Vegaøyan – The Vega Archipelago represents a cultural landscape near the Arctic Circle shaped by farmers and fishermen.
The Vega islands have been inhabited since the Stone Age. People make a living based on fishing and the unique practice of eider down harvesting – a practice that has survived since the 9th century. The farmers built nests for the wild eider ducks that arrive in the breeding season and gathered the valuable eider down in return after the birds left.
Community Perspective: the eider ducks arrive in Spring, but tourists aren’t welcome then. You’ll have to make do with the eider duck museum near Holand or the new World Heritage Center in Gardsøy to get the idea. Nan has described the different ways to get to the archipelago. Also, be aware that the core zone of this site is limited to the west of the main island and the surrounding seascape.
Map of VegaøyanLoad map
Referring to the site as Vega Island is misleading. The site is called Vega Archipelago and the greatest part of the inscribed area is not on Vega Island but on other islands and the sea in between. Be sure to check the map.
Vega Island is the easiest to reach, though, and it will both provide great views of the inscribed area as well as access to the core zone:
- The mountain on the southwestern side of island is inscribed and there are two climbing trails. There are also the Vegatrappa, stairs leading you up. I rode with my bike to Sundsvollstranda and hiked along the coast. Unfortunately, I missed the stairs; signposting for trails is not really popular in Norway. From the west coast you also have great views of the neighboring islands. Other starting points for the mountains are in Eidem and in the center of the island.
- Holandsosen is a protected area and there is a small trail running through it. I found it less impressive than the west coast.
- In the North East corner is another protected area.
The visitor center itself, as far as I can tell, is not in the core zone, but you get a great view of the archipelago. Best option would be to rent a kayak to navigate between all the small islands. Side note: The visitor center does not sell proper tickets, so I skipped it.
Generally, I don't quite follow how the inscribed area and the OUV map. If it was settled since the Stone Ages and that was relevant for the site, I would assume some archeological remains; I saw none. For me, this was primarily a nature and birding site and a fine one at that.
Some further comments on previous reviewers:
- Zoe - The passenger ferry didn't strike me as all that expensive. Felt like normal Norwegian prices. And yes, the whole coast is dotted with small picturesque islands akin to Vega Island. But I find inscribing a representative, limited example better than inscribing everything.
- Joel - Fully agree. Vega is off the beaten path. You will not get there unless you intentionally plan to go there. Most tourists aiming for Lofoten or Alta will probably skip it, as it's a one day detour.
The two access points to the Vega Archipelago are Brønnøysund and Sandnessjøen. Both can be reached from Bodø or Trondheim. Options include:
- Ferry 1 - Hurtigruten: Expensive and slow with arrival/departure times partially in the middle of the night.
- Ferry 2 - From Bodø to Sandnessjøen, you can take an express ferry (5h).
- Train/Bus - The main train line connection Bodø and Trondheim runs more to the east. From there, you need to take a bus to get to either town. There is one, maybe two connections a day. Travel time should be around 6-7h.
- Wideroe - By far the fastest option (and surprisingly cheap) is to take the plane. They fly from Trondheim to Bodø with stops in Brønnøysund and Sandnessjøen
For all these options, be sure to check the schedule. Recommended site for public transport options (bus, train, ferry) is en-tur.no. Note that the schedule may differ between individual weekdays and will definitely be worse on a Saturday, so check the precise date you plan to travel on. It may be interesting to buy the Travel Pass Nordland if you plan to tick off more sites in the area. Be sure to check what bus, train and ferry connections are covered.
From Brønnøysund and Sandnessjøen you can then take a ferry. The Brønnøysund ferry goes to the express boat harbor on the Eastern side of the island. From Sandnessjøen, you land on the Northern shore which is closer to the visitor center. Again, be sure to check the schedule and the connection.
To get around on the island, you can use a bus for parts. A car would obviously be easier. I opted for a bike that I rented from the Brønnøysund tourist office for a day. This allowed me to cover most of the island. Bikes are also available on Vega Island at the Visitor Center, but you would need to get there first. On the way from the express boat pier to the visitor center you will pass a supermarket in Gladstad.
The rental in Brønnøysund was quite nice. They aren't open on the weekend, so they put the key in the mailbox and I picked it up Sunday evening for my tour on Monday. As a consequence, I was able to visit Torghatten on Sunday. One more practical comment re Brønnøysund: There are few options re hotels and prices were too high. I opted for AirBnB and that worked fine.
While You Are There
From Brønnøysund a visit to Torghatten is a must, a mountain with a cave in the middle. The cave is impressive and the views of the archipelago you get are great.
Vega island by itself is a lovely hiking spot for fresh air, some history, flora and fauna spotting. The main issue is that the ferry to the island is expensive enough to turn away potential visitors. There are many places along the coast that have the same scenery without that pricey crossing. The main draw is the eider duck and you have probably read that the ducks aren't easily spotted on the island. In fact they mainly come here during nesting season (April) and during that time visitors are not welcome. Hotels are closed and the locals don't like a silly tourists scaring the ducks away. Every house, every barn, every boat and even wheelbarrow become potential nests for the female eider, forming the connection between ducks and humans it has received world heritage status for. In the end this is about money, as a down jacket from Vega is one of the most expensive pieces of clothing you can imagine to buy. Thus maximizing the amount of eider ducks nesting is the key.
So I visited Vega in early July and it was still rainy and chilly. I saw a few ducks in the fields and marshes. There are a couple of things to do, first is the "museum", rather expensive for a quick tour of the history, and the second is hiking. I spent the rest of the day doing that although the paths were muddy and it wasn't that enjoyable. There were signs for an activity app that guides you through the northern section of the island with "interesting trivia" but the app doesn't work anymore. The hike along the coast near the museum has signposts to explain geology, flora and that "bridge" as seen in my photograph.
Whereas Vega was worth visiting it certainly wasn't for the eider duck connection.
This was quite a tricky site to visit, as it's a fair way off the usual Norwegian tourist itinerary. We spent two nights in a small campground in Salhus, halfway between Bronnoysund and the departure point of the Vega ferry. The archipelago itself is largely uninhabited, and only the main island of Vega seems to be occupied year-round. We drove around for a while looking for some interesting highlights to film and coming up fairly short. Obviously it wasn't duck season, so we couldn't find any nesting eider ducks to look at. The highlight was definitely the eider duck museum near Holand on the northern coast of Vega - there is a World Heritage centre here that was opening "very soon" when we visited in June 2018.
Read more from Joel on the Road here.
The highlight of my visit to Vega Island was to see the eider duck museum and nearby duck nesting site at Nes on the north coast of the island. I had been directed there by the young man at the tourist office in Gladstad. It was a longish walk but worth it.
I reached Vega Island by a small ferry from Bronnoysund. Many visitors reach Bronnoysund on the daily coastal ferries of Hurtigruten, but I chose to get there by bus from Grong railway station. I also used the bus service connecting the port of Roroy with Gladstad on Vega Island.
Lost luggage and heavy rain and generally in a bad mode I finally got on the “Hurtig-boat” in Brönnöysund, heading for the island of Vega, the largest island in the Vega archipelago. Once out on the sea, the sun broke through the clouds and the harsh and rugged beauty of the 6500 island suddenly became friendly and inviting. My first stop before heading further out in the archipelago was my hotel, the Vega Havhotel, a hotel that turned out to be a virtual gastronomical paradise with guests from all over Norway and from abroad. So visiting Vega without staying at Anna and Jon Aga’s Havhotel would be a major loss.
Having chartered a boat, I proceeded out into an archipelago with its flat, small island without almost any vegetation, making me wonder how people actually have survived out here. But so they have for over 1500 years, fishing, hunting and also harvesting the down of eider ducks. Even though the outer islands of the Vega archipelago is only inhabited in the summer time, the harvesting of eider ducks is still done today but you will have to be ready to pay some spare 7.000 dollars if you want to take a pillow with you home.
If you want escape civilisation for a weekend and feel the beauty as well as the roughness of northern Norway’s Atlantic landscape paired with brilliant food and wine, Vega is the place for you.
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