’ll have an idea. Only worse. Bring a map as a backup as the GPS are not always kept up to date.

7 January, Thursday: Tromso
By the time I arrived it was dark so I just took a stroll around. The temperature was -8°C, which I was later to think of as pretty warm! The Norwegians say there is no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes!

Tromsø was known as the Paris of the North during the 19th century. The old town by the quays is lovely, there is the unusual Arctic Cathedral, just over the bridge but generally, people use it as a base for whale watching, dog sledging, northern light watching and other winter activities.

Source: Sibéal Turraoin

8 January, Friday: Tromsø to Hinnøya
The next day I drove 343km to Kongsvika, on Hinnøya. During January the Polar night isn’t totally dark, you get a few hours of dusky twilight from about 10am to 2pm, with the most beautiful pinks, purples and blues. This is not a three-hour journey. Unless you’re local, you will want to stop and appreciate the views, and I purposely took the longer coast road.

Source: Sibéal Turraoin

9 January, Saturday: Hinnøya to Lofoten and back
The drive to Austvågsøya, the northernmost island in the Lofoten archipelago, is only about 140km but the scenery is magnificent. I stopped in several places including Lodingen, with its pretty lighthouse where I saw eagles.

I dropped off the car to Narvik Airport, a good 40mins drive from Harstaad, but my couch surfing host was a ship’s engineer in Harstaad and said he would drop me off at 6am for the boat before he started his shift.

Source: Sibéal Turraoin

10 January, Sunday: Harstaad to Hammerfest
The next leg was quite relaxing as I spent most of the day watching the beautiful views out the window and reading my book. The Hurtigruten is both a simple cruise ship and transportation in this part of Norway. The cabins are comfortable, the food delicious and the saloon areas perfect for landscape watching. The passage is mostly between the islands and is very calm. They stop at a lot of places along the way so you can get out and walk around, go on excursions. Seeing the Aurora while sailing past Reinøya Island north of Tromsø was just beautiful. A lot of passengers joined at Tromsø as some of the roads were under snow after an avalanche, which was a first for me.

Source: Sibéal Turraoin

11 January, Monday: Hammerfest
I arrived in Hammerfest about 5am. Hammerfest was attacked by the British during the Napoleonic Wars, burnt down in the late 19th century and totally destroyed by the Germans during the Second World War, as well as being bombed by the Soviets, so there is little left in terms of historic buildings. North of Hammerfest there’s a nice beach in Forsøl – the perfect place for a quick dip! In the 60 seconds it took me to get dressed, my clothes had part frozen, even at a mild -8°C.

Source: Sibéal Turraoin

12 January, Tuesday: Hammerfest to Alta to Tromsø
The journey to Tromsø is 449km and doable in six-eight hours but in the end, it took me about 12 hours! The roads were fairly snowy, the scenery was stunning, and as it was -30°C in the mountains the heating was on full to keep the windows clear and to compensate I had to stop, jump out and give myself ice-cream face to wake up.

The roads were really quiet and at times you felt you were the only person in the world. It was just perfect. I looked up while driving through Lyngen and saw the most spectacular display of aurora. I ended up stopping so often that I missed the next ferry to Breivikeidet.

Source: Sibéal Turraoin

13 January, Wednesday: Tromsø
Kaldfjord just outside of Tromsø is a good spot to see humpback whales who feed on herring before going south to warmer waters. It is possible to see Orca also but they are not as plentiful. I went with Tromso Safari, which I booked in the Tourist Office, but this was just at the end of the season and some operators were closed.

Source: Sibéal Turraoin

Back in Tromsø, I joined Kjetil Skogli for some more aurora hunting. The lights are famously fickle and can last for hours or minutes, Kjetil found a nice spot outside the town and gives good advice to make the most of your pictures.

As my flight was really early and we didn’t get back to the town until late, I spent the night in the airport, along with a few other broke travellers. The next day the sun made its first appearance over the horizon for the first time in over six weeks.

READ: Reader’s road trip – Iceland

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Sibeal Turraoin

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