Beneath the Aurora Borealis: Sailing the Lofoten Islands, Norway

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14770A, International


  • Sail comfortably aboard a two-masted schooner
  • Experience twilight days and peak-season viewing potential of the northern lights
  • Enjoy shore landings, hikes, fishing village exploration


  • Seven nights aboard the schooner, one pre-sailing hotel, all meals
  • Naturalist guide throughout the trip
  • All gratuities


DatesDec 3–11, 2014
StaffPritpal Singh Kochhar

Trip Overview

Please note that the trip dates have changed from what was originally published. If you have questions, please contact us.

The Trip

The Lofoten is an archipelago in northern Norway. The islands, around 80 in total, are located above the Arctic Circle. Most of the islands are mountainous -- the highest peak (Higravstinden) measuring 1,161 meters (3,800 feet). Lofoten stretches out like a wall of mountains, the "Lofoten Wall." Between the mainland and Lofoten lies Vestfjord. It is here that we will voyage on our sailing vessel Noorderlicht. The Noorderlicht is a beautiful 46-meter-long schooner that was built in 1910. The passenger capacity is only 20; it is the ideal ship for those who want a small-group experience. The deckhouse and saloon are cozy and spacious. The deckhouse of the Noorderlicht contains a library with a good selection of books on Lofoten and the Arctic, besides a selection of novels in various languages -- a great place to catch up on the books you always wanted to read while on board. Of course, on some days we will be hiking and visiting historic villages such as Kabelvag, observing sea eagles and petroglyphs dating from the Stone Age, chatting with locals and imbibing their spirit. We will also enjoy the good Noorderlicht cuisine. In the evenings, there will be lectures, movies, and documentaries.

One of the great attractions of the Lofoten area is the northern lights. Not many people know that the islands are located at exactly the right latitude for seeing the Aurora Borealis. The northern lights are caused by eruptions on the sun and can only be seen when it is dark. The fairly long periods of darkness in November and December make our Lofoten expedition an ideal opportunity to admire this unbelievable phenomenon. Furthermore, the northern lights can only be seen when there is little light disturbance, something that is guaranteed in Lofoten.

The first settlers on Lofoten arrived more than 6,000 years ago. These Stone Age dwellers lived from fishing and hunting; at that time Lofoten was covered by an extensive pine forest. Although these ancient people did not leave much behind, evidence of their existence can be found in the petroglyphs they carved in the hard Lofoten rock. In Leiknes, life-sized pictures were carved of a killer whale, elk, and birds. Lofoten has been the center of cod fisheries for more than a thousand years. Cod migrate from the Barents Sea to the south and gather in Lofoten to spawn. The dried and salted cod, "stockfish" or "bacalao," was the staple food in Lofoten and was sold all over the world.

The climate in Lofoten is very mild considering its location north of the Arctic Circle. This is due to the warming effect of the Atlantic Gulf Stream. Daytime temperatures in November and December range from 28º to 39ºF. In autumn, strong winds can be expected, but quiet days with blue sky are also not uncommon. Snow and sleet can also be expected, and the mountains can have substantial amounts of snow.

Due to its location within the Arctic Circle, Lofoten experiences the midnight sun in summer. This also means that the sun does not rise above the horizon in winter -- in this case from the 4th of December until the 7th of January. The consequence of this for our Lofoten expedition is that there will be a substantial amount of darkness. This might sound less attractive, but experience shows that it adds to the voyage. Through the daytime there can be great light shows, created by the low sun, while in the evening and at night there are good chances to observe the northern lights.

The Lofoten voyages are very dependent on the weather, which can be quite rough. Therefore the itinerary of the voyage as given is just for guidance. Programs may vary depending on weather conditions and in order to take advantage of opportunities to see wildlife. Flexibility is paramount for expedition cruises.

Participants are welcome to assist the captain in hoisting sails or steering the ship. For those who have always wanted to view the sea from the "crow's nest," this is your opportunity! (With approval from the captain, of course!) Most nights we will dock at a town. We can take evening and/or morning walks into town as time allows.


Day 1: Arrive by public bus at a hotel near the village of Lødingen.

Day 2: Arrive by public bus in Lødingen. Stay on the sailing ship "Noorderlicht" in the harbor of Lødingen.

Day 3: Depart from Lødingen and set sail for the Tysfjord. In the afternoon, we land and climb the hill at Skarvberget, which is an outlook post for sea eagles. We stay for the night in the small harbor of Korsnes, a village at the entrance of the Tysfjord.

Day 4: Enjoy a morning walk to the Stone Age petroglyphs at Leiknes. Images of animals such as a killer whale and elk have been carved into the hard rock in the hills. In the afternoon, we sail to the island of Skrova, where we arrive late in the afternoon. We stay there for the night. Skrova is a small, rugged island where the 200 inhabitants mainly live from fishery. It is one of the few places in Norway where whale hunters still hunt for the minke whale.

Day 5: The morning walk on Skrova is an easy walk that brings us to a nice bay on the other side of the island. The active passengers can climb the 255-meter peak of Skrova for a 360º view. We will have a good chance of seeing sea eagles during these walks. In the afternoon, we sail for Kabelvåg. Until the beginning of the 20th century, this beautiful historical village was the center for the Lofoten cod fisheries.

Day 6: For the hiking oriented, a morning walk from Kabelvåg to Svolvær is offered along a hiking path through the hills. The Noorderlicht will sail with the sailing enthusiasts to Svolvær. In the afternoon, there is the possibility of a visit to Svolvær, which is the biggest town of Lofoten. We stay for the night in Svolvær, so there is a chance of enjoying the Svolvær nightlife.

Day 7: In the morning, we sail into the Trollfjord, a famous steep fjord a few hours sailing from Svolvær. Afterward we head for Tranøy, on the Norwegian mainland, where we stay for the night.

Day 8: In the morning, we walk to the lighthouse of Tranøy and admire the works of art that are placed in this small artists’ village. Tranøy is known because of the Norwegian writer and Nobel-prize winner, Knut Hamsun. With a good wind we might sail in the afternoon to Hustadgaard in Vestbygd. Here we will have the opportunity to see the “Øye I Stein" (Eye in Stone), a sculpture of 37 tons made by the Indian artist Anish Kapoor. Then we have to head for Lødingen again. We expect to arrive late in the evening at Lødingen, where we will stay for the night.

Day 9: We'll disembark from the Noorderlicht in the morning for our transfer by public bus to Evenes Airport for flights back to Oslo. From there you can return to your home, or extend your trip in Norway or other easily accessible destinations.



Getting There

You will need to get a round-trip flight to Oslo, Norway, arriving at least one day prior to the trip. Then choose a flight from Oslo to Evenes, Norway that will leave Oslo on December 3 around noon. This is a one-hour flight. SAS is the recommended airline. Upon your arrival in Evenes, you will take a well-marked public bus for a short ride to our hotel near the embarkation village of Lødingen.

Accommodations and Food

Our schooner has both lower and upper lounge areas. From the inside lounge area, one can look out the window and see the beautiful scenery in comfort, but these are not big picture windows. The best viewing is from out on the deck, where the daytime temperatures will likely be in the 30s.

Participants traveling alone will be paired with a roommate of the same gender. The cabins have twin bunk beds with a "skylight" as well as overhead lighting. All cabins have a washbasin with hot and cold running water. The ship is both well insulated and centrally heated. Electrical outlets are available, but you will need an adaptor. The bathrooms and showers are a short distance down the hall. No laundry facilities are available. The ship serves excellent international cuisine. There is an "honor system" bar, with soft drinks, beer, wine, and other drinks available.

In addition to a qualified and experienced captain, our schooner is crewed by two expert sailors, a cook, and a naturalist guide, who has a thorough knowledge of the area. The main language spoken by the crew is English. Together they will do everything possible to ensure that you have a wonderful and unforgettable journey.

Trip Difficulty

This trip is considered easy and is well suited to reasonably active persons of all ages who enjoy sightseeing, sailing, and leisurely walks and hikes. Some agility will be needed to traverse the steep stairs on the boat, and some walks/hikes have uneven trails and may be muddy. Our daily sightseeing hikes and walks are all optional, and usually allow you to walk at your own pace.

Most of our time will be spent in relatively sheltered fjords and well away from the open ocean. However, winter sailing conditions, cold temperatures, and potentially rough sailing are a possibility. We may very well have smooth seas and clear skies, and we may have rough water, rain or snow, or all of these conditions in turn. Things that will be a necessity are: sturdy legs, good balance and making sure to hold onto handrails while onboard the ship, and warm, waterproof clothing when on deck. Come well prepared with a spirit of adventure to the beautiful Lofoten Islands.

Equipment and Clothing

No special equipment will be needed for this trip. Temperatures typically range from 25-45 degrees (F) for this time of year. We may get sun, rain, and snow all in the same day. The inside of the ship is kept at a comfortable temperature, but you will need warm, preferably layered clothing for outside viewing and excursions. You will also need waterproof clothing -- ski pants are ideal. Warm gloves, a hat, and a scarf are a must. Over-the-ankle hiking boots are recommended as some hikes will be on less-than-ideal trails and can be very muddy.


  • Bruemmer, Fred, World of the Polar Bear. North Wood Press, Minocqua.
  • Chernov, Yu I., The Living Tundra. Cambridge University Press.
  • Freuchen, P. and F. Salomonson, The Arctic Year. Putnam & Sons, London.
  • Millman, Lawrence, Last Places: A Journey to the North. Houghton Mifflin Company.
  • Pielou, E.C,. A Naturalist's Guide to the Arctic.


We will be visiting a country where the air and waters are so much cleaner and clearer than in most countries! Unfortunately, they are not problem-free. Discharges from fish farms have local impacts as well as long-term effects on the fjords. Household and lawn chemicals are another source of water pollution. Acid rain has degraded the quality of rivers and lakes, especially in southern Norway, where many fish stocks have been depleted or completely lost. The accumulation of mercury in freshwater fish is also cause for concern. Norway is also one of the world’s few remaining whaling nations. We will discuss these and other regional issues and see what comparisons we can find to issues at home.



Pritpal Singh Kochhar

Associate Leader:

Daniel Pettit

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