Lichen-covered shore and inlet of water with snowy mountains
Coast & seascapes,  Mountains,  Norway

Bleak landscapes of Kvaløya Island

Why do people choose to settle in some places and leave others almost deserted? The reasons are many, but natural resources play a big part, and so does climate of course.

On our walk around Tromsø our guide talked about the reasons Tromsøya, the island on which the city lies, had become relatively densely populated and neighbouring much larger islands less so. Tromsøya is sheltered by those neighbours and enjoys a more temperate climate as a result. Its main harbour stays ice- free in winter too.

But the very factors that make Tromsøya attractive to live on, make those other islands attractive to visit! So for my last day in Tromsø I and some friends booked a landscape and wildlife tour through Chase the Lights. This took us to various locations on Kvaløya island, a much larger island connected to Tromsøya by bridge.

Unfortunately the weather wasn’t great at the start of the tour, and it was raining when we stopped for the first sight, some old buildings near Hella, relocated from Tromsø itself.

Soon after this we saw our first reindeer, a male in the road. Appropriate, as it was still raining!

Reindeer with large antlers on a gravel road
Male reindeer

As we approached Grøtfjord we stopped at a viewpoint above the small village of Grøtfjorden.

View of coastline with small cove and village
Looking down on Grøtfjorden

The rain was easing by the time we drove down into the village for a closer look.

Houses clustered at the foot of a mountain by the sea

Driving on we skirted beautiful Grøtfjord and stopped for photos several times. Our driver/guide Stine assured us we would be passing back this way and might have the chance for more photos in better conditions, but I thought it looked pretty stunning already, despite the low cloud over the mountains.

Still water reflecting mountains with low cloud
Near Grøtfjord
Lichen-covered ground and misty mountains
Grøtfjord in the rain

We had a longer break in the small fishing village of Tromvik. By now it was dry, if not exactly sunny, and we were able to enjoy hot chocolate and biscuits by a small cove.

Rocky coastline and small ship moored in the distance
In Tromvik

Seaweed and sea urchin, Tromvik

Afterwards my friend Anne Marie and I walked a short distance along the harbour wall for more photos.

Harbour with small boats and snowy mountains with low cloud
Fishing boats, Tromvik
Harbour with small boats and snowy mountains with low cloud
Tromvik from the harbour wall
A few houses along the water's edge
On the harbour wall, Tromvik

We then made our way gradually back around Grøtfjord. This time Stine stopped in lots of scenic places where we were able to get out of the minibus to take photos, for the most part in dry or almost dry conditions. The scenery varied but was always awesome. There were sandy coves and rocky ones, streams and small waterfalls, snow-streaked mountains and every shade of green imaginable!

I will try to show restraint in choosing which photos to share from this part of the day, but I have so many favourites!

Sandy beach with distant mountains with low cloud

A small beach on Grøtfjord

Sandy beach with weathered tree and distant mountains with low cloud

A beach on Grøtfjord

Sandy beach with weathered tree framing view of distant mountains with low cloud

Grøtfjord from the beach

Stream flowing through rocks from snowy mountains

Stream feeding into Grøtfjord

Stream flowing through rocks towards an inlet from the sea

Stream feeding into Grøtfjord

Lichen-covered shore and inlet of blue water with rocky islets


Lichen-covered shore and inlet of blue water with rocky islets

Grøtfjord (note the small figure of my friend Martin at the water’s edge, showing the scale of this landscape)

Lichen-covered shore with rocks and a weathered tree

At Grøtfjord

Branch with leaves sprouting

New spring growth on the trees

Branch with leaf sprouting

Lichen and new growth

Before finally crossing back to Tromsøya Stine took us to a spot where she hoped we’d see more reindeer, and we did, including a few calves. A lovely way to end the tour!

I visited Kvaløya Island in early June 2023


  • wetanddustyroads

    What a stunning featured photo. As I said in a previous post, I can tell it’s very cold, but there’s just something about your photos that makes me wish I was there (in a thick jacket of course). Grøtfjorden is picturesque, as are the fishing boats in the harbour of Tromvik. So many beautiful photos here Sarah, but I think the reindeer calves are the perfect ending to your post.

  • grandmisadventures

    I think I’m going to add this to places I could live. I really love the remoteness of the city but also to be right in the middle of such incredible landscape. I think the rain and the moody clouds just adds to the whole atmosphere of it and gives it that little bit of a mystical feel. Really beautiful pictures! 🙂

    • Sarah Wilkie

      I’m so glad you liked this and yes, I agree that the weather adds to the atmosphere although at the time I was wishing the rain would stop as I was a little worried about my camera getting wet! Luckily it did stop, but left those dramatic low clouds 🙂 But live here? No, that I couldn’t do!!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Very different – the polar opposite (pun intended!) of the usual concept of a sun, sea and sand holiday, even though two out of those three are present 😀

  • Sandy

    Wonderful photos of a wildly dramatic location. I had to look up Kvaloya Island to find out where it is. Latitudinally it’s around the same as Nanuvut in Canada, another stark and beautiful place. I suspect though that Nanuvit is a less popular destination point – there are no roads to Nanuvut. Knowing your adventurous spirit, maybe you’ll go there next, if you haven’t already been!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Sandy 😊 Now I in turn have had to look up Nanuvut! No, I haven’t been there and suspect I never will, despite it sounding rather interesting!

  • Anita

    Wow!! Absolutely wonderful photos Sarah! Impressive sceneries and fantastic to meet reindeers, the male looks really powerful and what a blessing to also see the calves. You are a good photographer, thanks for sharing!!

  • sheetalbravon

    Chase the lights sounds such a wonderful name and this tour seemed to have lived up to its expectations of being utterly memorable. I wouldn’t even know how to pronounce the names of all these places you’ve included in your post.
    Bleak but so beautiful, Sarah.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      The tour company name comes from their winter tour programme when like many operators here they run Northern Lights trips every night. Many of their competitors seem to shut down for the summer months, these are among just a handful running wildlife tours then 🙂 And I can’t pronounce all the names either!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Glad you like the scenery Maggie 😀 Of course ii was thrilled to see the reindeer, especially the calves, but it was those landscapes I loved most of all!

  • lisaonthebeach

    Unbelievable, Sarah! And the baby reindeer! Oh my! 🥰 And I also love the photo with your friend at the water’s edge. I would always try and keep people out of my photos, I just wanted nature. Then I read that having people in your photos helps show perspective, like you said. Well, when we visited some of the Utah parks, I discovered how true that is. I actually like people in some of the photos for that purpose. And it also makes some photos seem more realistic. Anyhow, absolutely lovely photos and what an amazing trip!

  • the eternal traveller

    We’ve just returned home from a trip to Canada and Alaska, where much of the scenery we saw is very similar to this. And we asked ourselves why people chose to live in these harsh environments. We were impressed by the innovations and adaptations of the native peoples. We had much better weather than you did though, it was mostly gloriously sunny. Very lucky.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Some sun would certainly have been appreciated at the time, but see my reply to Alli below – I think the weather actually added something to these scenes in a way. I would love to visit Alaska one day! I think for most people who live in such places, they were born to it and can’t imagine anything else, it’s in their nature. But no, I couldn’t understand anyone choosing to move here, beautiful as it is. And this was in summer!

  • Alli Templeton

    Wow, all this breathtaking scenery and reindeer too – what more could you want? No wonder you had trouble selecting images!

    For me, clouds and damp weather can add to a mountain scene, as I find it adds an almost mystical feel. You’ve certainly caught the effect in your shots, which I imagine might not be easy. I want to go there – especially if I can meet that cuter-than-cute baby reindeer to complete the perfect trip. Loved this, Sarah. What a trip!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      I think you’re right about the weather adding to the drama and, yes, mystery of these landscapes Alli. At the time I reckon we were all wishing it were a bit warmer amd drier but looking back I can see I might not have got such good images of this stunning area! Glad you liked them too 😊

  • bushboy

    All round fabulous Sarah. It is cold here but your photos made me warm. Love the landscapes, the size photo is so good and Reindeer, how special. I am still a bit cold but had a wonderful time thanks 🙂

  • Mike and Kellye Hefner

    The sea urchin was totally unexpected and beautiful – as were all of your pictures. I hadn’t noticed the scale until you pointed it out with your friend Martin in the picture, but wow. What gorgeous scenery and colors! And then baby reindeer… oh, my gosh! Love this post!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thanks so much Kellye 😊 We saw a lot of sea urchins in the water too but they were much harder to photograph! I’m pleased you liked the colours of the landscapes in particular as that’s something that really struck me.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Margaret – but you have no idea how many more shots I left out 🤣 And yes, cold can be beautiful – but it is still cold 🥶🥶

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