Saltstraumen Maelstrom

Natural Feature in Saltstraumen

The Saltstraumen Maelstrom is one of Norway's more unusual natural occurrences, which is guaranteed to occur four times every 24 hours. At the 3km-long, 150m-wide Saltstraumen Strait, the tides cause one fjord to drain into another, creating the equivalent of a maelstrom at sea. The result is a churning, 20-knot watery chaos that shifts over 400 million cu metres of water one way, then the other, every six hours. Being there at the right time involves careful planning.

This maelstrom, claimed to be the world's largest, is actually a kinetic series of smaller whirlpools that form, surge, coalesce, then disperse, and it's an ideal environment for plankton, which in turn attract an abundance of fish and therefore anglers. In spring, you can also see the squawking colonies of gulls that nest on the midstream island of Storholmen.

At its best – which is most of the time – it's an exhilarating spectacle. Should you be unlucky enough to hit an off day, it may recall little more than the water swirling around your bath plug. The experience is more immediate from the shoreline, but for the best views, stand on the arching Saltstraumbrua bridge, overlooking the strait, and watch as the waters swirl like nebulae.

As a general rule, when the tide is coming in from the west, the best views are on the east side of the bridge. When the tide's going out, they're on the west side. Arrive early enough to visit the visitor centre and check which way things are going.

Pick up a tide table in advance from the tourist office in Bodø or elsewhere, or your hotel; none are on display at the site itself.