Greetings from Norway.

Yep we are currently at about 62 degrees North, somehow we got lost and mysteriously ended up in Norway, there is a lot to catch on so this may be a long one. To start back to one of our favorite countries – Switzerland.

Canyoning, we weren’t really 100% sure what was involved, but we new it had the potential to rank as an ‘extreme’ sport. We also knew that it was something not really available at home and what better place to take it on than the Swiss Alps. So we went into Interlakan at the base of the Jangfrau which stands over 4000m high and into one of the many outdoor adventure sports shops and said we wanted to partake in the best canyoning on offer.

During the summer this region of Switzerland becomes an international mecca for ‘mountain people’, amongst the tourists are the people who rock in at the beginning of every summer to spend the warmer months guiding and partaking in, bungy, river rafting, paragliding, hang gliding, hiking, ice walking and canyoning.

At Aquasport we were warned that Chli Schliere had jumps of around 30-40 feet and it wasn’t for the faint hearted and would involve, being at the shop at 7.45 am and expect it to be around a 7 hour day. The jumps didn’t concern us but the early start did! Twenty one people including the guides had lost there lives in this canyon in 1999 when a hunk of ice broke free in the mountains and caused a huge wave to wash down the river.We parted with our hard earned cash any way and headed of to one of the stunning lakes for a night of free camping, a tip from the staff at Aquasport.

We arrived at the ‘meeting spot’ early the next morning and organised to park the Van in one of the Aqua sport reserved parking places. We signed our lives away and met our guides for the day, Danny, Swiss born and Clay Kiwi born. Again we were warned about the canyon and now would be a good time to pull out if we weren’t comfortable with the concept of jumping 40 feet over a waterfall into a narrow puddle of water at the bottom.

Clay also warned us that if we hesitated expect to get a hard time and once in the canyon the only way out was down it. We then organised our gear, wetsuit boots and socks, a long John wetsuit a shorty with arms, a helmet, lifejacket and harness. The day was to be about listening and learning and taking instruction from Danny and Clay.

We jumped into the bus with the 6 other punters partaking, Danny and Clay and our Aussie born photographer for the day, Gemma. With hard rock pumping out of the speakers to set the ‘mood’, we drove the 55 mins to the top of Chli Schliere, through some very picturesque Swiss country side, arrived donned our gear and walked the 20 mins into the start of the canyon.

We gathered on a rock and were given instruction on various jumping and sliding techniques with the heavy warning that if we didn’t do what we were told, we could get a helicopter lift out or here for 10 000 Swiss Francs, like a guy two days ago that didn’t follow instructions, landed wrongly and broke his back. Great! When I ask how often serious injuries occur, I get the somber reply that ‘we don’t talk about things like that.’  Most injuries occur when people don’t listen or don’t look where they are walking and slip and damage an ankle or knee.

We start with a short slide into a pool of water before tackling the highest jump of the day, around 40 feet, no warm up, straight into it. There’s a lot of rah haaaring and ya hooing to really get the adrenalin going. You can’t see over the edge until you are standing on the edge with your toes balanced on a steel ring and a reassuring hand from Clay on your shoulder.

When he’s happy your ready it’s ONE, TWO, THREE CANYONING!  You jump as far out as you can over the edge of the waterfall into the rock pool below and let out an involuntary arrrrrrr…. It’s all over pretty quickly, you hit the water, avoid the rocks and surface going ‘maaan that was too cooool’, when do we go again, then there’s a lot more rah haaing!  Another slide, the corkscrew, this one is pretty long, fairly steep and narrow with overhead rocks.

Again we are given instruction on how to tackle this baby. Legs straight, lay back and arms crossed over your head to protect your face from the overhead rocks . It’s not uncommon for people who fail to follow instructions to lose a few teeth or gain a few stitches. When you hit the bottom of this slide you realise why it is called the ‘corkscrew’ as you get flung around 360 degrees just before your sinuses fill with water. Pretty cool really.

The next jump is only 25 – 30 feet, but the most technical and the ‘back breaker’. The jump is over a waterfall into another rock pool. The only place to jump from is the center of the waterfall, the issue is that right below the waterfall is a pointed rock lying just under the surface, requiring a leap into green water just to right of the waterfall. There’s also a massive rock face just to the right of the waterfall that you have to, against all better instincts jump straight at. There is another hitch, the water that you are aiming for is only at best chest deep, shallow on any standards.

To overcome this small issue the jump involves landing on your back to avoid going to deep and to take the impact of the fall if to save breaking your legs. We are given a chance to practice landing  on our backs in a shallow pool as it is normally very unnatural position to land. Again Clay is there with a reassuring hand and to go over the details of the jump and steady you on the edge of the waterfall, ONE, TWO, THREE as you jump this time Clay gives you a hefty shove in the right direction to avoid ‘that pointed rock’. You land on your back, miss the bottom get a cheer from the rest  of the group and say thanks that you are still in one piece. Danny is at the bottom to give you a reassuring nod.

There is a whole lot more rah raaing and adrenalin pumping as you move to the next challenge, another slide. It started wide and narrowed about 1/3 down to avoid get a total body beating at the start , it required hanging onto a rope and lowering yourself down to the start of the narrow section, while water the water is pushing down and pummeling you on the head and you can’t see a thing. Sounds like fun hah. We continued on absailing into caves, shooting down slides, more jumping and landing on the back, rappelling over narrow crevices, getting tossed into pools, going down short slides backwards, running matrix style along the side of rock walls.

One slide of about 25 feet required a sideways leap across a waterfall throwing the back onto the wall before a free fall at the end. By the end of the canyon we were doing flips on the smaller jumps.We spent about 3 hours in the canyon, the entire time Danny and Clay were there with a reassuring and confident hand. They were fantastic with an enormous amount of energy and instilled confidence in us every step of the way.

While on the trip we got to know our photographer, Gemma and found out she was heading to the Bahamas for an underwater photography job. Finding out we had come from that direction, she invited us to her going away party that night. We met an extraordinary group of ‘mountain people’ and found them to be open friendly, environmentally conscious and great company. We were the only people to arrive in a car, everyone else walked or cycled and many of them were vegetarians, we had a great night finished about around 12 and headed to our free camp spot be the lake.

We spent the next day driving around the Interlarken region taking in the breathtaking scenery, before heading back to Germany to catch up with Fred, (who flew to the Bahamas to catch up with us). We broke the trip by driving to the Black Forest which is the source of the Danube figuring that we had seen where it ends so it would be pretty neat to see where it starts. We discovered that despite what we thought Switzerland is not the capital of Cuckoo Clocks, but the Black Forest is, and they make some amazing ones.

We spent the night in a carpark on the side of the road before driving to a town called Strohn, which is located close Koblenz (close to Frankfurt), where the rivers Mosel and Rhine meet. We met Fed whose dad originates from this area and still  has many family members here.

Fred had organised a loan of a couple of bikes for us and also for a friend of his, Dieter, an iron man, to give us a tour of the local area. Fortunately Dieter took it easy on us. The area has a series of volcanic lakes at varying heights and is well set up for cyclists. We stopped at a local swimming hole for an ice cream, then Dieter sent us on our way and headed off to do some fair dinkum training.

We then headed to a member of Fred’s family for the night, for a shower, which I’m sure everyone was grateful for and our second show of German hospitality, the first being with Teena and Martin in Rohrdolf, Bavaria. There was as much beer as we could drink and  great food eat that our  welcoming hosts had prepared.

Fred joined us in the Trusty the following day for the drive up to Hamburg, hopefully a memorable experience. We had caught up with Fred as he had orgainised for us to participate in the annual inter airline regatta to be held this year in Hamburg hosted Lufthansa Airlines. Again we were to experience first class German hospitality.

We were looked after by Dieter and Uschi who were involved in the organization of the regatta. They had a full itinerary planned for us. The first night was a lovely cruise up the Elster river and a sneak preview of the area that we were to be sailing in, an ice cream in downtown Hamburg, meeting one of our other team members, ‘Weedo’  and his hosts Astrid and Uwe, a trip up the …… then dinner at a trendy riverside restaurant.

The following day was a practice day on the ‘Conga’ the 2 man boat we were to be competing on in the regatta, then a the welcoming night at the hosting Yacht club with a BBQ dinner. We also met the other QANTAS team members Tim, Jen and Nikhil. The third night was spent with a variety of people from around the globe at a noisy bavarian beer house complete with live traditional Bavarian beer drinking songs, eating swinehoxan – pigs feet. I passed.

The fourth night was the presentation night on the Rickmer Rickmers a historic tall ship permanently moored in Hamburg. Unfortunately Fastie had to head home, but we had a great night partying until around midnight, leaving Uschie and Dieter partying on till the wee hours of the morning.  I have included Fasties summary of the regatta, he did miss a few things though. – David and Weedo achieved a convincing second in the second race on the first day.

On the second day the Aussies were the only team out training and were told to dock the boats due to the thunderstorms that never happened, David and Weedo getting and escort to the dock for throwing in a few extra practice roll tacks and the fact that Fastie and I were disappointed not to get an opportunity to have another go at the gun-smoke. Fastie invited the winning team onto our boat to help us with the setup and sailing techniques, they offered us some great tips and we were confident we could achieve a good result for the team.

Lufthansa convincingly won the 2006 WASC. Only two races were held. Unfortunately the last two races were cancelled due to thunderstorms – just as it was our turn on some of the best boats in the fleet…..not an excuse though! We finished 6th overall, with just a few points separating 2nd from.

Denmark was lovely but flat, in Alby’s words ‘flat as a proverbial shit carters hat.’ We drove up the west coast and only spent one full night there in a nice town called Lemvig, booking ourselves onto a 1am ferry on the second night to Norway. We parked the Trusty on the beach with a group of other campers had a BBQ and set the alarm for 11.30pm. The ferry trip was miserable.

To start is was about an hour late leaving, around 2am, we also didn’t book a cabin, having done overnight trips before with no worries. Problem was not a single other soul had booked a cabin either, by the time we were aboard every couch, lounge, chair and reasonable bit of floor space was taken with bodies sprawled out trying to get some sleep. We found ourselves some quite corners in the depth of the boat, but were told to move on twice, eventually crashing exhausted in a nasty hallway by a main door. We arrived in Norway around 6.30am with short fuses from a lack of sleep.

We drove till about midday before I gave Alby a heavy warning that if he didn’t find some where to pull the Van in soon, I would most likely get very grumpy. We found a spot on a lake, I took the Van Alby took the beach for few hours catnap before pushing on further.

Norway is a a stunning country, even through our sleepy eyes we were awed by the beauty of the place. We arrived at a place called Larvik and drove to the lighthouse at Lindenes on the South West coast. It is also legal to freecamp on public ground in Norway, which makes us very happy. On the first day, every lake, fjord small fishing village seemed to be more picturesque than the last, it was definitely competing with Switzerland as one of our favourtie countries.

To top it of we were getting extraordinary good weather, 25+ degrees clear blue skies and not a drop of rain. Our second night we found ourselves a lovely beachside camp and couldn’t believe it when at 10pm the local campground owner banged on the side of the van telling us to move on or he would call the police. This was the first time this had ever happened and we were astounded, as free camping was legal in this country. Not wanting to cause trouble we packed up and moved on having the sneaking suspicion that we were being followed.

Eventually we found ourselves a spot for the night close to a place called Stavanger, a largish coastal town. From Stavanger we drove to Norway’s second largest town Bergen. We can’t believe how beautiful this country is it’s quite amazing every bend seems to produce another quaint town, beautiful waterway or stunning mountainous backdrop. Driving up the coast has also required multiple ferry trips as it is the only way to gat from one end to the other. This provides another opportunity to take in the amazing scenery and travel up some of the fjords.

We free camped in Bergen and spent the next morning wondering this lovely city. It is a coastal town with a lovely harbour surrounded by the fish markets, where much to our disgust you can buy everything from whale meat to white reindeer fur and a multitude of different seal furs. Unfortunately Norway still considers whaling as a part of their culture and refuse to cease the killing and selling of whale meat. We vowed to give more more to Greenpeace after seeing for ourselves whale for sale in the tourist markets and not for ‘survival’.

From Bergen we headed further North to some of the great fjords and the Jostedalsbreen National Park and Europe’s largest Glacier. Hard to believe but it seemed Norway was getting even more beautiful and spectacular. We headed towards and Nigardsbreen where we booked ourselves onto a day kayaking and hiking on a glacial lake and a 5 hour glacier hike including ice climbing.

The staff at  the Nigardsbreen Tourist Info gave us directions to one of the most amazing free camps we have stayed in, surrounded by waterfalls,  glaciers and mountains. We had a perfect view of  the sun setting over one of the prettiest glaciers.

More soon,

Melanie & David