The Kvarken Archipelago (Swedish: Kvarkens skärgård, Finnish: Merenkurkun saaristo) is an archipelago in the narrowest part of the Gulf of Bothnia, between Finland and Sweden. Along with the neighboring High Coast of Sweden, it has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The site is in the municipality of Korsholm, off the coast of Vaasa.
Once weighed down by immensely heavy glaciers that melted after the end of the Ice Age, the Kvarken area is undergoing extremely fast uplift (by geological standards), with land rising about 8 mm per year – enough to create 1 square kilometre of new land every year.
Unlike most of Finland, the area is exclusively Swedish-speaking, most exceptions being summer cottagers.
The area was rather isolated until modern age due to the lack of connecting roads: regular ferry services were started in 1952 and a bridge to the continent was built in 1997. Consequently, a monolingual Swedish-speaking culture was retained.
The archipelago consists of some 6,550 islands. The largest of them, Replot (Raippaluoto), is Finland's 8th largest and houses the vast majority of the islands' population of some 2,500 people, but it's (just) outside the World Heritage Site area. Björkö, containing the small idyllic seaside village of Björköby, is in the midst of the site.
Flora and fauna
As could be expected at a seaside location, the area is windy, and it's a good idea to pack a warm coat or jacket even in summer. However, the area is one of the sunniest in Finland.
The best place to start your visit is the Terranova exhibition at the Ostrobothnian Museum, which is not in the archipelago, but in the nearby town of Vaasa. Road 724 (Alskatvägen) connects Replot with Vaasa, starting from a roundabout connected to highway 8 east of the city centre. The road goes to the Replot bridge, and most other road connections (Björkö or Panike) are through Replot. The exceptions are the north-eastern islands Köklot and Värlax, to which the road begins just shy of the bridge on road 724. A few of the islands near the coast are accessible by car, but for most of the smaller and outlying islands, you'll need to get a boat.
Fees and permits
For fishing with reel or more advanced methods, adults (over 18) need a fishing permit (fiskekort), which can be purchased at R-Kiosks. If you have a Finnish bank account, you can also buy them online. Fishing with a single hook and line (no reel) or ice fishing is free.
There is a general landing prohibition in Valsöarna in June and July in order to protect nesting birds. Landing is permitted only in designated spots or in guided tours.
There are four designated nature trails for hiking among the islands of the archipelago. Canoes and kayaks can be rented at some of the nature stations, and are an excellent way of getting around.
The best way to see the heritage site is by boat. Because the sea is shallow and full of rocks, and because new rocks and skerries appear often (moved by sea ice in the winter, and rising because of the glacial rebound), it is recommended to have a local to navigate. Boat tours are available, see a compiled list at kvarkenworldheritage.fi
There are also some hiking trails along the shores, showing both the shallow sea and cultural environments, such as former fishing harbours and pastures. One good spot is at Svedjehamn in the far end of Björkö, with the Saltkaret observation tower with views to De Geer moraines and the sea.
There are seasonal boat cruises to the heritage site ("World Heritage Cruises"), arranged from late June to mid-August. There are also Booking in advance is required, cruises cancelled in rough weather. In addition to the regular cruises, individual ones can be booked. A short cruise (2 hr) on the M/S Corina departs from Berny Cruising Services's quay next to the Replot bridge, and costs €16.
- Cruise to Valsöarna, ☏ . 2017: Tu Th Sa 11:00; 5hr. From Svedjehamn, Björköby. Includes boat trip, guiding, coffee and sandwiches. €55/45/35 (young 12–17, children 3–11 yrs).
- Cruise to Mickelsörarna, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. 2017: Tu–Sa 10:00, 7hr. From Abborgrund harbour, Västerö, Maxmo. Includes boat trip, guiding, lunch and coffee with cake. €65/35 (children under 12 yrs).
- Lighthouse cruises, ☏ . 2017: Wednesdays in July 09:00, 9hr. From Svedjehamn, Björköby. Includes boat trip, guiding and lunch. €120.
The archipelago of Valsörarna (Finnish: Valassaaret) is a good birdwatching site, being a stopover point for a rich variety of migrating birds. However, Valsörarna are one of the most remote of the islands, and are only accessible by boat. Valsörarna are visited during the boat cruise mentioned above, otherwise you need to hire a boat or go with your own boat.
There is a Sale grocery store and a Shell gas station shop in Replot church village near the bridge and a small shop in Norra Vallgrund in the south-west.
- Kalle's Inn, Klobbskatvägen 189, 65970 Söderudden. Nordic, European and archipelago cuisine, generally considered high quality.
There are cafés in Björköby, Replot church village, Replot guest harbour and by the bridge.
Metsähallitus maintains two former pilot and coast guard stations as "Nature Stations", at Mickelsörarna (Vörå) and Mässkär (Jakobstad), primarily for guided groups, and reservations are essential. There are also rental cabins and open wilderness huts.
Also private businesses maintain rental cabins in the archipelago.
Camping is allowed throughout the archipelago outside sensitive, inhabited or cultivated territory, but open fires are only allowed at designated spots. Do not disturb nesting birds.
As in any sparsely populated place, roads are often narrow, unpaved and locals drive fast. Also, the distances often surprise new visitors: you need to drive tens of kilometres for most places. The time to reach emergency services can easily be an hour or more.
The land uplift has one unique effect on boating: new rocks and skerries appear occasionally. This and the shallow seas mean that it's best to have a local guide when boating.