Frode and Wivian Wiggen talk us through a 365-day visual guide to Senja. www.senja365.com
To explore Senja in a kayak, it is essential you paddle all of the seasons. Why? Well, you would definitely want to see the Midnight Sun, Northern Lights, whales, seals, snow on the mountain tops, the crystal clear water and experience the magical three-month polar night period.
Senja is the second largest Island in Norway. The meaning of the name is unknown, but some say it is related to the verb sundra, which means to ‘tear, split apart,’ attributed to the west coast of the island, which is torn and split by numerous small fjords.
Senja has a small population of approximately 8,000 inhabitants and is 1,586km2.
The north and western coasts face the open ocean, where the steep and rugged mountains rise straight from the sea, with fishing villages wherever there is lowland. The east and southern parts are milder, with more rounded mountains, forests, rivers and agriculture land.
Senja is often referred to as ‘Norway in miniature’, as the island´s diverse scenery reflects almost the entire span of Norwegian nature, well known domestically for its beautiful scenery and as a tourist attraction. Senja’s highest point is ‘Breitind’ at 984 (metres above sea level). Coordinates 69°20´N 17°30´E
You travel by plane to Tromsø Airport, where you jump on a bus for 20 minutes before you arrive in Tromsø centrum. If you have the time, be sure to spend some in Tromsø, a beautiful town referred to as ‘The Nordic Paris’. From there you travel by boat for a 90-minute sail to Finnsnes. The Gisund Bridge connects Finnsnes to Senja and is the last place you can buy a bottle of wine before you enter paddle paradise. From the harbour at Finnsnes you can travel by bus to your next destination.
Renting a kayak
Sorry to say, but it is not possible to rent a kayak at Senja. The closest place to do so is in Tromsø. We recommend http://www.alfafritid.no where Alf will look after your needs. From his kayak store, you can take the ferry from Sommerøya not too far away, directly to Senja (in summer time).
Where do I go?
You will find the tourist information just a few metres from Finnsnes Harbour, where they have maps of the area, great brochures in several languages to help you pick the best places to visit just in case you haven’t done the research before arriving.
If you come to Senja for paddling, there are many opportunities. Use Google Maps and you will find a huge variety of places where you can launch your kayak with destinations to paddle, plus extra information can be found at several blogs dedicated to paddling around Senja. The most common area for paddling is around Bergsfjorden, which has many small islands making an easy paddle of island hopping, or if you want a challenge yourself, you can paddle out into the open sea. You will find paddling for all levels in this area. Bergsfjorden gives you green water, white sandy beaches and great wildlife.
Need a place to stay?
There are several places to stay at Senja. You can either live in a first class room near the sea, or choose a cabin with less amenities. Whatever you go for, try to choose a place with a view out to the sea.
Ok, so you are a adventurer and don’t want to sleep in a fancy cabin. If you want to enjoy Senja by living in a tent – no problem! You can set up a tent almost anywhere, as long you are not crossing private ground and you are at least 50 metres from a house or cabin. If you are thinking about making a camp on some of the islands, you need to be aware of birds nesting.
On some islands you will find fresh clear water and on others you will not, so it’s probably best to stay on the safe side and take bottled water. If you are camping in a tent in the summer (which is very common) be sure to find a place where you can sit back and enjoy The Midnight Sun.
Sitting outside the tent with a cup of coffee or a cold beer and watching the sun is amazing. You don’t want to miss it. It’s moments like this that make you come back – because you will come back!
What time of the year should I go?
It all depends on where you are from, and what you want to experience. A good Swedish friend, Philipp Klement, first visited Senja in the summer and came back in December, which is the darkest period of the year and thought is was even better.
Aah, spring! It’s a sign that the summer is getting closer as the sun climbs higher and higher each day and you can feel it warming your skin. When you arrive at the shore, you can for the first time lie down and relax with the sun on your face. There’s still plenty of snow on the mountain tops and a perfect view. Maybe the most beautiful time of the year to be on the water.
Because of the many differences to each season, you can paddle on the same area several times and you receive a different experience each time.
Most people travel in the summer. It is warm and you can relax on a beach and have lunch without freezing but don’t let the sun fool you. The water is still very cold, and if you are on the open sea you should still wear a drysuit. A drysuit is mandatory almost through the whole year.
Autumn is the time of the year that has the most beautiful colours in the forest. The trees are yellow, red and orange and some days it seems like they are almost on fire. This time on the year you can just glide in the water for hours without saying a word, just taking in the colours.
We say this every year: next winter we will not paddle. We don’t want to freeze anymore! But still we do it. Why? The green water; snow on the mountain tops and the awesome light make it all worth the cold hands and feet.
However, you must have the right knowledge to paddle in the winter and if you don’t have the equipment and experience it can be life-threatening. If you flip over into the water without a drysuit, it will be just a matter of minutes before you get hypothermia. Never paddle alone in the winter!
Luckily we don’t have dangerous snakes, spiders and scorpions at Senja but we do get a lot of mosquitos in the summer. If you are planning to live in a tent, be sure to bring a mosquito net. If you don’t, we can promise you will remember the next time.
On shore you will be able to see, moose, reindeer, foxes, hares and maybe some grouse if you are lucky. From December to late January you will see whales in the fjords and if you are lucky and paddle quietly enough, you can get very close to the huge mammals whilst watching them hunt for herring, however beware, and remember this is their territory. When the sun arrives you will see many seals lay on the cliffs basking in the warmth.
You can also spot huge eagles at several places on the island and if you are very lucky you can see them dive for their food. When the birds are nesting you need to take cautions. Never camp on an island with birds nesting and try not to disturb them by getting to close to them in your kayak – they may attack, or at least become aggressive.
What makes Senja and north of Norway special?
Many people travel to North of Norway to see the Northern Lights. The Northern Lights are best observed when it’s a cold and clear sky. Find a dark place without too much light pollution (from roads and houses), and wear warm clothes. If at first you don’t see it, just relax and it will suddenly appear but it can also disappear as quickly, so be outside and be patient to be sure to see it.
To be able to get great photos of the Northern Lights you should bring an SLR camera and practice beforehand to get the spectacular photos you will be proud of.
From 22nd November to 22nd January, Senja receives no sunlight at all as the low sun disappears behind the mountains – it is called the Polar night. For many people this is not a welcome part of the year. For others it is awesome because of all the many different colours. In December it is magical to be outside just before complete darkness, which is called the blue hour.
Paddling at this time of the year needs careful planning for when you get back to your destination point. It is also smart to bring a headlamp as when it gets dark, it becomes pitch black! Paddling light this time of the year is between 10:00 to 13:00 hours.
In the summer time we are very lucky to have the Midnight Sun. It is daylight for almost 24 hours a day. If you want to enjoy the Midnight Sun you need to be here between 22nd of May to 22nd of July.
Winter can be brutal. In the past years there have been several avalanche accidents with skiers and snowmobiles. In 2013 Senja had a very sad accident with a deadly outcome. If you want to move in the mountains you must be prepared.
Most of all
The silence, the fjords, the mountains and the animal life are what we appreciate most at Senja. As a reminder jet skis are forbidden, and there is almost no boats on the fjords. You don’t need to paddle a long distance to get the feeling that you are in a remote area. You can paddle around Senja for years and still have many places to explore. It’s a treasure!
See you at Senja
Whilst out paddling at Senja and you notice a couple of paddlers in low volume sea kayaks in tuiliqs, it is probably us. Just come over say hello and have a nice chat.