Is the island of Senja Norway’s best kept secret for adventure travel?
Clouds flicker and mountain peaks quiver as I glide silently along the fjord, my paddle cutting through their reflections with buttery smooth ease. With each stroke, I slide further into a sleepy rhythm, aware that I am the only moving part of a scene that is remarkably still.
The daily paddles are a form of meditation for kayak instructor Hege Dekkerhus, who escaped to the island of Senja several years ago, leaving behind a stressful life in the city. In an environment dominated by rugged mountains and deep fjords, navigating the overwhelming topography leaves no choice but to slow down.
Weaving through islets strewn with polished boulders and shiny wisps of seaweed, we explore the cinematic landscape once occupied by Viking communities. On the small satellite island of Tranoya, evidence of an old boathouse can be found under grassy mounds, along with bones, silver buttons and arrowheads frequently dug up by sheep – the only permanent residents that remain.
Despite being Norway‘s second-largest island, a three-hour drive and ferry ride from the northern city of Tromsø, Senja barely registers on most travelers’ radars. Too often it is overlooked and overshadowed by the neighboring Lofoten Islands, although its peaks rise just as high.
“I fell in love with this place when I came here,” says Hege, who organizes kayak tours through his company Norwegian Wild, in addition to running Camp Tranøybotn, a converted 1970s caravan park. from Anderdalen National Park in the south of the island, the site has been gently transformed with clap-board cabins, igloo domes and a lighthouse with 360-degree views. At dusk, sandpipers scoop along the shore and seals stoop and dive into the water shadows.
This is my base for exploring Norway in miniature: Senja is a place where cliffs line the coastline and colorful fishing villages nestle in the crevices of the valleys, condensing some of the Scandinavian country’s greatest physical and cultural attributes into a area of 612 square miles.
I start with a 56-mile section between Gryllefjord and Botnhamn; Listed as one of Norway’s 18 designated scenic drives, it offers some of the best views on the island.
Tunnels plunged into dark, seemingly impenetrable mountains, cutting through rocks that jutted out to sea. Sometimes narrow stretches are pinched between plunging cliffs and roaring waves, covering me in a haze of ocean spray .
At Tungeneset, a wooden walkway leads to the water and a viewing platform, a popular spot for photographing the geological wonder, Devil’s Teeth. Ahead of me, a jagged ridge of rock bites into the horizon, engulfing the midnight sun only to spit it out as I drive.
During the summer months there are never true hours of darkness, giving the days an irresistible elasticity and allowing activities to stretch out until dawn.
One of the most popular hikes is Segla Mountain. From the village of Fjordgard, I begin a four-hour hike to the equivalent of Pulpit Rock in Senja (an iconic precipice in southwestern Norway), following a steep trail to a peak at 2,096 feet above the fjords, where I sit like a queen on a granite throne.
Senja’s landscape lends itself to legends and folklore, even entering the Guinness Book of World Records for creating the world’s largest troll. Weaned on fishermen’s tales told by candlelight, local man Leif Rubach was inspired to build Senjatrollet in Finnsæter, where he dressed up and took visitors to visit his sculptures and paintings inspired by local folklore. A devastating fire in 2019 forced him to hang up his furry-toed slippers for good, and now only his memories and stories remain.
“Trolls are everywhere,” he insists. “You will find them in the mountains, the forest and the sea.” Anywhere else, the claims would be ridiculous. But in Magical Senja, even the wildest fantasies seem to make sense.
How to do
Where The Wild Is offers the four-night Life With A Local: Senja tour from £1,885 pp, including hiking, kayaking and road trips, but excluding flights.
For more information visit visitnorway.com
Published in the June 2022 issue of National Geographic Traveler (UK)
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