As many of you have probably seen on social media, Nicolas and I embarked on an epic roadtrip three months ago that took us all around the South/South-West coast of Norway, starting in Oslo and ending at the family cabin in Tyin. Our route: Oslo – Kristiansand – Mandal – Stavanger – Odda – Bergen – Flåm – Tyin – Oslo. Duration: 6 days total on the road followed by 3 days pampering ourselves up at the cabin.
Before I dive into the details, I thought I’d take a moment to explain why this roadtrip was exciting, challenging and desperately needed for the both of us. You see, ever since moving here in March, Nicolas and I have been on a fast track settling into a new country, new job and new home, on top of nerve-wracking visa applications (for me), battling with cabin fever and figuring out how to live on one income instead of two for the last 7 months (thank god neither of us love to shop!). In short: it’s been fun, but full on! How do you stay in sync – or get back in sync – when your daily interactions and routine are so different? How do you treat yourselves, when you are living paycheque to paycheque?
In Norway, it is mandatory for all working people to take 3 weeks PAID vacation in the summer. That’s how seriously they value work-life balance! While this is pretty phenomenal, this posed another problem for us. See, for new employees like Nicolas they need to build up their vacation allowance during their first year of work. Basically, the company takes a certain percentage of your monthly salary and sets that aside for you to use the following summer. However, as it had only been a few months since Nicolas started work, he hadn’t yet accrued enough money to get paid vacation. But he had to take it, because no one else was working! Meanwhile, I still couldn’t travel while my visa was pending. And did’t have a lot of money to spend. But we desperately wanted a holiday! So what did we do? ROADTRIP! After all, Norway is meant to be one of the most beautiful and best countries to live in the world. We live here now. We might as well get up close and personal. Explore our backyard and all that. Here’s how we did it…
- 1 x Car (Thank you, Gayle!)
- 1 x Rei Tent
- 3 x Lucie Solar-Powered Lanterns
- 1 x Cooking Set (pots, pants, cutlery, gas stove)
- 2 x Sleeping Bags
- 1 x Inflatable Mattress (with battery-powered pump)
- 2 x Pillows
- 1 x Food Cooler
- 3 x Water Bottles
- 2 x Rucksacks (clothes, underwear, flipflops, toiletries, etc)
- 3 x Hiking Boots
- Climbing Gear (rope, draws, chalk bags, shoes, belay device)
- 1 x Crash Mat
- 1 x Entertainment Box (books, portable speakers, drawing material)
- 2 x Cameras
- 1 x GoPro
- Google Maps!
As little as possible! In real terms, that meant trying to keep everything below 3-4,000kr for the both of us. That’s to cover everything from gas, food and drink, parking, camp spots and activities.
Here’s a copy of our route plan and some useful tips if you fancy doing the trip yourself one day 🙂 PS – the reason there is a gap between the end of the top pink route (THUR/FRI), and the beginning of the red route in Oslo, is because that’s the usual car-ride home from the cabin. So Nicolas didn’t bother plotting that down, haha. We did end up back in Oslo… eventually.
Day 1: Oslo – Kristiansand/Mandal (E18)
First stop: Kristiansand via the E18 from Oslo (E stands for European Route). The drive takes 4.5 hours. If you’re a fellow climber/camper, you’re going to want to stop off here to visit the crags at Kristiansand and Mandal. Unfortunately, Nicolas was hit by a migraine on Saturday and the rain drove us out on Sunday. So we didn’t actually get much climbing done (or pics to prove it)! But we did hit the jackpot with our camping spot 😉
To get here, you’ll have to drive to a place called Skjernøya in between Kristiansand and Mandal. Once there, head towards a place called Farestad and find parking along the road, near the bridge. You need to carry your gear (so pack light!) across the bridge and follow the trail past a few houses that will lead you to a fence. The fence separates the last of the residential homes and open territory. Beyond that, you’re free to camp wherever you want. It’s a little rocky and marshy at the beginning but if you walk about 25 minutes towards the coast, you should be able to find some flatter land and uninhibited sea views.
Day 2: Kristiansand/Mandal – Stavanger – Prekeistolen – Odda (E39)
Okay, okay, that looks a bit insane but it’s totally doable if you’re a little ambitious like us 😛 At least it is in the summer when the sun never sets and you’re late-night sleepers (again, like us). That being said, you can split up this part into 2 days and do Kristiansand/Mandal to Prekeistolen via Stavanger in one day. And drive to Odda the next day. The problem for us was that we were trying to beat the rain that was due to arrive in our next destination, Odda, in 2 days’ time. So if we didn’t get there the next day, we would’ve been doing a 23km hike in the pouring rain! But more on that later. Back to Day 2.
To get to Stavanger from Mandal, you basically follow the E39 all the way up. The drive takes about 3 hours. Stavanger is the 3rd largest city in Norway and known for being an Oil city. A lot of expats live here that work in the industry and there is an international school here with mostly the children of British, American and European families. We didn’t really linger long as there’s not exactly a lot to do or see (in comparison to other places we were going), but we did stop for lunch at this Thai restaurant by the water. It’s called Thai Isan and the food was decent and affordable. About 375kr for two big meals.
Preikestolen or “Pulpit Rock” is one of Norway’s most famous attractions. Preikestolen is a steep, 604m (1,982ft) cliff with a sheer drop to the Lyse fjord below. The summit itself is a roomy square sort of shape about 25m wide along each side, but there is no barrier stopping you from walking right up to the edge. To get here from Stavanger, you take the E39 out of Stavanger to Lauvvika-Oanes/Rv13 ferry pier. The ferry costs 100kr and you drive the car straight onto it. From there you stay on the RV13 and follow the signs to Preikestolen. There is parking for 150kr at the beginning of the trail, by the tourist centre where all the buses drop people off. However, you can also park for free further down the hill if you fancy saving some extra cash and hiking a bit longer. The hike took us 3 hours going at a pretty decent pace. We started at 6.45pm and got back at 9.45pm, with a 20-minute rest at the top. Distance-wise it’s about 3.8km each way, so nearly 8k total. Again, pay attention to the weather! While the hike itself was an adventure (steep at parts so bear that in mind! Norwegians love their big tall steps which is tiring for a short-legged person like me!) we were super unfortunate to get a thick cloud of mist at the top. We could barely see a few steps ahead of us.
However, if you are lucky, this is the view that you could get:
Lesson being? Make sure to hike Preikestolen on a clear and sunny day! Don’t say we didn’t warn you! I’m hoping our misfortune will save others the disappointment in future after reading this. That said, whatever happens, it’s still an adventure!
Now remember, this following leg of the trip you can do the next day (Day 3) if you don’t like driving at night. Basically you’d just push the itinerary back by a day and hope the weather cooperates. We actually found it quite fun and mysterious driving the 4.5 hours up to Odda in the dark. The roads are quiet and you get these giant dark silhouettes of the mountains (giant trolls?) looming over you as you trace the RV13 up. Note: there is another drive-on ferry here (Nesvik-Hjelmeland/Rv13 ferry). It was so empty, I couldn’t help “dancing” on the boat 😛
Once you get to Odda, drive to Tyssedal on Route 13 and follow the signs to Skjeggedal. It’s about 7km. Parking here costs 200kr and is right at the foot of the trail, next to a lake. Technically, this isn’t really a camping site but we found we weren’t alone in setting up our tent next to the car at the parking lot itself overnight.
Most people start their hike very early in the morning, so as long as you pack up your stuff before the traffic arrives, it shouldn’t really be a bother to anyone. If you arrive during the day, we highly recommend checking in at Odda Camping and then just driving up to the trail entrance when you’re ready (more on this further down the page).
Day 3: Odda / Trolltunga
As we drove through the night and only got to bed at 2am, Nicolas and I slept in a bit, waking up around 9am, breakfast by 9.30am and beginning the hike at 10.45am. We do suggest though that you start as early as possible. The hike takes an average of 12 hours for most people. The hike is long – 23km in total. And even for generally fit people (ourselves included), it is known for being one of the more “challenging” touristy routes. It’s not alpine climbing, but it’s not a walk around the park either! Mostly, it’s the distance, especially if you choose to do it all in one day (i.e. and not take a sleeping bag and camp overnight – which we will definitely do next time!).
The beginning and end are definitely the hardest, as you have to walk 1km straight up (and later back down) these steep and oversized stone steps, which are particularly laborious if you have shorter legs like me. You really feel it burn in your thighs and butt! We wanted to keep it light so just packed a small rucksack with 2 refillable water bottles (you can top up straight from the fresh, glacial, ice-cold streams along the way), a couple of bars of chocolate for energy, some fruit and nuts plus a small gas stove to cook ourselves some nice, hot veggie dogs when we got to the top.
We wore normal hiking gear (long trousers, lighter shirts and a fleece / jacket to layer on top), but the hike would probably have been easier using lighter trekking / cross-country shoes instead of our heavier traditional walking boots (though those did come in handy in the very wet and muddy areas you have to cross at points).
Still, we noticed most people managed just fine with regular trainers. Saying that, it was a beautiful dry day in July, though a bit overcast in certain areas. I’ve read on other sites that in colder weather you definitely need thicker boots to keep your toes warm and dry. Personally, I had to take my boots off on the way down as the new soles were killing me. NOTE TO SELF: Never wear new hiking boots on a long hike like this again. And all the more make sure to cut your toe nails short!
Bring a camera!
Great, now that we’ve got all the nasty details out of the way, I can focus on telling you what IS so great about this hike. Firstly, it is probably one of the most beautiful trails you will ever encounter in Norway – and Norway is already one of the most beautiful countries in the world. You can pretty much divide up the trail into 8 sections: Tough Start, Scenic Flat, Big Slab Uphill, The Lake, Walking Along, Walking Along, Walking Along, Trolltunga!
What goes up must come down. Just bear in mind that if you are doing this in a day, you must repeat the process backwards: Trolltunga, Walking Along, Wincing Along, Hobbling Along, (We’re at) The Lake!, Big Slab Downhill (knees might be killing by now), Scenic Flat (but my feet really hurt!), (The incredibly) Tough End.
Whatever happens, it’s totally worth it.
Like Preikestolen, Trolltunga (i.e. “Troll Tongue”) is one of those iconic places you just have to see when you are in Norway. Sure, you work for it. But it’s absolutely 100% worth it! Trolltunga itself is this tongue-shaped piece of rock jutting out of a mountain, 700m above lake Ringedalsvatnet. This is your Kodak-moment.
Rest & Recuperate at Odda Camping
So Odda Camping will be like a godsend, a 5-star super-pampered retreat, after that hike you just did! It’s located in the middle of two national parks, Hardangervidda and Folgefonna, and right next to the Sandvinsvatnet lake, 14 km away from Trolltunga. They have 60 slots in total for tents, campers and campervans as well as rooms and cabins for rent. This is where we camped at the end of Day 3.
It costs just 120kr to pitch a tent and if you’re lucky like us, you’ll find yourself a breath-taking lake-side spot with an uninhibited view of the turqoise water, waterfalls and mountains on either side. Best of all, they have HOT SHOWERS! For us, this was the first hot shower we’d had in days! Since we left home!
They also have a few BBQ grills to cook up your food, as well as a small, shared kitchen with utensils and pots, pans, etc to borrow or where you can wash your stuff (oh, the marvel of clean water and soap!). It can get busy here but we found it kind of nice to be surrounded by happy, smiling, like-minded people and families (young and old), all on their own adventures. Besides, everyone tends to keep to themselves anyway.
- Day 4: Odda to Bergen
- Day 5: Bergen, the San Francisco of Norway
- Day 6: Kayaking at Flåm and Viking Ruins!