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.
- See also: Ice Age traces
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
No fees for entry or getting around, just for services of private entrepreneurs.
Much of the archipelago, including some shores reachable by road and foot, belong to the Valsörarna-Björkögrunden nature reserve, where right to access does not apply. There is also a seal reserve in the sea west of Valsörarna, where boaters should keep a minimum of 1 km to the islets, all the seal reserve is off limits February–mid June. In the rest of the archipelago right to access applies.
Dogs must be on a leash year round in all the area.
In the nature reserve you must keep to trails, and camping is allowed only off season at designated campsites (with few services). Navigation by boat is restricted to the fairways, with a speed limit of 8 knots.
May–July there is a general landing prohibition in the nature reserve, in order to protect nesting birds. Landing is permitted only in designated spots or on guided tours, and you may be required to keep to marked routes.
Open fire is allowed only at designated places and not during wildfire warnings (announced in most weather forecasts).
For fishing with reel outside the reserves, adults (18–64) 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 are some areas where fishing is forbidden. Also check size limits for different fish.
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.
- 1 Svedjehamn, Björkövägen 1011 (in the far end of Björkö). Former fishing harbour reachable by road. A 4-km hiking trail in varying terrain, with campfire site (still?) and the Saltkaret observation tower, with views to De Geer moraines and the sea. Outhouse dry toilet by the tower. Free.
There are seasonal boat cruises to the heritage site ("World Heritage Cruises"), arranged from late June to mid-August. Booking in advance is required, cruises cancelled in rough weather. In addition to the regular cruises, private ones can be booked.
- Berny's, Replotvägen 2 (from the World Heritage Gateway by the Replot bridge), ☏ . Tu–W F–Su, departure 14:00. Two-hour cruise on the M/S Corina via Norra Vallgrund or via Strömsö. Last-minute tickets may be available on board. €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 some of the boat cruise mentioned above, otherwise you need to get a boat or book a private tour.
Fishing tours are arranged by several businesses.
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.
Try sea buckthorn berries (Hippophaë rhamnoides) if you happen to come in season (late August to mid-September). Picking is allowed but the berries are small and the bushes thorny. Makes you appreciate the (not so cheap) price of ready-made products. Served in a suitable way they are a delicacy, and very rich in vitamin C.
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.
- Vargis (bus to Panike, 1.5-km walk, closer by car; close the barrier). Open wilderness hut, 6–8 persons. Own mattress and sleeping bag. No potable water. Light by white nights or own candles/lamps. Wood-fired stove for heating, camping stove may be needed. Latecomers have an absolute right to the faciliteis. Camping in the yard possible. Lean-to shelter with campfire site. Jetty. Leave the hut tidy. Pack out any garbage. At most two nights. Free.
- Björkören (bus to Panike, 1.5-km walk, closer by car; close the barrier), ☏ . Check-in: 14:00, check-out: 12:00. Rental cabin, beds for 6 persons (two bunk beds and a soffa). Own linen. Electricity. Wood-fired self-service sauna (no sea water on the stove!). No potable water. Rowing boat in summer. Fetch teh key by the Replot bridge. Clean the cabin before leaving. Pack out any garbage (sorted garbage can be taken to a locked recycling station). €150.
Also private businesses maintain rental cabins in the archipelago.
Camping is allowed according to right to access in parts of the archipelago, outside the Valsörarna-Björkögrund nature reserve and any sensitive, inhabited or cultivated territory. There are also a few designated areas in the nature reserve, for camping off nesting season. Open fires are only allowed at designated spots, and only when no wildfire warning is in effect (check weather forecasts, where they are announced). Do not disturb nesting birds.
- Ebbskär (Äbbskäret) (Valsörarna, north end of Storskär, by the nature trail). Campsite. Few services. August–April only.
- 1 Malskärs–Malskärsören (Valsörarna, 2–3 km south-east from Storskär). Anchorage. Camping allowed at the designated areas on shore August–April.
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.