The Gotska Sandön National Park (literally 'The Gotlandic Sandy Island') is the most isolated spot in the Baltic Sea. Depending on the weather, it takes 3 to 4 hours by boat from Swedish mainland. The island is 8 kilometres long and 5 kilometres wide, of which 70% covered by pine forest.
The boat journey
It is early morning, very VERY early morning! Well, for me anyway :-) At 5:00 o'clock in the morning the alarm bell rings; and time to get up to start our journey to Gotska Sandön. Sleepy I fall into the car, for the 2 hours drive to the harbour town of Nynäshamn, from where we take the ferry to the island.
It is a gorgeous day, sun shining brightly, although there is a fresh breeze out there. Still, it looks like great weather to make the ferry crossing. But oh, how weather can be deceiving! Maybe it is nice weather here in the harbour, but futher up in the Baltic Sea there was a big storm during the night, causing high waves and turbulent seas on our way to the island. The ferry "M/S Gotska Sandön" is designed to land on the beach, as the island has no harbour. And hence the boat is different in shape; it is small, only 6 metres in width, and high. And as it has to be able to land on a beach, it dances more on top of the waves, instead of being settled deeper into the water and being more stable when rougher weather hits.
As soon as we get of out the harbour, and into more open sea, the boats starts to rock. Up and down, left and right, dancing and rocking on the waves like a little toy boat. It didn't take long before the first passengers started to get sea-sick. I stubbornly keep looking out of the window, trying to ignore the queezy feeling in my stomach, and instead focussing on the horizon. Did I already tell you to bring your sea-sickness pills before you embark the boat? Well, do bring your sea-sickness pills!!
Oh my, the boat kept on rocking, back, forth, back, forth, left and right. Waves crushing over the deck, making the option of going outside for fresh air an impossible one. More and more people on board got sea-sick. But the crew were appearantly used to this, and were so kind and helpfull to all and did an amazing job. Seasickness bags were distributed and full ones collected in an ever increasing speed. Yes, about 80% of the passengers had emptied their stomaches by now. I however, stubbornly kept looking out the window. Allas, after 3 hours the captain made the announcement: due to the bad weather the trip would take 1 hour more than usual, and we had one full hour of dancing on these turbulent waves to go....
That was it, I could not hold it no more. The movement of the boat, the aweful smell and sounds surrounding me, I gave up, and yes, also my own stomach turned inside out in the end, just like everyone elses.
Land!! finally! Such a big sence of relieve to the see the white sandy beaches of Gotska Sandön in the distance! With hardly any effort the ferry landed onto the beach. All non-seasick people where requested to gather and unload the luggage from the boat. In short: my husband + approximately 10 other passengers, together with the crew. All seasick people were requested to go onto the beach and try to recover from the journey. The metal stairs were pushed out from the boat, and I clamber down the stairs onto the beach. Ah, heaven!! Finally having steady ground below my feet again! I guess my face was still rather yellow in tone, while I dropped my behind onto the soft sandy beach of Gotska Sandön. Breathing in the fresh sea air, I slowly start to take in my surroundings. And strange as it might sound after such a 'bumpy' start of our trip, I fell in love with the island right away. In all its tranquility, it was my kind of place.
Getting here is one thing, but getting around is a totally new challenge! The only form of transportation on the island are your own 2 feet :-) Oh yes! so do be prepared, as walking is the only option available on the island. The only exception to the rule applies to your luggage, which has the luxury to be transported by tractor to the camp.
From the beach you will have to walk on foot to the campsite. And it all depends on the weather conditions where the captain decides to go ashore, which in its turn, determines the length of your walk. It can be all from 1 to almost 10 km's.
We were in luck though and landed at the beach "Las Palmas" on the eastern side of the island. This is where the boat lands most of the times; located approximately 4 kilometers from the camp. It was such a gorgeous day that we opted to take the route along the beach, instead of taking the inland trail. The loose sand made walking quite a bit more strenous, but it was so worth it. The beach is gorgeous, and the walk took quite a long time, far more time than really needed, mainly because I just wanted to stop every 5 metres to take another photo.
Although the only way ourselves to get to the camp was on foot, it is an absolute luxury to have our bags and food being transported to the camp by tractor. Without a doubt I otherwise would have sworn a few times hauling everything with us ourselves. But now, we could just enjoy our beautiful walk to the fullest, with only carrying a light backpack.
We were one of the very few opting to camp this night, so we had plenty of space. We picked a nice place under the shade of the trees, with an own picnic table beside, being surrounded by the colourful heather in bloom. The whole camp is really well equiped, far more so than I had anticipated. They even had rows of barbeques to use! Only needed was to bring your own charcoal (which we unfortunately hadn't).
As there is nothing to buy on the island, you have to bring all your food with you for the total duration of your stay (and a bit more, in case the ferry not being able to cross as scheduled).
The name "Gotska Sandön" literally translates as the the Gotlandic Sand Island, from the province of which it forms part. Since 1909, it is one of the National parks of Sweden.
And as the name indicates, the island is covered by sand, with the exception of the rubble beaches in the south-west and moraine that lies exposed at Högaland headland in the south.
The first excursion we made on the island was exploring the "Bredsandsudde". Or freely translated "Wide Sand Headland", which is a very apropriate name, as that is exactly what it is. It is located on the very northern tip of the island and relatively close to our camp. The beach here widens considerable, with a sandy headland pointing into the sea. It is also a place where the sea birds thrive, gathering in large groups on the edge of the sandy beaches and shallow spots of water, only to fly off when we approach too closely.
The day has come to an end, and the sun is slowly setting. We head once more for the beach, this time closest to our campground. We find a nice spot at the bottom of the sanddunes, and enjoy the bottle of champagne we brought with us, together with some delicious snacks. Who says you need to be roughing it when on a remote island ;-)
We watch the sky turn orange and the sun sinking into the sea. It is a perfect end to a wonderful day.
Today we have a full day on the island, and are looking forward to exploring a bit more. We plan to do a long hike and aiming to reach the southern shore. The hike goes first to "Tärnudden (8,1 km), continues on to "Högaland" (4,3 km) and finally returns to our camp via "Hamnudden (6,8 km). And it is another gorgeous sunny day! How lucky we are this weekend! It is quite a long hike, but absolutely worth it.
An interesting fact weatherwise is that Gotska Sandön has significant 'seasonal lag'. Although summer might be coming to an end in most of sweden, here the season continues for longer than elsewhere. And despite dwindling daylight hours, August is much warmer than June! And so our coincidental pick to go here at the end of August was in fact a perfect choice.
Fallen dead trees are food for many species in the forest.
The walk towards the south towards Tärnudden is a wonderful one. The trail was easy and leads you through pine forest, where the Heather is flowering this time of year, colouring the sides of the trail in a beautiful dark purple. We are so in luck with the weather, being so sunny and warm, at the end of August. The perfect place to enjoy the heather in bloom.
We walk through the "Shipkapasset"; a hand-dugg pass through the highest of the sanddunes on the island, called "Hoga Åsen" (42 metres above sea-level). This pass was made by the lighthouse staff to facilitate transportation between the north and south of the island. The work took several years.
Despite the fact that Gotska Sandön is one of the most isolated islands in the Baltic Sea, traces of humans dating from the Stone Age have been found. Probably people didn’t live here for longer periods and some researchers say that the finds originate from fishermen and seal hunters who happened to make their base on the island.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, there was sheep farming, and later also crop and cattle farming.
You can actually find a number of historic building in the south-western corner of the island at "Gamla Gården" (which can be translated to "old farm")
One of the remaining houses is "Madam Söderlunds Stuga", dating back to 1800's. Madam Söderland came to the island together with her husband, but he passed away in 1858. She was left alone on the island with her 2 children Ferdinand and Hjalmar. She lived in deep poverty and even at times was totally alone on the island. She passed away in 1906.
Good morning! It is our last day on Gotska Sandön, but like the previous days we are again in so much luck with the weather. The clear blue sky is smiling at us once again, while we set course to visit the lighthouse. I saw the lighthouse from a distance on the day we arrived, but today wanted to take a closer look at it.
The lighthouse, which was inaugurated in 1859, is still in operation. If you are here on the right day, which we unfortunately were not, you can get a guided tour and climb up the ighthouse, to see the view over the northern part of the island from above.
After our short morning stroll to the lighthouse we return to camp to find out when, and more important from where, our ferry to the mainland will leave. The sign for todays schedules is already up, and our boat to Nynäshamn is planned as scheduled to leave late afternoon (16:45). And departure will be from the beach "Las Palmas", the beach where the boat usually lands. And more good news, it looks like to be a clear day, with temperatures up to 20C. Another gorgeous day in other words!
We pack up our tent and leave our backpacks at the tractor that will transport our luggage to the departure beach. Such great service! No carrying any weight ourselves, instead we can walk in all leasure, with nothing more than a light backpack on our back to Las Palmas Beach. 4,5 kilometers in total, through the pine forest, where the Heather is so beautifully in bloom and onwards to the empty gorgeous beaches.
But before we set off for "Las Palmas" beach, we do a quick sightseeing tour around our camp, to visit the little church on the island, as well as the little museum.
Goodbye my Gotska Sandön, it is time for us to leave.
But it will only be a goodbye for now, as I do hope to return to you for another visit. Writing this page has brought back so many wonderful memories of our visit. And I am already eagerly looking at the ferry schedules to plan a visit for next summer.
Gotska Sandön truly is a nature lover's paradise.