The fast rate of uplift in a group of islands near Vaasa in western Finland has earned them UNESCO World Nature Heritage recognition. The rapidly advancing shoreline is emerging from the Gulf of Bothnia at about a centimetre a year, multiplying the potential for exciting outdoor activities.
Bird-watching, cycling, sailing, canoeing, fishing, trekking – and watching the land grow out of the sea: the last one takes a little longer than the first six, but there is no denying the variety on offer to visitors to the Kvarken Archipelago. Kvarken is the stretch of the Gulf of Bothnia in the northern Baltic spanning the 80-kilometre channel between Finland and Sweden. Merenkurkku – literally ‘sea throat’ – is Finnish for the Swedish name Kvarken.
Coastal Areas and Archipelago
Coastal Finland with its stunningly beautiful archipelago offers a variety of fascinating destinations that are easy to reach.
Over the centuries the two countries are growing ever closer as the Earth’s crust, once covered by a glacial Ice Age blanket, rises in response to the withdrawal of the ice – a phenomenon known as “isostasy”. More shoreline, more land: that’s the happy result for visitors and residents alike, although the process has led to the silting up of harbours that were quite serviceable just a few decades ago. The islands are approached across the towering Replot suspension bridge, the longest in Finland, so the shops and services of Vaasa are a short drive away.
The Björkö inn at Björköby is typical of the homely guesthouse accommodation available to visitors to Kvarken. The inn has a fine restaurant with a menu drawn from fresh local produce, a large wood-fired sauna, an outdoor hot-tub, and even conference facilities.
Magical summer light
The 20-metre Saltkaret (salt shaker) watchtower marks one end of the nature trail at Svedjehamn. Sweden’s own Kvarken coast – the so-called High Coast – is just 50 kilometres away. The Finnish Kvarken was added to the existing Swedish UNESCO World Nature Heritage site in 2006.
The bands and ridges of Kvarken’s emerging land are known as DeGeer moraines. Sheltered, shallow pools are formed between the moraines, home to red-throated divers, black guillemots and, in the spring migration, cranes and buzzards. Herring, perch and pike swim in the waters.
Valsörarna nature trail
Boat trips head for the ‘mini-archipelago’ of Valsörarna (Valassaaret in Finnish), site of an old pilot station and lighthouse, where a nature trail traverses rugged heaths and forests, teeming with dragonflies and butterflies. The island is a protected bird nesting site; white-tailed eagles are sometimes spotted from the shore.
Gradually the boathouses in the Svedjehamn harbour will grow further from the shore as the land rises from the sea. Photographs of Kvarken harbours taken 50 years ago show how the sea has receded, leaving moorings and jetties high and dry.
Svedjehamn is one of Kvarken’s biggest and most attractive seaside villages, on the western, seaward side of the archipelago. In summer, it’s a pleasant retreat, but in winter it bears the full brunt of the winds sweeping in from the frozen sea at the Gulf of Bothnia’s narrowest point.
A pastoral idyll
Evening mist gathering in a meadow is just one of the many restful country scenes awaiting hikers on the archipelago. Kvarken has its own special pastoral character, characterized by a unique variety of fauna and flora.
Memorial to a tragedy
A mound of stones on Valsörarna’s main island commemorates the death of at least 400 soldiers, led by Russian General Barclay de Tolly, who perished on the frozen sea returning from an assault on Sweden in 1809 during the so-called Finnish War.
Cousin of the Eiffel Tower
Rumour has it that if you touch the Valsörarna lighthouse, you burn your fingers on its fire-red surface. The lighthouse was built on Storskär island in 1886 to the plans of Henry Lepaute who also worked for Gustave Eiffel.
Coastal Areas and Archipelago
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