Characteristic of the Norwegian coast are the thousands of islands, islets and skerries that protect it from the ocean. On the outer, western side of Andøya Island, the most northerly of the Vesterålen Islands, there is no such protection and the mighty ocean is right on the doorstep. This side of Andøya is wild, exposed and naked, but with a varied landscape and distinctive coastal communities, through which the scenic National Tourist Route runs.
A grand old man among fishing communities
The fishing port of Andenes, with its approximately 2,500 inhabitants, is one of the larger fishing communities along the coast. With direct access to the rich fisheries off the continental shelf, Andenes was one of the most important landing places for fish even as far back as the Middle Ages. The port is dominated by Andenes Lighthouse, built in 1859. The red-painted, cast-iron tower is 40 metres (131 ft) high, and whales can often be spotted from the top.
As an old fishing port, Andenes has a good number of old buildings, such as the guesthouse and arts and crafts gallery “Fargeklatten”, the pleasant little restaurant “Arresten” (housed in the town’s former jail), and the museums and the lighthouse in Fyrvika. There are impressive views of the craggy peaks just south of the town and over the Andfjord towards the precipitous, cliff-faced coastline of the island of Senja.
Gigantic sperm whales are found in the deep known as Bleiksdjupet, a submarine canyon incised into the ocean bed which runs right into Andøya. These are their feeding grounds, where they find squid and Greenland halibut. Whales have to rise to the surface to breathe every 20 minutes, before diving down again into the deep. From Andenes you can go on a whale safari and get up close to the whales. There are daily whale safaris in summer. During the winter season, safaris are also organised to view eagles, killer whales and other whale species which hunt for herring in the fjord.
Egga, the edge of the Norwegian continental shelf, is just off the coast. So there is only a short distance from the shore to the deep ocean. This is a big advantage if you’re going to send rockets up into outer space. The Andøya Rocket Range at Oksebåsen sends up rockets as part of a space research programme and for commercial purposes. Here the Space Ship Aurora presents both Northern Lights and Rocket science to the public.
Norwegian rural communities are often spread over a wide area. The little fishing village of Bleik, with its approximately 450 inhabitants, is, however, compact, with the houses clustered close on top of a “gårdshaug”, an accumulation of old farming settlements dating right back to the Iron Age. Here the coast is virtually on the edge of the deep North Atlantic, so there is a robust breakwater along which visitors can walk. The 2.5 kilometre (1.5 mile) stretch of white, sandy beach at Bleikstranda is sheer paradise, and it is never unpleasantly warm in the water.
Bird colonies and coastal trail
The characteristic, cone-like Bleiksøya Island sticks 160 metres (525 ft) out of the sea off the coast at Bleik. Bleiksøya is one of the largest bird colony islands along the coast, and is home to nesting populations of auk, guillemot, puffin, as well as more recent colonists like northern gannet and northern fulmar. Boat trips to Bleiksøya go from both Bleik and Andenes. The road from Bleik to Stave does not go all the way down to the coast, but a marked coastal trail that wanders between sharp peaks and foaming waves ensures great views and close maritime contact.
The middle part of Andøya consists of a pancake-flat boggy landscape, so that from the western side of the island one can see across the bogs and marshes and the Andfjord all the way to Senja Island. In the late summer, the bogs are covered with golden cloudberries. There was a traditional industry of peat-cutting on the bogs, and at Andenes you will find a little peat-cutters’ museum. As you drive along the road, the houses stand like bright, colourful building blocks in a row between the wide expanse of ocean and the open marsh landscape.
Bukkekirka and Nøss
On a remote stretch of the road is Bukkekirka, an old Sami sacrificial site. Here, between the ocean and the mountains, it was vital to maintain contact with the hereafter in this life. Today, open-air church services are held here during the summer. In the village of Nøss is the little summer gallery and artists’ studio Atelier Nøss, where four artists from the Tollefsen family exhibit art, craft and design. When the autumn storms rage out at sea, there is wonderful surfing on the beaches at Nøss.
- Andøy Municipality’s website lists lots of things to see and do along the National Tourist Route Andøya at www.andoyturist.no.
- The tourism organisation Vesterålen Reiseliv has a wealth of information about Andøya as well as the rest of the Vesterålen Islands at www.visitvesteralen.no
- The National Tourist Routes present the road in beautiful photos on their website.