I’m finally ready to admit the truth to the world: I LOVE PUFFINS. Maybe it’s the candy corn beak. Maybe it’s the general cartoonish nature of this little seabird. I don’t know and I don’t care, but when I found out that our trip to Norway would take us within an hour of the bird island of Runde, one of the few places in the world where you can easily see puffins in the wild, I knew I had to go there.
Runde is home to more than just puffins — cormorants and kittiwakes and great skuas all call this island home, and many species visit during migration season. In fact, more than 230 species of birds have been registered there.
But let’s be honest. I was in it for the puffins.
How to Get to Runde, or “Bird Island”
If you wish to visit Runde and view its sea birds from the water, you can book a ride on a boat from Alesund. This would have been expensive, time consuming, and possibly seasick-inducing, so we figured why not just drive over and hike up to see the puffins?
We were staying in the small town Orsta, which was an easy (and gorgeous) 45-minute drive from Runde. I figured we could pop over, hike a bit, and see the birds.
Unfortunately, there were a few speed bumps along our journey (I bet you could have predicted that), and they were ages four, seven, and nine at the time.
Hiking on Runde, or “Things We Are Not Good At”
Runde is a popular place for hikers, campers, photographers, and bird lovers of all stripes. We saw hardy families pitching tents here, which would allow you to hike to the puffin nesting site at the prime hours after sunup and before sundown. We, of course, did NOT do that, but rather just took our chances. (Can you see where this is going?)
Runde is a tiny, one-road sort of island, so don’t worry about getting lost. Hiking maps can be obtained at the Runde Environmental Centre, a prominent building that’s easily spotted after you drive across the bridge to the island. Fortunately, the maps clearly mark the best spots for bird-viewing, including where to go for the puffins, an area marked Lundeura.
We packed up the boys and some snacks and headed up the trail, which didn’t really sound all that far. Unfortunately, the trail begins by heading directly uphill. The trail here is actually paved, but quite steep, and it leads up into the marshy nature reserve where the great skuas have established themselves.
The trail eventually becomes much less steep. Unfortunately, by the time we reached the more manageable portion, at least one of my kids had already had a mental breakdown about hiking. On the plus side, while he was seated by the side of the trail, he swears he witnessed a great skua actually lay an egg, so maybe it was worth it?
Where to Find Puffins on Runde: “Lundeura”
We soldiered on to the west side of Runde, where cliffs (and hopefully not your kids) fall into the ocean. If you are a motivated hiker, you could spend all day exploring the island. As for us, we barely made it to Lundeura, a roped off area where puffins nest in the rocky crags.
Theoretically, if you sit still at Lundeura long enough, puffins will surround you and you can take phenomenal photos and bask in the general puffin-y experience.
This didn’t happen for us, but I can’t really blame Norway. I did manage to witness one beautiful wild Atlantic puffin with my own eyes. She flitted above me and darted to her nest in a tiny cave above our heads. It was like she was my own puffin angel, telling me it was all going to be okay.
I needed that puffin angel, because in reality I was managing multiple kid meltdowns and it was everything I could do to keep my four-year-old from running directly into the ocean. In fact, I could really have used a small army of puffin angels.
The wild coastline of Runde, the Bird Island of Norway, was everything I could have dreamed it would be. Thousands of seabirds flocked around a cliff to the north of us. It was like something out of a National Geographic special. I may not have seen all my puffins, but since all my kids made it out alive, I’m calling it a success.
Sensing an imminent breakdown of his wife, my husband hiked back down with the kids and let me explore by myself, so I could have the full Runde experience. Then I stopped and purchased a tiny puffin, so I could take pictures of a puffin on Runde, bird island.
And now my life is complete.
Pro Tip: When you arrive at Runde, make sure to stop at Runde Environmental Centre — you can’t miss it as you drive on to the island. They run a delicious cafe in the summer, where you can get cake and coffee and peruse souvenirs, and obtain a very important map of the hiking trails.
Fun Fact: Runde is also known as the Treasure Island ever since gold was found sunken offshore from the wreck of a Dutch merchant ship. For a fee, you can visit a museum that will tell you more about both the treasure and the birds on Runde.