The islands of Vesterålen comprises the following municipalities:
In Vesterålen you will find many islands, the largest being:
- Hinnøya (Norway's largest island)
The combined surface area is 3,100 square kilometres.
This archipelago 200 kilometres north of the arctic circle is home to about 32,200 people. The settlement pattern in Vesterålen is scattered. Isolated single dwellings without road communication alternate with small communities and some town centres. The largest town is Sortland.
The landscape in the islands is varied: From rugged terrain with craggy peaks to expansive, cultivated shoreline areas with relatively dense populations. This is the land of fjords and sounds, skerries, rivers and lakes, moors, valleys and stretches of flat plains.
During the early Middle Ages the economical breakthrough in the form of the fishing industry came. Organized sale of stockfish in great quantities provided increased opportunities for making a living from fishing.
By the end of the 1800s, Vesterålen made a decisive leap into a new era. Capital from the stockfish bonanza as well as from the lucrative herring fisheries of the time was invested in industry and motorized boats for fishing and cargo freighting. Several shipping companies were founded, including Vesterålen's Steamship Company, which established the first coastal express in 1893.
The new investments led to the growth of larger communities. The building of modern land communications has reinforced this development, and remote farms without road connections to the central areas have become a thing of the past. The region today has broad-based business enterprises. Agriculture, fishing and industry remain important, but new enterprises have emerged, such as aquaculture, tourism and various public services.
Typical for areas with a coastal climate, Vesterålen has relatively mild winters and moderately warm summers. The average temperature in the coldest month, February, is around minus two Celsius, while the average July temperature is 12 - 14 degrees. The highest temperature was recorded at 31 degrees Celsius - in July, which is the month of least precipitation. On the other hand, October is the month with most precipitation, and autumn is generally the rainiest season.
The months with most snow are January - March. In December and parts of January, the sun does not appear above the horizon in Vesterålen. The dark season is fascinating in many ways, and the northern lights and special bluish hues play magically on the snow-covered landscape. Conversely, the sun never dips below the horizon during the period of 23 May – 23 July.
Vesterålen has rich and abundant birdlife. The nutrient-rich waters surrounding the island group normally provide ample food supplies for a number of seabird species. All of the usual species found on the northern latitudes are represented here. Among the rare species is the black-tailed curlew, which nests exclusively on Andøya. The northern fulmar and gannet are two species that are found only in shoreline areas. Puffins, razorbills, guillemots, shags, herons and swans are other fascinating and exclusive features among the ocean fauna. The white-tailed eagle has multiplied dramatically in recent years. The most familiar bird rocks are located outside of Nykvåg and Hovden in Bø and Bleik in Andøy.
Fish have always been the very basis for existence in Vesterålen, thanks to our proximity to the rich fishing fields off shore. Cod, haddock, coalfish, redfish, wolf fish, salmon, herring, ling, flounder, halibut and prawns are the most important from an economic point of view. Year-round fishing and the annual herring and winter cod fisheries represent great economic resources that are sought after by both local and visiting fishermen.