Paddling on the still waters of the north by midnight is probably the closest you´ll ever get to bathing in gold.
Text: Julie Nordby Egeland
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 still 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 Anne Maria Leune, a northern kayak instructor. “It´s like bathing in gold”.
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 here, north of the Arctic Circle, are incredibly still. The only waves you get are the ones you make yourself. “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 noises and buzzes everywhere you go, and where everyone has earplugs and music in their ears just to go to the store, 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 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 bow living at the island of Bolvær who would row a mile each day though 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”.
At Jansen´s and Northern Norway Adventures, you get to experience the young boy’s everyday-route from the Kayak. “But in peace and quiet. Not with the stress and hurry the young boy must have felt”, he says.
“Being in the kayak lets you to 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”.
If that’s not enough, many of the tours encourage you to create your own adventure – making the kayak tour into a camp. Here you’re free to fish, meditate or simply go hunting for the perfect midnight sun picture. Sleeping is of course optional.
Don’t be a 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 to see hidden treasures of the north that really can´t be seen from anywhere else”.
Canoe believe it?
Engavågen – Offers quiet paddling underneath the glacier “Svartisen” and through the rugged islands of Meløy.
Tromsø Villmarkssenter – Offers kayak camping and overnight tours on the coast of Kvaløya (The whale island).
Svaldbard – Offers beach landing and the vision of towering mountains on the east side of “Adventfjorden”.
There are no clear boundaries between one day and the next in the Norwegian north during summer. These are the best places to experience the midnight sun.
Almost immediately after it tosses and turns in the water, it’s ready to be served on your platter. In Northern Norway, they are totally hooked on the fresh delicacies of the sea.
Northern Norway is by far the largest and most sparsely populated part of mainland Norway, and covers more than a third of the country. It stretches from the idyllic Helgeland region in the south to mainland Europe’s northernmost point near the North Cape.
Cruise ships are fun, but if you really want to get up close and personal with the still and deep Norwegian fjords or the wilder coastline, kayaks or canoes are more intimate options.