Kalajoki and Maakalla: Exploring the Lesser Known Side of Finland

Kalajoki and Maakalla may not be well-known outside of Finland, but that’s what makes them so special!

Admittedly, I hadn’t heard of them either until recently, but that’s what draws me in. Remote can be difficult to find in our ever connected world – especially in Europe  but that’s what I found in Maakalla. I really enjoyed my time in both places.  Kalajoki is located just under 200km north from Vaasa, where I had spent the previous day exploring the Kvarken Archipelago, Finland’s only natural UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The sand dunes of Kalajoki, Finland.
The sand dunes of Kalajoki – the largest in Finland.

Kalajoki is on the mainland and is famous for its sand dunes!  Yep, you read that right, sand dunes in Finland.  And not just any sand dunes mind you, but the highest ones in all of Finland. They’re not Namibian size sand dunes – some of the largest in the world, by any stretch, but they are beautiful in their own right.  I was also thrilled to see there was a  frisbee golf course there as well.  I didn’t have time to play, but I can’t think of a more serene setting – playing in the sand dunes along the coast! Magical!

Catching the last of the sunset from Kalajoki.
Catching the last of the sunset from Kalajoki.

If you’re in Kalajoki, then you’ll definitely want to visit the historic island of Maakalla.   Maakalla hits the spot, when it comes to remote places – without being too far  – they’re just 17km away!

Maakalla has  been a base for fishermen since the 1400s where at its peak, 200 fishermen lived here during the summer months catching herring and hunting seals. It’s a truly unique place. Still, quiet and even a bit eery.  I’ve never been anywhere like it. Admittedly, there’s not much to do there.  You can visit Finland’s smallest parsonage, and walk around the 40 fishing huts.  But you don’t go to Maakalla to check off a bunch of sites from your list.  It’s one of those places that you go to experience. Life wasn’t and still isn’t easy for the fishermen. There is no restaurant, no store.  The only electricity is solar generated. In this way, time has stood still, except that people haven’t. Now there’s just one full-time fisherman and the others are either retired or do it part-time. After spending a couple of hours there, I get it.  Given the choice, I too, would choose to live on the mainland where life is easier, even if you aren’t as connected with your neighbours as you would be if you lived on a remote island.  Still, I fantasize that after a long day of fishing, these guys would just hang around shooting the shit, even if that is glamourizing a lifestyle that was anything but.

View over Maakalla island and Finland's smallest parsonage.
View over Maakalla island and Finland’s smallest parsonage, which is built in the shape of a boat.

A few of the 40 cabins found on Maakalla, a remote fishermen's island off the coast of Kalajoki, Finland.
A few of the 40 cabins found on Maakalla, a remote fishermen’s island off the coast of Kalajoki.

Traditionally guests were asked to pile up a stone, to make the lighthouse higher in Maakalla.
Traditionally guests were asked to pile up a stone, to make the lighthouse higher in Maakalla.

Life is tough on the island of Maakalla. There are no restaurants or stores. Just fishing cabins and a church. The only electricity is generated by solar power.
Life is tough on the island of Maakalla. There are no restaurants or stores. Just fishing cabins and a church. The only electricity is generated by solar power.

As you’ll likely only stay on the island for an hour or two, you may have time for a short hike as we did along the  Siiponjoki, a river located near Kalajoki. The trails are well-marked, but you’ll either need a guide or a helpful local to point you in the right direction.  I couldn’t find any online maps of hiking trails, but this was actually good news!  Despite it being late August we found tons of blueberries (my absolute favorite) right along the hiking trails! We didn’t even need to look for them, they were right there! We only did a short hike, but you could easily extend your stay in Kalajoki and do a longer hike. And unlike in other parts of Europe, here the hiking is flat.

Green moss can be found on parts of the trail while hiking along the Siiponjoki near Kalajoki in Finland.
In addition to the berries, I also loved the green moss that could be found on parts of the trail while hiking along the Siiponjoki near Kalajoki.

In a world which seems less remote everyday it’s nice to find those places like Maakalla and Siiponjoki, plentiful with berries, even at the end of the season and know that they do exist – even in Europe.  You just have to look for them.

 

Know Before You Go to Kalajoki and Maakalla:

Where to Stay in Kalajoki:

I stayed in the Spa Hotel Sani which sits right at the top of the dunes in Kalajoki. Needless to say the views are gorgeous.  There are no accommodations in Maakalla available for tourists.

Where to Eat in Kalajoki:

Pihuitupa Steak House, which is a cozy steak cottage as it calls itself.  The service is second to none and the log cabin and fireplace make for a great place to warm up.  The meal was the best I had on the west coast of Finland.  I highly recommend it!

Getting to Maakalla

We went with Kaisa-Leena a very knowledgeable guide.  You can book your trip with her here.

Nearest Airport:

The nearest airport if you’re flying in is in Oulu, which is ~130km to the north.

 

Note:  My visit was made possible by Outdoors Finland, but all opinions and berry eating are all my own as always.

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About Author

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Laurel
Laurel Robbins is the founder of Monkeys and Mountains Adventure Travel. She's passionate about getting outdoors as often as possible and helping travellers do the same on their vacation in a sustainable way. She's Canadian and grew up in the Canadian Rockies but now lives in Munich, Germany. You can find her skiing or hiking in the mountains most weekends, hanging out with her cat or with her nose in a good book.

Comments

De'Jav
October 12, 2014
Definitely seems like a place that is off the beaten path but a fresh of breath air.
October 13, 2014
Would love to visit Finland and especially this sort of landscape.
October 16, 2014
Hi Laurel, I stumbled upon your blog on twitter and already like it!:) Those places look really remote. How did you find out about them? I would love to visit Finland at some point of my travels. It looks like a great place for photography too. Since I am from Poland it shouldn't be too difficult either. Btw. There are always plenty of blueberries in polish woods too, and the places can be very remote, in case you were considering a visit to Poland!
October 20, 2014
@Marta - I found out about them through an organization called "Outdoors Finland" which aims at showing tourists the lesser-known places. Really enjoyed everywhere we visited. Re: blueberries in Poland, that's good to know. I've only been to Poznan, which I enjoyed, but need to spend more time in Poland.

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