The World’s Strongest Current – in Norway

The World’s Strongest Current – in Norway

About 30 kilometers west and then south from the town of Bodø in Northern Norway you will find Saltstraumen maelstrom. This is in fact one of the most amazing places in Norway, or anywhere else really. Every 6 hours when the tide changes you can witness an astonishing display of Mother Nature’s brute forces here.

What is a maelstrom?
Maelstrom comes from a Dutch word, which translates to grinding stream. A maelstrom is a powerful whirlpool, a body of swirling water produced by the meeting of opposing currents. The vast majority of whirlpools are not very powerful and very small whirlpools can be easily seen when a bath or a sink is draining. More powerful ones in seas or oceans may be termed maelstroms (Source: Wikipedia).

The World’s Strongest Current – in Norway
A maelstrom is a powerful whirlpool, a body of swirling water produced by the meeting of opposing currents

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The World’s Strongest Current – in Norway
The Saltstraumen maelstrom, however, the world’s strongest current, is something you might think only could be seen in Lord of the Rings or read of in an epic like The Odyssey (just have a look at the video below).

The beast that comes alive at six-hour intervals with each tidal change transports 400 million cubic meters of water in six hours. The waters reach speeds up to 20 knots or 25 mph. That’s in fact way more than Niagara Falls.

This causes some serious turbulence in the waters, generating these maelstroms. It is so wild, that it can easily terrify anyone — especially when its current is at its strongest during a full moon. You can even visit them by boat.

The World’s Strongest Current – in Norway
Rafting in Saltstraumen. Photo: Wenst Furuhatt

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Beautiful swirling whirlpools
The water is pushing through a narrow strait that separates the islands of Knaplundsøya and Straumsøya. The strait spans 3 kilometers but is only 150 meters wide at the smallest point. When the tide changes, you can witness impressive surges as the water rushes to move between the massive Skjerstadfjord to the outer Saltfjord.

It is beyond mesmerizing to watch as the water tries to move in or out, depending on the time of day. Beautiful swirling whirlpools are created and water bubbles up in huge powerful pushes. The vortices of these can reach between 10 and 30 meters in diameter and are up to 5 meters deep. This is a dangerous place as speeds on the surface of the water may move at nearly 40 kilometers per hour.

The World’s Strongest Current – in Norway
Tou can even experience the strong forces by boat

Every bump and rock will cause turbulence within this stream. Slowing down on one side and still going strong on the other, causes the water masses to spin. This angular momentum will both cause coherence in the swirling creating an imaginary axis downward the maelstrom and stability of the maelstrom as it drifts along the current. Physicists love angular momentum, it causes the best phenomena we can show off with!

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The Saltstraumen maelstrom, however, the world’s strongest current
The bridge over Saltstraumen

Going there
From Bodø, travel west on Route 80 and then south on Norwegian County Road 17. There are several viewing points, but start on the Knaplundsøya side (first parking lot on the right coming from Bodø.) Park down underneath the bridge and then follow the path to the strait. Here you can watch the water as it rushes into the narrow passage and the water pushes and churns close to shore. At peak on this side, it’s not difficult to get a real sense of just how much water is moving through here. If you want, you can carefully climb up into the little lighthouse to get a better vantage point over the vortices.

The Saltstraumen maelstrom, however, the world’s strongest current
A safari in a rigid inflateble boat. Photo: Visit Bodø

Satisfied with the water here, you should really walk back up to the parking lot and head across the bridge. Stay on the right side. The views from the top give you a better idea of the amazing size of these whirlpools. Watch as boats expertly maneuver the water between the swirling and surging sides. You can take a safari in a rigid inflatable boat (RIB) and run right through it. And if you are a high-speed adrenaline junkie, you should do it. But I personally think you get a better sense for the magnitude of Saltstraumen from above.

The World’s Strongest Current – in Norway, written by Tor Kjolberg