THE sun’s rays shine like gold on the water. There is absolutely no wind and the sea is as still as a millpond. Oh, and it’s just gone midnight.
In fact, here on the Norwegian isle of Sommarøy, the sun doesn’t set for 69 DAYS in summer, due to its location north of the Arctic Circle.
9 On the Norwegian isle of Sommarøy, the sun doesn’t set for 69 days in a rowCredit: Oliver Dixon – The Sun
The 24/7 daylight from May 18 to July 26 makes it hard to tell day from night — but it does mean the islanders can do daytime activities at whatever time they like.
And that makes knowing the time largely irrelevant — which is why Sommarøy wants to become the world’s first time-free zone.
Islander Kjell Ove Hveding, who is leading the campaign, said: “On Sommarøy we have lived in a timeless way for generations.
“In the middle of the night we do everything from playing football, painting our houses and mowing our lawns to going on swims and boat trips, while the rest of Europe is sleeping.”
9 Islander Kjell Ove Hveding is leading the campaign to make Sommarøy the world’s first time-free zoneCredit: Oliver Dixon – The Sun
As part of the island’s time-free ambition, islanders gathered at a town hall meeting last month to sign a petition.
A Facebook video also shows locals smashing a clock, and people have left their watches tied to a bridge as a symbol of the island’s new “timelessness”.
These stunts gained worldwide attention for the tiny fishing island. But Sommarøy — or Summer Island — about an hour’s drive from the city of Tromsø and with a population of just 330, has also found itself at the centre of controversy.
A press release put out by Norway’s state-funded enterprise agency Innovation Norway about their plans prompted a backlash, with some accusing them of spreading “fake news”.9
9 Emma Pietras finds that at 7.05pm the sun is still well and truly shiningCredit: Oliver Dixon – The Sun
Calls have been made for Innovation Norway’s director to quit, with claims the “misguided publicity stunt” cost Norwegian taxpayers more than £45,000.
Kjell, a sixth-generation is- lander, appeared shaken by the media storm.
The 56-year-old dad of three said he travelled to Oslo with local MP Kent Gudmundsen to hand over the petition, and the photos were not staged.
He said: “It’s never been my intention to do something fake. We know it’s true.”
9 Emma goes for a well-lit bike ride at 9.30pmCredit: Oliver Dixon – The Sun
He views the bid as merely underlining what the islanders do already, and added: “The goal is to get the time-free zone formalised.
“Is it likely to be approved? I doubt it, but it’s worth a try.”
Over a coffee in front of breathtaking views, Kjell said he came up with the idea after deciding to quit his job in the island’s only hotel last year.
He added: “People asked me if I was ill but I said no, I just decided to take my time back.
“Many people are getting over- whelmed with time pressure, and how they don’t take the time to actually live their lives.
“My family can tell you how hard I was working but my passion has now become helping others to have a better life.”
Kjell has not owned a watch for five years. If he needs to know the time he just looks at where the sun is in the sky.
Earlier, as we drove over the bridge to the island, I noticed the abandoned watches. So in order to truly live like a local, we pulled over and I attached mine to the railings too.
9 At 10.15pm it’s not too late to hit the beach and build some sandcastlesCredit: Oliver Dixon – The Sun
Due to the Earth’s tilt on its axis, and in contrast to the summer months, Sommarøy is cloaked in continuous darkness for a large part of winter, so it is no surprise that locals take full advantage of 24/7 daylight.
No one uses fixed times and when making plans, islanders will always say: “See you later.”
Immersing myself in island life, I headed out at 9.30pm for a bike ride in bright sunshine, stopping to make a sandcastle on the beach around 10.15pm.
Then it was on to the 69Nord Sommarøy Outdoor Centre, whose midnight sun kayaking tours are hugely popular.
9 At 2.20am the view is still as perfect as everCredit: Oliver Dixon – The Sun
By then I was told it was 1am, but after a quick change we hiked up a mountain.
At 2am we reached the top, from where we could see Sommarøy bathed in a glorious golden glow. Below, we spotted a group of teenagers tearing around the island on bikes.
I was reminded of something Kjell told me earlier, that in summer, children don’t have a bedtime here. At night, Sommarøy becomes their playground.
Earlier, islander Halvar Ludvigsen told me: “We get 69 days of sunshine but we pay for it with no sun in winter.
“When the sun is back, we know the value. People say, ‘How do you know when to eat and when to go to bed?’ Well, we eat when we’re hungry and go to bed when we’re tired.”
In winter Halvar, 58, hosts Northern Lights tours and earns enough to see him through summer. His favourite place to see the midnight sun is the Hekkingen Lighthouse.
For the boat ride over, we were joined by his girlfriend Lena Olsson, who is Swedish but moved to Sommarøy two years ago after falling in love with Halvar — and the island.
She said: “It gets you in the heart when you see it. Sweden is a beautiful country but this is paradise. It’s very special here. There is no stress.”
9 At 2.40am there’s still time for a climb and a drinkCredit: Oliver Dixon – The Sun
As 58-year-old Lena unpacked a picnic, Halvar said: “We always come here at midnight. It’s perfect. The sun is beautiful, like gold on the sea.”
Back on land, at the island’s hotel, I finally managed to get some shut-eye, sleeping from 4.30am to 8am — and was glad my room had blackout blinds.
I put on an eye mask as well, just in case any light got through. I may have given up my watch, but I wasn’t going to give up sleeping too.
Sommarøy’s ferry boat captain, Ketil Voll, hasn’t even surrendered his watch yet — though he does agree with making the island timeless.
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The 61-year-old said: “This was a good thing so people can think about how they spend their time. It’s made me realise I should work less and spend more time with my family.
And while there have been claims that the move would be bad for tourism, there is no denying it has put Sommarøy firmly on the map.
With a wry chuckle, Halvar said: “People from Sommarøy used to say they were from an island near Tromsø — but now people in Tromsø are saying they live near Sommarøy.”
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