The first settlers came to live in inner fjord areas thousands of years ago. Archaeological evidence shows that a short time after the last ice age, approximately 10,000 years ago, the area was used by reindeer herders. There is also evidence of spread settlements in this area dating from the latter part of the Stone Age.
Today, the area is divided among two municipalities, Norddal and Stranda.
Norddal municipality has a population of approximately 1,760, spread among the villages of Eidsdal, Fjørå, Norddal, Tafjord and the municipal centre of Valldal.
Stranda municipality has a population of approximately 4,540 and consists of the villages of Geiranger, Hellesylt, Liabygda and the municipal centre of Stranda.
During the summer, the population of both municipalities increases enormously, due to the many seasonal workers and local tourists that have recreational cabins and caravans in the area.
Geography and climate
The area's unique natural surroundings were created during the last ice age, when glaciers carved out deep fjords and shaped the high mountains. Here, the fjords are around 600 - 700 metres deep and the peaks reach up to 2,000 metres above sea level.
The Geirangerfjord and its surrounding area, along with the Nærøyfjord in Sogn, were included on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 2005. In total, an area of 498 square kilometres in the municipalities of Norddal and Stranda is included on the UNESCO list.
A part of Reinheimen National Park, reserved to protect the wild reindeer stocks, also belongs to the municipality of Norddal.
The climate in the area is mild, making full-scale fruit and berry farming possible. In the lowlands the winters are not very cold. However, in high mountain areas there is an abundance of snow during the winter and there are excellent skiing conditions.
Along the Storfjord, the traditional industry has always been agriculture, combined with hunting and fishing. The food industry is now a major enterprise in Stranda municipality, with production of for example cured meats and the popular frozen pizza, Grandiosa. Other important industries are fish farming, furniture manufacturing and the extraction of sand and olivine minerals.
There are still many active farms (sheep, goats and cattle) in the fjord areas. In Valldal, fruit and strawberry production is a major part of the local commerce.
Tourism is a year-round full-time industry for many, part-time for others. The huge influx of tourists during the summer months provides the opportunity for local retailers to maintain a broader range of products than the local customer base would otherwise allow.
In the middle of the 1800s, Sunnmøre and Geiranger were "discovered" as travel destinations by British mountaineering pioneers. A few years later, in 1869, the first tourist cruise ship sailed into the Geirangerfjord.
The increasing numbers of visitors led to the establishment of a local transport company, bringing tourists up Geirangerveien (the Geiranger Road) to Djupvasshytta Cabin. In the beginning, horses and carriages were used. Later, motor vehicles were imported; these were specially adapted to the local conditions.
Since this time, many hotels and cabins have been established along the route.
A number of better roads have made it easier to travel, among them the Trollstigen Mountain Road (only open during the summer), and Nibbevegen and Ørnevegen (the Eagle Road), which both are open all year.
Tourism has expanded from its humble beginnings in the 1800s into a major industry in the region. Current estimates show that approximately 600,000 tourists visit the area of the Geirangerfjord and Trollstigen each summer.