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Adventures by border

In northernmost Sweden by the border to Finland are untouched expanses and adventures for the entire family. From several of the world’s best fishing rapids via hiking and cycling trails to the Expedition Robinson islands in the Haparanda archipelago.

Text: Karin Wallén Photo: Johnér, Fredrik Ludvigsson

Kukkolaforsen’s roaring rapids provide a constant audio-backdrop to the red building with the paned windows. In the summer, this is one of the world’s best and most interesting places to fish whitefish. Therefore, it’s not surprising that one of the dishes always found on the menu at the restaurant is smoked whitefish.

“Smoked whitefish is simple and delicious. It doesn’t need to be complicated to be really good. It only needs a cream sauce and potatoes, and an entire whitefish on its own,” states Johannah Spolander, who runs the activities at Kukkolaforsen together with her husband and brother.

Fifteen years ago they took over from her parents, who started what became a popular tourist destination in Tornedalen with a White Guide-listed restaurant, camping, cottages, a hotel – and a sauna museum.

Johannah’s father, Svante Spolander, thought there needed to be a place where the sauna culture could be explained and experienced. And what better place than here, at the Finnish border?

The Kukkolaforsen rapids are part of Torne River; on its western shore lies Swedish Kukkola, and on its eastern shore Finnish Kukkola. An hour’s difference in time, despite being so close. The sauna museum has an exhibition on different types of saunas, the impact of a sauna on health, different sauna methods, and stories about sauna culture. Here, there are different types of smoke saunas, steam saunas, wood-fired saunas, and a number of other variations that each offer a unique experience.

However, it’s expensive to have as many as thirteen different saunas going at the same time, so the only way to get the full sauna experience is to be part of a group that books a tour. Except in July.

“Every Thursday in July we hold the Bring Your Towel event and open all thirteen saunas to the public. Otherwise, there are always three saunas open for guests, and it’s possible to book a campsite with a private sauna on the pitch,” says Johannah.

Fishing in Kukkolaforesen
Photo from the left: Ted Logardt, Linnéa Isaksson, Ted Logardt

World-Unique whitefish fishing

With all due respect to saunas, using a net to catch whitefish attracts most visitors to Kukkolaforsen during the summer. The whitefish travel up the same river they were born in when it’s time to play.

“When it comes up from the brackish water to the freshwater in the river, it’s so focused that it doesn’t even have time to eat. Kukkolaforsen is the first major obstacle, so it has to rest,” says Johannah. These resting places have long been common knowledge and are now marked with docks. The method of using a long-handled net dates back to the 1500s and is only used in eastern Norrbotten in Sweden and the Amazon River in Brazil.

“It’s world-unique, and right now we’re going through a process together with Finnish Kukkola to apply for UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List.”

Just over one and a half hours north-west, in Jockfall, fishing is also the biggest draw. Here, 40 km north of Överkalix, salmon is the main attraction. Jockfallet waterfall, at 9.5 meters, is the highest waterfall in the pristine Kalixälven river, which runs from the Kebnekaise basin down to Bottenviken. For those who want to enjoy nature without a fishing rod, there are endless possibilities – if you know where to go.

“The area around Jockfall is kind of like a diamond in the rough,” says Niclas Bentzer, who started the company Explore Jockfall in 2019 together with Linnea Nilsson-Waara. They saw the potential of the vast, untouched nature and felt that someone should take advantage of this opportunity to do more with it.

Nature experience
Photo: Johner

Nature experience with a history

A nice hike in the area is the trail that goes up the mountain Laxforsberget. From Jockfall, it's a proper hike of around 17 km round trip, but there’s also a closer place to start by a forest road (see Norrbotten County Administrative Board’s website for more information), and from there the hike up the mountain and back is only around 6–7 km. This is also where Explore Jockfall’s guided tours begin.

“It’s fun to be able to take guests on a tour of really old forest. Most people are used to another type of forest, which in reality is a plantation, with all the trees approximately the same age and standing in straight lines. This is something else, and there’s a lot to talk about when there’s both biological diversity and cultural history,” says Niclas.

At the top of Laxforsberget awaits an expansive view of Kalixälven River’s valley and – when Niclas or Linnea are guiding a tour – also lunch, coffee and baked goods. There are also several biking paths in the area that have an interesting history.

“There’s a whole network of old forest biking paths from the 1920s that were created for the loggers. The paths were supposed to create infrastructure for the forestry but also became a way to travel between villages. An older man up here told me that the bike and the biking paths had a much bigger impact on his life than when he got his driver’s license. The paths were very important both socially and culturally,” says Niclas.

Today, the paths are open to the public – with or without a guide and on fat bikes with wide tires that glide over the forest terrain and the sand.

Nature experience
Photo: Johnér/ Magnus Ström

When Robinson came to the Archipelago

Where Jockfall has its bike paths, Haparanda archipelago has its boat traffic. Both types of transport have been crucial for bringing people together, and in both cases there are countless stories to tell. Skipper Kim Innala knows almost everything there is to know about the archipelago. He runs regular boat traffic every summer from Haparanda harbour to the archipelago and the nationalpark, which includes Sandskär, Seskar Furö, and a number of smaller islands.

“The northern point of Sandskär is very special, with its long sand reef. But I like a lot of other islands, too. Byskär with its juniper, sea buckthorn, rose hip, currants and blueberries. It’s a rich biotope for such a small island,” says Kim, who in addition to the regular boat schedule also leads guided tours.

His own family’s history is a huge benefit in this respect. Kim’s grandfather, Erik Innala, or Mabo-Erkki as he was also called, was not just a fisherman but also a known smuggler during the war years. He primarily smuggled the coffee substitute Mabo to their coffee-starved neighbours in the east, thereby his nickname.

During the summer of 2020, Kim had a slightly different assignment; he was responsible for the logistics around both the Swedish version and the Finnish version of the TV show Expedition Robinson. When the pandemic forced the production company to find a Swedish alternative, the choice fell to the Haparanda archipelago. Hard-to-access Seskar Furö has been called “the Robinson island” by the media, and it’s undeniably attractive with its shallow water, sand beaches and untouched nature.

“But the recordings weren’t as concentrated to this island as it appeared in the media. Several other islands were used as well. Including Seskarö,” says Kim.

It’s easy to reach Seskarö via a bridge from the mainland. Heading out in a kayak from the seaside rental shop is a good way to end the day. The afternoon can be spent looking for a favourite bay and exploring the closest islets before going for a well-deserved swim at night under a sun that never sets.

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