15 September 2012

9 Days Paddling Trip on Gulf of Finland National Park

July 2012

Did with club colleagues a nine days sea kayaking trip on Gulf of Finland National Park and on its neighbourhood.

Last summer did a similar type of paddling trip on southern area of the Archipelago of National Park. These two National Parks presented the best parks on salted water for me. I'm glad now that I've been able to paddle on both of them.

The Gulf of Finland National Park is located in south east, far out on the sea facing Russian border. It was established about 30 years ago to preserve wildlife, mainly sea birds. The area consists of about 100 islands, all uninhabited ones.

Saw and experienced so many things. Regret that I didn't have a GoPro (or similar) type of camera to record power of the sea while paddling on rough waters. I cannot describe it properly in words.

To bring up some highlights of the trip

We didn't collect km's. Total distance of paddling was under 200km. Here's the whole route stored by GPS (view in a larger map):

All photos can be found from here.

Day 1

Sunny morning. About dozen kayaks on trailer we drove from Helsinki to the city of Hamina. In Hamina there's a good starting point for the trip, Tervasaari.

Packing your stuff into the kayak always seems be a fight of finding enough space for all stuff. Once you manage to load all on board, you've lost control where did you put each of them. 'Getting organised' was on plan but ...

The idea was to paddle off to sea on the archipelago but not too far. Paddling south via Haminanlahti bay was a bit boring. Big harbour on west side continued several kilometers. Once it ended, the wind hit nicely bringing some proper waves. Trips don't always go according to plan. Forgot something important and had to paddle back to the car. Well, first day and a beautiful sun shine made it easy.

Hietamaa island serviced us for the first night. It was a small island and typical of this region, some forest, mostly pine trees, rocks, sandy and stony beach. We setup our tents, went swimming and cook for dinner. Lots of good stories flew in the air. Laughing. All were in good spirit. Hey, we were heading out to the sea.

All kayaks on line

Showers on continent

Into two parts

Clouds shaping up

Tough life

Wavy Hair Grass on Hietamaa island

Day 2

Nice sunny morning, lack of wind. Scrambled eggs with fresh coffee and some porridge. Off on the sea. We first circled on the archipelago. Paddled through Nuokko islands. Lots of leisure boats were harboured on these islands. To my surprise these islands didn't have summer cottages, a rare view in Finland.

Our final destination of the day two was Ulko-Tammio island. Before reaching there we had two stops, a lunch on Aarholma island and visit Tammio island.

Aarholma island was a truly nice island. Large flat rocks with a couple of sandy beaches. I usually had fairly light lunch, some peanuts, energy bars, a sandwich and some coffee from a thermo bottle. So was the case at this time.

Wind started to rise when we finished our lunch stop and headed towards east to Tammio island. We even had a chance to do some surfing which did feel great.

Tammio island seemed to be a big one. We landed between piers just in front of a village. Its shore was full of small fishing boats. Fishing nets were hanging between huts. Nice old houses formed a close village where you could walk through via small paths. We visited a small museum and even a small library. Cool!

One of our members knew local people. Thus we had a chance visit an old house in the village. Origins of it were from the 18th century.

When we walked through the village it was easy to sense a slowness of life in there. Stress was an unknown factor in there. A rush was an unknown word.

Wind had got stronger during our stay. Paddling south we had Tammio and some other islands covering the wind quite well until we hit to an open sea. It was only few kilometers distance before reaching Ulko-Tammio.  That was the first time we hit in big waves. Couple of times waves hit hard on me, over my head. Needed for braces. Otherwise it was fantastic to paddle on big waves.

We landed on a small bay which sheltered wind well. Procedure was the same after landing; swimming, setup the basecamp and eat something.

Ulko-Tammio island had a nature path which we walked through. Sense of high wind was in our mind.

Weather forecast predicted very high wind for tomorrow, up to 15m/s. Although we had a planned route in our mind, current weather always ruled and determined our becoming and following day. Out there you do what the weather allows you to do. There's no place for acting a hero.

Last scene on Hietamaa island

Scenery started to get better

Paddler on a lunch break on Aarholma island

Ice Age did remarkable work

A Common Ringed Plower

Flat rock on Aarholma island

A new plant

A Viola

Arriving at Tammio island

An old warehouse on Tammio island

Fishing huts and warehouses on Tammio island

A Library on Tammio island

A Museum on Tammio island

A Well on Tammio island

Paths got names on Tammio island

A Room With A View

Willows, old and new

A Pier

Access to basement


Fishing nets on Tammio island

A view on Ulko-Tammio island

A view on Ulko-Tammio island

Pine trees

Reminder of wind

Towards sunset

A scene on Ulko-Tammio island


Clouds arriving

Old Army tunnel on Ulko-Tammio island

A sunset

Day 3

There was some rain during the night. It was a cloudy morning. Trees were bending, hinting a strong wind already so early.  Listening weather forecast for the day resulted a day off.  There were some official warnings of strong wind within the region where we were. We could paddle on some 12m/s and even higher but now prediction on above 15m/s was too much. In these condition we took no risks.

Some of us went paddling near by, the rest stayed on the island.

A day off didn't sound a bad idea at all. Ulko-Tammio island was a good place for it. We walked through the nature path again, now clock-wise. We spotted other landmarks on the island, too. This island was strategically important defending place for Finnish Army in the WWII. There was still some big guns left in there.

It was amazing how much there were fresh blueberries and wild strawberries on islands we stayed. Ulko-Tammio was no exception on that. Never eaten so much fresh berries in my life at once.

Despite some showers along the day the temperature stayed high. Nice day off.

Finally on Natural Park

A Great Black Cormorant



15 m/s

On Nature Path


A Barn Swallow

Day 4

Again some rain during the night. We started to pack our stuff after breakfast. Weather forecast promised high wind, but now staying near 12m/s. We decided to continue. Island by island.

It was cloudy. Rain could have started on any minute. Wind was close to 10m/s when we started paddling. Our target was Kilpisaari island, having a lunch break on Koivuluoto island in between the trip towards south west.

Wind was strong and created some cross waves. One had to concentrate on paddling. Head wind made progress slow. Well, we weren't in a hurry. Safety first. Always.

Landed on Koivuluoto island first and had a lunch break in there. It had a cabin where one could stay overnight. Typical service on Natural Parks in Finland.  Most of these islands didn't have any proper harbour for sailing or even for motor boats. Even landing on kayaks made it difficult. Thus, you seldom saw any people in them.

Wind had got stronger during our stay. Cross waves came higher. However, we continued as there was only about 3km until our final destination of the day. Paddling was slow and tough. There was one island on our way which gave some shelter for the wind. We didn't land on it but relaxed a while in our kayaks before cruising to Kilpisaari island.

Again, it was difficult to find a landing place good and safe enough for kayaks. Waves didn't make it any easier either. Happy end.

Swimming and some food followed by other mandatory thing like setup stuff drying, hanging on rope.

The sun decided to show for a few hours when we started our exploring trip to inner parts of Kilpisaari island. Large flat and steep rocks formed its shores, while inner part was covered by a thick forest. Oh boy there were blueberries!

We had a standard evening, each of us was preparing a dinner.  Good stories flew in the air. Lots of laughing again. Life was good.

Koivuluoto island

A nest

Fishing huts on Koivuluoto island

For wood loggers

An ex-pier on Kilpisaari island

Shores on Kilpisaari island

Sometimes scene was like in Lapland

This forest hided tons of fresh blueberries on Kilpisaari island

Old ruins since WWII

Old ruins since WWII

Never ending waves

Barbed wire around Kilpisaari island since WWII


Typical flowers and plants on these islands

Oystercatchers on fly

Berries and plants on Kilpisaari island

Day 5

Woke up to heavy rain which soon stopped. It stayed cloudy. Last pieces of rye bread, fresh coffee. Packed everything and off to the sea.

Our plan was to visit Haapasaari island, having an extended lunch break in there and then to continue some of the most remote islands of the Natural Park.

Weather forecast predicted lower wind figures than for previous days. Even some sunshine was to be expected. Great!

Paddled off to territorial waters of Finland. We were still inside the official border of Finland. Then we finally saw lots of those birds that I had been waiting for, Razorbills. To me they looked like flying penguins. Really cool!

Closer we paddled to Haapasaari island we started to see lots of other birds, especially Black Guillemots.

There was a peaceful inner bay in Haapasaari island. Safe for people to have their boats in there. The island had a lively village, even a small shop! There was a Coast Guard, too. Running water came from the main land. Haapasaari used to be a unique municipal some decades ago. There's been people living there some centuries. Worth visiting!

When you listen a weather forecast for sea from Finnish radio (Merisää in Finnish), they list weather stations which are on some islands along the sea and tell their predicted weather. Haapasaari is always the first one in the list. This was a classic island. There was some glamour in it. Important for people living at the city of Kotka.

After long break we continued paddling. Suddenly we saw two Swans fighting with each other. It wasn't fun to watch. One tried to kill the other one. Feathers flew in the air. One of us tried to approach them but they didn't mind at all. Life is tough sometimes.

Paddled first to Askeri island, Then continued to Kuusenkari island and finally to our destination, Reiskeri island. Beautiful flat rocks with some forest in the middle. Very difficult to land due to slippery rocks.

Reiskeri was the  nearest place of Suursaari island where we paddled. Suursaari island used to belong to Finland, thus its hidden glamour. Dinner and then circled the island. It was late when the rain arrived and put us into sleep.

Hundreds of Razorbills, like flying Penguins

Crossing a motorway on sea, big ones first

Street life on Haapasaari island


Local street on Haapasaari island

A garage

A warehouse

Haapasaari Church

A local supermarket

Puokki, an old watchtower


A pier


Finnish Army


Coast Guard

Fighting Swans

Askeri island

Preserved for birds until 15-Jul

Suursaari island (RUS) in horizon

Reiskeri island

Day 6

Cloudy morning which turned into sunshine soon. Today was an important paddling day. We had to cross a long open sea region, about 20km. There were no islands to have a break. Especially, no nature breaks for the first three hours.

No possibility for nature breaks for the first three hours meant that one couldn't drink coffee or tea (or anything diuretic).

Paddling a long three hours leg went well. We had a couple of breaks. There was practically no wind at all. Lucky for us.

We landed on Ristisaari island. A group of sheep welcomed us. They were curious. Cute.  Hot sunny day begged swimming.  Water temperature stayed near +15C. Massive amount of wild strawberries filled our stomachs. No mercy.

After being really lazy few hours paddled to final destination, Kaunissaari island.  This island really had  some glamour from past. We were now off the Natural Park.

We first visited a small village on the island which was on its south coast. There was a shop, too. Fresh stuff, great!  Then we continued paddling to the north east part of the island were we setup our tents.

Some of us headed to Sauna.

Nice warm evening despite some showers.

In sight

Landed on Ristisaari island

Shores of Ristisaari island

For rainy days

A paddler went swimming

Fishing nets

Granite stones carried to Russia during Russian Empire time

Relaxing view

Cute sheep

Be careful with your fibre kayak

Junnu Vainio wrote a song "Yksinäinen Saarnipuu" from this one

Fresh fish on Fridays

A village on Kaunissaari island

Get rid these plastic stuff, they look awful!

A museum on Kaunissaari island

Fishermen warehouses


Fine Pine trees

Cottages on Kaunissaari island

Fishermen in action

Towards sunset

Where's the treasure?

Day 7

Warm and sunny morning. No wind at all. Surface of the sea looked like a huge glass. Why fresh coffee tastes so bloody good on such mornings?

Now one had already get to used to packing. We never were in a hurry on mornings though.

Todays agenda was to circle Mussalo island and Kotkansaari island, i.e. the city of Kotka.  Sea stayed dead calm first two hours. Then some wind came, which to me was more than welcomed.

There was a big party in town, Kotkan Meripäivät. Which meant boozing next three days for people, on land and on sea.  We didn't visit the downtown but landed on a couple of small islands near, namely Varissaari island and Kukouri island. Both had some old ruins in them, though from different centuries.

Our destination was Lehmäsaari island. It had a beautiful sandy beach on its west side. Warm evening. Again seeing sunset and then the moon. Lots of laughs around fire. Life was still good.

The Basecamp on Kaunissaari island

Dead calm

Some old Army stuff on Varissaari island

A Captain has left the island

Kukouri island

Ruins on Kukouri island

Navy arriving at Kotkan Meripäivät

Mamma, guarda la luna, che bella!

Day 8

Sunny morning, low wind. We were now in the archipelago of Kotka. Water didn't look so pure and clean like it was far out some days earlier.

Paddling didn't have a similar glory as it had had out on the sea. We expected to circle islands which were full of summer cottages, fast moving boats being such in a hurry going nowhere. Slowness in life was gone. So it seemed.

Had a short stop on one of the desolated islands. Sun shined and waves continued their never ending hit to rocky shores. Paddled cross an open sea and had a lunch break in another desolated island. Large flat rock was hot under your feet. A good place for a nap.

After lunch we continued paddling. We were approaching a group of islands where we had stayed the very first night during our trip. After not finding another suitable island we decided to paddle to the very same island we stayed the first night.

Beautiful sunny evening. Swimming, dinner preparations and berry pickings, this time fresh raspberries. These islands never stopped surprising us.

Last evening we baked pizza. Yes, there was a portable oven. All left overs were put together and voila, we had a fresh and hot pizza. Cool!  To mention the same, we baked blueberry pies some days earlier. Not worth mentioning they were delicious.

There's always some kind of nostalgia coming into your mind when a trip is coming to its end. On the other hand one waits to get on main land and into a proper bed between clean sheets but still staying off such a time leaves some positive wounds to you.

Before midnight came heavy rain and very strong thunderstorms. Lightnings hit often, some even horizontally in the air. Some of them hit very near, a bit of a frightening as our tents were under trees. A spectacular show by nature anyway.

Kuolioluoto island

Rullouri island

Wild Strawberries!

Hmm ...  someone's been here


Four hours before thunderstorm and lightnings

The last sunset on this trip

After sunset

Day 9

Cloudy morning. Rain was expected on any minute. Thus breakfast was completed in a hurry. Last time packing and off we went.

Strong wind, some proper waves again. But only a short time as big islands in the archipelago cut the wind soon.

Few last kilometers and we arrived at the starting point of our trip. Cars and a trailer was waiting for us.

Unpacking kayaks, swimming, loading cars and tying kayaks into the trailer. All done several times so this was a routine work.

It was to become a hot day, temperature rising near +28C.

Paddling trip came to its end. Now there's one more trip to remember. And good memories it'll bring. Time to plan new trips.


Last waves. Cool!


  1. Great pictures, thanks for sharing.

    Stefan V from Sweden

  2. A very nice trip report with very nice pictures. I recognized some of the places from Haapasaari. I was on a birdwatching trip in the area maybe 13 years ago.

    Occasionally I do get interested in doing some kayaking again, but I guess I just don't have the time for it.

    1. Thanks a lot!

      Sounds like you've done some serious birdwatching. Certainly a good place for it.

      Did you have blog posts from your earlier paddling trips?

    2. Nope, this was several years before I started blogging. I also have very few pictures from that time. I could see if I could come up with something, though...

  3. Great post, I enjoyed reading it a lot! It must have been a memorable trip. Great photos again, I like the one with razorbills especially. Nice to see so many photos of those not-so-familiar islands.

  4. Enjoyed reading that, great trip report and some superb photos. They really give the feeling of being there. Sounds like you had some "interesting" paddling conditions too!

  5. Nice documented and another new area to discover.