Voyage to Antarctica: Part II

The adventure of a lifetime

Juliet Symes had the time of her life on her sea voyage over ten days to Antarctica. If you missed her talking about her very close encounter with a humpback whale and crossing the Drake passage, make sure to check it out. Otherwise, continue reading to learn about penguins, camping and glacier calvings.

BT: What was the most magical sight you saw?

JS: There’s too many! A couple, both completely different from each other…

First of all, Neko Harbour is renowned for its regular glacier calvings. And we saw a fair few! You hear this deep rolling sound like thunder then suddenly a giant chunk of ice breaks off and falls into the ocean, sometimes causing a mini tsunami. It was incredible to see. And hear!

 

Also at Neko Harbour, watching penguin chicks catch snowflakes was wonderful. Neko Harbour is essentially a ‘penguin creche’, and when it snows the penguin chicks all try to catch snowflakes with their mouths, supposedly to help keep them cool (it was about 0ºC that day). It was adorable, I could have watched them all day!

BT: Speaking of penguins, what was it like to see them in the wild? What other wildlife did you see?

JS: Well, almost everyday there was a penguin colony visit involved in our excursions. I went in mid February so there were plenty of penguin chicks around!  We saw three species of them – Gentoo, Adelie and Chinstrap. They’re completely unfazed by people, and although you’re not allowed to get within five metres of them and the ‘penguin highways’, penguins themselves often break this rule and will walk right by your feet.

I always thought penguins were cute but oh my goodness, in real life they exceeded all my cuteness expectations! They chat, they hop, they waddle around with their ‘wings’ behind them as if they’re moving really fast. They enter the ocean by dipping their head in first then splash about a bit before zipping off at surprising speed. Then when they come back ashore, they make a quick and almost dramatic entrance onto dry land.

 

We also saw many sea birds, several species of albatross and petrel. We saw a lot of crabeater seals, lying around on icebergs snoozing, drooling and scratching their bellies. Fur seals and leopard seals too but less often. Plus, of course, whales! We witnessed humpback whales bubble net feeding and some minke whales too. You can usually see killer whales but we didn’t this time.

There’s a rule allowing only 100 people per vessel ashore on Antarctica at a time, so being on a smaller vessel like the Ioffe allows all the passengers to disembark together giving us twice the excursion opportunities (and twice the penguin colony visits!)

BT: Is there one story from your Antarctic expedition that you think you will be repeating for years to come? What is it?

JS: Besides my whale encounter?! Probably camping on the ice. Camping is an optional excursion and weather-dependent. About 40 of us left the ship after dinner one night, put on ALL our warm layers and headed back to Dorian Bay where we had visited a penguin colony earlier that afternoon. We were given a mat, sleeping bag and bivvy bag. We headed up the hill to find a good spot with a penguin view and dug a shallow ditch in the snow to lie our bivvy bag in. We were surrounded by towering, snow-covered mountains and just the purest of landscapes. I found it drew my thoughts away from all worldly things, away from the thousand mechanical details of my life back home. I was so struck with awe that it was impossible to worry about anything or even give a moment’s attention to anything outside of what I was seeing.

Yes, it was cold. Yes, there was a private portable ‘toilet’ (we left NOTHING behind). And yes, I held on until I got back to the ship. But no, there was no beautiful, serene silence one would expect out there… penguins are noisy! They do not shut up. But it was absolutely magical.

BT: And finally, how cold was it?

JS: Antarctic cruises only run in the summer (Nov-Mar) so the coldest it got for us was -4ºC and the warmest maybe 1ºC, so a little brisk but you are provided with warm outer gear to leave the ship.


If Juliet’s story has inspired you to pursue your own adventurous dreams on the great southern continent, make sure to check out our many Antarctic sea voyages on offer.

Voyage to Antarctica: Part I

The adventure of a lifetime

When Juliet booked in her Antarctic adventure through Bentours, she’d already spent a fair amount of time living in cold parts of the world. She’d read all the books, she’d done all the research, she’d bought all the gear – but nothing would prepare her for the amazing experience she was to have. From seeing eye to eye with a whale to toasting to adventure with fellow guests on board, Juliet’s ten day voyage to the Antarctic Peninsula onboard the Akademik Ioffe was the once-in-a-lifetime experience she had been dreaming of. We chatted with her about her most memorable experiences and asked any advice she might have for future travellers to the Great Frozen Continent.

BT: Why Antarctica? Has this been somewhere you have wanted to go for a while?

JS: Visiting Antarctica has been on my bucket list for a good 20 years – but in brackets, meaning it would be ideal to check it off but no shame should it not be possible. I used to think that the continent, historically, was pretty much a testing ground for men with frozen beards to see how easily they could kill themselves, so I was desperate to figure out the lure of Antarctica myself. Plus, I’ve always been drawn to cold remote places off the beaten track.

BT: What was the most exciting experience of your voyage?

JS: Without a doubt, coming face to face with a humpback whale. Down in the Antarctic Peninsula, you’ll often see humpback, minke and killer whales. The plan was to sail to Wilhelmina Bay, an area where you will easily spot a lot of whales (or as I like to call it – Whalemina Bay!) However, on our way through the Gerlache Strait we came across a couple of humpbacks just snoozing so we grabbed our cameras, got suited and booted and boarded the Zodiacs to get a closer look.

The expedition team on the Ioffe are always cautious never to interfere with the wildlife, watching each whale for a maximum of 30 minutes before moving on and never following them – humpbacks are more likely to follow us anyway!

This day though, instead of us whale-watching, the whale decided to people-watch and investigate us! We quietly approached the big guy, careful not to surround him. He gently came up to each boat, sticking his head out of the water to check us out and blew bubbles at us. He swam between the boats, underneath them and rolled over onto his back with his white pectoral fins extended out.

Then he moved onto the next boat and did the same. Before I know it, with my GoPro dangling in the water, his face appears out of the water a foot away from my face, getting a good look at me. He was so curious and playful and my heart melted into the sea! The staff said they had rarely experienced this behaviour before so they were just as excited as the rest of us.

BT: Is there one thing that stood out as making this holiday different to any other? (Apart from curious whales!)

JS: It’s really a once in a lifetime trip. Antarctica is a destination very few people have experienced and that made it even more special. With no culture or people, the attraction and experiences are purely based on the environment itself which is quite rare. It’s a world stripped of clutter, people and culture. What made it for me though was how much I learnt along the way. Everyday there are talks onboard about Antarctic wildlife, polar history, photography tips and tricks amongst other topics. I learnt so much!

The expedition guides came ashore with us and taught us about the wildlife and nature we saw around us. We even had whale researchers hitching a ride with us, so we got to see first hand how they tag and track whales. Guests and expedition leaders would all sit together at meals and talk about the day’s sightings. I had done a lot of reading up about the continent before the trip so it was great to pick the brains of experts and get that intimate knowledge. I felt like I was learning something new everyday and came away from the trip with a whole new appreciation for the planet and the incredible continent.

BT: The Drake Passage is known the world over for being a very rough body of water to cross – how did you find it? Do you have any advice for the crossing?

JS: Let’s just say there’s a reason they call it the ‘Drake Lake’ or the ‘Drake Shake’. With the often-violent convergence of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans and inherent unpredictability, it can be your worst nightmare or sometimes, if you’re lucky, it can be eerily calm. The vessel I was on, the Akademik Loffe and her sister ship the Akadmik Vavilov, were built for polar waters and are some of the most stable ships to be on for the Drake crossing so we were in safe hands. I’m not good on the water at all so I certainly anticipated some trouble with the Drake. But we got lucky – there and back again!

When we boarded the ship, the staff told us that they had just come through a horrendous storm the previous night with 30ft waves in the Drake. This made me feel apprehensive to say the least, but in reality it meant that we were treated to a calm crossing.

I took some prescribed Ondansetron but that didn’t seem to work for me. So the next 24 hours were spent lying down. I found as long as I maintained a horizontal position everything was ok. I got dressed lying down, brushed my teeth lying down and ate marmite toast lying down. When the staff noticed I wasn’t at meals they kindly brought crackers and ginger ale to the pity party I was throwing in my cabin. There’s a doctor onboard who I decided to pay a visit to. He gave me a patch and an injection and it worked a treat! Don’t let that put you off – I get seasick, airsick and carsick,  and coupled with my fear of being out on the open ocean, I battled the war on sickness.

A calm Drake Passage (L); the Akademik Ioffe has an open bridge policy so you’re allowed up there any time of the day or night (R)

There is no happier person than one who has been through seasickness hell and come back from the brink. My advice? Get seasickness medication prescribed by your doctor and take it BEFORE you hit the Drake. And travel on a ship built for these kinds of crossings with stablisers.

Click through to read the rest of Juliet’s interview.

 

Wild Scandinavia: Spotting a Polar Bear

Once considered a great sporting trophy, the polar bear is the unofficial symbol of the Arctic, the cuddly-looking giant who could tear you to shreds in an instant.

Not many creatures have been so fascinating to us humans for the past centuries as the polar bear. Once hunted with guns, today the great white bear is hunted with cameras and binoculars for a different kind of shooting. Seeing a polar bear in its natural habitat is something that features on many a pioneering soul’s bucketlist, but what is it like when you are able to fulfil that wish?

“It’s almost like a dream – finally on my way to a place and a life that I’ve read so much about. Even a few years ago, I couldn’t have dreamed that I would have a chance to take a trip like this.”

– Polar bear hunter Knut Bjåen, 1946, from Birger Amundsens’ book Without Mercy, on hunting in the Arctic.

Svalbard sightings of Polar Bears

Imagine you are on an excursion at Gnålodden, Hornsund, southwest of Spitsbergen, Svalbard, famous for its population of sea birds and the almost legendary polar bears. Picture thousands of sea birds wheeling around in the sky above you, creating a cacophony of noise.

Wanny Wolstad, a polar bear hunter of old, would have looked out at this same sight from her small hut, sitting perched on the stones and surrounded by snow. It was in this tight space that she raised her two sons in the 1930s and began her thrill-seeking search for the polar bear, the great ‘trophy’ that it was considered. Inside the hut the beds still stand and it is not too difficult to imagine her sitting on her bed writing to a magazine in Tromsø about her hunting experiences. Rugged up against the cold, the wooden slats barely keeping out the harsh winds and with a chorus of bird shrieks as her soundtrack, she recounted this of her time in Svalbard:

“Wonderful! Despite the danger, tension and difficulty, it’s ideal. I wouldn’t trade it for anything…Svalbard is in my blood.”

In spite of the harshness of life on Svalbard, Wolstad was not alone in her enthusiasm. Now follow us east in your minds eye towards the fjord, scanning the ground for signs of the elusive giant. Suddenly you spot something in the snow, some disturbance – could they be animal tracks? Excitement builds as you easily fit your foot into the imprint and then look out to the east, following the line of the trail. The expedition team leader confirms what you already know – a polar bear was here not so long ago. And so the hunt begins.

The first glimpse

Imagine only hours earlier as the Hurtigruten ship slowly made its way into a fjord on the southwest side of Svalbard, there was a loud exclamation followed by the shutter of camera lenses that follows wildlife-hungry travellers everywhere. ‘There! A polar bear!’ It is then that you felt lucky to even spot one from afar, looking dwarfed against the large mountains.

You have just emerged from a storm across the Barents Sea, and feeling woozy after the ship’s rocking but like a true explorer, you revel in your first sighting of a wild polar bear. ‘Can it get better than this?’ you ask yourself.

The bubble is burst when Manuel Marin, ornithologist and Hurtigruten expert shakes his head ruefully. “I’m afraid you are looking at a stone!”

You can’t help but chuckle despite your disappointment. “The art of seeing has to do with the ability to identify unnatural shapes and colours against the background. That is much too dark against the white background.”

“Listen to Manuel! He was raised by eagles!” shouts one of his colleagues. You all try your hardest to engage in the art of seeing, fine tune whatever innate hunting sense you might have in your DNA, a throwback to times of survival of the fittest. Here, on the thin sea ice stretching 200 metres out from the land, there are seals and where there are seals, there is usually a polar bear nearby. With Arctic wind whipping against your hands and face, your senses are all alert, fingers gripping binoculars at the ready for a glimpse of yellow white movement.

You’ve dreamed about this moment since you booked in your Arctic exploration – heck, this was one of the reasons you booked the Arctic exploration! And then, just as the tension is building to bursting point, there is a cry from someone on the lower deck and a loudspeaker crackles into action.

“Ladies and gentlemen, on the portside, at 11 o’clock, we have…a polar bear. Right to the left of the small island in the ice, you can see blocks of ice. One meter to the right, a polar bear is lying and sleeping. He just moved!”

Now that you have seen it, you hardly know what to do! Everyone stares, bustles on decks with camera in hands, the contagious excitement coursing through the crowd. When you lay eyes on the bear you forget your camera and just watch him, sleeping rather peacefully. A streak of gold amongst the white. The majestic, ferocious predator looks like a friendly pet, a big version of a child’s prized teddy. The only thing that reveals his hunting instincts is a smear of red on his muzzle.

Now imagine that this is not a daydream at all: you’re not staring at your screen in the comfort of your home or on your commute from work, but you are onboard your Hurtigruten cruise, in the Arctic Circle, a polar bear laying on the ice right in front of you.


Make your dream a reality and contact us today about booking your Hurtigruten adventure!

All Aboard: MS Lofoten

Like any venerable individual of the older generation, MS Lofoten floats along with a stateliness and grace not seen in the more modern, luxurious cruise ships. MS Lofoten is still the oldest ship still in operation, joining the Hurtigruten fleet. Refurbished three times in her lifetime, most recently in 2015, she has retained a timeless elegance and an incomparable old-world grace.

Hurtigruten heritage

During World War Two, many of Norway’s coastal passenger and cargo ships were destroyed. MS Lofoten was the 12th ship to be built during the post war reconstruction but one of the few still in operation. As such, her interiors hark back to a different time upon the seas and modern day guests can’t help but get caught up in the romance of nostalgia. Fifty years since her maiden journey from Bergen, in 2014 MS Lofoten had travelled almost 3 million nautical miles, transported 1.25 million guests, and docked over 75,000 times in Hurtigruten ports.

Ms Lofoten was one of the last ships designed for Hurtigruten with the traditional loading system with an on board crane. Maritime enthusiasts will be enchanted by the heritage of the ways freight used to be handled and the slow process of loading and unloading cargo. In 2001, the Norwegian Director General of Historic Monuments declared her worthy of preservation for Norway’s rich cultural heritage. For her 50th year in operation, the birthday celebrations spanned the entire year on board and in various ports.

MSLofoten_fjord_600x450A unique namesake for a unique ship

Lofoten is an archipelago in Nordland, Norway which is famous for some of the most dramatic and breathtaking scenery the world over. Known as Norway’s untamed islands, Lofoten is a truly unique place and just like her namesake, MS Lofoten is a distinctive ship. Today, this stately old lady continues to cruise the coast of Norway and offers a true working ship experience that can only really be found on European waters.

Onboard menus, retro uniforms and interiors are designed to recreate a 60s cruise experience. The 32 crew member staff are all Norwegian and ready to welcome guests with the world famous Norwegian hospitality. Where her cabins are rather small and cosy and she lacks the luxury of her younger sister ships, passengers are charmed by the Hurtigruten history during a trip aboard MS Lofoten.

The ambience onboard is laid back, the pace slow, with plenty of spots to sit, relax and watch the beautiful coast line roll by. A trip aboard this old dame revisits the picturesque passage of an old coastal cruiser and it is truly an unforgettable experience.

All Aboard: MS Fram

The MS Fram was purpose built in 2007 to be one of Hurtigruten’s leading explorer vessels. Following in the wake of the original pioneering Norwegian explorer ship and its namesake, the MS Fram takes guests as close to the natural wonders of the world as possible.

Designed specifically to take on the polar waters, her itinerary is based on the Greenland and Arctic cruises during the European Summer months and then down to the Southern Hemisphere for round trips from Argentina through Antarctica in the European Winter.

Explore in comfort

Christened by Norway’s Crown Princess HRH Mette-Marit in 2007, MS Fram offers guests the chance to explore without sacrificing comfort. Interiors reflect the polar colours and landscapes, with photos from the original Fram and there are a number of cabin options to choose from. The artworks commissioned for the ship are by local Arctic-region artists and there is a heavy emphasis on the beautiful landscapes that dominate these far reaches of the world.

The ultimate adventurer

The most appealing thing about MS Fram is it’s small size – meaning not only are there less guests and more chance to get involved in shore excursions, but she is ideally sized for manoeuvring around icebergs and getting up close to ice floes. Guests reviews often comment on the approachability and knowledge of expedition staff who make an effort to engage everyone onboard in the discovery experience.

Daily lectures are offered in English and at least one other language (depending on the nationalities onboard but usually French, German or Norwegian) about all manner of topics and most days (depending on the route) different excursions are offered with the shore landings.

Discover your inner explorer

On the Iceland and Greenland itinerary, guests can enjoy a natural warm water spa ashore, or for the more adventurous, participate in guided hikes, sea kayaking or glacial boat rides. On the Antarctic itinerary, guests can hike in the footsteps of Ernest Shackleton across South Georgia and admire wildlife such as penguins, seals and Orcas.

The activities are always weather dependant but some guests have relished the chance to try their hand at something new even when the weather doesn’t allow landings – such as photography or watercolour painting lessons.

Hurtigruten’s goal is to offer you a true expedition experience onboard the MS Fram, no matter your age or experience level. With a cruise on the MS Fram, everyone discovers their inner explorer.

Things to do in Nuuk, Greenland

Just 240km from the Arctic Circle, Greenland‘s capital Nuuk is nestled at the base of soaring twin peaks, with its brightly coloured buildings dotting the Nuuk fjord’s shore.

Charming and comfortable, Nuuk has museums and restaurants to offer, but by far its greatest attraction is the wonderful array of outdoor adventures! No matter the season, there is always something thrilling to do in Nuuk to take in the serenity of the natural surrounds.

Nuuk, a unique city

A great way to see the picturesque Nuuk is by bike – there are bikes for hire in the city centre. On your two wheels, ride your way around the sites of Nuuk, including the Nuuk Cathedral built in 1849 with its red spire dominating the cityscape and the statue of Hans Egede above the church. If you take a peek inside the Cathedral, you can’t help but notice two large brass candelabras, gifts from the Church of Norway.

In your downtime, enjoy a tasting paddle at The Godthaab Bryghus craft brewery or a show at the Northern Lights inspired architectural marvel that is Katuaq Cultural Centre. But first and foremost, get outdoors and feel the fresh air on your face!

Quassussuaq and Ukkusissaq Mountains

The twin peaks that loom above Nuuk are a wonderful place for hiking in the summertime. On a Hurtigruten expedition, you can add on a 8km guided walk along  Quassussuaq and admire the surrounding fauna. Alternatively, there are many hiking paths through the mountains and detailed maps available to forge your own way. Surrounded by flourishing greenery, wander your way through the mountains in the summer and spring months and behold the incredible vistas over the Nuuk fjord and the city below.

Quassussuaq and Ukkusissaq are also popular places for mountain biking, with many trails ranging from easy to challenging. In the winter time, the twin peaks offer great skiing and snowshoeing opportunities.

Nuuk Fjord

Nuuk fjord is the second largest in the world and perfect for exploring by boat or kayak. With many inlets and islands open to exploration, cascading waterfalls are common place. For those keen on fishing, there is fantastic angling for Arctic char, while the fjord waters are also home to large cod and redfish.

In the summertime, humpback whale sightings are not uncommon, and you might see one flipping one of their huge fins out of the water as they crest a wave. The Narsap Sermia Glacier flows directly into the fjord, filling the headwater with icebergs and is beautiful in its own right.

Qornok Fishing Village

Qornok fishing village is a quaint abandoned fishing town located on a small island in Nuuk. Sail your way across from Nuuk and enjoy the wind in your hair and then picnic on the island. Abandoned in the 1970s when the fishing industry shut down, the town is now used as a little nature resort for locals in the summertime. Only an hour and a half from Nuuk city, this is an easy and enjoyable day trip.


Contact one of our agents today about organising your Greenland adventure. Discover the largest but most sparsely populated islands in the world with Bentours!

Thoughts on Geirangerfjord

Sailing the Norwegian coast is bit like navigating a big box of chocolates. There are tasty bites everywhere. But for many, the Geirangerfjord is the best of the lot.

Out on deck, way back on the stern of MS Finnmarken, Brendan Lacey from Australia, stands, serene and cool, along the railing. He sips a coffee that could’ve come from a hip cafe in Oslo´s Grünerløkka neighbourhood but Brendan says he’s never had a coffee in such a cool place before.

”These are the most incredible surroundings I have ever seen,” says the awed Aussie. He relates the story of how he ended up here.

”I’m backpacking in Scandinavia this summer, and a few days ago, at a hostel in Oslo, I mentioned that I wanted to see Geiranger, which I’d heard was the world´s most beautiful fjord. They said I should take Hurtigruten because it’s as close as you can get. I thanked them for the tip, boarded a bus for Ålesund, and here I am,” he says.

”Man, they were right about close as you can get. Are those waterfalls The Seven Sisters? One, two, three, four, five, six, seven. Yep, seven in a row. Indescribably beautiful!”

Brendan says the Australian coast has its own natural magic, but Norway surpasses it many times over.

“This is fresher and more spectacular. I mean, Wow! I called my girlfriend 15 minutes ago and said we have to come here together. This ship also visits the Lofoten Islands. I don’t know if they were kidding, but someone said the Lofotens are even more amazing than Geiranger. If that’s true, and I find it hard to believe, I’m moving there. For real.”

Also on board is Ylva, a ten year old Norwegian girl, excitedly clinging to the decks rail as she peers around her.

“I’m only 10 years old, but I feel like I´m already an explorer. That’s why I was so excited when Daddy told us we were sailing from Ålesund to Svolvær on Hurtigruten. I got extra butterflies when he said we would visit the world famous Geirangerfjord,” she chatters.

“I was so excited when Daddy told us we were sailing from Ålesund. I got extra butterflies when he said we would visit Geirangerfjord, because we talked about it at school,” she chatters.

“Right before we got here, I went up on deck with Daddy and my little sister.  It’s amazing! The view is like magic. The mountains, the shiny water reflecting the sun. You can see tiny farms on the mountainsides, way up from the water. I got goosebumps and my tummy even rumbled. I wonder who actually lives on farms way up there?”

She points towards the falls that Brendan had just been so amazed by.

“I knew they must be The Seven Sisters that Daddy told us about,” Ylva tells me rather smugly, then looks down to her sister. The younger child is following her sister’s gaze and staring up at the waterfalls. As I go to talk to other passangers, I see Ylva tightly grip her sister’s hand in the wind and the sudden gust blows her whispered words over to me.

“I won’t let you go.”


Are you interested in seeing Geirangerfjord for yourself? Hurtigruten’s coastal voyage is the perfect way to see Geiranger and many other incredible sights along the way. Contact us today for more information!

All Aboard: MS Polarlys

MS Polarlys was constructed in 1996 as one of the cruise and working ships along the coast of Norway. Today, she still functions as both a working cargo and passenger ship, while also catering to the tourist trade with recently refurbished stylish interiors.

MS Polarlys is one of the four 1990s ships that was the focus of a recent update of decor and interior design, designed by Tillberg Design of Sweden, a world leading maritime architecture and interior design firm.  This design scheme is called the New Arctic Interior and aims to blend traditional maritime materials with modern and fresh finishes, to encourage a relaxed ambience.

The result is maritime timelessness with wooden panelling, finishes in leather, slate and featured fireplaces, kept fresh and young with a selection of modern Norwegian art. The breathtaking coastal landscape of Norway is reflected in the colour scheme throughout the ship, ranging from blue-greens to earthier, woody shades.

Polarlys is the Norwegian word for Polar Light, the name given to the amazing Arctic light phenomenon that occurs in the winter. One effect of this updated decor has been to really open up the space to make the most of the beautiful natural surrounds that the ship sails through. With a large outdoor explorer observation deck and an indoor observation deck equipped with comfortable couches and a bar, there are many opportunities for guests to admire this phenomenon in the right season.

Jacuzzis, restaurants and a range of cabin options ensure that everyone will enjoy their trip aboard the MS Polarlys – whether it is from just one port to another or the length of the Norwegian coastline.

Norwegian National Day

The 17th of May is Norway Day!

Norway’s National day celebrates the signing of the constitution in 1814 and the celebrations are huge. Not to be outshone by other country’s national days, Norway’s features parades, marching bands, traditional costumes, ice cream and a general sense of raucous celebration.

Food & Celebrations

In many families it is traditional to enjoy a 17th of May breakfast with friends and neighbours of freshly baked bread, scrambled eggs, smoked salmon and lots of champagne!

With a hearty breakfast under their belts, Norwegians are ready to party. The largest parades, usually led by children, can have tens of thousands of spectators, with people cheering, waving flags and clapping along to the marching band’s beat. Norwegians dress in their bunad, traditional costumes whose colours and styles indicate ancestry lines and family histories. In Oslo, the Royal Family make an appearance and are greeted by the adoring crowd, while all the buildings are decorated with the Norwegian flag.

Ice cream and hotdogs are on the menu, sold in street carts (most shops are closed) beside the parades and every town centre is packed all day, as games and speeches are carried out.

School Graduation

When you visit, look out for the colourful uniforms of the russ, the children that are soon to graduate from their 13 years of schooling. The colour they wear depends on the graduate’s line of study: Red for the students going into general tertiary education, blue for those going into business, white for medical and social studies, black for engineering and green for agricultural fields.

The russ have parades devoted just to their achievements, with buses and vans blasting modern and traditional music. The air is thick with a heady mixture of exhaustion from too much celebrating and the jubilation on having made it through. Each student will have a russekort, a mock business card made up for the occasion that includes their personal information and usually a joke or two – ask for one to have a little bit of a laugh. The personal information is often a joke in itself and students will exchange and collect the russkorts as momentos.

Historical Significance

The 17th of May celebrates the signing of the Constitution of Independence in 1814 – however, Norway was still under Swedish rule and so celebrating the day was seen as an act of rebellion against Sweden. In fact, in 1829 protesters gathered in Oslo to denounce the ban on celebrations that the Swedes had introduced. These protesters clashed with authorities and the event was significant in Norway’s battle for independence. Henrik Wergeland played a key role in the resistance over the next few years and helped to transform the 17th of May from a fierce clash against the authorities to a celebration for the children of Norway.

In 1860, the 17th of May became established as a children’s parade, with the first parade in Oslo in 1870 (boys only, girls were allowed to join in 1899).

During the Second World War under German occupation the day was not celebrated and in recent years has not been without controversy – it was not until 2007 that the Sámi Flag of the indigenous people of Norway was permitted to be flown.


Experiencing Norway’s National Holiday is truly a special experience for any traveller as you can’t help but be swept up in the excitement of the event. But be aware, most shops will be closed and driving on the 17th of May is not the best idea – you should be out in the streets celebrating too!

 

Explore More: Thrilling Adventure Excursions

Hurtigruten offer Classic Coastal Voyages with so many excursions it can be hard to pick which ones will make your experience all the more unforgettable. So to help you out, here are some of the most popular thrilling excursions as chosen by Hurtigruten guests.

Push yourself outside of your comfort zone by partaking in one of these fabulous adventure excursions. Awaken your inner explorer in a thrilling environment while learning more about Norway’s wildlife and culture. But don’t worry, aboard a Hurtigruten ship there is always space to relax in comfort after an action-packed day and watch the scenery glide by (you could even try out one of the Jacuzzis!).

The best excursions for thrill-seekers and adventurous souls

Make the most of the Norwegian winter on your Classic Coastal Voyage by participating in an exciting snowmobile trip!

Snowmobile Trip in the Polar Night (Southbound)

Leaving from Mehamn, be mesmerised by the beautiful sunset colours that dominate the sky during the Polar Night. Taking you deep into the heart of the Arctic wilderness, you’ll feel as though you are the last people on Earth, and have a chance to see the Northern Lights in the clear starry sky. Dressed in cosy snowsuits, and gliding softly through the night, this magical adventure will leave you spellbound.

Snowmobile trip in Lapland (Northbound)

Experience Europe’s most extreme and exciting natural area – Lapland – from a snowmobile, as you race across frozen fjords. Magnificent snow-clad mountains surround guests and there is always a chance to see the Northern lights! This unforgettable trip  is one of Bentours most popular,  and is suitable for any level of fitness or agility. Glide smoothly through this winter landscape and be awestruck by its beauty.

Snowmobile Safari (Northbound)

Combining culture and adventure, on this safari out of Kirkenes guests will traverse ice-covered fjords and learn from the knowledgeable guides about the fascinating history of the indigenous Sami people. After their epic adventure ride, guests will be served welcome refreshments in a lavvo (traditional Sami hut) and have the chance to try reindeer jerky.


Kayaking

Kayaking near Tromsø is a very popular past-time for locals in the summer months. This excursion offers guests the chance to experience kayaking themselves, with an experienced guide paddling with you to discuss the history of the area and to point out the varied marine wildlife.

Views of the mountains as a backdrop are unrivalled.

In Håkøya, where you will be paddling, the views of the mountains as a backdrop are truly unrivalled. The kayaks used are stable, double sea-kayaks, equipped to deal with any waves through the fjord. No experience with paddling is required as the guide will be there to assist and support you along the way. Children must be at least 12 years old and accompanied by a parent.

 


There are many more Adventure Shore Excursions to participate in and we recommend you book with Bentours before your voyage as these popular excursions tend to fill up quickly. Contact our agents for full listings.