In the outermost part of the region, the landscape is dominated by the ocean and the coastline. Imagine watching the ocean waves pounding against the rocks at Bømlo or in Austevoll.
Perhaps you find it more tempting to watch the sun go down over the sea from Ryvarden Fyr lighthouse. No matter the weather, a trip to these barren but vibrant areas of our region will prove an unforgettable experience.
The fjord and the islands
As you move further inland, a fascinating island and fjord kingdom opens up before your eyes. There are thousands of large and small islands in the region - all of them marked by the friendly and hospitable character of the people of Sunnhordland. Norway's second longest fjord – the Hardangerfjord – starts in Sunnhordland. This 111 miles long fjord, often called the ”Queen of the Norwegian fjords”, also contributes to the distinctive character of the region.
Mountains and glaciers
Furthest inland in the region, the mighty Sunnhordland mountains tower heavenwards, with some peaks as tall as 5,577 feet. The mountains surround Norway's third largest glacier – Folgefonna. This magnificent glacier is “spread” over the mountains of the Folgefonna peninsula like the icing on a cake.
Some of Norway's most spectacular waterfalls cascade down the mountainsides. Folgefonna National Park, the 25th national park in Norway, was opened here in summer of 2005.
Like its distinctive and varied scenery, Sunnhordland also has a varied history for visitors to explore. Sunnhordland was one of the first areas to be settled in Norway, and through the ages the area has had a special place in the country's history. That is why Sunnhordland is one of the areas with most ancient monuments and the richest cultural heritage, dating back thousands of years.
Fishermen, hunters and boat builders
Fishing and hunting have always been important when people have settled in an area. This is also true of Sunnhordland, whose inhabitants have shown great prowess in exploiting the area's natural resources. Fish from the sea and the fjords and game from bountiful hunting grounds have always been important to people in this part of Hordaland.
The people of Sunnhordland have always been a travelling people, and boatbuilding became an important activity early in the area's history.
It is still an important industry, although nowadays they build modern ships and some of the world's biggest oil installations. The region attracts many workers and people who want to live outside the big cities.
The people of Sunnhordland have always been god-fearing – both in old Norse times and in more recent times.
It was no accident, therefore, that Olav Tryggvason chose to go ashore in Moster in 995 AD in order to take over the throne and start the Christianisation of Norway. In 1024, Olav Haraldson arrived in Moster accompanied by Bishop Grimkjell, and oversaw the adoption of Christian law by the Mostratinget assembly.
Moster is still home to one of the oldest churches in Norway – Moster Old Church.
Erling Skakke built Halsnøy Monastery on the island of Halsnøy, one of the mightiest Augustinian monasteries in Norway’s history.
The Viking era and the nobility
Given its central location, it was almost inevitable that Sunnhordland would come to occupy a prominent place during the Viking era. The region became a central base for Viking chieftains who often went raiding in the west. There are many places, therefore, where relics of this era can be seen.
The aristocracy subsequently made their presence felt and the building of the Barony of Rosendal manor was completed in 1665 – the only one of its kind in Norway.
The most important element in any region is the people themselves.
The great activity that has characterized Sunnhordland has of course created the basis for a lively folk culture, which has fortunately been nurtured and maintained throughout the region Sunnhordland.
The eight municipalities of Sunnhordland
In Austevoll you find wild sheep and salmon. The municipality consists of 667 islands,islets and skerries - of which nine are permanently inhabited. Bridges, fast passenger boats and ferries ensure good communications both within the municipality itself, and to the mainland.
Bømlo is Sunnhordland's last bulwark before the open sea, acting as a long-drawn shelter for the islands and the villages within. At Bømlo you can experience wild and rough sea, as well as miles and miles of shimmering sea. Habitation at Bømlo is dispersed, gathered in five densely populated areas. Bømlo is an Eldorado for people interested in fishing, and offers many overnight accommodation alternatives. The municipal centre and main shopping site is Svortland.
Etne is Sunnhordland's agricultural district par excellence, known for its fertile earth, surrounded by mountains, fjords, rivers and idyllic islands.
The estates along the Åkrafjord and the two villages of Skånevik and Etnesjøen, also known as just Etne, with their respective community centres are all part of the municipality. Etnesjøen is the municipal centre. Skånevik, also known as "the pearl of Sunnhordland", is an idyllic village with distinctive, well-preserved building traditions.
Fitjar consists of a gathering of islands and rocks divided by shallow straits and channels. Traditional shipping routes pass through the area, and the municipality contains several trading posts dating back as far as 1648.
The Fitjar Islands are popular boating destinations. They offer a special scenery, and constitute an important resource for the municipality. Because of the special heather moors, proposals have been made to turn the area into a national park.
The southern part of Kvinnherad is typical of the Western Norwegian fjord scenery. Husnes is the municipality's shopping centre. The areas Rosendal and Mauranger are known for some of the most beautiful fjord scenery in Sunnhordland, containing narrow fjords, wild rapids and - but not least - Folgefonna, the third-largest glacier on mainland Norway. Kvinnherad and particulary the Baroniet Rosendal ("Barony of Rosendal") manorhouse and gardens offer a wide range of cultural events in the summer season.
The municipality of Stord covers the southern half of the island of Stord and the smaller island of Huglo.
Stord is the only town in Sunnhordland, and a regional centre. Leirvik is a junction for communication in and out of Sunnhordland.
Stord is a global provider of products and services for the oil and gas industry, and some of the largest oil-rigs in the world are built here.
The offshore industries, as well as the area's university college (HSH), have a strong influence on the growth and vitality of the region.
Sveio is strategically located. The main road E39 passes throughout the entire municipality, and the shipping route crosses Sletta and passes through the Bømlafjord.
Sveio's scenery ranges from the open sea to naked rocks by the water, as well as heather moors and small mountains and fertile farming and forestry land. Although the mountain peaks are not of the highest, they offer expansive views of the sea, the fjords and land.
Tysnes consists of a group of islands with an overall surface area of 98 square miles. The scenery ranges from seaside rocks and heather moors to the west and the sea beyond, to steep mountain sides, distinctive forests and fertile vegetation towards the east and the outer Hardangerfjord.
There are skerries, and a beautiful mountain area with mountain peaks in excess of 2460 feet. Våge is the municipality's shopping centre, whilst the administrative centre is situated in Uggdal.
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