I didn’t come here for in-depth discussions about the region, or to understand its history or psyche. I came here simply to eyeball one of the most insanely beautiful places on earth.
(“I won’t lie to you baby, it’s mainly a physical thing” ~ Prince)
Visiting another country is like going on a date. You can either fall into deep conversation and get to know it well or you can ogle at its beauty, explore its contours and leave your money on the bedside table the following morning.
The island of Hadseløya in Norway’s Arctic circle got the latter treatment. I didn’t come here for in-depth discussions about the region, or to understand its history or psyche. I came here simply to eyeball one of the most insanely beautiful places on earth.
It was a three-night fling, back in May 2016. I landed in Evenes airport, having flown over fjords that twinkled in the golden, afternoon sun. My rented car wound its way along the coastal highway, the charcoal mountains jutting from deep turquoise fjords and filling me with an intense sense of ‘wellbeing’. Remember those TV car commercials from the 1980s? The ones where the driver speeds through an isolated landscape, smouldering with self-satisfaction? That was me:
We drove off the Norwegian mainland and into the Vesterålen archipelago, which spreads westwards into the Norwegian Sea. Three hours later we were on Hadseløya island, population 3,000; 14 x 8 miles across. Its residents live in clapboard houses scattered randomly among trees and loosely tended grasses. My friend’s cottage was a modern wooden construction with Viking-style grass on the roof, and its insulation was so effective I thought the owners had left the heating on.
Next morning I ate breakfast on the wooden porch and got a load of this view:
The scene was glorious, yet I was smarting with envy and regret. Norway, like the Niger Delta where I was born, is full of fish and oil reserves. But — unlike Nigeria — it knows how to spend its revenues. The government has built up a one trillion dollar sovereign fund that’s split between a population of just 5 million. Which means Norwegian pensioners have it good. So good, in fact, I’m thinking I should have come here looking for marriage rather than wasting time on the scenery.
But the scenery, my god….
We took a rowing boat out to the (above) island across the water. The water and the white sand beach looked very Caribbean but felt Arctic.
In the evening, we sat on the porch under a duvet and watched wild moose saunter into the backyard. It was that time of year when the sun never sets. By 11.30pm we were still sitting there and I was feeling peckish all over again. As the tide ebbed, we took a walk along the beach sandbar under a blue sky.
Our circadian rhythms were all over the place and by 2am I wasn’t the slightest bit drowsy. The sun had dipped to its lowest point, i.e. just above the horizon, and almost blinded me with its orange intensity.
We drove clockwise along Hadseløya’s only main road. Paralleling the coastline, it took us past green meadows where sheep grazed in front of snowy mountains, beneath a purple-orange sky.
And then my camera battery died. One of the worst mistakes of my travelling life. I was forced to capture my surroundings on my iPhone, which did this place no justice.
At the village of Taen, we climb up a grassy hill and paused at its summit to savour a gobsmacking view. Arcing from a large promontory to our left were 180 degrees of purple-blue skies and purple mountains, both reflected in the waters. It’s the kind of beauty that makes you sit back and laugh. We felt on top of the world in every sense: nearly all of humanity was further south than we were. And, at that time of night, we had the place to ourselves.
Hadseløya is not far from the Lofoten islands, which have the largest cold-water corral reef in the world and are a major spawning ground for herring. Despite the area’s natural riches, Norway’s oil minister has eyes only for the loot beneath its sea bed. Oil companies had threatened to begin exploration in the Lofoten and possibly Vesterålen too. Politicians tried to mollify residents with the usual promises of money and extra jobs. But angry local fishermen were having none of it, and neither were most of the general public. In 2016, Norway’s government reversed its decision to nominate oil blocks in the area.
A personal visit to Hadseløya by any of these oil enthusiasts would’ve weakened their determination to industrialise it, I bet. How could it not? Of course, there’s a certain irony in me driving a petrol-fuelled car to reach and admire this natural landscape, but if donkey-drawn bucket had been my only option to get here I would have taken it.
Anyway, we continued driving to the western side of Hadseløya, which contains some of the island’s most stunning natural beauty. I don’t know what the property prices are like in these parts — the residents don’t seem particularly wealthy — but if I were a millionaire I would fork out seven figures for one of these homes. We tried finding a parking space by the water’s edge but ended up in someone’s driveway. The insomniac homeowner was watching TV in his living room. His window looked out onto this:
We couldn’t get enough of this place. Before returning to the airport the next day we returned to savour Taen’s scenery one more time. It didn’t disappoint:
Hadseløya, I love you. I will come back here one day — next time with a proper camera.