Yesterday (August 19th, 2012) we woke up to an overcast, grey day with the mountain behind our house shrouded in typical Bergen mist but decided nevertheless that we would go for a trip to Norheimsund on the world famous Hardanger Fjord.
As we set off the rain began to fall and we weren’t in the best of spirits but as we headed inland away from the coast the rain soon stopped and, although it was still grey and brooding overhead with the mountain tops remaining hidden from view, we hoped it would clear up.
The E16 road took us through some typically spectacular mountain and fjord scenery as we reached the Sørfjorden and the impressive suspension bridge linking the mainland to the island of Osterøy. Heading inland again across the isthmus between Sørfjorden and Samnanger Fjorden we wound through some glorious mountain vistas before descending towards the tiny village of Bjørkheim at the head of the Samnanger Fjord where we stopped at the local cafeteria for some lunch and took a short walk down by the shoreline.
Setting off again an hour or so later the weather began to improve with tantalizing glimpses of blue sky and the occasional ray of sunlight breaking through the grey veils of cloud. We skirted the head of the fjord for a short distance before turning off again into the mountains, winding through narrow, pine clad valleys with mountain streams rushing down to the sea.
The roads here lead through the numerous tunnels that are an unavoidable feature of driving in Norway, but every time you emerge from one you are greeted by another fantastical landscape and by this time the weather had improved markedly so we could enjoy the peaks and steep valley sides which loomed over us.
As we reached Eikedalen (Oak Valley) and were about to enter another tunnel we were rewarded by the sight of the magnificent Fossen Bratte (Steep Waterfall) as it plunges some 80 metres (over 260ft) down to the valley floor. We quickly pulled into a roadside parking place and walked down a rough track towards the foot of cascade. On the way we passed a memorial dedicated to a young French couple who had perished here when they were on honeymoon in 1951 – the reason why the fall has its alternative name of the bridal veil (Brudesløret).
Although only a small river the force of the falling water raises a huge amount of spray and wind currents so you’ll get pretty wet down there if you visit but it’s a magical experience to be so close to such an amazing display of the power of the natural world.
Climbing back up to the road we then walked along the gently ascending road towards the top of the falls. This was the previous Highway 7 which ran along the mountainside before the modern tunnel was constructed and takes you right up to the edge of the precipice where the river plunges over the drop and also the site of a war memorial dedicated to the memory of three young local men who died attempting to halt the German drive into western Norway in 1940.
After resuming our journey and coming out the Fossenbrattetunnelen we reached an area of more open terrain at higher elevation with snow clad peaks to the right before beginning our descent towards Norheimsund and the Hardanger Fjord again winding through steep valleys and many a tunnel before emerging into the wider flat bottomed valley which leads to Norheimsund. By now the weather had become sunny and warm so we were being treated to some beautiful views bathed in sunlight.
The Steinsdalsfossen plunges over the walkway behind the falls only a hundred metres from the main road.
A couple of kilometres before reaching the town we saw the signpost for Steinsdalsfossen which was our main reason for making this trip. Pulling off the main road we drove past the inevitable tourist shops to a small parking area at the foot of the waterfall only a hundred metres or so from the main highway.
This waterfall is much smaller than the Fossen Bratte (some 46m in height – 151ft) but is unusual in that it is possible to walk in complete safety, and more or less dry, right in behind the cataract as the water thunders overhead. It is quite a strange feeling to walk right underneath the falls and look straight up as the water pours over the edge of the cliff above your head but an immensely rewarding experience.
Apparently the falls were a favourite destination of Kaiser Wilhelm II who visited almost every year from 1889 until the rather unfortunate inconvenience of WWI’s outbreak in 1914 put an end to his annual jaunt and it is hard not to understand why as it is a spectacular sight.
After taking a load of photos we rounded off our trip with a brief walk round the village of Norheimsund. This is a pleasant small village nestling on the shores of the Hardanger Fjord with fantastic views across the fjord towards the snowy peaks of the Hardanger peninsula in the distance.
The journey back to Bergen took approximately 90 minutes retracing our route through some of western Norway’s loveliest scenery and completing a truly memorable day’s sightseeing.