The Bay of Bothnia National Park - the land rising underneath the waves

When you leave Kemi or Tornio and head towards the Bay of Bothnia National Park and the Selkä-Sarvi island group, you are following the routes of centuries-old traditions. Fishermen, seal hunters, and illegal alcohol smugglers have been criss-crossing the same waters ever since the first small islands began to appear above the sea level hundreds of years ago.

The Bay of Bothnia National Park was established to protect the land uplift landscape of the northern Bay of Bothnia, its islands, and the open sea. Salmon and trout pass through the park to ascend the Torniojoki River. Both grey and ringed seals thrive in these rich fishing grounds. They can often be seen basking themselves in the sun on the islets of the Möyly seal protection area. These small skerries are also inhabited by many different bird species. Many endangered plants can be found on the islands, both above and below sea level. Tales are told of a buried cache of smuggled illegal alcohol hidden somewhere on Selkä-Sarvi Island.

 Stones can be seen by the sea shore under the waves
Slowly but surely the land rises from below the sea’s surface.

The Bay of Bothnia National Park can only be reached by boat

A part of the charm of the Bothnian Bay National Park is that it is difficult to reach; there is no local bus and you cannot just zoom in your car straight to a car park. Instead, taxi boats and cruise liners transport you to the park if you do not have your own boat.

On the three islands you will find a rental cottage. Here, you can peacefully sit on the sauna porch and contemplate the ancient sea and the harsh life along its windy shores.

Selkä-Sarvi is a fisherman’s oasis in the open sea

In the Bothnian Bay National Park, the only sheltered harbour to anchor overnight is located at the northern tip of Selkä-Sarvi Island. There are a few wooded islands in the Selkä-Sarvi archipelago, which lie along the Swedish border and open southwards to the open sea. By contrast, the Möyly seal reserve area is completely treeless.

On Selkä-Sarvi Island there is a public sauna and toilet, as well as two rental cabins and a wilderness hut. The island is about one kilometre long, and at its centre lies a sandy juniper heath, including lush wetlands with broad-leafed trees. There is a succession forest in the transition area between these two habitat types, through which a nature trail runs to the old fishing village at the southern end of the island. 

Looking at the old sauna foundations  and the log houses, some which are still standing in the village, one can only wonder how up to three hundred people could have once lived on such a small island. The locals once lived on these islands, fishing during the ice-free open water season, preserving the fish by salting and drying, and returning to the mainland in the winter. During famine years the sea sustained the people all year round and Selkä-Sarvi was even inhabited in winter.

 Many white sheeps and one black sheep stand by the sea shore
On Selkä-Sarvi Island, visitors can encounter grazing sheep.

During the time of the Alcohol Prohibition Act, i.e. 1919-1932,  Selkä-Sarvi Island was the centre for the distribution of illegal spirit alcohol for the whole Cap of the North area. This area is roughly equal to the parts of Fennoscandia (including the Kola Peninsula in Russia) lying north of the Arctic Circle.

The ships that smuggled the alcohol came all the way from Estonia and brought their cargo to Selkä-Sarvi Island, from where it was shipped covertly to the mainland and distributed throughout Lapland. Tales are told that some of the hidden caches of spirit alcohol buried in the ground never saw the light of day and are still waiting to be found!

 Vegetation by the sea shore glows in the sun and at the background the sea is buzzing
Perhaps there is an old forgotten cache of alcohol around here.

A sense of history on the Pensaskari Island

There is a pier on the Pensaskari Island, where a day-tripper can tie up their boat. In addition to the rental room and sauna, the island has a campfire site, a toilet and plenty of local cultural history.

An old fishing shed has been turned into a fishing museum concerning the fishing history of the area. Local people have donated old nets, boats and photos to the museum, showing both the hard work and the large catches of former times. Old net drying racks are also found on the island.

In the middle of the Pensaskari Island lies a secret treasure; an inland lake that receives salt replenishment only during the highest waters and the most severe storms. There is a path leading to the lake, where one can marvel at its special underwater nature.

 Rocks and trees on an island and calm sea on the background
The ruggedly beautiful landscape of Pensaskari Island.

Vähä-Huituri island invites with its sandy beach

The rental cabin and campfire site of Vähä-Huituri Island  can be reached by mooring your boat to a buoy and rowing to the shore or by approaching the rocky shoreline on the south of the island. On the northern side of the island, a beautiful sandy beach opens close to the mooring buoy.

Visiting the Bothnian Bay National Park

Visitors need their own boat or must rent them to visit the park. Read more about boat connections here.