Since I can recall I have been dreaming of visiting Geirangerfjord on a ship. Having seen endless documentaries about it and countless photos in cruise and travel magazines, it was more than time to finally experience the magic of it myself.
The small town of Geiranger, where the ships are moored at, is the Fjord´s beating heart and lies right at the end of Geirangerfjord. During the four-month peak season of summer, 140 to 180 cruise ships visit here, bringing up to 300,000 tourists to town. On some days, Geiranger welcomes up to six large vessels at the same time! That means, that the 250 permanent residents are confronted with up to 18,000 visitors at once. That actually sounds a little scary, doesn´t it?
But since tourism is the main business of the UNESCO World Heritage Site (since 2005), it surely comes as a big help that Lonely Planet has called it the “Best Travel Destination in Scandinavia”. And from what I can say, it definitely is a one-of-a-kind!
One thing that is particularly important to know when planning to go ashore in Geiranger is that ALL ships offer ONLY tender service to the pier! So when evaluating to take a tour or an excursion by yourself, make sure to organise your tender tickets in time, so you can make the most out of your stay in Geiranger.
The morning that Norwegian Star reached Geiranger, I happily took note that we were the first ship that had arrived so far. The air was misty and cold and the clouds hung heavily over the even waters, hiding the mighty mountains above us. Luckily, I had been organized a Priority Tender Ticket by the ship´s concierge Hanno the evening before, so I was able to disembark the ship at my convenience.
Since Geiranger was my top priority on this trip, I was on one of the first tender boats that departed in the early morning around 7:30 am. The town seemed still in deep sleep and it was a magical atmosphere to be walking around almost by myself at this early time of day. I didn´t have breakfast yet and all the stores around the landing pier were still closed. But a little up that road, close to the camping ground, I found a little bakery shop where I bought two sandwiches, fresh cranberry juice and a bottle of water. In Norway, you can pay almost everything with your credit card, even if it is at a bakery store! So if you have not brought any local cash with you, no worries! You will survive :).
Bad luck in terms of my daily dose of caffeine though.Their coffee maker just went out of service that morning. Oh well, I thought, that´s not going to ruin my day though.
The first attraction, that I was going to visit, was the Waterfall Walk. This unique construction was opened in 2014 and runs parallel with the descending Storfossen Waterfall which powerful waters flow directly into Geirangerfjord.
The walk climbs up 327 steps (60 metres height difference) and links the Norwegian Fjord Centre with the village beneath. You can take breaks on several platforms while ascending to enjoy marvelous views onto the waterfall itself and the beauty of the surrounding area, each platform providing a different perspective.
I don´t know if you recall the 1985 fantasy movie “Return to Oz“, but if you do, you might remember the living stones, that followed and spied on Dorothy and her companions while they were running away from the evil witch. Well, if I hadn´t seen it by myself, I probably would not have believed it. But there, in between the spraying waters of Storfossen Waterfall, I looked one of those stoney faces right in the eyes.
LOL, a little scary, right? But thinking that this was probably just a curious troll checking me out there, I continued my climb up to the Fjord Centre.
If you are interested in getting to panoramic lookouts such as Westeråsfjellet or Flydalsjuvet, but you are physically not in the right shape to climb up there yourself, then you might want to consider to rent one of the eCars at the Fjord Centre operated by eMobility. The cars can be reserved in advance and are a comfortable and fast way to cross both sights off your list in a fraction of time. Just like everything else in Norway, they are everything else but cheap.
Since I always love to explore the surrounding by feet, I decided against it and began the climb up to Flydalsjuvet on my own. It´s quite a way up there (and I could read the word “Idiot” in the faces of the people sitting in the tour buses passing me on the serpentine road), but every time I took a break and looked back, it was the view that paid off for the struggle big-time.
A little exhausted and ready for my first cup of coffee, I called in for a short moment at Hotel Utsikten. The villa was built in 1893 and lies only a hundred metres away from Flydalsjuvet. The modernised interiors still carry much of the rich history that this building must have witnessed over the decades. Lovely place.
Right after, I paid visit to one of Geiranger´s most popular lookout: Flydalsjuvet.
As mentioned before, the clouds had hung very low in the early morning hours and it had actually rained a little during my climb up the mountain. But now as I had reached the lookout, the cloudy sky actually began to break open! What an awesome moment!
Rays of light fought their way through the cracks in the clouds, forming together with the fine spray of rain a rainbow just above the ship, that seemed not to be larger than a nutshell down in the majestic fjord. It is moments like this that fill me up with pure joy and happiness. Something that can only happen between Nature and you. Amazing. Astonishing. Enlightening.
Still having a big smile on my face, it was time to head over to my next waypoint. Another ship had joined Norwegian Star by now. The bright yellow funnel with the blue “C” promised many, many buses to come. I didn´t want my perfect moment to be wrecked by the screaming masses, so I began to walk the road back down.
I bended off onto the muddy road with direction to Westerås Farm. About half way, a small sign indicated my next destination: Storsæterfossen.
This waterfall is not visible from the ship and you actually have to hike up to get there. The rocky and sometimes quite steep path can be very slippery when wet and is pretty exhausting (around one hour one-way). I had to take several breaks while climbing up and would not recommend this for inexperienced or unfit people. Besides, there is wild sheep living in this area and I had two encounters with a sheep bull that made me halt my breath for a second.
But in the end and after having cursed almost half way through, the hassle was worth every single step. Storsæterfossen is only about 30 metres high, but the scenery around it and the view into the Fjord from up here can only be described as most beautiful and breath-taking. Another thing that makes this waterfall special is the fact, that you can actually climb behind it on a secured and dry pathway. Very, very cool!
Looking at my watch, I decided that it was slowly time to commence with the way down again. It was early afternoon, so until Norwegian Star would set sail I could still wander a little around the Fjord to maybe catch a glimpse of the Seven Sisters, Geirangerfjord´s most popular waterfalls.
I couldn´t make it there in time though. If you walk through the town and then continue on the road that runs along the shoreline all around the fjord, you can access a hiking trail that will eventually lead to a viewpoint overlooking the waterfalls from the opposite side (I heard that it can take up to 2 hours one way).
But again, no need to be desperate. As stated in the Freestyle bulletin the night before, the crew was going to open the forward deck on the bow to the passengers during the sail away event. With this in mind, I could turn around without having a bad conscience about not taking any pictures at this time.
Back in Geiranger, the town had emerged from this morning´s peace and quiet to a playground of turmoil and chaos.
Masses of cruise passengers were overflowing the shops and cafés. Since there were only two ships in port today, I would not want to imagine what it was like if six of these giants were anchored at once. A little stressed out by the noise and the group dynamics particularly of the Costa passengers, I quickly hopped into the town´s supermarket and boarded one of our tender boats moments later with local Norwegian cheese and reindeer sausages (both vacuumed in order to being able to bring them onboard).
Precisely at 5 pm, Norwegian Star started her engines and the white colossus slowly began moving. I had stored my local souvenirs inside the mini bar and then made my way onto the forward deck. To experience the winding route past the Fjord´s steep cliffs and snow-capped mountains was another highlight of this outstanding day.
And then, as if they had appeared out of nowhere, the mighty Seven Sisters suddenly peaked around the corner and then majestically throned 250 metres above our astonished faces as Norwegian Star slowly passed by.
A legend says, that the waterfall lying on the opposite bank to the “Sisters”, Friaren (aka The Suitor) was constantly proposing to the beautiful Seven Sisters from the other side of the Fjord. But as he was steadfastly refused, in his despair he turned to drink. Friaren is not particularly high, yet the falls are split in the centre, revealing a rock face in a form that resembles a bottle.
I stayed on the bow a little longer and watched the sun slowly setting over the summits. Here and there, avalanches of melting snow spontaneously made their way down the cliffs. In this moment, I had to think of the stone with the face from this morning.
Was it somewhere up there? Or had it farewell us already in Geiranger? Well, looks like as if I have to come back again to find out another time … .