Updated: 23 Nov 2020
By Mark Brion
Stood on the harbour side, small waves gently lap the pillars of the simple red wooden “robruer” (Fisherman’s huts). The waves are produced by the trailing wake of a small blue fishing vessel slowly cutting through the still harbour waters for a night at sea.
The town is gently descending into the darkness on this fresh February evening. House lights are slowly being switched on which only enriches this already mesmeric vista. Their reflections can be seen emerging from the darkening cold harbour waters.
Smoke emerges into the clear night sky from the chimneys of several “robruer” adding to the character of this already enchanting habitat.
My camera is set upon its tripod overlooking the picturesque harbour of Reine, a small rustic town on the Norwegian island of Lofoten.
As I stood alone, collecting my thoughts, this is how I imagined Lofoten would be on a cold wintery February evening. I had always dreamt of this image in my mind and this vista did not disappoint. Scandinavian picture postcard scene, literally. Is there another such stunning image anywhere on this earth?
Minutes earlier, whilst leaving my “robruer” for my blind date, Karin my Norwegian tour guide and photography enthusiast said to me in a near perfect English accent – ”Mark, Aurora is something very special. You will always remember her for the rest of your days”.
She was staying back at the “Robruer” checking over our itinerary for the following days of my visit, leaving me to go ahead with my much anticipated rendezvous.
Having been met by Karin at the small, quiet partially snow-clad airport in Svolvaer only hours earlier, I made her aware of my secret date with Aurora and how I had waited many years for our meeting to come to fruition. She understood.
She has lived on Lofoten for her entire life, apart from a short spell working in the UK during 2012. I guess she had many previous encounters with our Aurora.
Back at my photo site, I removed my thick padded gloves and checked my camera settings once again as the light was changing quickly by the minute.
It is hard to believe that I am now situated 100 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle, when just eight hours earlier I had been leaving my grey overcast home in Oxfordshire for my blind date with Aurora in Norway. I was hoping it was not to be a completely wasted journey and all the positive things I had heard and read about her would be true.
However, Aurora was not my only reason for visiting the Lofoten Islands. I was mixing both business and pleasure. As I run photography tours and workshops, I wanted to complete a four-day reconnaissance of the islands for my future tours and workshops on the island. That said, Aurora was to be the highlight of this visit and hopefully she would show up soon in all her finery.
The fishing boat had disappeared; there is a quiet, almost eerie still over the town. Only my exhaled breath is visible in the clear night air. But surprisingly it is not overly cold, about -3 degrees. Still hard to believe it is only 4.30pm.
The quite is suddenly broken by the echoing voices of a small group of lively hikers returning from a good day walking the islands. They can be heard from the far side of the small port. There is laughter and excitement in their voices. They are in high-spirits and probably looking forward to a hearty, warm evening meal and drink or two in their heated, cosy “robruer”.
Soon the voices are gone and the vista becomes silent once again and I check and change my camera settings once more.
The delightful and earthy smells of evening meals being cooked are now wafting across the harbour and starting to hit my nasal sensors. I have not eaten since my light in-flight meal several hours ago and instantaneously, I started to feel extremely hungry.
The Norwegian dinner (the middag) normally starts at around 5-6pm and is considered the most important meal of the day. The order of the day typically includes carbohydrate rich foods such as potatoes and protein-rich local food such as meat or fish.
My senses are telling me it is all these meat and fish are on the menu, plus a whole lot more. Start thinking photography again, Mark, it will take you mind away from those beautiful aromas!
I am now just waiting for the tell-tale signs of Aurora appearing.
It is easy to understand why the Lofoten Islands have become a mecca for photographers and travellers from around the globe. Photographers, walkers, mountaineers, artist and sight-seers all descend on this small Norwegian archipelago for its sheer magnificence.
Plying my trade as an Outdoor Photographer and being my first visit, this whole experience was going to be magical.
I did not have to wait long. About an hour after setting up my camera and equipment, the first wisps of magical colourful light are forming in the clear turquoise skies above Reine. Aurora was making her magnificent entrance as I hoped she would.
For a split second I just stood in awe of the whole magnitude of this experience. Aurora had arrived for our blind date. I was totally in awe of her beauty.
It does not get any better than this!
Of course, Aurora is the magical wonderful scene that is the world famous Aurora Borealis phenomenon, the Northern lights, a celestial ballet of light dancing across the night sky with a colour palette of green, blue, pink, and violets.
I was actually here witnessing the night sky lit up with her beautiful palleted tones of mainly green and blue on this occasion. After what seemed like a number of minutes standing behind my camera in admiration of her magnificence, I thought I had better get to work by photographing this amazing ever-changing vista.
For what seemed like only minutes, I collected literally hundreds of unforgettable images of this unrivalled natural phenomenon. This is any photographer’s paradise, I thought. Yes, I could have travelled somewhere sunny and hot, but there was no place I would rather be at this moment in time.
Other visitors have now emerged from their “robruer” and are looking skywards over towards the Lofoten wall. They too are experiencing this truly remarkable force of nature. This is just simply magical!
If I had travelled to Reine for just this one moment in time, it would have been a worthwhile journey. I have previously seen glimpses of Aurora on a visit to Scotland, but nothing like this.
Just ninety minutes majestic later, my date with Aurora was finished. I returned to my rented “robruer” in Reine and the opportunity to thaw out in front of a raging log fire amidst the aromatic smell of a hot beef stew and dumplings being made by my accommodating Norwegian host.
An early night was in order. It had been a long but exhilarating day and I had so much more to explore on these beautiful islands over the next three days. Still full of adrenaline from my date with Aurora, it could be a long sleepless night!
I will have a second date with Aurora in the foreseeable future, but this time with tour groups of excited, expectant photographers in tow. I just hope that they experience the same feeling of wonderment that I experienced on this cold February evening in Reine. I’m sure they will!
Recently published figures state that close to one million people a year visit the Lofoten Islands with another 300,000 coming ashore from cruise ships. It is the islands natural beauty that draws the tourists and photographers here in the first place.
As one Norway’s most beautiful locations, the Lofoten Islands are draped across the turbulent waters of the Norwegian Sea, far above the Arctic Circle. This rare wilderness outpost offers an unequalled photographic landscape of majestic mountains, deep fjords, squawking seabird colonies and long, white sand surf beaches.
Across the chain of islands are dotted many cosy, small fishing villages which are towered over by majestic mountains. Reine is just one.
Reine and the rest of the Lofoten Islands have a temperate year-round climate, in comparison to the rest of the wintry country of Norway. In winter, the islands’ skies are illuminated by the Northern Lights. In short, they are a magnet for photographers and tourists wishing to get away from it all.
Due to the increased influx of tourists over recent decades, the islands are changing. There are now good restaurants, big hotels, shopping centres and new airports.
A skeletal curve of mountainous rock stretched out across the Norwegian Sea, the Lofoten islands has everything to offer from sea-bird colonies in the south to beaches and fjords in the north.
One traditional approach to the islands by tourists is by boat from Bodø which brings visitors face to face with the islands’ most striking feature, the towering peaks of the Lofotenveggen (Lofoten Wall),
These are a 160-kilometre stretch of mountains, whose jagged teeth bite into the skyline, trapping a string of many tiny fishing villages tight against the shoreline.
The mountains are set so close together that on first inspection there seems to be no way through them, but in fact the islands are riddled with straits, sounds and fjords.
The Lofoten Islands have their own relaxed pace and are perfect for that simple, uncluttered few days hiatus.
For somewhere so far north, the weather can be exceptionally mild, due to the warm waters of the Gulf Stream. Lofoten has a much milder climate than other parts of the world at the same latitude.
Between late May and mid-July, you can experience the midnight sun, whilst the awe-inspiring northern lights can be viewed from September to mid-April.
The “midnight sun” runs from 25 May to 17 July and in winter the sun does not rise from 4 December to 7 January.
The rapidly changing weather and magnificent light conditions have inspired artists and photographers visiting the area for several decades, which is evident by the many art galleries and photo exhibitions on show.
Summer days can be spent sunbathing on the rocks or hiking and biking around the superb coastline. When it rains – as it frequently does – social life moves to the inside of the “rorbruer” (fishermen’s huts).
To experience the unbelievable colours that move across the Arctic sky is on many travellers’ bucket list and few places on earth offer more ways to witness the northern lights than Lofoten.
Between late September and late March, Northern Norway is dark from early afternoon until late morning and the northern islands, deep fjords and steep mountains are among the most beautiful and interesting places to view the northern lights.
The aurora borealis has its climax when the weather is cold and dry and the guarantee to experience magical light in Northern Norway all through the polar night.
On clear days, you can see beautiful sunset colours in the south while the sky to the north is a deep midnight blue. During “the blue hour” at twilight, the landscape is bathed in a glassy deep blue colour.
May and June are the driest months on the islands, whilst October has three times as much precipitation. The warmest temperature was recorded at 30.4 °C (86.7 °F).
Strong winds can occur in late autumn and winter. Snow and sleet are not uncommon in winter. The mountains can have substantial amounts of snow and in some winters, avalanches might come down from steep mountain slopes. Two of the top ten deadliest rainstorms ever recorded passed through Lofoten.
If you are seeking unforgettable natural world and wildlife experiences, Lofoten will definitely not disappoint. Due to the area’s diverse landscape, you can go photographing, hiking, skiing, fishing, ocean rafting or scuba diving. A real “adventure playground”.
Lofoten is also one of the world’s northernmost sites for surfing and one of the best spots in the whole of Norway.
Many rock climbing and mountaineering opportunities for the more adventurous photographers are abundant in numbers. It has 24 hours of daylight in the summer and has Alpine-style ridges, summits and glaciers. The main centre for rock climbing is Henningsvaer on Austvågøya.
Kayaking between the islands, day or night is extremely popular, as well as the fishing trip of your life or just having the opportunity to watch and photograph the beautiful sea eagles circling the skies.
For nature and wildlife photographers, the sea is rich with life and has the world’s largest deep water coral reef called the Røst Reef which is located off the west coast of Lofoten.
There is a high density of sea eagles, cormorants and millions of other sea birds, among them the colourful puffin. It has mainland Europe’s largest seabird colony.
Otters are common and there are moose on the largest islands.
The capital and largest town, Svolvaer lies approximately 169 kilometres inside the Arctic Circle and approximately 2420 kilometres away from the North Pole, making Lofoten one of the world’s northernmost populated regions. The population of the islands is just a mere 25,000.
The Lofoten Islands are served by a number of small airports including Svolvaer,Leknes, Stokmarknes or Bodø on the mainland. Regular one-stop flights run from UK airports.
Lofoten is both memorable and mesmeric. It is hard to beat the stunning scenery the islands have to offer … I would thoroughly recommend a visit.
A typical 3 night stay in a “Robruer” in Reine is £464 (February Average) and the average price for return flight from UK to Lofoten (One-Stop) is £400 (February Average)