Ok, a couple of things you need to know about Norway, and more specifically travelling through Norway in a camper van, 1) its big and 2) its expensive; But there’s more to it than that…….
First lets look at the size of Norway and the implications of motor homing here, whilst in terms of land mass its not that huge only ranking 67th in the world (by comparison the UK is 78th, so not a massive amount of difference), but because of the shape of Norway it actually has the second longest coast line in the world, after Canada (UK is 12th, while even Australia is in a lowly 7th in the world). The reason for this vast coastline is the number and size of the fjords (and of course the islands). This brings me to why this effects travelling on 4 wheels. It can be a very long way between A to B on the map, 100km in a direct line could easily equal driving 300km on the road, especially if you want to avoid the cost of a ferry or you want to take in a “scenic route”. I’ve calculated that the average cost of a ferry across a fjord allows us to drive about 200-250km (in terms of diesel), so where practical we do drive. Having said that we have so far used 8 ferries (including a tunnel with a pay booth), so you can see its not really practical to think you can travel up the coast of Norway without using some ferries, especially as we don’t really have too many time restraints.
I’ll come back to the costs in a bit, but first I must tell you that Norway is a truly magnificent country to tour, especially in a motorhome. We have both been lucky enough to travel to many parts of the world, and we both agree there is nowhere that either of us have been, that can match the sheer scale and beauty of Norway and especially the coast, fjords and mountains! It really is relentless. Every turn of the corner, every exit from a tunnel, every brow of a hill brings a new “gob smacking” vista. We’ve seen Moose, Reindeer, Golden Eagles, White-Tailed Eagles, Seals, Porpoises, we’ve caught Cod (aplenty), and even Brown Trout. The place is a real wilderness paradise.
We have done quite a bit of hiking, most start at the lowest point and go up, sometimes very steeply, but usually the trails are well marked, and easy to follow. The only issue we have is that as its still quite early in the season and at higher altitudes there can still be deep snow, and it can be impossible (and would be quite stupid) to carry on and follow the trails up.
For us travelling in Sweden and Norway at this time of year has more advantages than disadvantages, there just aren’t the number of tourists (especially in motorhomes) that would be here in say July and August. Obviously most attractions, cafe’s, restaurants, museums etc are still closed, but thats fine for us in our little motorhome, Zorro.
Obviously its cold, and yes it can get very cold at night, deep in the minus side of the thermometer, but mostly its sunny, and we have only had one day where it rained all day. Our Hymer 4×4 Sprinter has been brilliant so far, being well insulated and the heating system has kept us cosy warm and protected the water systems from freezing at night. It has also got us into some fantastic wild camping spots, that had we been driving a standard front wheel drive motorhome we wouldn’t have even attempted.
We have so far wild camped 29 nights (cost free obviously) out of 32 nights in Norway, this not only reduces our living costs massively but makes for a much richer experience. We wild camp in Norway though choice not financial necessity, it difficult to describe how cool most of these places are to camp in, and we are learning more and more the best way to seek out these places.
A week or so ago we crossed the Arctic Circle, a major goal for us on this trip, The amount of snow still on the ground was surprising, until we saw on our satnav the altitude that we were at, nearly 2,000 feet above sea level and at the Arctic Circle!
We are currently on the Lofoten Islands and another example of the size of Norway, this small archipelago of islands takes 350km (220 miles) to drive from the far north (Andenes) to the far southwestern village of A (yes thats what its called), and its a tight, windy and hilly main road, this distance doesn’t include all the interesting smaller roads that we take. So getting anywhere takes time, a lot of time……
The Lofoten Islands are indeed stunningly beautiful with many sandy beaches, lots of walking trails, fjords galore, and high mountains, but it really is a magnet for tourists. During our time driving north we have seen hardly any motorhomes (apart from Norwegians), but here on the Lofotens we’ve suddenly had an overload of other tourists, in both motorhomes and rental cars, and I would guess probably 80% are Germans, its a real shock to the system. To put this into context its not the Isle of Skye in the summer, or southern Spain in winter, but there are a lot of tourists here, I can’t imagine what it would be like in the high season with these small roads.
This brings me back to costs. Apart from motor homing, my other passion is motorbike touring and if you had to pay for a room every night and eat out a couple of times a day, as you do on a bike trip the costs would literally be prohibitive. We don’t eat out at all generally, preferring to use our limited cash for diesel to travel more, but we have seen some incredible prices for food while we’ve had a cappuccino (our one financial vice). How does over £20 for a plain burger grab you, or £14 for a bowl of fish soup, and pizza’s seem popular here (as everywhere) but at over £20 each???
So what about Motorhoming specific costs in Norway? Well diesel is slightly more than the UK, a campsite (if you feel the need) is anything from £20 to £35 for a night, plus electric hook up at £5, and quite often showers are extra at £2 for 3 minutes. This would obviously add up dramatically if you used them a lot. We aim to use a campsite once every couple of weeks purely as a way to do the laundry. A washing machine is from £5 to £10 a time, and the same again for the dryer. Two washes and two driers costs anything from £20 to £40 and the competition for these can be fierce, as many camp sites only have one washing machine and one drier. We have learnt that if we do use a campsite we get there by lunchtime and hopefully we are the first to use them, theres usually a queue behind us!
Other costs are ferries, road tolls, and of course groceries. I discussed ferries earlier and road tolls are mainly on the main routes, so many of these can be avoided by using smaller roads. We pre-registered with Autopass for the tolls while back in the UK, and we are trying to keep a track of the amounts as we go through each section (it indicates the amount), but it can take up to 3 months for the amounts to be taken from your bank account.
In Norway they have a system where once a new section of road or a tunnel or bridge is opened a toll is charged until the section is paid for, so the road tolls are always changing. For example we were driving one day, following our map and sat nav and had seen that we had to drive all the way around a fairly small fjord, when we unexpectedly passed a very smart new bridge that went right over the mouth of the fjord, a quick U turn, and we drove over this fine piece of engineering. It was only when we got to the far side that the signs appeared that it was indeed a toll road. That bridge cost us £25.00 (by far our most expensive road toll to date), an expensive U turn.
Ok now groceries, I would guess that an average spend here for a quick shop for mostly fruit and vegetables, and a few other bits costs about £70.00, I would estimate that those same items bought in Aldi or Lidl would cost less than £30.00, so considerably more here in Norway. To put it into context we drove back to Sweden for one night (to the ski town of Are) purely to stock up with food and booze, Sweden was expensive but Norway is truly on another level of expense.
There are some strange prices here compared to the UK too. Why is Strawberry yogurt 30% less than all other flavours (inc plain), same make and size, and why are Paprika flavoured Pringles always cheaper than plain or other flavours? Its always the same in all shops/supermarkets. And sugarfree soft drinks are more expensive (usually) than those with sugar, like Coke or Pepsi. We are very careful about buying the cheapest brands and not buying anything crazily expensive, so watch the prices of what items we pick up. One day after a supermarket shop, I was looking at the till receipt, and to my shock the most expensive item (the one item that we didn’t check the price of) was a loaf of bread, it was over £4.00 for a standard uncut loaf!!!!!.
Below are our costs for the last month, being in Norway apart from a night in a campsite in Sweden to do laundry and a big shop for food and drink (I have also included this).
Fuel inc adblue £659.42
Food and drink Shopping £572.74
Eating and drink out £142.66
Ferries and tolls (not road tolls) £260.24
Road tolls approx £100.17
Camping inc laundry £124.47
Gas, refilling bottles £34.00
Total for 32 nights £1,893.70.
This works out at just over £59.00 per night, but you must remember we have not camped in one place for more than one night, and so we are driving lots of kilometre. We also brought with us a huge amount of supplies (this has kept our shopping bill down considerably). Obviously this amount would increase greatly if we were to use campsites more often.
The other thing about being this far north at this time of year (we are above the 68th parallel North, this is the same latitude as northern Alaska), is it just doesn’t get dark. the sun apparently is currently setting after midnight and rising before 1.00am. This basically means it really doesn’t get dark, not even twilight. This can lead to weird sleeping patterns, personally I struggle to actually want to go to bed. Even with all the black out blinds closed you still know its bright sunlight at two in the morning. It will really take some getting used to, the summer solstice is not for another month yet.
The photo below was taken a couple of days ago at just before midnight, it doesn’t look like its setting any time soon eh? On a plus side theres nothing to stop you setting off for a two hour walk at eleven o’clock at night…….
Another example of how light it is, came last night, Jac had gone to bed and I was busy googling stuff. We were wild camped on the coast with massive steep mountains behind us. At just after midnight I heard a really loud noise from outside that was getting louder and louder, at first I thought it was farm machinery coming up the road, then it dawned on me it was a rock coming down the mountainside towards us. I shouted to Jac and lept out through Zorro’s door, I still couldn’t see it but it was getting louder and closer, then from under the low cloud (remember its clear daylight even at this time), appeared a boulder the size of a mini bus smashing its way down the near vertical hill side. Every time it hit the mountain it smashed more pieces of rock away, my adrenaline was pumping big time!!!! I then realised that it was thankfully going to end up over to the left of us, and settled harmlessly at the base just before the road. Phew that was close and a real wake up call. If it wasn’t light it would have been truly terrifying just listening to this hulk of rock hurtling towards you and being unable to do anything, thankfully it was broad daylight.
Thanks for reading, next stop Nordkapp (hopefully)