For more than 100 years, the legendary Hurtigruten (Norwegian Coastal Voyage) has sailed the coastal waters between Bergen and Kirkenes. The Hurtigruten started as a transport revolution, and today it features elements of tradition, culture and nostalgia – even though the level of comfort is absolutely contemporary.

A miracle of speed

On 2 July 1893, the Vesteraalen put to sea from Trondheim with the legendary skipper Richard With at the helm. Captain With had long been irritated by the poor connections between the north and south of the country. The steamers called in at every town, village and hamlet along the coast and took forever to complete their journeys. So this time he set course direct for Bodø and arrived there less than a day later. The miracle of speed was welcomed to the town by a brass band and the local citizens dressed in their finest clothes, but the vessel soon weighed anchor again and headed for Tromsø. Here it met with the same welcome: almost the entire population lined the quays and could hardly believe that the boat had been in Trondheim less than two days before. The journey continued to Hammerfest, where the boat arrived in the middle of the night – without this having an adverse effect on the celebrations. With its speed and the rationalised itinerary, the route represented a giant leap forward for travel in Norway, and the service soon became known as “The Express Route” (Hurtigruten) .

Expansion

At that time, there were few roads in Norway and railways were still a distant rumour. The Hurtigruten meant faster transport and more regular departures. In 1907, there were two weekly round trips between Bergen and Vadsø, and from 1914 the timetable was expanded to five weekly trips between Bergen and Kirkenes. Daily departures were introduced in 1936, and as from 1953 all trips started from Bergen. From 1922 onwards, the Hurtigruten passed through Vesterålen after the Risøy channel was dredged – it previously passed through the Tjeldsundet.

Word War II

The Hurtigruten encountered major challenges during World War II. Several vessels were sunk, and the Hurtigruten had to seek shelter in Tromsø. Smaller vessels then departed from Tromsø to Kirkenes – known as the Reserve Route – as these were less vulnerable to Soviet air strikes. A great deal of the tonnage was lost during the war.

The glory days

The re-establishment of the Hurtigruten in the post-war years was started with legendary Erling Jarl from 1949, and three additional vessels were soon supplied from Ancona in Italy – paid for with dried fish. The next three ships arrived from Aalborg in Denmark in 1951–52. In 1956, Blum&Voss in Hamburg supplied three more vessels, and the fleet was supplemented with four Norwegian-built ships in 1960 and 1964. During this growth period in Northern Norway, the Hurtigruten was the lifeline in communications between north and south, and the volumes of passengers and goods increased year by year. The entire operation was run with impressive precision and an impressively neat route.

New age, new competition

In 1962, the Nordland Railway Line was extended to Bodø, 1964 saw the opening of Tromsø Airport and as from the middle of the 1960s, the short track network was expanded in Northern Norway. All these initiatives drew both passengers and freight away from the Hurtigruten. In addition, the ships were beginning to age.

Renewal

Towards the end of the 1970s, however, three new ships were added to the fleet. Around this time, the Hurtigruten transformed from a hidden treasure for experience tourists into a smartly marketed tourist product. Tourists gradually became more and more numerous on board. Most of the other ships were replaced with new vessels during the 1990s, and today the fleet comprises almost exclusively comfortable, modern vessels.