Norway in 18 days by Campervan
by Katja Bockwinkel
We have always dreamed of a motorhome road trip in Norway. Which is why, if we had been told just 2 weeks earlier we would be going to Norway in the near future, I would have smiled and dismissed it. Norway is oft known as the camper paradise par excellence, but 2020, otherwise known as "Corona year“, made it hard to imagine such a trip.
So, driving home from a small road trip, we heard the news that Norway would open its borders by mid-July. We looked at each other. Who said it first? I don't know. In any case, it was clear, this is our chance.
The journey by ferry (from Hirthals to Kristiansand)
The journey began south of Frankfurt and we travelled to Hirthals (Denmark) and sailed the 3.5-hour ferry ride to Kristiansand. This is the shortest ferry connection, which we chose deliberately to maximise the road trip. Other options include connections to Oslo, Stavanger or Bergen, where you have to book a cabin for the overnight. We have been told that the ferry trip to Oslo is like a cruise. We booked our ferry just a week before departure however, it was an unusual summer and Norway had just opened the borders meaning there wasn't the same number travelling as usual. In a normal year, it is advisable to book the ferry well in advance.
Since there were only two of us, we chose a 2 berth under 6m panel van for our trip. As it turned out, that was a big advantage, as we noticed immediately the length and weight affect the ferry price. So a bit of advice, think carefully and weigh up which vehicle is suitable for the individual journey. For those traveling in pairs, the Duo from Apollo is ideal.
Our ferry left early noon and we arrived in Hirthals the night before. Fortunately, there are plenty of spaces to park for the night in Hirthals and in the surrounding area, so we relaxed at our spot that night and slipped onto the ferry in the morning. Ferry check-ins are quick, they check the license plate which is on the booking and issue boarding passes. Once we found our spot, we looked for a place on deck to overlook the calm sea and enjoy the beautiful weather.
Arrival in Norway
And finally - land in sight! The blue sky jumped towards us until the view fell on the pretty red and white wooden houses, the first glimpse of Norway. Sadly our approach to Kristiansand was lit by rather unspectacular gray skies - but hey - Norway! We arrived!
On emerging, we somewhat bravely put our vehicle in the row "something to declare". With limits on how many beverages you can bring into Norway, it’s important to plan in advance how much you pack. A great tool for this is the Norwegian Customs App. Using a calculator, you can calculate exactly what you are allowed to take with you in terms of luxury goods such as alcohol. The penalties if you are checked and the information is not correct can be very high. We had a few too many beers in our luggage. So we thought, better be honest and pay a few euros in customs. The friendly customs officer and first Norwegian we had contact with asked what we had to declare. To my information that we had six small beers too much with us, he answered with a charming smile: "I think that's alright". And waved us on. He was to be just one of many friendly Norwegians we encountered.
Since we still wanted to make some distance North, we drove on the first day via the E6 to Bygland and our first Norwegian campsite "Neset Camping". I was immediately stunned, because our first pitch was directly on the water! What a start.
On arrival, first of all, we had to get money because we needed Norwegian kroner. But, our first big realization was that you hardly need cash in Norway. No matter how small the amount, you can pay everything with card (Except to get a shower token at a campsite!). At the end of the trip we had to make sure that we got rid of the cash again.
We made sure to stop at a supermarket straight away as we wanted to cook in the evening in the camper. That is definitely exciting. Norwegian is such a different language to German, you can not really derive anything. We used online translators, which helped, but we weren't the only strugglers, as we were also approached directly by a couple who asked if we could help. And yes, living costs are of course more expensive in Norway. But if you cook yourself, you can keep an eye on it. And you're on vacation, so I don't want to watch every penny.
Hiss, we had arrived. Landing beer, view of the water, the rain jacket on - Velkommen til Norge!
Waffles and campsites
The next day was just the second in the country and gave us a look into what we would come to find throughout Norway. Our destination for the day was the Hardangerfjord, during the drive, we soaked up the landscape of greenery, waterfalls, forests, but also snow covered fields... in July. I don't know how many times I shouted "Stop! I want to take a picture!" as happens when I’m in a new and spectacular country. Even the public toilets and trash cans were immortalized in photos, they were made of wood and really pretty.
At noon we stopped at a little coffee shop and I thought that would be our last stop. Not an hour later, somewhere in the Haukelifjell mountain region on the E134, I was holding a hot coffee and a freshly baked waffle in my hand! Typical Norwegian. Best with jam and sour cream. Delicious. This could become a good tradition on our trip.
In the late afternoon we found ourselves at a small campsite right on the Hardangerfjord. Bam! Again, such a highlight. It was only the second evening, and it became more and more clear to us in the next days that it’s not difficult to find a nice campsite. Our campsites all seemed to enjoy the pole position, directly on the water, at the end of a fjord or not far from waterfalls. To find campsites, you can find some helpful apps online, such as Camping App or NorCamp. In terms of price, a pitch is between €25,- and €35,-. You can choose between pitches with and without electricity. The cost of electricity consumption is added and in general, the pitches are well equipped with have everything you need. You can also find wash houses, kitchens and small shops at most places.
Once around the Hardangerfjord- Typical fjord view
The weather was mixed, so the next day we decided to drive a bit around the Hardangerfjord, the route is one of "18 Landscape Routes of special beauty". The Norwegians love superlatives! Thus, the journey led us over the longest suspension bridge of Europe "between two tunnels". We also drove through an illuminated traffic circle in the tunnel for the first time. As is well known, Norway is the country of tunnels. But we were mainly interested in what was above ground. And so our route decision was mostly in favor of the pass roads, which are longer and curvier, but well, accordingly more spectacular.
The drive along the Hardangerfjord is fabulous. The narrow road winds along the rock and gives some great views of the water, red and white wooden houses and orchards. We also took a ferry for the first time in the country, from Tørvikbygd to Jondal. Commonplace for Norwegians, this first crossing was of course exciting for us. Here, too, everything works automatically. The license plate is photographed, so you do not have to pay a ferry fee until later. We made a note of our ferry trips and the toll roads and kept a diary. Because sometime later, when you are back home (3-6 months later) the account needs to be settled. This is of course very convenient and saves time at the ferries and toll roads, but it’s good to keep track.
Lustrafjord and Jotunheimen National Park- Sun and glaciers
It’s not the destination but the journey! We drove a few hours every day, and even at sea level at the fjord, you will find yourself within two hours of a plateau at an altitude of over 1,000 meters.
This is gigantic and a hard to beat impression. Sometimes we set off dressed in a T-shirt, only to find ourselves hiking between ice and snow in our winter jackets at midday. In the highlands there are roads and stretches of road usually only passable between July and September / October.
The two most impressive and contrasting moments we experienced was between Skjolden at the Lustrafjord and the Jotunheimen National Park. In Skjolden we stood on a campsite directly at the lake with a view of a pretty waterfall. It was 26 degrees, the sun was shining, the grill was on and I had a refreshing drink in my hand. The next day we drove up towards Jotunheimen National Park. We enjoyed a fantastic hike to the glacier and looked for a spot in the camper at 1,400m for the night. We managed to find a view directly on the glacier, which shone in the sun and gave us a few great photos.
Soon, the wind became icy and we had to put on one layer of clothes after another. That was it for the glacier view. Time to snuggle in and cook something warm. That night, rain pelted and pelted on the camper roof, lulling delightfully as we fell asleep. At some point in the middle of the night, it became quiet. It had stopped raining. Sleepily, we looked out the window the next morning. "You're not serious," I exclaimed. Everything is white. Sure, that's how it is at 1,400 meters above sea level. No wonder it was so quiet.
Wild camping is allowed in Norway. If you follow certain rules, behave inconspicuously and leave no trace, wild camping in Norway is an unforgettable experience. During our trip it was a mixture of camping and wild camping for one night. Especially nice was our spot at a waterfall. Just us, the rushing waterfall and 4 degrees cold glacier water. The people who drove by - judging by the license plate Norwegians - laughed and waved at us. They were just happy with us. What a friendly country.
The Geirangerfjord- Powerful celebrity
Next stop, our northernmost point of the trip, was the Geirangerfjord. Who does not know the sight - at least from photos? This mighty fjord with steep, green slopes and waterfalls plunging into the depths and cruise ships moored in the fjord. But - it was in the corona pandemic and therefore no cruise ships far and wide. Only the ferry sailed, it appeared so single between the high rock walls like a small toy boat. There are many, many ways to explore Geiranger. Of course, one of the most spectacular ways is from the water but we decided to take a hike with magnificent views down into the fjord and have a Norwegian hut snack consisting of a fresh loaf of bread with salmon at the end. What a perfect day! Just the way we like it.
Speaking of salmon, we love grilling and we love salmon. So it became a regular feature that we grilled salmon or salmon trout in the evening, with vegetables or salad on the side. If you can also make a campfire and look directly at the Briksdalsbreen - one of the famous glacier tongues in the Jostedalsbreen National Park - the postcard idyll is once again perfect. This evening in Olden is certainly one of our highlights, even if they are somehow difficult to narrow down.
A day by the sea- The Vagsoy Peninsula
Fjords, ice, snow, glaciers, waterfalls - we had seen and experienced all that in the last few days. I also wanted to go to the coast. I dreamed of a small bay between jagged rocks and white sand. So we drove west to the Vagsoy peninsula and ended up in Refviksanden. There it was - our bay with a sandy beach, wooden houses and tall green mountains lining the coast. Not five minutes later, we were wading through the sand and sea. Wonderful! That was enough for us and our feet, bit it was a high summer day for the Norwegians. At 16 degrees, they cavorted at and in the water until sunset. For us the cooled feet, a glass of wine in the hand, the camping chair and the view into the late sunset was enough.
Further south- Beach feeling in Mandal
We were standing by the Kannesteinen on Vagsoy the following day, which reminded me more of an alien head than a whale fin, when we decided that this should be the point-of-return. Not that we had gotten stressed out. But we had been in the fjords for a long time, so we chould just continue south in regular daily stages without it feeling like a "return trip". After all, we still had a few nights ahead of us. Driving, hiking, camping, wild camping, barbecuing and sunsets were the ingredients for the rest of the days. Sometimes barren rocks, sometimes lush green hills, sometimes like in another world, sometimes like in a pretty valley in Austria, it was all there. We honestly left out the cities on this trip, the focus was clearly on nature. We also wanted to explore the south a bit more. It seemed to us an undiscovered part. Flair, which was added here, were coffee & cake in a nice café in Egersund, a day on the beach in Mandal at 29 degrees and a last night at a small lighthouse with a last sunset. That night, a wistful feeling spread and we reviewed the experiences, the feelings and the trip.
One thing is clear. Norway has an incredible amount to offer. In the morning, we often couldn't estimate how the day would go - mostly due to the wayward weather. Nevertheless, in the evening we looked back on unforgettable moments. Even if you can't see everything, the country offers an infinite number of highlights that enrich the trip in a lasting way. Don‘t set out to work off a list but it is good to get a sense of size and distances, to get route suggestions to help you. Apart from that - let yourself drift and create your own, very personal road trip through Norway. The experience of Norway, that's the real highlight.
Norway - tips for planning
It's one thing to plan a route, it's another to drive it. I had a wish list of what I wanted to see - you don't want to miss anything. But Norway sometimes just has other plans for you.
For one thing, there's the weather. The saying "Four Seasons in one day" sounds so trite. But if it applies to any country, it applies to Norway. There were days when we wore thick winter jackets, others when we sat by the lake in T-shirts. You wake up in the morning and the rain is pattering on the camper roof and you won't want to get up. But there is still lots to discover and to see! We didn't stop at some famous sights because we wouldn't have seen anything. The water falls 185 m from the Hardangervidda plateau at Voringsfossen had rain and no visibility at all. Pictures showed us the spectacular sight and the view into the valley. So it was slight disappointment but we took it with a grin and drove on. Into the next valley. And suddenly - sun, blue sky. Later in the day we looked down on Aurlandsvangen, down into the fjord. A sight that makes you forget everything else. At some point - and it would take a few more days for me - I learned to accept that Norway likes to write its own agenda. That you can't work off some "bucket list." You have to get involved with the country. If necessary, you have to drive by. One, two valleys further it looks completely different.
Another point are the roads and routes. One piece of advice to anyone planning a road trip through Norway, don't take on too much. A somewhat dusty saying "less is more" applies here as well. The road network consists of good roads, but they meander along fjords or up to high plateaus. Often they are narrow and you have to agree with oncoming traffic who will continue or who has to back up to the next bay. Fortunately, the people in Norway are wonderfully relaxed and calm, so it works out great. For us, there was also the fact that in the summer of 2020 there were no coaches on the road due to Corona. If they come to meet you, it becomes even more adventurous. Therefore, the advice, do not plan more than 30-50 km per hour. Sometimes you just can't go fast. And fast - you don't need that in Norway anyway.
- We travelled a total of 2,500 km in the country
- Driving speed limits in the country are about 50 km/h
- We stayed a total of 17 overnight stays
- Weather: from 29 degrees to 0 degrees and snow - you can get everything
The route we decided is not quite correct. Often we drove smaller roads that lead more directly, but which are not listed via Maps. So this route gives at least a rough overview.
For example, from Ovre Ardal we drove via Skjolden directly to Jotunheimen.