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Cruise line representatives visit the oldest church in Northern Norway

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Left: Mia Bjørgen, tourism coordinator, Visit Helgeland leads the way to a small cave at Dragereiret café; right: Anita Sletback, senior consultant, Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines at the café
The second day of Cruise Norway's familiarisation trip saw cruise line representatives delve deeper into what Brønnøysund has to offer, such as the oldest surviving church in Northern Norway.

It follows Thursday’s introduction to Brønnøysund when fam trip participants climbed to the hole of the iconic Mountain Torghatten and visited an aquaculture centre.

Brønnøysund town centre

The day kicked off with a walking tour of Brønnøysund town centre, the home of unique architecture such as a monkfish-shaped sculpture on water – one of many art installations scattered across Nordland – and ‘The Three Sails,’ a mirrored structure with a climbing wall on its reverse side. ‘There is a new activity park, excellent for children of all ages,’ said Trine Saltermark, cruise coordinator, Visit Helgeland.

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The Three Sails

‘In the very near future we will have a sauna here, which passengers can jump in after a bike tour of the town,’ Mia Bjørgen, tourism coordinator, Visit Helgeland explained. ‘And there will be rib boat tours that can be combined with the sauna.’ The RIB boats will offer views of Torghatten from the water.

The town’s historic buildings are marked with a plaque which have been translated into English and marked on a map for tourists.

The walking tour, which can be conducted by bike, concluded at the Brønnøy church – the site of a former wooden church from 1150. Unique items insde include a crucifix which survived fires in 1777 and 1866. One of the building’s two organs, installed in 1879, was fully restored in 2008 and is in the northern gallery. Restored bridal chairs from 1870 can also be found within the building.

The church can host performances by folk musicians especially for cruise passengers or concerts featuring songs by Norwegian composers delivered by a local orchestra.

Port facilities and infrastructure

The berth closest to the centre of town caters to smaller expedition vessels, measuring 150mtr long and 6/7mtr deep. Sølvi Kristoffersen, port director, Port of Brønnøysund said its new harbour building will one day serve as a terminal building. ‘It will happen when we renovate this harbour although this will be some years in the future owing to the cost.’

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The berth for smaller cruise vessels

In case of challenging weather conditions or for persons with reduced mobility, shuttle buses (not more than two are usually needed) set off for the town centre, located just a few minutes away, every 15-30 minutes.

Some 2.8km from the town centre is Brønnøy port, which is 600mtr deep with 50t bollards and can handle ships up to 250mtr. ‘We are planning to build a new dolphin to take ships up to 300mtr,’ said Kristoffersen. ‘We hope to get it done by 2025 to 2026, but we can’t promise it.’

Like the previous berth, it can handle a single cruise ship at any one time. A Hurtigruten coastal ferry traverses the river but does not impact cruise calls. ‘The ferry comes twice a day,’ explained Kristoffersen. ‘It has fixed slots, staying 3-5.30pm. Northbound it stops for 15 minutes only between 1.30-2am.’ Cruise ships typically combine a call at the port with stops in Ålesund and Lofoten.

Vessels transporting timber currently use the berth, a practice set to change with plans for a new timber-dedicated harbour.

‘We have good space for buses to line up, between 10-12 of them,’ Kristoffersen said, indicating the vast parking area. She added, ‘We roll out a blue carpet and bring flags and flowers when cruise ships arrive – if the weather conditions are right, of course.’

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The large space for vehicles transporting passengers

It is a 20-minute walk – or a 5-10-minute drive – to reach the town located 2.8km away. There is no terminal building, however a marquee can be placed in the coach parking area, complete with a hospitality desk, subject to weather conditions.   

‘And we have a new passenger entrance [located at the south end of the berth] so passengers are away from the industrial area, which we close off when passengers arrive for security reasons,’ noted Kristoffersen, gesturing towards a gate separating passengers from the area where coaches park and which is also frequented by other vehicles entering the port area.

She added, ‘it is possible to tender, but we prefer not to do it.’

Hildurs Herbgarden, Vega Islands

From mid-June to mid-August, passengers can continue to visit Hildurs Herbgarden but are restricted to dining alfresco, with entry to the interior prohibited to cruise passengers. ‘It is under new management,’ explained Saltermark. ‘Passengers can still enjoy coffee and cake there. It has limited availability, but if you plan in advance, it is possible.’

As for visiting the UNESCO World Heritage-recognised Vega archipelago, ‘It’s not easy, but it is possible,’ said Saltermark. Small cruise ships may tender, travelling by Zodiac to reach the islands. A further option is for passengers to travel by coach to the ferry that heads for the main island, travel by foot, and board another coach on reaching the island, and vice versa. For some cruise ships, chartering a vessel is the most practical option.

Four groups of 20 people (80 passengers in total) is the limit imposed on passengers venturing to the islands at any given time.

Dragereiret café 

A journey to Dragereiret café (‘dragon’s nest’) followed, home of the ‘modern Viking’ – the granddaughter of the Hildurs Herbgarden founder. Not suitable for wheelchairs or pushchairs, the experience involves hiking over rocks and climbing a ladder to see an imaginary dragon egg.  A walk through the surrounding countryside ends with a stroll inside a small cave.

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Dragereiret café

The cafe serves lunch using fresh, hand-picked produce from the owner’s herb garden.

Dragereiret is yet to receive cruise passengers, instead catering to locals, providing catering and hosting weddings and business functions.

The oldest church in Northern Norway

Cruise passengers can participate in winter activities at Gasheia which has four mountains popular for hiking and affords panoramic views. It can be visited as part of a longer, six-hour tour from Helgeland to Velfjord church – the oldest church in Norway. But ‘it’s a bit exclusive and you have to be fit to do this tour,’ said Mia Bjørgan, tourism coordinator, Visit Helgeland. Once the location of a stave church, the current church building is 350 years old, with striking views of the river and mountains from a quaint spot. A stop at a museum can be incorporated into the tour.

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Velfjord church – the oldest church in Northern Norway

Whistlestop tour of Mosjøen

A whistlestop tour of Mosjøen followed, an 86.2km coach ride from Mo I Rana and accredited nationally as a site of cultural importance. It has a rich café culture, with independent coffee shops scattered throughout the centre of the small city, in addition to art galleries. Traditional wooden houses pay homage to the settlement’s history as a trading post for timber. An annual music festival sees its pubs and cafes fill with lively music.

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The fam trip moves to Mosjøen

A major attraction is the Fru Haugans Hotel – the oldest hotel in Norway – established during the late 19th century and passed down through generations of the family. The large hotel has been extended, but the traditional quarters are adorned with paintings and photographs from centuries past, with an eclectic collection of antiques and personal possessions kept in the hotel museum.

Passengers can stop for refreshments and visit the museum. A 700mtr zipline from the mountain opposite to the hotel costs KR 790, while the mountain makes for a suitable 3-4-hour hike for cruise passengers, a good footpath having been established by Sherpas.

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Fru Haugans Hotel museum

TAGS: Norway