Today is Thor Heyerdahl’s birthday, providing us with a great excuse to share one of our favourite Oslo attractions: the Kon-Tiki museum.
Thor Heyerdahl was a scientist (albeit controversial), a most excellent explorer, adventurer and an environmentalist ahead-of-his-time. In 1947, Thor and a crew of 5 sailed from Peru to Polynesia in a balsa raft, the Kon-Tiki – 8000 kilometres. He wanted to prove it was possible to sail relatively easy across the Pacific Ocean in a primitive vessel and that migration patterns might have gone that way in the past. Two years later, the film documenting the journey won the Academy award for best documentary.
Thor didn’t quit after just one wild journey. In 1969, he went to Egypt to build a papyrus boat, Ra, based on ancient Egyptian drawings, and set off to cross the Atlantic. Again, he set out to prove a theory: that people have crossed the Atlantic for ages, in whatever crafts they had available. After a few weeks at sea, Ra took on water and had to be abandoned. But Thor was not deterred. He built the new, improved Ra II, using a different type of reed. In 1971, he set off from Morocco again, this time landing successfully at Barbados.
In 1977, he went to Iraq to build yet another reef boat, the Tigris, intending to prove a migratory link between Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley. The Tigris had a crew of 11, representing 9 different countries, including the USA and the USSR. As long as he lived, Thor Heyerdahl was an explorer, proposing his own theories surrounding the rock carvings in Azerbaijan, migration patterns in the Maldives, the colonization of enigmatic Easter Island, archaeological excavations in Túcume (Peru), the Güímar pyramids on Tenerife and much more. He died in 2002. after 87 years filled with exciting adventures.
At the museum, the Kon-Tiki raft is naturally the chef d’oeuvre. You can walk around the raft and try to imagine spending 101 days crossing the treacherous waters of the Pacific Ocean in the rickety thing, at a time when there was no sat nav or mobile phones to call for help. You can also walk below the raft, having a peek at the little fishies circling the raft at all hours, including a 10-metre-long whale shark.
Also prominently displayed is the Ra II. Sadly, you won’t find the Tigris. After 5 months of successful sailing, the boat and its crew were holed up in the Red Sea. Because of the war that was raging in the area, the Tigris and its crew were denied permission to land anywhere except in the tiny African republic of Djibouti. As a protest against the war, Thor set the Tigris on fire.
The Kon-Tiki museum is quite small, so you needn’t spend all day. In fact, you could easily combine it with a visit across the street to have a walk on board the Polar ship Fram, used by Roald Amundsen for the race to be first to the South Pole in 1911. (He won). Other attractions in the immediate area includes the Maritime Museum, the Viking Ships, the Cultural History Museum, and the great beaches and nature walks of the Bygdøy Peninsula.
Where: The Kon-Tiki Museum, Bygdøy
How to get there: By public bus no 30 from the city centre. Between 1 April and 10 October, there’s a public ferry from City Hall. Get off at the stop Bygdøynes
When: Open daily from 10:30 am – 4:00 pm in October – and 10:30 am – 3:30 pm in November and December. Longer opening hours in summer.
Admission: NOK 60/25/120/40 for adults/children/families/students and seniors