Taking a kayak trip round the islands of St Anna's archipelago, in Sweden, is a real wilderness adventure, as you choose your own route, camp wherever you like and cook up feasts over an open fire
I greedily devoured the soft bun filled with blackened hotdog, caramelised onions and oozing tomato sauce, and knocked back a cold Bla beer as the sky turned from purplish-pink to red over the glassy water. A day earlier, we were stuck in the hustle of manic London but now the only sounds were the crackle of the fire, gentle ripples of the sea and murmurs of contentment amongst the hungry kayakers. Welcome to the wilderness of St Anna’s archipelago in Sweden.
A two-hour drive from Stockholm NYO airport, the archipelago is made up of thousands of islands and skerries spread over a rough area of 70km by 25km, and a sea kayak is the ideal way to navigate and explore this picturesque setting. We arranged all our gear and equipment through www.dothenorth.co.uk, who picked up all our requested food supplies and collected us from our hotel to drive us to the start of our adventure.
At the drop-off point, Mon, we loaded up our trusty kayaks with all the food, tents, cooking equipment and clothes required for the four nights of solitude, stuffed in waterproof sacks. After some basic instructions, dothenorth set us free into the archipelago, armed with a map and a compass, and bade bon voyage to our flotilla of five double kayaks and two singles.
Into the wild
What a sense of freedom it gave us to be the captains of our own adventure and to plot our own course for any uninhabited island. We pointed our kayak noses with the wind behind us and set our paddling rhythm for a leisurely pace, cruising through the wilderness without another soul in sight. The weather unfortunately started to pick up, and in order to continue on our course we had to cross a large expanse of water into a mighty offshore breeze. Paddling arms had to dig deep, and halfway across one of the single kayakers suddenly found himself digging his paddle into air rather than water, so subsequently rolled the kayak. Luckily, we were armed with a large pump that sucked the water out, and everything else was watertight, so he was soon afloat again.
After a toilet and biscuit stop, we continued on, with our eyes peeled for a good island to spend the night. Arriving at Kallso, we decided that this was the spot to rest our weary arms and set up camp, so we dragged our kayaks up onto the rocks. We put up our tents in a grassy enclave shaded by pine trees, and then gathered armfuls of firewood. Soon, the fire was roaring, and everyone crowded around, drying off and warming up. Our dessert of bananas stuffed with chocolate, wrapped in tinfoil and roasted on the fire, had never tasted so good. Ah, bliss!
Around the islands
Sunlight streamed into the tent the next morning, and nature’s calling was a chance to explore the rest of the island. Climbing to the top afforded a magnificent view of the rising sun and hundreds of islands in the distance.
We refuelled on tasty Swedish muesli, fruit and strong coffee, before loading up the kayaks again and setting off into the unknown. Today, the sun was beating down, and the water was so flat that kayaking was hardly a chore. We paddled through reeds and narrow rocky openings, and around bird sanctuaries, before pulling the kayaks up on flat rocks at Skrvahamn to stop for lunch. Just because we were camping didn’t mean our meals were packet stuff or out of a can. We ate like kings the whole trip and dothenorth had a selection of tasty recipes on their website. Lunch that day was smoked salmon, avocado and rocket sandwiches, followed by fruit and chocolate. With full bellies, we basked in the sun like seals before getting back in the kayaks. Well, a few of us slid into the water butt-first on the slippery rocks, myself included.
After more scenic kayaking, and a stop to unload rubbish and fill up our water bottles, we started searching for another island to lay our heads down. Eventually we decided on Arpsund, and it was a bit of a hike up the island to a suitable camping spot - but that was soon forgotten, as it was Pirate vs Viking party night to celebrate a few birthdays in the group. Everyone donned either a pirate or a Viking costume, and set about collecting wood and preparing food. On tonight’s menu were bush burgers stuffed with homemade beef patties and tomato, cheese, salad and relish, followed by lots of toasted marshmallows and much Swedish cider. The party festivities continued into the wee hours of the night, as the fire slowly burned down to embers.
The next morning was a slower start, but the weather and water conditions were equally fantastic so this didn’t hinder the sore heads. Today, we saw the first signs of other life, as a double kayak passed us, and further along there were wooden houses that looked like holiday homes lining some of the islands .
We choose to set up camp early today, on Missjo, to relax and enjoy the rest of the sunny afternoon. Some of the group tried their hand at fishing, with the rods and lures provided, but unfortunately the perch and pike weren’t biting. The rest of us decided it was time for a swim/bath and braved the icy water, which surprisingly turned out to be rather invigorating and refreshing.
On the camp menu tonight was the Swedish speciality of meatballs and pasta, followed by copious amounts of marshmallows and ghost stories around the fire. Lying beside the fire and looking up into the sky, I could see myriad sparkling stars, and it reminded me how small and insignificant we are.
Next day, we bade adieu to half our fellow kayakers, and the hardcore remained for another night under nature’s blanket. We kayaked for a few hours, then stopped on Yttre Olsen for our final night. No sooner had we set up our tents and a tepee shelter by the fire than the first drizzle of the trip started. It didn’t dampen our spirits, though, as we set to work chopping vegetables for our Thai green curry and sampling different potent Swedish schnapps to warm up.
After dinner, it was time to deal out our five remaining bags of giant marshmallows and play the old camping favourite game of chubby bunny. Basically, you put a marshmallow into your mouth and say ‘chubby bunny’, followed by another, and another, saying ‘chubby bunny’ each time until your mouth can hold no more. The winner is the one who manages to fit the most into their mouth. Hours of fun.
The next morning, we packed up our tents for the last time and had a leisurely breakfast by the fire, eating scrambled eggs and the rest of our bread supplies before jumping in the kayaks and heading back to the mainland. We had survived four nights in the wilderness, explored remote islands and inlets and had one awesome adventure.
Ryanair fly to Stockholm NYO, and SAS to Stockholm Arlanda. St Anna is a two-hour drive from Stockholm NYO airport or a one-hour drive from Norrkoping. Trains connect Norrkoping with Stockholm city.
When to go
The best time to go is mid-June to mid-September. The days can be hot but it gets cold at night, so pack for both extremes.
Kayak and gear hire
Try www.dothenorth.co.uk or www.stannakajak.com.