Norway winter cruise: from Lofoten to Tromsø

Following an exceptional trip to Svalbard on the Polarfront expedition vessel, I was invited on board for this Norway winter cruise from the Lofoten islands to Tromsø. From magnificent landscapes to nothern lights and killer whales, read on to find out everything about our trip!

The trip took place in the heart of the darkest season of the year, the Polar Night, when the sun does not rise at all above the horizon. But as you will see with all the photos, it does not mean complete darkness all the time, to the contrary.

Svolvaer, the capital of the Lofoten and starting point of our Norway winter cruise

The Polarfront was waiting for us in Svolvaer, also known as the capital of the Lofoten archipelago. Svolvaer is a small cute town of less than 5,000 inhabitants, surrounded by mountains and the sea. I took a walk around town and stumbled upon many of those now famous rorbu, the typical Norwegian fishermen houses.

Typical Norwegian rorbu in Svolvaer in the Lofoten
A typical Norwegian fishermen house or rorbu in Svolvaer.

After spending a first day in Svolvaer, it was time to start navigating towards Leknes. Some of the passengers had booked an “excursion pack”, which would allow them to visit by means of a small vans several locations along the way. I stayed on the ship and witnessed the very colourful and fascinating development of a snow storm.

Lofoten mountains under beautiful pastel blue and pink colours.
Before the storm: beautiful pastel colours of the Polar Night on the Lofoten mountains.
The bridge of the Polarfront during our Norway winter cruise
The bridge of the Polarfront in its natural environment.
Stormy clouds and colourful sky
The snow storm is catching up with us, but look at those colours!

Exploring the West of the Lofoten archipelago

After a windy and snowy afternoon and night, we woke up the next morning to a gorgeous clear day. The weather changes dramatically in this part of the world! While the group that had the “excursion package” continued exploring, I rented a car and went to visit a couple of sites I had in mind.

I decided to watch the first light of the day come up at the famous Arctic surf beach of Unstad.

Snow on Unstad beach in Lofoten during my Norway winter cruise
Unstad beach in the Lofoten. It was my intention to be first on site after the snow storm to photograph an undisturbed snowy ground.

At first I was alone on the beach, but when the waves started growing, surfers were flocking the area as if they had been signalled that it would be a good day for them.

Surfer riding a wave at Unstad Arctic surfing beach in Lofoten
To my inexperienced eyes, the best surfer of the day at Unstad Beach.

This was all so entertaining that I lost track of time watching the surfers, and it was already nearly 1 PM when I drove away from the beach. With such short daylight hours during the winter time, there was barely enough time left to travel to Hamnøy to take the typical “Instagram photo” that’s unavoidable when travelling to Lofoten. Oh well, I decided not to be a sheep and to skip this location altogether.

Instead, I went to Nusfjord, which proved to be a very cute choice as well, away from the potential crowds at the more famous Hamnøy bridge.

Red rorbu in Nusfjord during a Norway winter cruise
Cute rorbu in Nusfjord.

Navigation towards Tromsø

In the evening our Norway winter cruise left from Leknes and started heading north. This day’s goal was going through the Trollfjord (or Trollfjorden), a very narrow fjord surrounded by steep cliffs. The weather was typically Arctic then with snow flying around and very low visibility. Our skilled captain took us through the narrow passage, and the low hanging clouds and fog gave it a very mysterious look.

Norway winter cruise through the Trollfjord on board the Polarfront expedition ship
You can see how narrow the fjord is…
Two of the guests admiring the Trollfjord passage.
Two of the guests admiring the Trollfjord passage.
Foggy way through the Trollfjord.
Foggy way through the Trollfjord.

With such low hanging clouds, at this time of year night falls then even quicker. We continued our route north, while I entertained the guests with a conference about the northern lights. We wouldn’t see them in this weather, but what is waiting for us the next days?

In search of orcas (killer whales)

After leaving the Lofoten archipelago, it became time to search for another selling point of this Norway winter cruise: the killer whales. As with all wildlife related trips, there is never a guaranteed sighting, and you are always required to search for the animals.

In our case, we spent the first day in the Tromsø area looking for the orcas, to no avail. The landscapes were however spectacular and the full moon was hanging low and big above the mountains.

Full Moon above the mountains near Tromsø.
Full Moon above the mountains near Tromsø.

After a few hours of visiting many fjords in the area, we had to conclude that we would not see any orcas this day. But we still had one day left on our Norway winter cruise, so the spirits were still high for our luck the next day!

In the evening, the ship anchored in one of the many fjords to allow us for a quiet evening. The sky was partly clear so I nominated myself on Aurora watch.

Northern lights between the clouds near Tromso.
I knew we had good chances that night for some stronger Aurora, however, the clouds did not play nice with us and covered most of the sky when the Northern Lights appeared.

We found the killer whales

The next day, we were early on a site that is known for its orcas (killer whales) sightings, and as soon as there was enough lights, this proved us right: a large pod of orcas was feeding in the fjord. The captain brought the Polarfront to a near stop and one zodiac was put in the water to allow us to approach the orcas a bit more.

Now, as far as I know, the Norwegian regulations state that one must stay at least 30 meters away from orcas and whales. Sadly, there were at least half a dozen high speed boats literally chasing the animals, some of the boats following feeding orcas less than 5 meters behind them.

In order not to add even more stress to the animals, we kept a greater distance from the pod. This proved difficult to take pictures with a lens limited to 200 mm, but no picture is ever worth disturbing the wildlife! I still had plenty of opportunities to make good environmental shots.

orca (killer whale) spy hopping in a fjord near Tromso
An orca spy-hopping. Maybe he wanted to check out the gorgeous landscape as well!
Orcas swimming during our Norway winter cruise
Who needs a close-up when the mountains are so beautiful?
Orcas with beautiful Norwegian mountains in the background.
Orcas in the soft colours of the Polar Night.

And as always with photography, don’t get obsessed by what is in front of you, and forget to look behind. Sure, it was almost dark over there in our backs, but seeing the pod of orcas swim towards the Full Moon was a show in itself.

A pod of orcas swimming towards the full moon
How many orcas do you count? (click to open the photo)

Northern Lights to conclude a successful Norway winter cruise

Auroras are truly my obsession when travelling to the north so every time even only one star was visible in the night sky, I would be outside on the deck on Aurora watch.

On our second night, in Leknes, a weak display was visible through the parting clouds of the snow storm I mentioned above. I managed to get a photo of the passengers under the Aurora, but I really wanted them to see something nicer with their own eyes!

We had to wait our very last night, while navigating from the killer whales observation towards Tromsø, for a really nice and clear display to show up in the sky. It was during the Captain’s dinner, but I took the responsibility to interrupt the meal and called everyone outside.

The passengers and part of the crew under the northern lights.
The passengers and part of the crew under the northern lights.
Northern lights reflected above water during our Norway winter cruise
The Polarfront’s French flag under the northern lights.

A big thank you again to Latitude Blanche

This trip was not sponsored in any way by Latitude Blanche and I did not receive any moneys for the trip or writing this article. I do want to thank them for allowing my presence on board and for the kindness of the entire crew of the Polarfront. If you’re looking for a similar Norway winter cruise experience, I can only recommend them to you!

More photos of this Norway winter cruise

I have published all my photos in the stock side of my website, and they are now available for purchasing (licenses and prints). And if you enjoy the special light of the Polar Night, check out my upcoming workshops!

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