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Bathing in gold

Paddling on the still waters of the north by midnight is probably the closest you'll ever get to bathing in gold.

It’s all quiet. Really quiet. It’s the middle of the night and we’re out paddling on the coast of Helgeland. As our kayaks glide through the fjord, we see Svartisen, the second largest glacier in Norway, bulging in the landscape before us. Beneath those thousands of tons of ice, we paddle our way through the labyrinths of the rugged archipelago to take a closer look.

When the midnight sun peeks out, it is reflected in the crystal clear water – warm, golden light stretches across the surface. “You really do paddle directly into the sun”, says kayak instructor Anne Maria Leune.

“It’s like bathing in gold.”
– Anne Maria Leune

The need for silence

The way a kayak cuts quietly into the water in front of it, flowing smoothly forward in pace with your strokes, is really quite hypnotizing. That, of course, applies for paddling on lakes and rivers, too. But the experience that will really burn into your memory is when you try it in the northern ocean waters under the light of the midnight sun.

One would think that rough ripples or fear of falling into the sea would distract you. But by night time the waters north of the Arctic Circle are often incredibly still. “Since you paddle in the middle of the night, there are very few boats or disturbing noises heard from the landside. It’s a feeling of total serenity”, Leune says.

The experienced instructor at Rocks & Rivers strongly believes that kayaking at midnight has a therapeutic effect.

“I think in the modern world, where there are noise and buzz everywhere you go, and where everyone has earplugs and music in their ears just to go to the shop, there’s a need for a deeper silence. We northerners cultivate this quietness, as we have done for generations out on the sea”, Leune explains.

The sea is in their blood

The traces of those generations are visible from the kayak. You will spot old fishing villages at the coast – characteristic wooden shelters painted in bright colours. For hundreds of years, dried and salted cod from these waters were exported to the European continent through the Hanseatic office in Bergen, in return for grains and other commodities. To this day, the export of fish is vital to the economy here. Every year, Norway exports fish for billions of euros, to the continent and beyond.

In light of this, knowing how to face the sea – and to live from it – has always been crucial for the northerners. “In the 1950s, there was a young boy living at the island of Bolvær who would row a mile each day through the rugged coast, just to get to school and back”, says Bjørn Erik Jansen, a kayak guide in Brønnøysund. “Using our hands to make our way through the sea – it’s in our blood. It has led to not only wealth but to a certain lifestyle that we still nourish.”

Close to nature

When you paddle through the light of the midnight sun, you soon learn that a small kayak becomes something big. Yet whilst the water may be flat, the surroundings are definitely not. At most of the guided tours, you float past a diverse and hilly terrain.

One of the routes, located at Engavågen (around two hours from the town of Bodø), lets you explore the many wonders surrounding the pointy islands of Meløy. “You start from a quiet bay to get comfortable with being in the kayak. Then you drift pass islets, skerries and mountain tops as high as 600 metres, all soaked in the special light of the midnight sun”, says Anne Maria Leune.

“Being in the kayak lets you see hidden treasures of the north that really can’t be seen from anywhere else. The kayak is a way for us northerners to get as close to our nature as possible, and we wish our visitors to get that experience as well.”

Staying in a traditional rorbu (fisherman's cabin) or in a comfy hotel or cabin right by the sea adds yet another layer of magic to the adventure.

Curious porpoises

Don’t be afraid to feel alone out on the sea, even though it’s after midnight. One or two guests who are very awake will probably accompany you. “The porpoises here are very curious and often eager to visit the paddlers”, Leune says and laughs. The small, toothed whales look almost like dolphins, except for the shorter beaks.

If you are more into flying creatures, the route at Engavågen stops by an eagle’s nest. “You actually get to paddle underneath the nest. It’s pretty cool”, Leune says.

The northern veteran is in no doubt that paddling is one of the best ways to experience the brightness of the midnight sun. “In the kayak, you appreciate the midnight sun in a complete and different way. Being in the kayak also lets you see hidden treasures of the north that really can’t be seen from anywhere else”.

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