Destination: Lofoten Islands

Behind the scenes in Norway’s dream archipelago with sea kayaker Erin Bastian

It’s hard not to be envious of Erin Bastian’s adventure resume. The British sea kayaker and filmmaker has traveled around the globe, capturing some of the world’s finest sea kayak experiences. Her latest project took her above the Arctic Circle to Norway’s Lofoten Islands, where she explored a dreamscape of fjords, mountains, exposed coastline and quaint fishing villages. We caught up with her to learn more.

CanoeKayak.com: So you were inspired to go to Norway by a label on your drysuit. What was your first step in planning a trip?
Erin Bastian: With any adventure the first step is inspiration and research. When I first read the word “Lofoten” I had no idea what it was, but I found it intriguing. So I Googled it. The pictures that then popped up were amazing. As soon as I saw the landscape of Lofoten, I knew it was somewhere I had to explore. I Google Mapped it, and to my surprise it was an archipelago of islands in northern Norway within the Arctic Circle. I just had to go.

Can you give us a quick sense of the options? Is there something for everyone or is this best for more advanced sea kayakers?
This maze of mountains, fjords, inlets and ocean, provides ideal kayaking for paddlers of all levels. What is guaranteed with every outing is the undeniably stunning scenery. Mountains fall directly into the sea; there are mirror reflections of small local fishing boats; and quaint villages are built on stilts at the water’s edge. Fjords cut deep into the heart of the mountains and meander around islands. No matter what the weather there will always be sheltered bays to explore.

The south coast has more islands and is a little more sheltered than the north. If you’re feeling brave, head to the north coast and paddle down the exposed coastline to the very tip of the archipelago. Campsites here are few so you need to plan your route well and watch the weather. Tides and swell can make this an exciting multi-day trip. The fjords of Reine or Trollfjorden are more sheltered and easier paddling. Most of the Lofoten coastline can be enjoyed through day trips if you’re not up for wild camping. There are lots of cozy B&Bs.

How do you get there? Are there boats available to rent?
From Cornwall in the UK, our team drove the 2,000 miles north through Europe and Sweden, to eventually cross the northern part of Norway. This took us five long days of driving, but it allowed us to take our own boats. You can also fly into Bodo and take a ferry across to the islands.

There are several kayak companies in Lofoten, which hire out to paddlers and offer brilliant guided tours in some of the most spectacular areas of the islands.

What are your must-see sights in the Lofoten Islands?
That’s a really hard one to answer, because the islands are beautiful everywhere! If I had to recommend only two, they would be:

  • Reine has an incredible fjord and is an iconic Lofoten fishing village. From the mouth of the fjord, you can explore deep within steep mountains, if you fancy a leg stretch at the far north side of the fjord, climb a short way up and over to the pristine white beach on the north coast, which is also a great overnight camp.
  • Trollfjorden is also a spectacular experience, with 3,000-foot cliffs falling directly into the sea. I recommend camping here so that you experience the sunrise at the entrance of the fjord. Pack a fishing line for some evening entertainment—there are plenty of pollock to catch for dinner.

What are the Lofoten people like?
The Norwegians are hardy people. I don’t envy the tough winters they live with, but it seems like in the summer they make the most of there beautiful home. Friendly and adventurous, they all share a passion for nature and the outdoors. Tourist information is abundant around the islands. Ask any local for some advice and they will happily reel off their favorite spots. We often asked for water at small houses along our route, we’d usually come away with a weather forecast, camping tips and on occasions a can of beer.

You’ve paddled in (nearly) all corners of the globe. How do the Lofotens compare to some of the other places you’ve paddled?
The Lofotens are a place I will never forget. In fact, I am certain I will return. Traveling from a kayak allows you to explore a place with no limits, and at your own pace. I could have spent many more weeks navigating the channels, fjords, steep coastline and islands. My trip only scratched the surface of this archipelago. It is without a doubt a world-class kayaking destination.