Norway: Six of the best natural masterpieces

MOSKSTRAUMEN MAELSTROM

According to Edgar Allen Poe's 1841 short story A Descent into the Maelstrom, Norway's Moskstraumen Maelstrom is powerful enough to suck boats into the abyss. The vast whirlpool system forms at the Lofoten archipelago between the Norwegian Sea and Vestfjorden and, unusually, occurs in open water rather than closed straits or rivers. With currents that stretch across an area eight kilometres wide, it is one of the world's most powerful maelstroms and can indeed be a danger to small boats, but it is more likely to capsize them than draw them under. This is not necessarily reassuring. Herman Melville wrote of the maelstrom in Moby Dick, as did Jules Verne in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Its mythical qualities bring tourists flocking in, on planes and boats, to see it. See lofoten-info.no

SVALBARD ISLANDS

The Svalbard archipelago is a magical frozen kingdom in the High Arctic, midway between mainland Norway and the North Pole, and its king is the polar bear. About 3000 bears roam the region of islands and islets.  It is a raw Arctic wilderness populated by regal mountains, blue sea ice, glaciers and a surprising range of wildlife. More than half of Svalbard is glacier-covered, offering a reliable barometer of climate change. There are three main seasons – the flora-and-fauna-rich polar summer, polar night winter and sunny winter. See visitsvalbard.com

KJERAGBOLTEN

It looks as if a Norwegian troll has lifted a boulder and in a fit of pique hurled it 1000 metres skywards. Kjeragbolten, the boulder, has ended up wedged spectacularly between cliffs. Scientists would have you believe it's a glacial mass deposit from the last glacial period, about 50,000 BC. If you have the urge to be photographed atop a boulder suspended above a 984-metre abyss, this is your Norwegian go-to destination. Queues to take photos are common, particularly when there are cruise ships in Stavanger. The 12-kilometre hike to reach it is strenuous and should only be attempted between May and September. See visitnorway.com

JOSTEDALSBREEN

Europe's largest glacier squats like a massive octopus in Sogn og Fjordane county. It's so large it is an obstacle to getting around Norway. The body of the beast is a huge ice cap covering about 500 square kilometres within the 1300-square-kilometre Jostedalen National Park. About 30 named arms or valley glaciers hang down into the adjacent valleys. One of the best known is the Briksdalsbreen at Olden, at the end of Nordfjord. Of all the natural wonders in this naturally wonderful country, glaciers are one of the most dangerous. They shift and flow, while ice chunks regularly calve from the glacier front. Trekking on the high blue ice should only be done with experienced guides but the blue ice caves and cathedrals of Jostedalsbreen's Nigardsbreen are gorgeous. See fjordnorway.com

PREIKESTOLEN

This massive slab called Pulpit Rock hangs over the Lysefjord, which glitters a vertiginous 604 metres below. For hikers creeping across its flat unfenced top, the rock appears to be separated from the mountain by a jagged crack which old-time travellers called Hyvlatanna (planed tooth). Preikestolen is about 25 kilometres from Stavanger, in Western Norway, and offers one of the country's most popular hikes – a soaring clamber over jagged boulders and rocky tessellated paths into a wild and gorgeous landscape. Lonely Planet and the BBC have separately named Pulpit Rock  one of the world's most glorious viewpoints. See visitnorway.com

AURORA BOREALIS

It is hard to choose only six Norwegian natural wonders. The World Heritage-listed fiords of Fjord Norway, exemplified by the Geirangerfjord and the Naeroyfjord, are probably the most obvious but it would be impossible to leave out the northern lights.  The Aurora Borealis is not unique to Norway but the country is arguably the best place to view the shape-shifting celestial performance in green, violet and pink.It can be seen between September and March. See visitnorway.com

Alison Stewart travelled as a guest on APT's Majestic Norwegian Fjords voyage.

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