Countless fjords and stunning peaks rising straight out of Norwegian Sea make up the rugged and dramatic beauty of the wild Vesterålen. Surprisingly the landscape rapidly changes and it can be found also charming fishing villages and fertile fields! Vesterålen is a wind-swept archipelago of green and at the same time craggy islands, lying within the Artic Circle, just North of Lofoten and West of the town of Harstad. Surrounded by whales, seals and seabirds, the district is shared between the counties of Nordland and Tromsø, even if the greatest part of the territory belongs to Nordland, and consists of four main islands in addition to some smaller ones.
- Hinnøy, the largest Norway’s island, is the Easternmost island of , the Vesterålen archipelago, connected to the mainland by a smart bridge. On the western part of the island the landscape is alpine with mountain ranges, glaciers and peaks exceeding 1.000 meters, like Møysalen 1262 m - located within the omonymous National Park, which counts several glaciers - Tverrelvtindan 1118 m, Stortinden 1021 m. Other high peaks as Sætertinden 1095 m. and Strandtinden 1076 m. lie in the Eastern side of Hinnøy. Two long fjords, Øksfjorden and Gulesfjorden, penetrate deeply into the lands, almost cutting the island.
- Langøy is situated North-West to Hinnøy in a fairly central position. It’s the heart of Vesterålen, connected with the neighboring islands of Hinnøy and Hadseløy via two bridges: the Sortlandsbrua and the Hadselbrua. The western part has an alpine feel, with sharp peaks, amongst which the two main ones are Snykolla 763 m and the rough Ræka 607 m. Surely Langøy highlights are its stunning peaks and the fishing villages at its Northern tip, but the pearl is a unique trekking connecting two ones of these charming villages, Nyksund and Stø, the Dronningruta (The Queen's Route).
Langøya main town is Sortland; the other main town, Stokmarknes, is best known as the birthplace of the Hurtigruten coastal ferry, which was founded here in 1893. Originally a single ship, named Vesterålen, nowaday the line boasts counts 11 ships and is a vital link for Norway, carrying post, local passengers and and supplies and serving 35 towns and villages.
- Andøy is the Northernmost island, long and narrow, mainly characterized by plains. Mountain ranges are present exclusively in the western side; the highest peak is Kvasstinden 705 m. Andøya cold and deep waters recall giant squid and whales and make it perfect for the "whale-watching". The island is connected with the nearby Hinnøya through the bridge Andøybrua and has an airport in Andenes, the island's main town, with local flights.
- Hadseløy, the Southernmost island, located to the south of Langøy, is the Vesterålen's link to Lofoten islands. In fact there are frequent ferry connections between the ports of Melbu and Fiskebøl, this latter located on the island of Austvågøy, Lofoten. The island is mostly mountainous with the major chains in the interior, culminating with Lamlitind (657 m) to the West. One of the highlights is the wild and narrow Trollfjorden.
The nearest airport is Evenes, located on the mainland between Harstad and Narvik, with frequent flights to and from Oslo. The mainland is connected with Vesterålen by some spectacular bridges. Bodö airport may be an alternative, if you want to visit also Lofoten islands. In fact, the Vesterålen archipelago can be reached easily also from the nearby Lofoten by a connection via ferry boat from Fiskebøl on Austvågøy island in Lofoten and Melbu on Hadseløya. Of course the legendary Hurtigrut stops in Vesterålen, where the ship had the birth. You can bring your car on some of the Hurtigruttenboats.
There are some marked and easily accessible trails throughout the Vesterålen, amongst them two main coastal trails: one is located near Bø, on the western part of Langøya, joining Straumsjøen and Spjelkvågen, while the other one, called Matindin trail, is located on the western part of Andøya, joining Stave and Bleik. Another interesting coastal hike is Kyststien, starting from the village of Langenes in Northern Langøya.
There are also marked trails to the cabins of the Norwegian Trekking Association, which has cabins both in the mountains and along the seashore. Amongst the trail, the pearl is without any doubt the Dronningruta (The Queen's Route), a great outing. This latter is a marked trail about 15 kilometres long, running between Stø and Nyksund, called the "Queen's Route" in honour of Queen Sonja, who completed this wonderful hike in the year 1994.
Climbing and mountaineering in Vesteralen are not as developed as in the adjacent Lofoten, but anyhow you can find some nice spots for climbing and several peaks to practice hiking, scrambling and mountaineering. Vesterålen do not have a climbing guide, but a guide regarding Trollskåla-Taen climbing area on Hadseløya is being prepared. Main climbing areas are Trollskåla in Taen, on Hadseloya, Guvag in Bo and Slattnes in Eidsfjord on Langøya. There is also possibilities for bouldering in the area of Taen (on the side of the road nearest to the sea. A superlative summit to climb up in the mountains is Ræeka, a stunning and wild rocky peak lying on Langøya and overlooking the Eidsfjorden.
Møysalen National Park
Covering an area of 51,2 square kilometres, Møysalen is one of Norway's smallest national parks, located on Hinnøy. Towering in the middle of the national park is the wild Møysalen 1262 m, the mountain that was selected as "Norway's most beautiful natural attraction" in 2009. Surrounding mountain summits in this area rise up to 1.000 metres above sea level.
- Ski-mountaineering during late winter - Sea-kayaking - Biking - Body-rafting in Raftsundet in a dry-suit - Whale safari at Andenes or Stø - Seabird safari at Stø or Bleik
There are no particular restrictions in climbing and hiking.
On Vesterålen - as usually in Norway - free camping is allowed if not expressly forbidden. Be aware that Vesterålen are a chain of windy and exposed islands and this factor must be considered with attention, seeking sheltered places. Anyhow there’s plenty of other accommodation, as hotel, b&b and the typical Norwegian "rorbuer" and cabins.
Considering their situation well north of the Arctic Circle, Vesterålen have relatively mild winters and moderately warm summers; in fact the climate in the area is much milder than in other areas located at the same latitude. The average temperature in February, the coldest month, is around -2°, while the average temperature in July, which it is the month with the least amount of rainfall, is around 12°-14°. Fall is the wettest season. In December and parts of January, the sun does not appear above the horizon, on the contrary the sun never plunges below the horizon during the period going from 23 May to 23 July. Anyhow the weather in Vesterålen can be extremely changeable. Even when the forecast is good, wet and windy intervals may occur.
Vesterålen climate info here:
In addition to the main 1:50.000 scale main series, there are 1:100.000 trekking maps of Vesterålen-Hinnøya (2001).