Sommarøy is a tiny island in Tromsø Municipality, Norway. At 0.34 sq km, it’s smaller than Vatican city. But thanks to a stroke of marketing genius, this fishing village became one of the most talked-about destinations in the world.
Several outlets reported in June that the island’s 350-odd residents were petitioning to abolish time-based schedules. Being north of the Arctic Circle, Sommarøy experiences the midnight sun phenomenon, where the sun doesn’t set between May 18 and July 26, and there’s complete darkness from November to January. The body clock, and thus time, becomes redundant, meaning the townsfolk can mow their lawn past midnight, or enjoy a coffee on the beach at 2am.
Kjell Ove Hveding, the leader of the time-free zone campaign, shared that residents wanted to formally be free from the trappings of the clock, since the islanders already lived as they pleased. “All over the world, people are characterised by stress and depression,” said Hveding. “We will be a time-free zone where everyone can live their lives to the fullest…to provide full flexibility, 24/7.”
The world, naturally, lost its marbles at this unusual idea of secession. Many suspected the campaign was a ploy to boost tourism. And they were partly right. While the residents’ petition and habits were honest, the media crescendo wouldn’t have materialised without Innovation Norway. A government body, Innovation Norway had attempted to capitalise on Sommarøy’s existing habits to increase its appeal as a tourist destination. In fact, the petition happened after residents met with the agency. We’re guessing the publicity stunt got a little too elaborate at some point, and the body couldn’t clarify their role in time.
Anyway, all’s well that ends well. Hveding got to present the townspeoples’ actual signatures to a Norwegian member of parliament, and simultaneously gave the world a lot to think about. It also got us wondering—if the island ran completely as it pleased, time no bar, what should a vacation here be like?
> First, adopt a ‘when in Rome’ policy, and leave your watch behind. ‘Time is no object’ during a Sommarøy summer, and many visitors demonstrate the playful spirit by tying their watches to the bridge that connects the island to Kvaløya in the mainland.
> You could have a midnight sun boating adventure during the summer, where temperatures seldom cross 14âÂÂÂÂ. Lyngen resident Francisco, as seen above, enjoys guiding these trips. Once comfortable with the idea, take a ferry to the Væsterålen islands and check out one of the world’s few nesting colonies of the northern gannet, a large snowy seabird.
> Would day drinking be frowned upon if you can’t tell 10am from 10pm? Probably not. Laze around the area’s cosy bars with family and friends to guzzle authentic Norwegian beer. For larger groups, the Sommarøy Arctic Hotel is a top pick. Its Stornaustet Restaurant offers a selection of Nordic staples like reindeer, game meat, salmon and halibut.
> Hiking and black coffee is a ritual many Norwegians swear by. Climbing to the top of the island’s surrounding cliffs and fjords affords a spectacular view, after which locals prefer to make freshly-steeped coffee using coarse grounds and a burner or open fire. We hear a hill called Ørnfløya (a 2-kilometre round trip) offers a quick and beautiful vantage point overlooking the small village. Can you imagine the potential for drone photography here? If you’re bold enough to try forest trails during the winter darkness, Ørnfløya seems ideal to photograph the aurora borealis.
> Try husky sledding on snowy slopes, whale watching beyond the archipelago, or kayaking at night to spot otters and puffins bathed in the peculiar light. If Arctic waters seem daunting, take a long stroll across Sommarøy’s sunny beaches. You might befriend a local or two. If you’re going with your kids, though, they might have a hard time finding others to play with at night. Sommarøy’s made an unfortunate exception to the ‘time-free’ idea for its school-going population!
Sommarøy lies 50 minutes from Tromsø Airport, in Tromsø county, Norway. A relaxed tourism hub, its fishing village is mainly spread out across Store Sommarøya and the neighbouring island of Hillesøya.