Did you think the Ice Age survived only on history books and animated movies? Think again. The Kvarken Archipelago in Western Finland is the only place in the world where you can witness a geological process directly related to the Ice Age. Plus, in a little while you may be able to walk to Sweden. Sounds weird, right?
Finland is a country of superlatives. It has highest number of lakes in the world (188,000, can you believe it?) and the archipelago with the most islands. It is also a place of geological oddities, and perhaps the oddest of all was good enough to deserve recognition as a UNESCO Natural World Heritage site.
Why is the Kvarken Archipelago odd?
The Kvarken Archipelago, not far from the city of Vaasa on the western coast of Finland, is a unique place in geological terms. To put it simply, the land there is rising. It is rising so fast that in a little more than 2000 years, there will be a land bridge between Sweden and Finland, turning the northern part of the Gulf of Bothnia into an inland lake.
This process is a direct consequence of the Ice Age. When mammoths roamed the land and squirrels looked after their last remaining acorn, the Kvarken Archipelago area was where the ice was thickest. A three kilometer deep ice sheet pushed the Earth’s crust down, sinking it under the sea. Then the ice melted, and, like a spring bouncing back, the land started to emerge again.
The land is currently rising by about a centimeter a year. Not impressed? How about if I said that every year, the equivalent of 150 football fields of land rises from the sea? Harbours have to be moved periodically, and cabins built on the waterfront find themselves inland in a matter of years.
Not only it is odd, the Kvarken Archipelago is also beautiful. Imagine a shallow, indigo sea, peppered with islands, islets and rocky skerries, with birds of prey circling overhead and swans gliding in the waters.
The action of the Ice Age produced a landscape that is unlike any other. Pushing it down, the ice sheet left the land scarred and ridged. For this reason, it is not rising all at once; it happens a bit at a time, an islet here, another there. The moving ice has pushed sand, clay, rocks and other detritus together, creating interesting moraine formations such as the De Geer moraines, which take the form of long and narrow strips of land.
The area is also very interesting in terms of wildlife. The land is shifting and changing constantly, affecting the habitat of local wildlife as a result; species move in as others move out. It is one of Finland’s best birdwatching sites, a particularly good place to spot white-tailed eagles.
Visiting the Kvarken Archipelago
The gateway to the Kvarken Archipelago is the city of Vaasa, linked to Helsinki by flights and trains and to Umea in Sweden by a ferry service (the northernmost ferry service in the world!). From Vaasa, it’s a quick half-hour drive to the village of Björköby, at the entrance of the UNESCO-protected area.
From Björköby, it’s a great idea to begin your exploration from the nearby viewing tower that offers a view of the archipelago from above, allowing to get a bird’s eye view of the funny De Geer moraines and other strange formations.
Afterwards, it’s time to hit the waters. It is possible to join large group boats from Vaasa, but a smaller vessel is a much better way to explore the area, allowing you to proceed slowly and stop for wildlife-spotting. Kvarkenturer offers small bout tours most days in summer. The sea is so shallow that red and white markers have been placed in the water to guide boat captains towards the safest route.
The Kvarken Archipelago is a popular location for summer cabins, small clapboard houses often painted red, with the obligatory sauna just outside. Most Vaasa families own a summer cabin that is passed on from father to son; people visit at weekends to go fishing, swimming or just to enjoy Finnish nature at its best.
We were guests of Visit Finland as part of the #OutdoorsFinland blog trip. All opinions are our own.