Jayne and Niki from the Nature Travels office spent 5 days Canoeing on the Tar Route in Kainuu in eastern Finland this June.
We landed at Kajaani airport at around 22.35 and stepped off the plane into bright sunshine – with midsummer just around the corner the sun would barely be setting during our trip.
After a day of travelling it was quite pleasant to stand and listen to the birds singing in the warmth as we waited for our taxi to take us to our hotel, where we’d be staying the night before completing our journey to Kuhmo next morning (if arriving late at Kajaani airport, you may need to call the number on the taxi signs to book a taxi as there seemed to be no taxis waiting when we were there, although we had landed on a Sunday which could explain it).
After perhaps not quite enough sleep and an early breakfast, we then had a 1.5 hour bus journey from Kajaani down to Kuhmo, the start point for our tour. This would have been ample time for a nap, but instead I spent my time looking to see if I could see any wildlife in amongst the trees (I was not lucky on this occasion) and taking in the beautiful countryside.
We were met off the bus by our local host, Urpo, who would be taking us to a shop to purchase our provisions for the week then drive us to the start point for our tour.
En-route to the start point Urpo went through a bit of information about the tour, the routes we could choose and showed us where the wilderness cabins and wind shelters were that would be good places to break up our journey.
He also gave us a printout of the weather forecast for the week and informed us that on our first day we would be paddling into quite a strong wind and that because of the weather the week before there would be quite a few mosquitoes about – not the most ideal news to be given before a trip!
At the launch site we repacked our belongings into dry bags and loaded up the canoe, then waving goodbye to Urpo we set off. Although it was cloudy the sun was shining and it didn’t seem that windy and we were quite hopeful that the weather forecast had been wrong.
The first part of the tour is through a narrow section of the lake with tree-lined banks and the occasional summer cabin. You could also most think that you were on a wide river rather than a lake. The scenery is beautiful and we were enjoying being able to take it all in leisurely as we paddled along.
As the day progressed, the clouds and the wind increased and we suddenly found ourselves canoeing through heavy rain showers and wind interspersed with the occasional sunny break. However, as we neared the wilderness cabin where we had decided we would stay that night the wind really picked up.
Bob always tells us that canoeing on lakes is very different to being on rivers and having my own canoe up in the Lake District I knew that if it was windy on a lake it made all the difference, but this wind was stronger than I have ever canoed in!
There were times when we were paddling with all our might and making no progress at all or, worse, being pushed backwards. Whilst taking a break from trying to cross a fairly narrow part of lake and having little success, a lady appeared out of the forest where she was foraging for edible treats and let us know that the wilderness cabin we were headed for was not too far away. From Niki’s map reading we knew that we were close but it was good to have it confirmed by a local!
Revived by our break we set off once more and arrived at the wilderness cabin sooner than we had expected. The cabin is looked after by the state-owned organisation Metsähallitus so there was a dry wilderness toilet, beds with mattresses, a wood burner and a supply of wood, all of which seem like luxuries after the tiring day we had had.
The cabins can be used by anyone in the area, so you could find yourself sharing with other people (however we had the cabin to ourselves that night) all that is asked is that you leave the cabin as you would like to find it yourself.
With the fire going (drying out the clothes that had got damp) a cup of tea and a plate of pasta we were feeling pretty cosy as we listened to the wind blowing outside and watched the white horses on the lake, hoping that tomorrow’s forecast of lighter winds was correct!
The next day dawned (not that the sun had actually really gone down with sunset around 23.30 and sunrise at about 02.30) bright but cloudy again and looking out of the cabin window the lake looked calmer than it had the previous night.
The lakes where this tour runs have many islands and inlets making the route, if you were to follow the lakeshore, very wiggly indeed. Our route today had quite a few inlets which we were hoping to cross at their narrowest part to shorten our route a little. However, as the wind was still fairly strong this meant that even crossing at narrow points was fairly rough and so we did spend a lot of time following the shoreline to avoid the worst of the waves (some of which were the size of the canoe).
We arrived at the wind shelter where we would be spending the evening in the early afternoon and made ourselves a cup of soup (we had had lunch earlier but with paddling it is best to keep your strength up!), set up our tent on the flattest section of ground we could find (which wasn’t overly flat!) before making a fire in the fireplace to keep the mosquitoes away and to dry our feet! As with the cabin, there was a supply of wood already provided and a dry wilderness toilet.
Due to the sunlight and the birds, we awoke quite early on the 3rd day and spent the morning pottering around the camp, making coffee and having a leisurely breakfast before packing up and setting off just after 11.00.
As there was only a gentle breeze, the canoeing was much easier and we found that we were quickly covering the kilometres. After a slight detour (the lake is in a very forested area so it can be hard, from a distance, to work out exactly where you are supposed to head and which inlet is the right inlet until you have gone right into them) we arrived at the first of our land transports.
For this tour some of the land transports have canoe trolleys on railway tracks, which you can use to easily transport the canoe. As Urpo had told us before we set off, the trolleys are always on the wrong side of the crossing and this was the case here, so pulling our canoe onto land, we set off along the tree-lined track in search of the trolley.
This land transport crossed a small forest road in the middle before once again joining the railway track, but fortunately there were no cars when we came to it with a laden trolley, as you need a bit of momentum to get the trolley over the road, which doesn’t have railway tracks but two grooves that the wheels fit in.
Not long after the land transport we passed some flags, which we think marked the start of the nature reserve. The scenery didn’t change too much but there seemed to be no summer cabins so it felt even more remote (not that we had really seen anyone else so far on our trip other than the lady in the forest and a small boat).
After a few more hours paddling we arrived at our evening stopping place, a cabin with the luxury of a sauna! The sun was shining and it was quite warm so we sat with our after-paddling soup on the small beach enjoying the birdsong and the warmth on our face.
We decided that we would have our sauna after our supper so that we could wash and be clean and warm before bed. The sauna takes quite a while to warm up, so we needed to light the fire well before we actually wanted to use it and to make sure the metal reservoir on the flue was full of water so we could use it to wash (and so the sauna stove didn’t get damaged).
The sauna was lovely after 3 days of paddling and soothed any muscles that were thinking about aching.
The morning of our 4th day was warm and bright, and after breakfast we spent some time tidying up after ourselves, emptying the sauna fire of ash, sweeping out the cabin and filling up the wood baskets.
It was so warm that we both decided we wouldn’t wear our raincoats or waterproof trousers (but had them to hand just in case) and even though the lake water is actually slightly brownish, this morning it looked a beautiful blue and quite inviting. If only it had been a little warmer I might have actually had a swim!
Canoeing on the lake today was so different to the first few days of our tour. Without any waves to hinder our progress we were travelling fairly quickly (for a canoe) without paddling too hard. We had some larger bodies of water to cross today but because it was so calm we didn’t need to travel as far into the inlet as we had on previous days.
After a while we arrived at another crossing with a canoe trolley, again the trolley was on the other side of the crossing! This crossing seemed to have some kind of motorised pulley system for the trolley that would take it half way up, however, as the motorised part was housed in a small hut that looked locked as we passed it, we decided to pull the trolley ourselves.
Once back on the water, we enjoyed paddling in the sunshine for a little while before we came to up to a section of white water which didn’t have a trolley crossing. There was, however, a pontoon type walkway so that you could walk alongside the white water whilst your canoe floated down the rapids (attached of course to a rope which you held onto!).
For this evening’s camping spot, we decided to cheat a little and spend the night at an actual campsite with a kitchen area and a shower. Even though we had had a sauna wash the day before, we felt the need for a shower before we returned to civilisation the next day! As it wasn’t quite high season yet, the campsite was fairly empty, though in the kitchen we did meet a man on a fishing holiday with his son and someone who was motorbiking from the Netherlands to Norway!
With only a short paddle back to Kuhmo, we allowed ourselves another leisurely morning and slowly packed up our camp making the most of the lovely weather.
If possible, the water was even stiller than the previous day and was reflecting the trees and the clouds beautifully as we paddled along. We knew that the place where we would be meeting Urpo later that day was not too far from the church, so using this as our guide we headed towards the church (which could just be seen through the trees).
Arriving in Kuhmo a little early for meeting Urpo we landed on a small beach and sunbathed till our pick-up time.
As our flight was not until the next day ,we would spend the evening in the wilderness cabin (which can be booked as an optional extra in connection with the tour).
The cabin is located a short way from Kuhmo and felt like it is right in the middle of a forest. The cabin has no electricity but is very cosy and has gas for cooking, water, a wood burning stove as well as a dry wilderness toilet and a sauna. Of course, that evening we made the most of having one last sauna before we returned back to the UK the next day.
Jayne from the Nature Travels Team
Canoeing on the Tar Route in Kainuu is a very flexible tour with start days by arrangement between May and September, duration 4-8 days. The wilderness cabin available as an optional extra is ideal for an extra night or two before and/or after your tour.