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Norway’s Senja Island in Winter
2024 Trip Report

When I mention Senja Island to people, I almost always need to follow up with a general description of its location and geography; about 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle along Norway’s northwest coast, featuring beautiful mountain ranges separated by deep clear fjords, sparsely populated, quiet, and not as well discovered by photo groups like Lofoten. In other words, Senja is one of those increasingly rare places on Earth where you feel like you’re going back in time a little to reconnect with the tranquility and simplicity of nature.

Our Senja Island winter tour can be enjoyed on its own or as a perfect pairing to our Lofoten winter tour that immediately precedes it. Some may think it would be redundant to do both tours, but Senja offers a unique set of characteristics that makes it an equally alluring destination. After all, once you’re north of the Arctic Circle, you may as well stay a while!

One of the best places we visit on the Senja tour is not on Senja Island at all, but near Nordkjosbotn, a small town on mainland Norway, at the end of a long fjord that snakes its way over 60 miles inland from the ocean. From our cozy basecamp lodge called Vollan Gjestestue, we can easily access locations among the Lyngen Alps that are unique to this part of Norway.


One of the highlights of the area is the view of Otertind, a stunning mountain peak that rises over 4000 feet above the Signaldal River. Otertind is a landmark of the Lyngen Alps, and characterized by its stunning pyramid shape that gets steeper and steeper near the summit, where it’s cleaved in sections as if hit by the giant ax of a Norse god. Compared to other peaks surrounding it, Otertind is a jaw-dropper and worth the side journey from Senja Island itself.

After our first day photographing Otertind, and the Signal River and areas surrounding Nordkjosbotn, we returned to the base of the mountain after dinner in hopes of capturing aurora borealis over the summit, or perhaps a different ridge line. Although aurora activity is never guaranteed, the forecast was favorable for both clearing skies and for the aurora itself. Under the cover of darkness, we set up in a meadow adjacent to the river, making sure everyone had correct settings, focus and framing in case it happened. Thankfully, it didn’t take long. Within 20 minutes of setting up, flowing curtains of greenish light came down over the mountain ridge to the north, growing in intensity and saturation, changing shape before our eyes. Along with some moonlight to softly illuminate the snow-covered mountains, the scene became pure magic, otherworldly and unforgettable. It was a perfect way to kick off a gorgeous week in northern Norway.

After a couple days exploring the area around Nordkjosbotn, we packed up and headed west toward Senja Island. After a lunch and coffee stop in Finnsnes, we crossed the bridge onto the island and started to feel a notable change in both geography and blood pressure. The landscape became more wild, pristine and the road less traveled as we drove across the island to our lodging destination of Hamn-i-Senja, a picturesque inn set amongst a rocky islet on the western coast.


Over the next few days, our exploration of Senja Island included the tranquil beaches of Steinfjord and Ersfjord, where smooth empty stretches of sand met turquoise waters, that in turn, met the rugged slopes of massive peaks. This unusual combination of soft sand and clear water, more akin to a tropical foreground but with snow, ice and mountains in the background never ceases to amaze me. It’s hard to think of anywhere else on Earth where this mix of elements is so jarring and equally enchanting.


With a relaxed schedule between highlight destinations, we had the luxury of stopping along the way to photograph just about anything that looked good at the time, such as mountain peaks emerging from the middle of the sky through a break in the fog, sunbeams shining through a snow squall and drifting across a fjord, or picturesque boathouses set along stony shores adorned in a layer of clingy snow. Like other locations around the northern Atlantic, the weather here can change constantly, from pockets of clearing to every form of liquid and frozen precipitation possible on the planet, then fog, then clearing again. Here in Senja, the weather makes the images that much more dramatic, moody, and dynamic.

Another wonderful thing about photography at northern latitudes is the slow-motion progression of sunrise and sunset light. Above the Arctic Circle, the sun rises and sets at such an oblique angle that magic hour turns into nearly 2 hours at both ends of the day. Opposed to lower latitudes where you can easily find yourself in a rush to capture golden light, here at over 69 degrees north, the progression of sunrise and sunset almost takes too long at times! Even at “high noon”, the sun isn’t more than 11 degrees above the horizon at this time of year, allowing for soft, ethereal light at any time of day.


Perhaps my favorite location in Norway, and top 10 in the world, is a relatively small peninsula called Tungeneset, where the elements of rock, sea and sky come together in the most dramatic of ways. In the foreground, blocky, granite bedrock steps down in broad platforms into the ocean, where mirror like reflective pools are rhythmically disturbed by the splashing of waves. In the background to the north, the sawtooth “Devil’s Jaw” mountain ridge pierces the horizon. To the southwest, an equally photogenic mountain range provides another perfect backdrop in the opposite direction. In between, the most dynamic and powerful wave action I’ve ever seen brings the entire scene, and your soul, to life. Add to this a constant flow of light and changing weather and you’ll lose all sense of time as you shoot hundreds of landscape frames on high-speed motor drive with each crashing wave.


On the last morning before departing back to Harstad, we drove a few minutes to the south of our accommodations in Hamn to a small beach area that at first, looked like nothing that special, especially after all the beauty and drama we witnessed the days before. But like many places that may not seem like much from the road or parking lot, the beach at Ballesvika was a gem. We hit it at low tide, when we could walk over 50 yards through shallow tide pools to beautifully rippled sand foregrounds and reflections of the surrounding peaks. The morning sun came over the horizon to accentuate every ripple, reminiscent of patterns I’ve seen in places like Death Valley National Park, 4700 miles away as the crow flies over northern Greenland.

Above all, Senja is a place of solitude that is harder and harder to find these days. It’s a place where you can slow down and tune into the energy, elements, and light of the north. With less people, towns, and infrastructure, it’s a place where you start to see, notice, and feel more. Senja will soak into you and will lure you back, long after you’ve departed.

Upcoming Related Tours

Norway’s Senja Island in Winter

Virtually undiscovered by photographers, Senja Island and adjacent Lyngen Alps provide world class winter arctic landscape photography with an outstanding potential for spectacular aurora borealis displays. Reside in comfy hotels in the heart of this accessible, raw, and rugged countryside.

February 21 - 28, 2025
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