After a sunny, fun filled day at sea, the sudden stillness that greeted our arrival in Eidfjord was one hell of a stunning contrast. Low, rolling hills stood against the backdrop of an ominously leaden sky. Nearby, the German cruise ship Aida Luna- which I had last seen in Bermuda three years earlier- ghosted past us to the one available pier in town. The Marco Polo would be tendering passengers ashore today.
Stopped at anchor, and with her tenders slowly being winched down to water level, the sheer, implacable vastness of Norway seemed to surround the Marco Polo in a kind of uneasy embrace.
Eidfjord is actually part of the vastly larger series of inlets, small harbours and waterways collectively known as Hardangerfjord. One of the ‘greatest hits’ fjords on the Norwegian cruise circuit, the Hardangerfjord unwinds in a seventy five mile long, serpentine sprawl. In places, it has a depth of almost 2,700 feet; an almost unimaginable body of enclosed water.
Soon we were bumbling ashore across this glassy, inland expanse by tender. From sea level, the Marco Polo appeared vast, a colossus out of all proportion to her true scale. The royal blue hull, with its two blue bands and window studded, loooming white upper works, seemed every bit as towering and monumental as the glut of granite nature that grew with every second as we chugged toward it.
The constantly changing weather makes the shores of Hardangerfjord an ideal environment for fruit to grow and ripen. The low ranging meadows play home to vast fruit orchards, brimming with cherries and apples. Those apples are brewed and fermented as part of the potent local cider. Something like eighty per cent of Norway’s natural fruit is produced along the shores of these long, ranging estates.
That said, we were not here simply to look at apples, of course. Our tour coach took us first to the Hardangervidda Nature Centre, where the grass that grows on the roof is kept short by a duo of permanently grazing goats. Inside, an amazing, surround sound display ‘flew’ us over this stunning natural smorgasbord for around twenty minutes or so. I was totally awed, and more than a little disorientated at the end.
Then, the scenic highlight. First contact with the tremendous, thundering mass of Voringfoss Waterfall. A spectacular natural theatre of granite stage and roiling, grey, white flecked mountain water free falls some six hundred feet below, down into the mist shrouded Mabo valley.
The whole background sound is like low rolling thunder, with a backdrop of icy spray that occasionally splatters visitors like so many random shrapnel bursts. The sum total is uniquely thrilling, and guaranteed to clear away any mental cobwebs you might have. Elevated and exhilarating, Voringfoss is an absolute must see if you’re in the area.
Mist rises from the water level here like a succession of angry wraiths, hanging in the ether in brooding silence. Numerous paths and steep trails allow for a series of stunning photo opportunities, but be careful when walking along those damp, often steep passes. Also remember that the granite rocks are wet, and take care accordingly.
Back down in the pretty little hamlet of Eidfjord itself, we enjoyed an almost ethereal piano and vocal recital in a local museum. There’s a stout, doughty old church that traces its origins back to 1309, and the usual collection of small tourist shops and waterfront cafes.
By the time we got back to the fjord, the sun had begun to peep shyly out from among the slowly brightening mountain tops. A sudden wash of brilliant, welcoming light washed across the water, highlighting a couple of kayaks as they scurried across the still waters.
That same sun caught the port side flank of the Marco Polo as she lay out in the bay, waiting for us. At that stage, our transport of delight was a truly welcome sight. For, while the grace, sweep and beauty of Eidfjord had been a feast for the senses, I was now implausibly more than ready for the lunch that I knew was awaiting on board.