Island Hopping On The Finnish Archipelago

By Stephen Ewashkiw | August 7, 2013

4926 km so far.

When we first researched travelling from Helsinki to Stockholm, we looked at taking the ferry. However, the price was exorbitant, partly because we would have had to pay for a cabin for four people even though we are only two. This led us to start looking for other options.

Local Knowledge

First, Jane asked on Warm Showers, the website for cycle tourists, and someone named Esko replied, suggesting we ride to Turku and get the ferry from there. We toyed with this idea for a while. It would definitely be more affordable than the first option. And we would get to see a bit more of Finland.

When we were in Helsinki we asked around to see if there were some other good alternatives.

A few people at our picnic in the park told us about the Finnish archipelago and mentioned how beautiful it was, how easy it was to cycle around the islands, and that we would be able to get to Ekerö on the Åland Islands without spending any money on boats. From there we would have to spend about €8 each to get the ferry to Sweden.

Not only did this sound like a great deal, but it was also an opportunity to see a lot of the south of Finland, and the trip through the archipelago intrigued us. Especially once we started to do some research on it. The archipelago is made up of roughly 50,000 islands, making it the largest archipelago in the world. Fresh water lakes dot the islands, and you are allowed to camp where you like (within reason).

There is a circular route that links many of the larger islands from just outside Turku, and from the western edge you can catch a boat to the Åland Islands. The islands that don’t have bridges linking them have ferries that run regularly, and because they are officially part of the road network, they are free.

We have wanted to visit the Åland Islands ever since I stumbled across them on Pocket Earth, and by riding out along the archipelago we would then be able to take a ferry to Åland, ride there for a day, and then take one more ferry to Sweden.

We decided this was too good to pass up. I did some juggling with my yoga schedule, and this assured us enough time to make it a reality. So here we are, out along the south-western tip of Finland, surrounded by nature.

tent on a lake in finland

Our camping spot this morning, Finnish Archipelago.

Everyone Knows This Is Canada

They say, “Wherever you go, there you are.” What I don’t think they realise is that if you are from Canada it is even more true. When we were in Croatia, they told us it was just like Canada, but warmer. And it was. As we rode through the vast Hungarian Plain, it reminded Jane of life on the Canadian Prairies. Now that we are riding the Finnish Archipelago the landscape is eerily similar to where I grew up, in Northern Ontario.

cottage in the woods finland

There are so many cottages just like this in Ontario.

The Canadian Shield is a massive expanse of rock, moss, lichen, pine, and birch. Dug out by the glaciers of the ice age, it is also dotted with lakes. The forest floors are covered in blueberry bushes, and black and red currants love the soil and grow incredibly well. This could also be a description of where we find ourselves now. It looks exactly the same. I feel so at home, and it feels great.

Ten Bridges, Two Ferries

We are now into our second day on the archipelago. We crossed ten bridges today, some no more than a few meters long. Look at it on a map to get a real sense of the scale.

Because we need a road or bike path, and we have to be in Stockholm so I can teach yoga, we can’t explore this area as much as I would like. But, there is so much here. Small islands abound and I would love to come back and do a kayak trip to some of the smaller places not connected to the mainland by roads or ferries.

We also had to take two ferries today. The ferries are such an essential part of life out here. Without them people would be cut off from the mainland. Fortunately, road taxes go towards running the network of ferries. They are in terrific condition, and run to a strict schedule.

And One Massive Rainstorm

We had planned a short ride today at only 60 km. This was so that we could spend some time looking around, ride a bit slower to take in the landscape, and stop whenever we saw something worth stopping for.

We have had such incredible weather for the past two weeks (except for St Petersburg, but that’s St Petersburg) that we have become complacent. We stopped checking the weather forecast because, hey, it’s summer. Mistake.

The weather had been playing with us all day. It rained a little while we were breaking camp, then held off long enough for us to get going. We stopped in Pargas to pick up pastries and restock on a few of our pantry essentials. As soon as we got going again, the rain started to come down pretty heavily. We found shelter under some birch trees, which gave us time to eat our recently purchased second breakfast and get our rain jackets on.

Then the sky cleared. So, we headed on. For the next 90 minutes the rain toyed with us. It would fall lightly for a few minutes, then stop long enough for us to dry out.

Rain Down, Come On Rain Down

Just before we got to the town of Nagu, where we had already planned to stop for lunch, the sky opened. Bucket upon bucket of rain fell. It only fell this heavily for about 30 minutes, but this was more than enough to completely soak us.

When we rolled into town our shoes were heavy with rain, and we could literally pour the rain out of them when we took them off. Which is exactly what we did outside the tourist office. Jane went in to enquire about WiFi and camping in town, and the helpful girl working suggested a couple of campsites, but couldn’t confirm if there was anywhere in town with WiFi.

We were pretty sure someone had to have WiFi, so we headed towards the marina to check it out. Just minutes after we left the tourist office I had already located four WiFi networks we could use, depending on which cafe we decided to dry out in. Thanks, helpful tourist office!

Just Ask

We definitely chose wisely. When I was ordering coffee at the cafe next to the marina, the waitress asked if she could help me with anything else. I jokingly said, “Do you have somewhere we can dry our shoes?” It turns out, she did. She suggested I walk a couple of doors down to the marina office and that they could probably help. They could, and they did.

Most marinas have facilities for the people docked there. A shop, showers, somewhere to wash dishes, and a place to do laundry. The guys working the marina took pity on our soaked state and let us put our things, shoes included, in one of the free clothes dryers they had. Truly amazing.

So, changed into dry clothes, and our wet clothes being tumbled around in a dryer, we settled in to catch up on work, emails, and blog posts.

We spent a few hours at the cafe this afternoon, and all the while the rain kept starting and stopping. We learned from our last mistake and checked the forecast, which said the rain should stop this evening, only to start again tomorrow. If this forecast holds, we should be fairly dry by the time we catch the ferry to Kökar tomorrow.

Once our things were dry, we packed up, thanked the staff for their help, and headed back to the road for the final 20 km towards the villages Galtby and Korpo. Tomorrow we plan to catch the ferry from Galtby so wanted to camp somewhere near there.

We couldn’t find anything suitable in Galtby, as it seems to just be a marina, and Karpo consisted of a school, a church, and a market. We kept riding out of town towards a small lake, and by the time we got there we were both extremely hungry, which means neither of us had much patience for looking around until we found the ideal spot.

Stealth Camp

We did, however, find an almost ideal spot. The only thing that doesn’t make it ideal is that it is on someone’s property. But they aren’t here… it is their summer cottage, and it’s mid-week so they are back at work. We feel a bit guilty about pitching our tent on their lawn, but we know we will not leave not a trace, they will never know we’ve been here. Plus, we desperately needed to stop looking, and start cooking.

After dinner we took a quick dip in the lake to wash the dirt from the road off us and get us a bit freshened up for sleep. It does feel a bit strange to purposely soak ourselves after the wet afternoon we experienced. This time we were prepared for it, and our clothes were safely tucked away in the tent.

After my yoga class in Helsinki one of the students rushed over to the nearby beach for a dip in the sea. When I was talking to him after his swim he explained that it was so refreshing, felt so great, that it was like a second yoga class right after the first. That is how the dip in the lake tonight felt. A perfect way to reset and get ready for bed.  

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  1. Comment by Taina

    Taina August 9, 2013 at 8:14 am

    Oh my god that wooden boat looks exactly like the one my dad built in the 70s! I’m posting a picture to your Facebook so you can see :).

    • Comment by Stephen

      Stephen August 11, 2013 at 7:08 am

      Love the photo you sent – it really is so similar. Maybe there was a boat pattern that was doing the rounds in the 70s? Sort of like how everyone’s mom knit the same sweater cause they saw it in Chatelaine?

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