Tajford

  
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The site of yet another disastrous landslide causing a tsunami in a fjord in Norway (cf. Lovatnet) and killing killed dozens of people as the sudden tidal wave washed over villages and took out several houses. 

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More background info: It was on a warm spring morning on 7 April 1934 that a gigantic piece of rock fell from the mountain on northern side of the fjord into the waters of Tafjord. The sudden displacement of water by between 2 and 8 million cubic metres of rock (the sources vary quite wildly) caused a series of tsunami waves, the highest of which was allegedly over 200 feet (60 m) high!
 
This wall of water swept almost half a mile (700 m) inland and up the slopes on the sides of the fjord, taking with it houses, livestock, everything. Worst hit were the villages of Fjøra and Tafjord at the head of the fjord. Some villagers managed to scramble up the steep mountainside in order to escape the flood – but for some 40 people it was too late. The only reason that this even more massive landslide-plus-tsunami disaster didn't claim even more lives – perhaps as many as in Lovatnet in 1905 and 1936 – is that this remote corner of the country was less populated.
 
The danger of a repeat performance of the perilous mountain above Tafjord is far from over. On the contrary. Cracks in the mountain have to be carefully monitored by a radar installation some 2 miles (3 km) away. A warning system is now in place to avoid or at least minimize casualties if/when the mountain splits again … which is almost certain to happen one day …
 
 
What there is to see: nothing that would be concrete evidence of the Tafjord tragedy. There's just a small monument and some information panels in Fjøra, which was one of the villages worst hit by the tsunami. There is some explanatory text (in Norwegian and English) and a set of photos of the village before and after the disaster.
 
To the untrained eye, the fjord itself and the perilous mountainsides next to it do not look like anything out of the ordinary in Norway. You have to use your imagination to get the feeling of threat that is indeed still quite real here. The mountain is being monitored by a radar system so that quick warning sirens can be sounded when the mountain cracks again. Meanwhile, however, everything is peaceful and serene in this quiet corner of central Norway.
 
The approach road from Valldal to Tafjord village is much more immediately dramatic, in contrast … though not really in a dark historical sense. It just feels eerie. This is so because for much of the distance the road goes through tunnels hewn through the bare mountain rock – and that for many miles. The longest of these tunnels passes through the very mountain from which the masses of rock had come down in the disastrous landslide of 1934.
 
Some of the stretches of tunnels further on don't even have any lighting inside so you're totally reliant on your car's headlights. Zipping through what is otherwise complete pitch-black darkness with faint images of raw-hewn rock constantly flitting past is a surreal experience, I found. There was something almost psychedelic about it.
 
When you finally arrive at Tafjord village it looks pretty unremarkable, and there is no commodification of the associated Tafjord disaster here at all. The main reason for tourists to come to this forlorn place – other than seeking precisely this forlornness for camping, hiking, etc. – is the local hydroelectric powers station, which has a small museum (see below).
 
Those in search of something even more exotic can continue driving along the road that goes past Tafjord and up into the mountains. This will eventually take you to the Zakarias dam and reservoir – and en route you drive up a weird tunnel that corkscrews its way up like in a multi-storey car park – only inside raw-hewn rock again (and also without any lights). The dam itself is 96 metres high – so not really an exceptionally big specimen of its type (cf. Vajont) but still quite impressive.
 
 
Location: in central Norway, a bit east of Valldal, which is on the secondary 63 road between Andalsnes, some 35 miles (55 km) to the north-east, and Alesund, 60 miles (95 km) to the west.
 
Google maps locators:
 
Ford: [62.26,7.39]

Fjøra village: [62.294,7.317]

Tafjord village and Kraftverksmuseet: [62.227,7.422]

Zakarias dam: [62.2018,7.4905]
 
 
Access and costs: remote but freely accessible by road, weather permitting.
 
Details: Other than going down Tafjorden by boat, the only access to this isolated area is by car. There is only one road leading from Valldal to the west all the way down to Tafjord. And some tertiary roads lead further into the mountains from there. But it's a dead-end route – so nobody will pass through by chance. It really is a place that feels very remote indeed. What adds to that impression is also the fact that the access road from Valldal passes through tunnels in the mountains for more than half of the distance.
 
The first tunnel from Valldal is the shorter one and ends at Fjøra village. Further on the really long tunnel begins, which ends just a short distance before a final tunnel and then Tafjord village. The road to the power station museum (Kraftverksmuseet) is signposted and branches off to the left.
 
Note that the museum is only open seasonally, from 9 June to 12 August, daily between 10 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.; admission free.  
 
To continue into the mountains and onwards to the Zakarias dam you first have to go back to the main road, cross the river and then head left, i.e. south. It's a long and in places very winding road (including part of that winding inside a tunnel!). But eventually you'll see the unmistakable shape of the dam on your left. There is a small car park. These latter roads may well be impassable in winter.
 
If you want to stay overnight in the area, the best option for accommodation is in Valldal, where the friendly and endearing, family-owned Fjellro Tourist Hotell offers decent rooms and a very nice fish restaurant … and also a dose of Britishness: a Union Jack flies amongst some other nations' flags, there's an old red telephone box outside by the car park and at the bar you can get imported Spitfire ale! The place is run by a Norwegian-British family … hence!  
 
 
Time required: a couple of hours or so of driving. Otherwise short stops only, except perhaps at the museum in the old power station, which requires extra time … but isn't so big either – requiring maybe another half an hour or so.
 
 
Combinations with other dark destinations: A similar place where other such landslide-plus-tsunami disasters took place is Lovatnet, ca. 100 miles (150 km) by road (and partly ferry) further south near the mighty Jostedalsbreen glacier.
 
For other sites further afield see under Norway in general.
 
 
Combinations with non-dark destinations: The rather special-interest industrial heritage attractions of Tafjord's Kraftverksmuseet and Zakarias dam aside, two of Norway's most popular mainstream tourist attractions are just round the corner from Valldal: the picture-perfect Geirangerfjord and the dramatic Trollstigen mountain road.
 
Valldal, located just north-west of Tafjord on the northern shores of Norddalsfjorden, is a local "hub" of sorts. The valley of the same name that stretches north is Norway's strawberry country – so you'll see the fruit proffered by roadside stalls all the way between Valldal town centre and Trollstigen.
 
Trollstigen, a good 20 miles (35 km) north-east from Valldal on the Rv63 road, is rightly regarded as the most dramatic mountain road in the whole of Norway. The name translates as "Troll's ladder", and its 11 hairpins at a steep gradient easily explain why. To add to the drama of this road basically climbing a sheer rock face are two waterfalls that spout over the cliff edge. One of them thunders straight under the road, which at this point crosses the water by means of a bridge that looks like straight out of Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" … in fact the whole scenery would be reminiscent of that epic if it wasn't for the presence of countless motorhomes and tour coaches that snake their way up (or down) this tourist route. The popularity of the place has been further underscored by the brand new visitor centre at the top. Also added were two viewpoints over the cliff edge. The one further from the visitor centre is by far the more dramatic one. A walkway hanging over the edge affords views vertically down … not for vertigo sufferers! The road is usually open only in season, from May to October, roughly. On the other side of the mountain to the east of Trollstigen is Trollveggen – the highest vertical mountain wall in the whole of Europe, a whopping 6000 feet (1800 m) straight up. No wonder it is regarded as the continent's top challenge for mountaineers. Regular tourists just gaze up towards the jagged summits (if you can see them, they're often shrouded in clouds).
 
The Number One star amongst all of Norway's picturesque fjords and the one most frequently visited and represented in tourism brochures and other promotional material is Geirangerfjord. Despite its immense popularity it is indeed a breathtaking journey to sail through the narrow fjord with high walls either side from which waterfalls cascade down. They look like they have been put there in order to look as incredibly scenic as they do. But they are indeed natural. There are many offers of shorter cruises that only take in the best bits. But you can also take a car ferry (one of lines of the "Fjord 1" company) straight from Valldal. This first goes through parts of Norddalsfjorden and then Sunnylvsfjorden before entering the last stretch towards Geiranger. When driving out of Geiranger towards Jostedalsbreen National Park (see under Lovatnet) you have to climb another dramatically steep hairpin road. At the top take a look back down over Geiranger village and the fjord beyond – this is a view you will almost certainly have seen before in photo form. The reality of it is often tarnished by the presence of cruise ships belching out their pollution and spewing out their frantic hordes of passengers. But when I was there I was lucky – not a single one of these ugly floating monsters was anywhere in sight.
 
  
 
  • Tafjord 1 - the fjord from the westTafjord 1 - the fjord from the west
  • Tafjord 2 - the village at the eastern end of the fjordTafjord 2 - the village at the eastern end of the fjord
  • Tafjord 3 - images on an information panel by the road in FjöraTafjord 3 - images on an information panel by the road in Fjöra
  • Tafjord 4 - another panel further up the roadTafjord 4 - another panel further up the road
  • Tafjord 5 - inside the long tunnel through the rockTafjord 5 - inside the long tunnel through the rock
  • Tafjord 6 - rocky scar on the mountainTafjord 6 - rocky scar on the mountain
  • Tafjord 7 - hydroelectric power stationTafjord 7 - hydroelectric power station
  • Tafjord 8 - the old part is a museum nowTafjord 8 - the old part is a museum now
  • Tafjord 9 - water pipesTafjord 9 - water pipes
  • Zakarias dam 1- remote but accessibleZakarias dam 1- remote but accessible
  • Zakarias dam 2 - you can walk acrossZakarias dam 2 - you can walk across
  • Zakarias dam 3 - the gorge behind the wallZakarias dam 3 - the gorge behind the wall

 

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