Motor homes roll over roads, ferries

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They’re everywhere this summer, the large recreational vehicles (RVs) known as bobiler in Norwegian. Never before have there been more of them rolling around Norway,  but their popularity is not shared by many others on road trips in Norway when they slow down traffic, block views at scenic vista points and take up lots of space on ferries.

Recreational vehicles known as bobiler in Norway crowded a roadside rest with a view along the Helgelands Coast last week. Several had also parked there for the night, for free. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

The sheer growth in Norwegian-registered RVs is also straining capacity at the country’s campgrounds, many of which are struggling to accommodate them. Norway’s state statistics bureau SSB reports that there are now 49,960 RVs registered in Norway, double the 24,811 registered at the beginning of 2009.

“It’s surprising that the growth is so high,” says Vidar Lund, a senior consultant at SSB, which sent out a press release about what it calls a “phenomenon.” Norway has long attracted foreign tourists who drive their own motor homes or drag campers, often filled with food and drink from home where prices are usually much lower. Now Norwegians have clearly joined the ranks of tourists driving vehicles that can be as large as a bus.

“We don’t have numbers for foreign bobiler on Norwegian roads,” Lund stated, “but we think other countries have had similar growth. It’s at least absolutely certain that there are far more motor homes on the road this summer.”

Bobiler lined up along the coastal Highway 17 in Hegeland, now one of Norway’s National Tourist Roads. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

Lund is right, given all the RVs from Finland, Germany, the Netherlands and other countries seen on the road this month in Nordland County. Nordland is home to both the Arctic Circle, glaciers, the scenic Helgelands Coast and the ever-popular Lofoten. The vast majority of RVs are registered in Northern Norway, according to SSB, with Nordland second only to Troms County for having the most RV registrations. In third place is Finnmark.

SSB could report that both Troms and Nordland have more than 20 RVs per 1,000 residents, compared to only 1.6 in Oslo, where RV ownership is the lowest in Norway. Lund calls RVs a “district phenomenon,” not least in regions with sparse population and roadside services.  In Southern Norway, RVs are most popular in the central mountainous county of Møre og Romsdal, followed by neighbouring Sogn og Fjordane.

RVs, lined up here for the ferry between Brønnøy and Vevelstad, pay slightly more for their ferry tickets. Drivers of conventional cars need to be in line early in order to secure a spot on board. PHOTO: newsinenglsih.no

Long known as gas guzzlers in North America, the RV rage is surprising given current climate concerns among many Norwegians. SSB reports that there’s also been a 31 percent rise in camping trailer registrations, to 119,000 as of this year.

Ferries along the Helgeland Coast with its thousands of islands are also feeling a squeeze, along with those driving cars. They can end up having to wait hours for the next ferry because RVs took up so much space. One hotel operator in the  Vega Islands, a UN World Heritage site, has grown accustomed to guests showing up late because there wasn’t enough room on the ferry for them. She urges visitors to be in line at least an hour before departure time.

State broadcaster NRK has also reported on the “bobil boom,” and why more Norwegians enjoy them. Many cited freedom of movement, no worries about finding lodging for the night and the social aspect of meeting other RV tourists at designated campgrounds.

“We take life as it comes,” Gunn Helen Fredriksli told NRK when asked why it’s become a preferred holiday mode. “We don’t know when we’ll drive on. That’s the greatest charm of bobil life, the freedom.”

Mette Lunde Sveen of Sveastranda Camping in Gjøvik is among those seeing a need to expand facilities. “We had to create an entirely new area for bobiler so there would be enough room for them all,” Sveen told NRK. She warned that RV owners should now also reserve space in advance, to be assured of a place to park.

The head of the national federation representing RV and trailer owners, Geir Holm, chided Norwegian communities for not offering enough designated areas for RVs. RVs’ popularity is expected to increase. “Norwegians clearly now like to have their hytte (holiday cabin) on wheels,”  says Lund of SSB.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund