The ultimate example of Norway's western fjords, with scenery many of us travel around the globe to see, is Geirangerfjorden.
Snow-capped mountains towering over the blue fjord, while thundering waterfalls drop almost perpendicular into it. Small farms of old clinging to narrow ledges several hundred meters above the visiting cruise ships.
This is Geiranger and Geirangerfjord.
Like the rest of Norway's fjords, the Geirangerfjord we see today was created during several ice ages.
The enormous power of the glaciers carved out this huge canyon between mountains 1600 meters high, and the fjord depth reaches 250 meters. This makes Geirangerfjorden as deep as the Grand Canyon.
After the glaciers of the last ice age retracted some 10,000 years ago, the landscape was slowly covered by vegetation.
Today the steep hills are dressed in lush birch forests up to about 7-800 meters above sea level. From there, heather and moss cover the mountains to even higher altitudes, until rock and snow are the only elements in sight.
As the land became greener, animals and man followed. There are remains of pitfalls and shelters for hunters thousands of years old in the mountains around the Geirangerfjord.
But the more recent inhabitants of the fjord are far more famous. At the inner reaches of the fjord, we find the small village of Geiranger. There isn't much room for farming in the narrow valley, yet people have made a living here for hundreds of years.
When the valley floor was full, they took to the mountain sides.
The cruise ship tourists of today are usually in disbelief when faced with fact that people actually made a living on the narrow ledges along Geirangerfjorden.
Right beside the magnificent waterfall Sju Søstre (Seven Sisters) is the Knivsflå farm. Abandoned in 1898 as ordered by the authorities of the time, because of imminent landslide threat.
However, the houses still stand and have been restored and taken care of by local enthusiasts.
The same goes for Skageflå, a farm situated 250 meters above the water at the opposite side of the fjord.
On a sunny summer day, the view from this place is something out of the ordinary. But in winter, when avalanches thunder down from the mountains, it's difficult to convey the hardships people living here had to endure.
The windows facing the fjord had to be covered with wooden plates when there was a danger of avalanche. The wind in front of one can reach triple hurricane speed, and simply blow the glass to bits.
Tourism is the main income for the Geiranger community, and numerous hotels, camping sites and other accommodation are available. And of course the souvenir shops, selling postcards and trolls on a large scale.
But this may never have happened if it wasn't for the reluctant inhabitants of Tafjord, another fjord just east of Geiranger.
In the 19th century, there were plans to build a road through the mountains, connecting the northwestern district to the eastern parts of Norway.
This road was planned through Tafjord, but the locals were skeptical, as they did not want thieves and other unfriendly travelers coming through their village.
So, in 1889 the Geiranger road was finished, crossing the mountains to Skjåk of Oppland county. The road was considered a masterpiece of its time and awarded a gold medal at the World Exhibition in Paris of the year 1900.
So, here we are today. A vibrant village in a stunning landscape on UNESCO's world heritage list. What do you want to do? There are a number of options. A boat trip on the Geirangerfjord is a must, either by ferry, the sightseeing boat, or your own kayak maybe.
Norsk Fjordsenter (Norwegian Fjord Centre) tells the story of the people living along the fjords through brilliant exhibitions, well worth a visit. You can also visit some of the old farms, or hike the mountains on both sides of the fjord.
There are routes in most of the area, at least in the inner parts of the fjord. Any way you want your visit to be, it will be an experience you'll never forget.
The dimensions are huge. Can you spot the kayak in the image below?
The view from the kayak...
Welcome to the fjord experience of a lifetime!
Can't wait to experience Geirangerfjord? Book your trip on Norway Travel Guide.