“Would any of you out there like some shampoo? You can have a quick wash before we arrive!” grinned Kim Innala, our captain, through his brown-blonde beard. We were sitting at the bow of the little fishing boat crashing through the white-brimmed waves of the Gulf of Bothnia in northern Sweden, every now and then we were engulfed by a wave of cold sea water which was thrown up into the air as we crashed bow-first into the rough waves. We are on our way to Sandskär, a small island which is part of Haparanda Skärgård’s national park and was once used for fishing and sealing.
Every now and then we pass Robin Crusoe-esque islands with nothing on them but a lone moose which stops its chewing to stand and gaze at us.
We arrive at the little boat harbour and are told to come back at 5pm to board the boat to go home, or we will be staying the night. My aunty’s family own a little summer house (“stuga”) here which sits among the other little fisherman’s cottages, so we go there to drop off our stuff before heading to the beach.
Haparanda Skärgård’s national park is made up of two big and a few smaller islands. Sandskär is the biggest and has an area of only 5km². It has a 5km-long nature trail from one end to the other and you can get the boat to pick you up from the harbour (if you can call it that) at the end of the trail.
We didn’t want to do the 5km trail as we had small children with us – plus it was absolutely sweltering – so we walked to the nearest beach, which was still probably 2km there and back!
Following the zig-zagging wooden path, the landscape is reminiscent of the Savanna in Africa with thirsty-looking trees and small green plants and purple flowers peeping up through the brown sand. It is a while before we can see the sea, but after climbing up a steep sandbank, the stairs lead down through the sand dunes and grass to Baatilahti, a beautiful sand beach dotted with pieces of silver driftwood. We are the only ones there and you feel as if you could be the only ones left on earth.
We have a picnic on the beach and swim in the cool waters. Of course time goes so quickly and before we know it, it’s time to go home and the children don’t want to leave and sit in the water sulking.
The walk back is not as bad as we have cooled down from swimming in the sea, and we stop by the weather-beaten chapel which sits on top of a hill of the old herring-fishing village.
Kim meets us at the boat to take us back to Haparanda. We sit out on the deck again and fall asleep in the sun.
Boat trips to Sandskär run for five weeks of the year with additional trips depending on the demand. You can look at the website here