Cycle in the midnight sun, like the world’s elite when they competed in the cycling race Arctic Race of Norway in 2015. Senja was shown to a worldwide television audience. However, the peace have return to Senja and you can discover this diverse island at your leisure. The best way to do this is by bike.
A mini continent
Senja, Norway’s second largest island, is Janus-faced; raw, wild and untamed on outer coast, and smiling, cheerful and friendly on the inner coast. The island is barely four times larger than Oslo, but is like a mini continent with a rugged mountain range along the outer coast, its own archipelago and rivers and lakes. The population is less than 10,000, meaning there will be enough to have a pleasant chat time and again, but it will never be crowded.
Easier than you might think
You would imagine that cycling on such a rocky and mountainous island as Senja would be hard work. But don’t forget that the roads run between the settlements and the settlements are situated by the sea. Sure, there are some steep hills, but you mostly ride only a few metres from the coast. The traffic out here is rather modest, and most of the time you will have the narrow, winding roads to yourself. The tunnels may seem daunting, but as long as you have a light it’s fine. In August 2015, the competitors in the Arctic Race of Norway rode right around Senja, and the action from Senja was broadcast to millions of television viewers worldwide.
Along the outer coast
The outer coast of Senja is rough and rugged and the roads wind in and out of the short fjords. The fishing village of Husøy is a wonderful detour over a small mountain pass. You can take a break at the top and admire the view of the small island with roofs very close together surrounded by the sea and rugged mountains. A natural place to stop is on the fine, white sandy beach at Ersfjord. The coastal rocks at Tungenesset offer excellent views of characteristic jagged peaks of the Okshornan mountain range, which has become Senja’s signature. A slight detour leads to Bøvær, where the white coral sand is so inviting that you feel like taking a refreshing and scenic but very brief dip in the sea. Kråkeslottet, the former village owner’s home, is now a small gallery. The Senja Troll, the world’s largest troll, is a popular play area for children, but everyone enjoys the humorous way they convey folk legends from the coast.
National Tourist Route
One of the country’s 18 national tourist routes runs along the outer coast of Senja. The Norwegian Public Roads Administration has complimented the beautiful natural impressions with well-designed viewpoints and rest areas. Magasuget high above the Bergsfjord is an obvious spot for selfies, while the ramp at Tungenesset makes it easy to get down to the coastal rocks and enjoy the view of the sea and Okshornan. Even the toilets have gained an architectural design. The “gold” toilet on the beach at Ersfjorden and the “million” toilet at Tungenesset offer a touch of style when nature calls.
To the average summer tourist, the settlements on the outer coast of Senja may seem very sleepy and laid back. That’s because summer is the off-season there. The famous annual Lofoten fishery for migrating Arctic cod is increasingly spreading to the waters off the coast of Senja, so it gets busy here during winter. Senjahopen and Husøy are important fishing villages that export cod worth hundreds of millions of kroner each year. Torsken and Mefjordvær, on the other hand, are old fishing villages where there is no longer so much activity. These are great places to experience sleepy idyll and coastal heritage.
Relics of culture
Torsken Church is a modest red-painted wooden church dating from 1784. However, since both a 15th century Madonna figure and a 16th century crucifix has been found here, a church has almost certainly stood on this site since the 15th century. Both are made in Lübeck, bearing witness to the fact that fish was an important trading commodity then too. Norway’s first female vicar, Ingrid Bjerkås, worked here in the 1960s. Now a tourist attraction, Hamn i Senja has an important place in industrial history. There was a nickel works here in the 1880s, and in 1882 the first hydroelectric power plant in Europe – and perhaps the world – opened here.
If your backside is tender after many hours on the bike seat, but the rest of your body is fine, there are a variety of other activities. There are several marked hiking trails in the area, including of the short, brutal variant with a steep climb rewarded with a panoramic view of the Troms coast and Vesterålen. The peaks of Sukkertoppen near Hamn and Husfjellet near Skaland are perhaps best known. For the most wonderful view imaginable, climb up under the golden rays of the Midnight Sun. There is a maelstrom near Hamn i Senja where you can try body rafting, which involves wearing a dry suit and floating with the tide. Another option at Hamn in Senja is paddling out to the 98 islands in the Bergsfjord and dragging the kayak up onto your own beach. It’s also possible to rent a fishing boat, and the best experience imaginable is to catch a big coalfish and cook it in seawater on the beach in the Midnight Sun.
Forests and meadows
One of the stages goes right across Senja. After some steep slopes up to the mountain pass in the valley of Svandalen, it’s all downhill through lush, green birch forest. The view is completely different than on the outer coast with sparkling lakes and rivers and distant mountain peaks. On clear days, you can see all the way to the 1400 m mountain Istindan in Inner Troms.
It is easy to get to this area by taking flight to Tromso, sometimes via Oslo, capital of Norway. In Tromsø you can rent bikes, bags and other necessary equipment at TromsoOutdoor.no, and cycle to Senja, or take a boat down to Finnsnes or Lysnes and start the bike ride there.
If you are in the area, it’s easy to cycle in Senja without buying a pre-arranged tour. A range of accommodation is available at camping grounds, in rorbu (fishermen’s cottages) and at guest houses. There are good licensed restaurants in Finnsnes on the mainland and in Mefjordvær and Hamn on the outer coast of Senja. There are also more basic establishments where you can buy a sandwich and a cup of coffee.
If you want an organised trip, it’s best to book a cycling package through Norske Bygdeopplevelser. This package involves cycling from Tromsø to Sommarøy for the first overnight stay, continuing to Senja with overnight stays in Mefjordvær and at Hamn i Senja before riding right across the island of Senja to Finnsnes for the last overnight stay, from where you take the express boat back to Tromsø. Senja is also part of the increasingly popular cycling route Tromsø-Svolvær, which also includes Vesterålen and Lofoten. These organised trips include baggage transport and pre-booked accommodation.