Through the Vänern archipelago by sea kayak

Genom Vänerns skärgårdar med havskajak

Lake Vänern is Western Europe's largest and Europe's third largest lake. Only two Russian lakes are larger. Vänern's water volume makes up a third of all fresh water in Sweden. Here is Europe's largest freshwater archipelago with thousands of islands and islets. Norra Vänerskärgården, for the most part a nature reserve, stretches from Kristinehamn at Vänern's most northeastern corner to Slottbron at its most northwestern corner. Vänern can be said to consist of two roughly equal parts, Lake Dalbosjön in the south and Lake Värmlandsjön in the north. In between are the two bordering peninsulas Värmlandsnäs and Kålland and between these the Lurö archipelago. In the middle of Lake Värmlandsjön, the Djurö archipelago is isolated from the surrounding mainland and archipelagos. The Djurö archipelago is a national park in its entirety and is completely uninhabited. The magnificent lighthouse on the main island is automated. Outside Mariestad there is also a large archipelago. The lake's greatest depth is 106 meters. The total beach length is approximately 200 miles.

Across the open inland sea to the Djurö archipelago

Lake Vänern's vast water surface is mirror-like in front of us when we take the compass direction from Stångudden's lighthouse on Lurö to the southernmost island of Gisslan in the Djurö archipelago, the national park isolated in the middle of Lake Vänern. We can faintly make out the low islands in the distance as a line on the horizon. It is eleven kilometers there over completely open water. It's midsummer's eve at the beginning of August. The evening sun is behind us. It is warm enough and we are completely alone except for a cargo ship that is heading south in the distance, towards Trollhätte canal and Göta river and then the great seas.

After about two hours we arrive. The whole of nature seems to breathe an almost magical unreal calm. The scent of pine forest from the islands is already strong from afar. The warm trailing evening light creates an illuminated shadow world around us. A few motorboats lie at anchor on the drift in Åran's natural harbour. We may cause a certain stir; you probably don't expect visits from canoeists in such a vulnerable place as Djurö. We have time to pitch our dome tent on a warm rocky outcrop at the natural harbor Malbergshamn, the only place where camping is allowed in the national park, before darkness falls.

Mirror-gloss inland sea

The following morning we continue with an almost equally long crossing over open water to the archipelago at Brommö's northwestern part, part of the Mariestad archipelago. Just before we pass Djurö lighthouse, two fallow deer, one of which is a male with magnificent antlers, come down to the beach next to us to drink. We rest on the paddles and soak up the view. We slip quietly and quietly close by until we are spotted and they run away.

We started our trip with a long-distance kayak around Lake Värmlandsjön, the northern half of Lake Vänern, just under a week ago in Kristinehamn. With the car and the kayaks on the roof, we followed the road sign Skärgården at a four-way intersection out to Vålöfjärden. It turned out that from here you can see the archipelago. To really get there you need a kayak or other flotation device.

We already experience on the first day that Lake Vänern is an inland sea with all that that can mean in the form of waves and wind. We have to fight high waves from the side most of the day. The northern Vänerskärgården is sparse but widespread, most of it is a nature reserve, and reaches far past Karlstad all the way to the Castle Bridge in the west.

Outside Söököjan's lighthouse at the entrance to Karlstad, we look out over a mirror-like inland sea. Sky and sea flow together. No horizon could be discerned and it feels like sitting inside an infinite globe.

Strong countercurrent

We paddle into Klarälven's large delta from the east. Karlstad is built in the middle of the delta, the country's largest outside the mountain chain, with lots of river branches to get lost through if you don't follow the map carefully. It is high water in the river and the counter current is getting stronger. At the old stone bridge near the center of Karlstad, people gather on the beach to watch us struggle in vain for quite a while until we find a quieter section close to land under one of the bridge arches. We turn to port where the river forks at the formerly well-known Sandgrund dance palace, now housing the artist Lars Lerin and his art, and instead get a real push with the current out towards Skoghall and Kattfjärden. We literally rush through the center of Karlstad with the grand city hotel on the left.

Onsö, a famous island in the Mariestad archipelago, has a namesake in the archipelago west of Karlstad. Here there are several sandy beaches where it is easy to find a campsite.

Fantastic moonlight

The large peninsula Värmlandsnäs, colloquially called Näset, which together with Kålland and the archipelago in between divides Vänern into two roughly equal parts, Värmlandsjön and Dalbosjön, is long both on the map and in reality. Here we paddle for a whole day with high swells from the side and recurring rain showers. The rocky and inhospitable coast is interrupted in some places by sandy beaches which are deserted in the rainy weather. Coves and cuts to seek shelter behind are very easily calculated. On many rock outcroppings facing the lake are old, half-overgrown stone cairns, sea marks, which remind us of the lively navigation of Lake Vänern in the past. A black-painted heavily laden merchant ship steers in the distance to the north towards some Vänerhamn.

As we approach the southern tip of Näset, the wind and waves have subsided. A fantastic moonlight and paleness on the water foreshadows the coming high pressure as we rest on a rock face after the day's exertions. The Lurö archipelago seems to float freely in the air in the moonlight in front of us and we can actually make out Kinnekulle's conical peak, the highest around Vänern, in the distance on the other side of the water.

Museum at Lurö

The Lurö archipelago can boast its own museum, the old fishing lodge on the island of Vithall, and a hostel with a restaurant. The latter can be found on the main island of Lurö. A cold beer with an accompanying well-prepared main course tastes best after a few days of intensive paddling. But not everyone needs to paddle here. You can get here by passenger boat from both Ekenäs on Näset and Kållandsö. There are also hiking trails and many remnants of a former cultural landscape to experience.

We rest on the sun-warmed rocks next to Stånguddens lighthouse on Lurö. The lighthouse has the characteristic appearance of many Väner lighthouses, a lighthouse keeper's residence with a lighthouse tower on the roof. And this is where the story above begins. Now that we've been lucky with the weather and made it across the wide open water surfaces and reached Mariestad's archipelago, a paradise for kayaking, we can relax. Being stranded outside at Djurö in bad weather is not pleasant. We swim from both rocks and sandy beaches in the pleasant summer weather. We are not alone, but it is not crowded either.

We pull the kayaks through the shallow passage between Hovden and Brommö, talking to happy visitors who want to know more about our paddling. Here the water is remarkably warm because it is so sheltered. We oil the gizzard at Hamnkrogen in Laxhall next to the ferry stop for the Brommö ferry and find our way through the reed-covered and narrow Dillönoran that separates Dillö from Torsö and comes out into Mariestadsjön. And in front of us lies, with pinnacles and church towers and harbor quarters, our destination – the good city of Mariestad.

Olle Persson