Kvarken Archipelago, Finland
It’s not long until you’ll be able to walk from this part of Finland to Sweden. Well, not long at all in the grand scheme of the planet but it’s still going to be another 2000 years so it’s pretty unlikely you or I will ever have the chance.
Nevertheless, every year there’s more and more land appearing in the area around here. The surface of Earth is quite literally rising out of the ocean – and at a significantly fast rate. Every century it gets a metre higher and more of the water disappears.
It’s one of the most interesting geological quirks of Finland – a country full of natural oddities – but why is the Kvarken Archipelago rising out of the water?
To find the answer, we need to go back to the last ice age about 13,000 years ago. The ice was thick up here in the north of the world where it gathered around the polar caps. In fact, it was so heavy that the Earth’s crust couldn’t support it all and it began to sink. The ice pushed the surface about a kilometre further down.
But then the ice melted and so the planet’s crust began to bounce back. Slowly, by our relative sense of time, but very quickly in geological terms. Like pushing your finger on a balloon and then letting go, the surface was indented and is now springing back. It rose fastest at the very end of the ice age – by about 500 metres in just a couple of millennia – and will presumably stop eventually.
When you visit the Kvarken Archipelago today, there is plenty to see. If the ground was flat and smooth and had been pushed underwater, this area might just look like a sea. But the ice age also left it scratched and roughly scarred so different parts of the surface rise out of the water at different times. And there are also more subtle details left over from the effects of this ancient frozen landscape.
Glaciers moved across the land as part of an ice sheet that was three kilometres thick. In some places, the force scraped away channels in the rocky surface beneath it. These chunks of rock would then get caught in the glacier and dropped somewhere else to catch clay and more fragments of rock to eventually become islands for us to visit.
The most important part of the Kvarken Archipelago has been protected as a World Heritage Site and there are more than 5,500 islands in this area. Many of them have small (often red) wooden huts on them. These are the summer houses of the local Finns. A lot of residents from the nearby city of Vaasa own a property here which gets passed on through the generations – and often subdivided as the family grows. It must be a quiet and relaxing place to escape for a weekend or a longer stretch in the warmer months, away from everything but the beautiful silence of Finland.
How to see the Kvarken Archipelago, Finland
For those of us who don’t have the luxury of a summer house, the best way to see the archipelago is by boat. I set off from the small village of Björköby with a captain who warns that if the boat bumps into something, it’s more likely to be a fish than a rock. Of course, seeing as the water is quite shallow here, a rock is actually a more plausible explanation but there are markers along the way to direct boats along a safe water road.
Back and forth the boat veers, almost like a slalom when travelling at high speed. Most of the trip is at a slow speed, though, and I can take in the surroundings. As well as the geological formations, there’s an abundance of animals in this area. Interestingly, the birds and other wildlife have changed over the years because the rising land means an ever-shifting environment that suits different species at different times.
I see a family of swans, small birds I can’t identify chirp overhead, and in the distance there are some white tailed eagles – the most famous of the birds in this region.
If you’re thinking of visiting, there are different options. You can drive to Björköby and then walk through the accessible islands – although ultimately you’ll hit water and not be able to go any further. You can also hire bicycles in the town for just 5 euros for the day. You can organise a private boat hire, which is quite expensive although more reasonable per person if you’re in a large group. Or there are larger boat tours which you can book a place on that leave from closer to Vaasa.
The land mass here increases by about 150 football fields each year. As time goes by there will be more to see – or less to see – depending on how you look at it. Much of the water is already quite shallow and boats have to be careful when navigating between the islands. This is only going to get harder and harder. So, if you like walking, there’ll be an increasing number of options as the years go by. For the boat trips, though… well… Let’s just say there are already many old towns around this part of Finland that are well inland but have names related to harbours or sailing or fishing. Soon there will be more.
Time Travel Turtle was supported by Visit Finland but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.