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Nordic Paradise: Volume II

Updated: May 5, 2022

ÅLESUND


The next instalment of my Norwegian voyage north includes Ålesund, a beautiful little town, with colourful shops and cafés dotted around on every corner. Prior to arriving in Ålesund, we sailed past Hornelen, the largest sea cliff in Europe. It measures a staggering 860m and looms over the fjords and Norwegian channels. When we first reached Hornelen, it was relatively dark and covered in snow, as we passed it in early February. The landscape looked moody and impressive, with snow-covered mountains towering either side of the ship. By our third visit near the end of March, we could see patches of grassland on Hornelen, and the sunshine had melted much of the existing snow. It looked like a completely different place – equally as enchanting, but this time with a hint of spring!


Hornelen, on the way to Ålesund, Norway. 2022.


Snow covered mountains en route to Ålesund, Norway. 2022.


In Ålesund, I had the chance to have a mooch around and explore the area. I wandered along the harbour front for a while, looking at the small boats and yachts bobbing up and down. On my short walk around the town, I also spotted one of Hurtigruten’s coastal ships, MS Nordlys, docked on the other side of the port. I half wondered if some of our guests from MS Maud might try hopping on board by accident, but luckily, we were all accounted for by the end of the day!


Beautiful buildings in Ålesund, Norway. 2022.


During one of my visits to Ålesund, I escorted some of the guests to Atlanterhavsparken, the local aquarium. It was a large centre, full of diverse fish species and a myriad of animals to observe, from spider crabs and Red King crabs to sea stars, urchins, rays and much more! One of the main things that surprised me during the visit was the size of Atlantic cod. I’d learnt more about the species through marine food webs and Norwegian fishing practices, but I’d never truly seen cod before, and they are absolutely huge! They can grow up to 140cm and weigh around 50kg… almost as heavy as me! Other species that intrigued me were Red King crabs, which seemed to crawl over and stack on top of each other, resembling the game Jenga. It was interesting to wander around and have a look at all the tanks; some had starfish in, some had rays gliding through and skimming the water’s surface. There was also a touch pool with anemones and such inside, but I didn’t dare touch any just in case!


Atlanterhavsparken, Ålesund. Norway. 2022.


The outside area of the aquarium had several ‘attractions’; there was a seal enclosure, where seven harbour seals resided, swimming around and feeding on fish. There was also an area for penguins, which were swimming and waddling around, waiting very impatiently to be fed. They were squawking at each other, flapping excitedly in anticipation of their meal. In the centre, there were sea otters inside, sunning themselves on the grassy mounds of their enclosure. Many of them were preening themselves and having a well-earned doze.


In the centre of Ålesund, several expedition hikes also took place during the day. One of them is up to a viewpoint called Aksla, where you can take 418 steps up a winding path to the top. You are well rewarded with a marvellous panoramic view of the town and can treat yourself to a hot beverage and a hard-earned snack in the little café. It is a lovely place to walk around and I would recommend walking up to Aksla for a coffee and cake with a view!


Sunset sailing out of Ålesund, Norway. 2022.


On our final voyage, we sailed away from Ålesund with the most beautiful pink and navy sky lighting up our journey north. It was like something from a fairy tale!



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BRØNNØYSUND


On the first leg of our voyage north, we always docked in Brønnøysund on a Sunday. These were generally quite quiet days for the Expedition Team if you weren’t on the usual hikes. The science team took to researching new spots for beach cleans and soon enough, we had mustered a couple of committed guests and made our way to an icy spot for a litter pick. We combined it with a nature walk and some guests were using iNaturalist throughout the afternoon, collecting data on flora and fauna around them and uploading it to the app, contributing to the iNaturalist citizen science programme. It is a useful tool for identifying different species, especially if you are unfamiliar with what you have seen, as you are part of a community who can verify your sightings from all over the world.


Prior to arriving in Brønnøysund, we sailed past a unique granite rock formation called Torghatten. The rock has a naturally carved hole through the centre which you can see right through. It was formed during the last ice age when glaciers eroded the rock over time. You can walk to Torghatten and sit up near the hole and enjoy the view!


Torghatten taken from MS Maud. Brønnøysund, Norway. 2022.



Stunning views near the beach in Brønnøysund. Norway. 2022.


Brønnøysund. Norway. 2022.


During our beach clean, guests and I were pretty shocked at how much litter we found at our location. Most of the larger macroplastic pieces were man-made debris from buckets, bottles, and containers, and as always, abandoned fishing gear, ropes and netting. Smaller debris included fishing liners, lollipop sticks and bottle caps. We also found a single welly boot and a porcelain bathtub that we took away with us to dispose of properly. One of my lectures on board MS Maud focused heavily on marine pollution, with specific focus on plastics, noise and chemical pollution and how these affect cetaceans. It was great to see guests engaging with the science team and helping clean up the local landscape.


Cleaning up the beach in Brønnøysund, Norway. 2022.



I enjoyed my time cleaning up the beaches of Brønnøysund and seeing how much the weather had changed from my first snowy visit to my final, almost ice-free visit! It is always very rewarding to feel like you’ve made a difference and left something cleaner than you found it! The guests thoroughly enjoyed their trip out to the frozen beaches, and we collected over 50kg of rubbish every trip!


Sunset leaving Brønnøysund, Norway. 2022.


As we left Brønnøysund, the sun began to set over a mirror calm sea. I was hoping to see some harbour porpoises as the conditions were perfect, but unfortunately the shy, elusive species were not to be seen this time. My fingers were firmly crossed for some cetacean sightings soon!


Tune in soon to explore the next destinations on my voyage north: the Lofoten Islands!











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