Before my trip to West Sweden, I didn’t think there would be any wilderness. I was wrong. Join me on a kayaking and camping journey to the Bohuslan islands of West Sweden.
We can’t quite believe our luck. It’s sunny and warm, and there’s not a single cloud above our heads. Summer in Sweden isn’t usually this glorious but we’ve clearly hit the jackpot with the weather. Here on our own deserted island, we’re basking under the sun, enjoying some packed Swedish meatballs and salad that we’ve packed – along with several other basic camping essentials – into our trusty kayaks.
In the horizon stands the silhouette of a rocky island rising from the glassy water surface but beyond that, there’s no sign of human activity. The water is calm and still and there’s a soothing silence except for the sounds of the wind whipping against my face. It’s hard to believe we are just a few miles from the coast — in this calm and quiet spot, we feel as though we’ve left civilization behind us.
This is the Gåsö archipelago, a cluster of islets off Skaftö in the Bohuslän region of West Sweden. Facing the Baltic Sea, the Bohuslän coastline stretches all the way to the border with Norway and is peppered with some 8,000 islands and islets. With its deserted beaches, isolated islands, and seals that inhabit the area, it’s no wonder CNN has named this one of the world’s last greatest wildernesses. Thanks to the absence of strong currents or tidal waters, kayaking is the best way to access and explore the region.
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That morning, we started our paddling trip from Grundsund, a small coastal town just south of Lysekil. Christina Ingemarsdotter, the owner of Kayak i Grundsund, warmly greeted us at the dock and gave us brief instructions and suggestions on where to paddle. With a detailed navigation map in hand, she drew out the route she suggested and advised us on what to look out, sheltered bays that are ideal for camping, and spots where seals like to hang out.
Spotting a tan and an athletic body, Christina clearly has a strong passion for what she does and enjoys the great outdoors. “I’ve been kayaking in the area for over 35 years and I know it inside out. I love my hometown and I want to show people how beautiful this area is.”
Since starting the kayak rental company almost nine years ago, she has been conducting kayaking courses and leading camping trips around the archipelago. During our visit, she was just preparing for a five-day camping trip with a group of German travelers. Every July to August, Grundsund’s population grows from the usual 500 to 2,500 with both Swedes and foreign tourists flooding in. Once September arrives though, the area gets calm and peaceful again – just the way we like it.
Empty Islands and Deserted Beaches
Even though we were visiting only a handful of the 8,000 islands of the region, Bohuslän’s beauty was apparent to us as soon as we left the coast. The sun’s rays were bouncing off the water surface, against a backdrop of rose-red rocky islands and clear, cloudless skies. Dozens of white jellyfish were dancing beneath our kayak, jiggling their long tentacles in the dark blue water, amidst green seaweeds that swayed along the same rhythm.
With Grundsund behind us, we headed straight for the nearest island, which was dominated by a shiny white lighthouse and a traditional Nordic wooden hut. Skirting its shoreline, we got our first close look at the island terrain: giant granite boulders were piled up one on top of another, with small pools of rainwater formed around their contours and patches of green grass growing in certain spots.
Heading in a northwesterly direction, we continued to make our way towards Grötö, a sizable islet in comparison to the small rocky outcrops that surrounded us. As we inched close to the island, we found ourselves weaving our way past several small boats and yachts docked against the rocky shore. Locals were out in their bathing suit, lounging on the rocky outcrops to get a tan; some were even cooling off in the jellyfish-infested water. Sunny days were rare in Sweden, but as Christina shared with us earlier, they were experiencing a glorious summer this year.
After almost four hours of paddling, we stopped at a deserted island to enjoy lunch and stretch our legs before continuing further out to sea. Paddling in the open sea was a stark contrast to kayaking in the narrow canal in Grundsund: the waves were stronger and the wind was blowing harder than before. By then my hands were aching, but I used all my strength to cover the long distance that separated us and the outlying Gula Skären island, which was the furthest island of the group in the archipelago. As we were approaching, I saw a few dark figures on the island and got Alberto to look at them through his binoculars. There they were, the seals that we had been looking for.
With a strong sense of urgency, we paddled quickly – but quietly – towards the island to have a closer look. Both Alberto and I love wildlife and our travels have often been fuelled by the pursuit of wildlife watching opportunities, so we were clearly excited to have the opportunity to see seals from our kayaks.
Sadly, just when we were within visible distance, the elusive creatures started jumping into the water one by one. Stumped by their behavior, we decided not to go any closer, to make sure we didn’t scare them or interfere with their natural habitat. Instead, we stayed still on our kayaks, letting the waves take us. Soon enough, a seal appeared in the water, just inches from, bobbing his head above the surface and staring at us curiously. Then another appeared right beside him. And another. And another.
There were now over a dozen of them surrounding us, staring at us with their big round eyes and sniffing with their noses in the air like adorable dogs waiting to be fed. An awed hush fell and we were both silently observing them with wide-eyed amazement. Even as we slowly paddled our own round the island, the seals continued to observe us nearby, following in our trail. For an hour, we stayed this way, interacting with the seals in such close intimacy.
Freedom and Simplicity
That evening, we landed at a perfect wild camping spot on Blåbergsholm, a small island just off the town of Fiskelbäckskil. Christina had recommended us to pitch our tent here for its grassy pastures and covered coves. It was also big enough to hike around and explore on foot. Most importantly, the weekend crowd had left and we had the entire island all to ourselves. Thanks to Sweden’s freedom to roam law, we had unlimited access to camping, fishing and picking berries anywhere on the islands.
Just as the last ebb of the sun faded into the horizon, we watched the town of Lysekil light up, glittering the night lights in the far distance. It was a beautiful night as Alberto and I warmed ourselves up with the campfire we’d set up and watched the stars shimmer above us from the comfort of our tent. As outdoor lovers, we thoroughly enjoyed camping out and sleeping under the stars, especially in a natural location that wasn’t far from civilization. Kayaking brought a sense of freedom as well — we could decide wherever we wanted to go and we had all our supplies with us so we were self-sustaining. It was this sort of independence and simplicity that we were searching for and we were very glad to have found it here in West Sweden.
Kayak i Grundsund offers self-guided kayaking adventures around the Gäso archipelago as well as the islands further north. Maps and induction lesson included. Guided tours are also available.
Grundsund is just a 1.5-hour drive from Gothenburg, the biggest city in West Sweden. Various airlines connect Gothenburg with other parts of Europe such as SAS and Norwegian Air.