The part of the island of Sørøya that belongs to Hammerfest Municipality has some of the most remote, sparsely inhabited communities in the whole of Norway. Fewer than 100 people living in five little fishing villages have no connection with the outside world other than that of the regular express ferry, Bygderuta. The boat sails to Sørøya twice daily from the harbour in the centre of Hammerfest, and the order in which it makes its calls to the island communities varies according to need and the day of the week. The ferry is a vital lifeline for the locals, and makes a fine round trip for visitors.
Round trip with Bygderuta
When www.nordnorge.com joined the Bygderuta ferry one day in May, we experienced typically changeable Finnmark weather, with glimpses of sun and snow flurries. We were the only tourists on board. The trip across the Sørøysundet sound from Hammerfest to Akkarfjord took barely half an hour. In Akkarfjord the goods destined for the local shop were unloaded, the post was delivered, and it was relatively hectic on the quayside with passengers, people waiting, and much to-ing and fro-ing. As hectic as it gets with only 70-80 people living in Akkarfjord all year round.
To the little settlements
Leaving Akkarfjord, our next ports of call were the tiny settlements of Hellefjord, Langstrand and Sandøybotn. Here it was a good deal quieter on the quayside. One or two passengers went ashore, a snowmobile and a couple of boxes of groceries were unloaded, and we were off again. The huge boarding school building at Langstrand is a reminder of the days when there were far more people living on Sørøya and the local children were sent to school here, as many communities were so remote. Now and then the boat also makes a detour over to Kårhamn on the neighbouring island of Seiland, so if you like you can explore that large island, too.
Walking and hiking
In summer there are many excellent walks on Sørøya. From Akkarfjord a marked trail climbs to Kjøttvikvarden, a 12-metre-high stone cairn built in 1858 as a landmark for fishermen. The countryside offers relatively easy walking terrain and fantastic views. More challenging is the rather more airy and dramatic hike to the lighthouse at Tarhalsen on the northern tip of the island, but then the landscape and variations are also greater. Walking routes and maps are available from Hammerfest Turist tourism offices. You can take the ferry out in the morning, follow one of the walks, then take the ferry back in the afternoon – or you can opt to stay the night.
Stay a while
It’s not of course essential to return to Hammerfest the same day. In Sandøybotn, on the side of Sørøya facing the Barents Sea, there is a guesthouse offering rooms and cabins for hire. In Akkarfjord the school students run a hostel providing overnight accommodation in the old boarding school, at reasonable rates for a double room or a bed in dormitory-style lodging. Although the accommodation may not be full up that often on Sørøya, it’s still a good idea to book in advance so as to be sure that there is someone at home.
Sørøya ‒ the fourth largest island in Norway ‒ has a great deal of wilderness and few inhabitants. A good half of the island belongs to Hasvik Municipality, and has a population of barely one thousand. The smaller, north-easterly part of the island belongs to Hammerfest Municipality, and currently has fewer than 100 inhabitants. Most of them live in Akkarfjord, but there are also people living in the little communities of Langstrand, Sandøybotn, Hellefjord and Lundhavn. Akkarfjord has a school, two shops, a post office and a day nursery, and the local people are employed by the fish processing plant in the village centre.
The local tourist board, www.hammerfest-turist.no infoms about Hammerfest and the west coast of Finnmark.