The gear is packed. The packrafts are inflated. The sails are ready. And so we are. There are some clouds in the sky and the wind is strong and blowing in the right direction, our destination being the fortress island of Örö, which is located in the outer archipelago and is one of the last big islands before the open sea. With its reach military history and beautiful and diverse nature, it is truly a gem that cannot be overlooked. And we want to see it as well…
Nature Centre “Blue Mussel” – The Entrance to The Archipelago
This gate is the entrance to the Archipelago Nature Centre “Blue Mussel”, which is truly an entrance to the Finish Archipelago and a good starting point of any trip.
At the Archipelago Nature Centre Blue Mussel we received plenty of information and very good service from their staff. If you want to know more about the flora and fauna of the Finnish Archipelago, this centre is just the place for you. Please note that, while all information boards are in Finnish and Swedish, it is possible to ask for a booklet with the information in English as well.
Patrick with the English booklet in the tower of the Nature Centre.
The tower can be used to enjoy the view of the area, but also as a quiet place to enjoy reading about the Archipelago, as there are sitting places and books available there.
Packrafting from Kasnäs to Örö
Upon our arrival in Kasnäs and after visiting the Nature Centre, we off-loaded our gear at the harbour and while Patrick went to park the car at a free overnight parking (approximately 500 meters down the road in the direction from where we came), Konstantin started to get his packraft ready for the trip. Here you can find the GPS data from this packrafting microadventure.
The employee of the Nature Centre warned us to be careful with the heavy traffic, however, this time it was not very busy. On our way from Kasnäs to Örö we came across some motor boats and one or two sailing ships.
On the whole, we were really lucky with the weather. It did rain but only once and the wind was strong and constant. Here is Konstantin in his packraft just shortly before it started raining.
Patrick’s Suunto Traverse helped us to find the Örö island. We also used a small map of the area that we got from the information centre as well as a map in Gaia GPS app that Konstantin downloaded at the harbour, where there was free Wi-Fi.
Later, the clouds mostly disappeared and it really became a fantastic day with lots of sun. Good thing we used sun protection, which we would strongly recommend to anyone who is planning a similar trip in the Finnish Archipelago.
At first we were ‘island hopping’ though a natural water maze – this helped us to avoid big boats and make sure that the sea was still relatively calm. However, at one point we needed to cross a large expense of water, where the sea was significantly more rough and the waves became something we had to take into consideration especially as we tried to sail on a beam reach. At one point Patrick even got some water into the boat as he did not use his spray skirt. But we still thoroughly enjoyed the trip.
By staying so close to the water, we had a very different perspective of the islands. Sometimes, they looked like one long stretch of land. On the other hand, using packrafts gave us manoeuvrability and freedom to explore island shores. And of course we could enjoy the typical views - a light house and seagulls. What can be more Finnish Archipelago than that?
Patrick sailing just before the Örö island.
Arriving at the main harbour of Örö
After 15 km of windpaddle sailing with our packrafts we finally arrived on Örö. It took us just over three hours to cover that distance.
We were really lucky that almost for the whole trip the wind was blowing in the right general direction of the island, otherwise it would have been a lot of paddling. Or, in case of southerly winds, we would not have been able to use our packrafts on the way to the island at all. Instead we could have taken a boat to the island and paddle on the way back, which is exactly the opposite of what we did this time.
Before going to the camping site, which is accessible from a small bay on the south of the island, we decided to pretend that we were ‘big boats’ and entered the harbour instead, where we had a quick look around. There were two small buildings in the harbour area, one of which was a small coffee house. While the offer was limited, their staff were very friendly and their prices were quite reasonable. For example, a piece of cake would cost you 2 Euro, which is no different from anywhere else in Finland. While this cafe had a few seating places inside (which could come in handy in case of bad weather, we presume), there was a large number of tables and benches outside as well. Somewhat further away, there was a fireplace and a grill (which turned out to be the only place on the island where you can have an open fire). Please note, if you want to use it, you will most likely need to bring your own coals or wood. Or, you can try to rely on the kindness of other boaters, like we did the first evening when we came there to grill our sausages.
Patrick activating his Suunto Traverse watch to track the rest of the route.
After a short stop at the harbour, we decided to paddle to the take-out place at a bay in the south of the island. This dedicated landing spot for kayakers and the main harbour are the only two places from which you are allowed to access Örö.
On the way, we saw a large number of swans, who were possibly hiding from the wind on the leeward side of the island. Or maybe they preferred the areas that were not frequented by humans. Regardless of the reason, we could count around 15 swans around the bay the next morning.
Camping on Örö
Camping on Örö is possible at the tent site near the landing point for kayakers. Once we walked a few meters into the forest we saw a sign which indicated its location (there are a lot of clear signs like that around the island). When we got to the site, we were the first ones there and could choose the best spot for our tent. A while later, three women in their fifties from Helsinki arrived with their tents as well. It seemed that they took a ferry to the island. We started a short conversation and they told us that one of them had come to Örö last year already and this time brought her friends in order to show them this beautiful place. And unlike us, who stayed there for one night only, they were planning to camp on Örö for 2 nights, while spending the day explore the history and enjoying the nature of the island.
The tent site is well equipped (and free). It has a separate toilet for men and women, a shelter with two tables and benches, rubbish bins and a water tab. We had to look for that tab for a while (and we were not the only ones), but eventually we found it on the outside of a seemingly disused white building next to the path to the beach. Unfortunately, there was no fire place and it’s also not possible to make an open camp fire on the island. Which is why, to grill our sausages, we had to go back to the main harbour and use a grill there (a hint - try to find a shortcut to the harbour, which is not on the map but is shown on the signs). In any case, it’s probably a good idea to take a gas stove with you just to be on the safe side.
Patrick packing his Therm-a-Rest XTherm sleeping pad next to our MSR Hubba Hubba NX tent.
The landing spot for kayaks is also a great place to enjoy the nature and have a breakfast. And that was exactly the spot, where we used the MSR Windburner to make our morning porridge and brew some tea.
Other Facilities on Örö
In general, Örö offers a variety of quite nice facilities for its visitors. If you are planning to stay overnight and you do not have your own boat or a tent, it is possible to book a bed in a hostel or rent an apartment or a cottage. When it comes to eating out, besides the harbour cafe, there is also a restaurant, located in a renovated building used by the military in the past. However, a word of warning - even though this restaurant has a lot of seating places (both outside and inside), you might want to make a reservation there because they seem to have limited cooking capacity. The prices in the restaurant are regular for Finnish standards and the menu, though rather short, had at least one vegetarian main dish. As for people who eat meat and are interested in locally produced food, they could try sausages made from the island’s own lamb. Besides these two places, there is no other way to get food, so, if you are not planning to eat out, you might want to bring everything necessary with you from the mainland. Finally, this place would not be part of Finland if it didn’t have at least one sauna. And, indeed, not far from the harbour, on the eastern shore of the island there is a brand-new sauna with an access to the sea from a small pier.
The several public toilets, spread out across the island, are very clean and have toilet paper in them.
‘When nature calls’ on Örö …
Hiking on Örö
Örö is also a great place for hiking since it has two well-marked routes, which are easy to follow - the blue-blazed ‘6’’ Trail’, leading through the southern part of the island (5.3 km), and a red-blazed ‘120mm trail’, covering the north (5.6 km). The total length of all paths and roads is around 16.5 km and there is a large number of interpretation panels in 3 languages (Swedish, Finnish and English) that deal with the natural and military history of the island and provide interesting explanation of what one can see there.
Other Leisure Activities on Örö
Besides hiking, it is possible to use a bike to move around the island. To do that you can either rent one or bring your own. Fishing, birdwatching and geocaching are also popular activities among the visitors. If you are into diving, then you may need a special permission to do it on Örö. However, it’s quite easy to find out what’s allowed and what is not as this information is provided at several places.
Exploring Örö’s Military Past
The main cultural sights on the island are related to the history of costal defences in Finland starting with the last years of the rule of tsarist Russia and until the present day. Ranging from fortifications and tranches, to barracks and cobbled roads, the island’s rich military history is evident at every step. Some of the main ‘relics’ are the two 12-incht or 305 mm Obukhovskii guns. Originally, when Russians built the fortifications, there used to be four of these guns on the island, however, later only two were left. These guns were used in the WWI against Germans and also defended the Bengtskär lighthouse during the Continuation war against Russia.
Each gun barrel had to be replaced after approximately 200 shots, which was easier said than done taking into account that each replacement barrel weighs 50 tons. This one in particular was manufactured in St. Petersburg in 1915.
Patrick is standing next to a 12-inch (305-mm) shell, which weighs around 500 kg. These shells were used for these largest guns and could be fired up to 45 km.
The south-west of the island was protected by a fortified 6-inch gun battery (hence the name of the trail – ‘6’’ trail’), the remnants of which are still visible today. They also offer an amazing view towards the outmost islands of the Finnish Archipelago.
More remnants of the 6-inch artillery battery.
Another artillery battery is now virtually overgrown by the forest. When built in the 1910s, it had three 120-mm Canet guns and one 75-mm Zenit anti-aircraft gun and there was a clear view towards the sea. But after it was decommissioned in the early 1920s, the forest took over and now it is even difficult to imagine what the original defenders must have seen from there.
This cobbled road was built in the 1910s and it is the longer of the two such roads on the island, their total length being 6 km. As the roads were used to train conscripts, they were nicknamed Pitkä Ikävä and Lyhyt Ikäva, which means Long and Short Misery respectively. In the past, beside these roads, there also used to be a narrow-gauge railway, which was used to transport heavy artillery and other materials around the island. Unfortunately, it was dismantled in the 1960s.
Originally fortified by Russians, later Örö was used by the Finnish army that made their own impact on the island’s landscape. Thus, one of the later additions were the trenches, such as these, which were built to protect the open area in the middle of the island from potential enemy invasion from the air.
Whereas the island saw some action in WWI and the Continuation War, for most of the time it was used to train conscripts. Here you can see the rifle range, which stretches for, what seems, hundreds of meters. And indeed, if you turn in the opposite direction, at about the same distance you can see the buildings from which the soldiers shot their rifles.
Not far from it was a smaller (approximately 25 meter) shooting range which was possible used to train shooting pistols.
A memorial plate.
The Finish army built this fortified structure in the early 1980s to function as the second artillery observation post. It had a 23-mm anti-aircraft gun, an infantry gun position and an air-raid shelter. The latter has still wooden beds with mattresses in them. And though, surrounded with a wire-fence, it is possible to enter it form the north and one can even use it as a nice picnic sport with a great view over the sea.
Probably part of the ventilation system of a bunker.
But not everything on Örö is underground or close to the ground – there are four structures that reach the skies. The island has an antenna, a lighthouse, a radar tower and an artillery observation tower. However, one type of tower is missing – a regular observation tour which would have been a great way to see the island as well. The beach near the radar tower was quite fascinating.
The long stretches of the open beaches on the western coast of Örö are protected with a large number of Czech hedgehogs, static anti-tank obstacles that could possibly prevent enemy from landing.
The view of the western coast of Örö through the embrasure of one of the bunkers in the north of the island.
When entering the bunkers and anti-raid shelters on Örö, it is possible to stumble upon some relics from the past. Thus, you can still see some old-looking wood-burning stoves…
… and even older-looking beds.
Whereas the northern tip of Örö never had an artillery battery, it was heavily fortified to make it more suitable for the defence. It had three 23-mm anti-aircraft guns that could be used against ships and possible landings, as well as air-raid shelters, living quarters and firing positions. So, by no means it was a weak spot in the defence of the island.
After the military handed over the island to the National Park and before it was opened to general public last year, the authorities tried to make the place visitor-friendly. In order to do that, they blazed the trails, placed interpretation panels, toilets and picnic facilities. On the other hand, they also surrounded virtually all military sites with wire fences and placed warning signs, drawing the attention of the people to the risk of falling. To us, it looked like an attempt to ‘child-proof’ the rough nature of the military past of the island. Here is another example of such ‘child-proofing’ – it is a sign in three languages that warns the visitors that it is an area with dangerous constructions and calls for their caution. We have seen a number of such signs, sometimes at places where there were no traces of man-made structures, but only what seemed to be nature.
Conclusion - One of the best places to visit in the Finnish Archipelago
We really enjoyed our trip to Örö as with its perfect blend of history and nature combined with a good tourist infrastructure the island resembles a far-away Mediterranean spot. That is why it comes as no surprise that once we sat down on one of the sandy beaches, felt the smell of the salty sea mixed with the dry aroma of the pine trees and gazed across the blue water glistening in the sun, we felt sorry that we came there only for such a short time and we promised to ourselves that we would come there again. Possibly with our families…
Good to Know
If you don’t have a kayak or a boat of your own, you can take a ferry from Kasnäs to Örö, which costs 16 EUR one way or 25 EUR if you buy a return ticket. Bicycles can also be taken on the ferry. More information is also available on visitörö.fi. There are also taxi boats from Rosala.
Also don’t miss the view from the Lövö bridge when you drive from Turku or Helsinki to Kasnäs. This bridge is 473 m long and 19 m high and from it you can enjoy a beautiful view over a part of the Finnish Archipelago.
If you prefer to cycle, there is also the Coastal Trail Bicycle Route going from Salo to Kasnäs.
Here you can watch our video from Örö.
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