Fjords of Norway

Fjærlandsfjorden in Sogn og Fjordane.

The fjords, long and deep inlets of the ocean, are one of Norways top attractions. Fjords are found all along the coast and not limited to a particular county or location. The fjord-dominated landscape runs like strip all around Norway's coast. In Western and Northern Norway, where fjords cuts deep into the land, this strip of land is more than 200 km wide, whereas between Stavanger and Sandefjord fjords are short and the "fjord-land" is a mere 30 km wide. In large parts of Norway the fjords create a particular kind of landscape, a wide tangle of islands and peninsulas, lakes and valleys.

All major cities sit on the shores of a fjord. While the most picturesque fjords are less populated, most are easily accessible by road. The fjords increases Norway's coastline from a modest 3000 km to 30,000 km, islands add another 70,000 km – in total creating the most complex coastline in the world. Norway's fjord regions covers an area 10–20 times wider the New Zealand's Fiordland. The Sognefjord alone has a coastline of some 500 km, more than the French and Italian Riviera combined. Norwegian fjords have twice been rated the best destination in the world by National Geographic Traveller.

Regions

The dark fjords of West Norway (left hand) stands out in contrast to the white snow (Oslofjord lower right hand)
Lysefjorden with Pulpit rock

Understand

Lyngsfjord and Lyngen alps in Troms county
Skjomen fjord at Narvik in Nordland county.

There are well over 1,001 distinct (named) fjords in Norway. Some 10-15 major fjords are 100 km or longer from the ocean to the far end. The vast Sognefjord is some 200 km to the far end and includes a number of arms each about the size of Milford Sound. Fjords are several hundred meters deep, the deepest fjords are 700 to 1300 meters deep. Some fjords are characteristically narrow, such as Geirangerfjord and Nærøyfjord, others are wide like bays or enclosed oceans, such as Boknafjord or Trondheimsfjord. In most parts of Norway fjords are the dominant landscape features, traditional districts are often identified by proximity to a major fjord and the district or region often have the same name as the dominant fjord. For instance Nordfjord is the district surrounding the Nordfjord, Sogn is the area surrounding Sognefjord. Orientation is likewise typically related to how far one is removed from the open ocean along the fjord, key words are "inner" and "outer" fjord areas. Fjords are often so deep and/or wide (particularly in western Norway) that they can only be crossed by ferry (a few daring bridges or tunnels have been built). Traditionally the fjords were the highways of large parts of Norway, because overland transport was often difficult, slow or virtually impossible. Today fjords remain as obstacles for roads and railways, only cruise passengers experience travel along these vast corridors.

In large parts of Norway the fjords create a particular kind of fragmented and complex landscape. There is often in very little continuous land, instead a wide tangle of islands and peninsulas. These peninsulas are often connected to the actual mainland by (narrow) isthmuses (typically recognized by the Norwegian name "eid"). Such isthmuses are shortcuts between fjords and have always been important transport corridors. For instance Vikings pulled their ships overland at isthmuses to avoid treacherous stretches of the coast. Still today main roads often run across these such isthmuses. In the unusual case of Osterøy island (near Bergen) the isthmus connection to the mainland is gone and thus made Osterøy into a landlocked island. In many cases such isthmuses sits between a saltwater fjord and a freshwater lake (in effect an extension of the lake), for instance at Nordfjordeid ("Nordfjord isthmus") sits between Nordfjord and Hornindal lake, or Eidfjord village between the Eidfjord and the Eidfjord lake. An unusual example is Mofjorden between Bergen and Voss. This fjord was a freshwater lake until 1743 when a flood eroded the river bed and allowed sea water to flow in at high tide. Eventually the lake became a saltwater fjord through the narrow channel Mostraumen that can be visited by sightseeing boat from Bergen.

Tidal current at Bodø.

Several fjords have narrow straits or entrances that create strong tidal currents, such as the world's strongest maelstrom at Saltstraumen (Bodø). Near Ørland at the mouth of Trondheimsfjord there is a strong current that creates good fisheries. Borgenfjorden at the inner part of Trondheimsfjord is connected to the main fjord by very narrow current.

Adjacent valleys and lakes are parts of the complicated fjord landscape. The largest valleys typically begins at the inner most end of the fjords. Where the major rivers of these valleys flow into the deep fjords characteristic deltas are created. Such deltas offer some of the best ground for farming, enjoy mild climate and were traditional points for transfer between land and sea transport. Key villages and towns such as Åndalsnes, Lærdal and Trondheim developed in these places. Valleys are basically extensions of the fjords further into the mainland. Many valleys are home to lovely fjord-like lakes such as Jølster lake or Sandvin lake (at Odda). Valleys are typically separated into two or more sections or levels by tresholds where rivers dig deep gorges, such gorges can be seen near Borgund church in Lærdal or at Gudbrandsjuvet in Valldal. The most alpine mountains are found in conjunction with fjords, for instance at Hjørundfjord or Lyngen. The valleys extending from Sognefjord in fact cut deep into the bedrock at western Jotunheimen. Together these landscape features form a fascinating and sometimes confusing maze far beyond the fjord itself, and covers most of the fjord area.

Climate

Norway's climate is very mild for its high latitude, largely because of the gulf stream. The relatively warm ocean in particular keeps the fjord area relatively warm throughout the winter. Fjords generally don't freeze over in winter. The innermost sections of some fjords, such as the Oslofjord or the fjords of East Finnmark, may freeze over under particular circumstances. Summer temperatures also depend on the distance from the larger ocean, the outer parts and the island belt has moderate temperatures in summer while the inner, sheltered parts often enjoy relatively long and warm summers. This conjunction of the mild Atlantic and sheltered fields of the inner fjords allow fruits and berries to be grown commercially far north. Most of Norway's apples are in fact produced on the slopes of the Hardangerfjord, just below the eternal ice of the Folgefonna glacier.

The outer part of West Norway fjords have on average temperatures above 0°C (frost) in January, while the inner parts have average January temperatures close to freezing. Nordland and Troms outer part of fjords have january temperatures below 0°C (around -3°C), while the inner parts are relatively cold typically around -6°C or colder into the valley.

July average in inner part of West Norway fjords are typically around 14°C, but with considerable variation. Summers are relatively warm in the inner parts of Nordland and Troms fjords with July average around 13°C, with considerable variation, in rare cases well above 30°C.

Also in terms of precipitation the fjord area of Norway has distinct climate. Because of the predominant south-west wind from the Atlantic and the high mountains rising around most of the fjords, most of the rain falls at the outer or intermediate fjord areas. For instance the outer part of Sognefjord gets almost 4000 mm (3 to 4 meters) rain annually, compared to a mere 500 mm at Lærdal at the inner part of the fjord. The innermost section of fjords typically get moderate rainfall or is even dry such as Lærdal. The fjords of Finnmark and East Norway in general get moderate rainfall.

Glacier

Svartisen glacier stretching towards the fjord

There are countless glaciers in Norway, mostly small valley glaciers or cirque glaciers. The large glaciers such as Jostedalsbreen are plateau or sheet glaciers resting on a mountain plateau. Most of the glaciers are found in the mountains adjacent to fjords (fed by heavy snow falls), but these glaciers do not reach the fjord itself as do glaciers in Svalbard and Greenland. One exception is the Engabreen arm of Svartisen glaciers in Nordland county almost reaches sea level. A fjord's proximity to a glacier can be seen by its emerald-turquoise color, typically at Olden or Luster.

Longest and deepest

Very deep fjords

Fjord-lakes

Loen lake, a typical fjord-lake

Many freshwater lakes in the interior are called fjords, for instance Randsfjorden and Tyrifjorden, even lake Mjøsa is called "the fjord" by locals. These lakes are very similar to saltwater fjords with a typical elongated shape and also mostly deep. Mjøsa for instance is 450 meters deep such that most of the lake is in fact below sea level even if water surface is 120 meters. Several lakes in Western Norway are in fact extensions of the main fjord and some were in the geological prehistory part of the saltwater fjord itself. For instance the surface of the very deep Hornindal lake is only 50 meters above sea and separated from Nordfjord by a low isthmus. These western lakes are often so similar to the fjord that only the lack of salt reveals that it is indeed a lake.

Fun facts

The Norwegian word fjord has been adopted internationally. The old Norse origin means "to travel from one shore to the other" or "a place for travel", this latter meaning suggest that the fjords were the highways for the old Norse people and the Vikings, while land and mountains were obstacles. The word is also related to Scottish firth, Swedish fjärd and Icelandic fjörður. German Furt and English ford (shallow crossing of river) are of the same origin. Old Norse also used the word or prefix "-angr" (modern "-anger") to indicate a fjord or a narrow bay. For this reason lots of Norwegian places or areas have the prefix "-anger", for instance Stavanger, Hardanger, Geiranger and Varanger - these names for fjords have given name to the cities and entire regions.

Slartibartfast, planet designer in the science-fiction novel The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, said about his design of Norway "that was one of mine. Won an award, you know. Lovely crinkly edges … doing the coastlines was my favorite. Used to have endless fun doing the little bits in the fjords.” The Norwegian fjords and surrounding settlements inspired Disney's movie Frozen. The Indian movie Maattrraan was partly shot on location in Aurland, Geiranger and Trollstigen. The Chevy Chase movie Spies like us was partly shot on location in Sognefjord area.

Get in

The wide Varangerfjord in eastern Finnmark.

As there are fjords all over Norway there is little general advice about entry points or how to get in, advice mostly depends on fjord region. The Hurtigruten offers transport from fjord region to fjord region mostly along the very coast. Many visitors arrive by cruise ships departing from Denmark, the Netherlands or the UK, a cruise ship can navigate the entire fjord thus offering direct transport to the iconic inner parts of the most popular fjords.

Railway

Because of difficult landscape there are no railway lines across the great fjords. Railway construction is also difficult in the east-west direction, only the Bergen railway (Bergensbanen) runs through the mountains and fjords until the ocean. The Bergen railway was an engineering achievement when it was constructed around 1900. The Stavanger line (Sørlandsbanen) circumvents the central mountains and terminates in Stavanger just south of big western fjords. The Rauma railway (Raumabanen) terminates at the Åndalsnes, the end of the Romsdalsfjord, further transport on water or by road. The Iron Ore Line (Ofotbanen/Malmbanan) also runs through difficult terrain to reach the fjord at Narvik port.

Western fjords

Flåm railway terminates at the ferry dock, Aurlandsfjord

Nordland and Troms fjords

Middle Norway fjords

The key access point is the city of Trondheim.

Finnmark fjords

Because of long distances, air transport is often recommended for the northernmost areas. Road access is often quickest and easiest through Sweden or Finland. There are no railways.

Get around

M/S Vesteralen of Hurtigruten leaving the Geiranger fjord.

Historically boat transport was the only possible transport in many fjord areas. Even after the introduction of cars there were several hundred car ferry crossings throughout the fjord region, Møre og Romsdal alone had some 50 ferry crossings on the road network. After the construction of many new roads during the last 50 years mostly ferry crossings at the most narrow points remain. Ferry docks and crossing points are often located in remote places with nothing but the dock and a car line up.

Do

The fjord areas cover large parts of Norway. Activities specific to fjords include kayaking and other boat sports. Fjords are generally sheltered and waves are moderate and rare, sea breeze can occur on hot summer days. Fjords are generally very deep and in some areas there may not be beaches, just steep cliffs rising directly from the water. Fjords generally do not heat substantially during summer, although some shallow bays may be warm enough for pleasant swimming. Rivers pour cool melt water to middle and inner parts of fjords during most of the summer.


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