In just a few days time I’ll be off on the adventure of a lifetime cruising with Hurtigruten in the Arctic circle but I have a confession to make – I don’t like cruises! Not that I have ever been on one you understand – I have just never liked the idea of them.
When I travel I want to experience the country I’m in or passing through, not lounge around on a totally unconnected ship. I want to eat local food in locally owned restaurants, not eat random cuisine onboard said ship. I want my money to go into the local economy, not some foreign multi-national. And no I don’t mind changing hotels every other day or so, unpacking and repacking as I go! Hang on a minute …actually I do mind and just recently the thought of a cruise has started to sound rather more appealing. Is it my age (I counted a few more gray hairs and some extra wrinkles this morning) or is it that cruises are changing, becoming more aware of responsible tourism issues?
Is a Hurtigruten cruise any different from my preconceptions?
Rewind back to the 19th century, the coast around Norway is a rich fishing ground yet with few light houses and unreliable maritime maps it’s extremely difficult and dangerous to navigate. Sea Captain Richard With and his friend, Anders Holthe, took on the challenge to produce detailed maps of the area and in 1893 Captain With’s steamer, DS Vesteraalen, started operating regular services linking southern Norway to the north of the country.
Hurtigruten, meaning ‘the fast route’ in Norwegian, was born.
Not only did this offer Norwegians a fast and safe way to travel around their country, it enabled important supplies to be delivered to previously hard to reach towns and villages in the north.
121 years later, Hurtigruten ships still provide these essential services with a fleet of 11 ships. Daily departures from Bergen in the south sail to Kirkness in the north stopping at numerous ports along the way.
Now, as well as a transport system for locals and supplies, the Hurtigruten fleet offers cruises to travellers wishing to experience the Norwegian Arctic and see the Northern Lights in the winter and the midnight sun in summer.
In just a few days time I’ll be joining the MS Richard With (named after the company’s founder) in Tromsø, north of the Arctic circle for my first ever cruise experience. While it’s not quite the epic adventure that my grandmother took travelling alone, by boat, from England to China in the twenties, it will still be a very new and exciting experience for me. I’m really looking forward to discovering what life on-board is like. Will I feel trapped or will I enjoy simply relaxing as the world floats past. We’ll see!
One thing that is often criticised about cruises in general is how little they benefit the local people of the countries they visit.
Hurtigruten are very much part of the local cultural and have been for a long time! They strive to give their guests an authentic local experience, through which they can discover the real Norway. One focus is the incorporation of local produce and cuisine into the on-board menus.
While guests still eat on the ship, 85% of supplies on-board are sourced in Norway. They are currently working on a new initiative to use even more local suppliers, however, a problem that small-scale producers face is being able to supply the large quantities needed by the ships. Hurtigruten, in partnership with Innovation Norway, are looking at how they can help such businesses to expand (and employ more people) so that they can regularly supply the ships.
In the very near future signs will be used to inform guests that the prawns, for example, were loaded straight from the fishing boats onto the ship in the port just visited or that the lamb being served is from ‘Johan’s farm’ just two miles away. A great idea!
I’m really looking forward to discovering Norway and Norwegian cuisine and finally finding out for myself whether cruising is or is not for me!
Whom I kidding? I’m going to love it!