Hailuoto Island

9 Sep

This is what The Rough Guide to Finland says about the Hailuoto Island:

‘Oulu’s best beaches are to be found on pristine Hailuoto…a perfect way to get here is to hire a bike in Oulu from Pyörä-Suvala…and then cycle out to the ferry in Oulunsalo, a distance of around 27km. The ferry runs all day at roughly hourly intervals and take half an hour to make the crossing.’

Sounds relatively easy right? Sounds like a nice easy jaunt, as though it’s not too far. But in fact, if you Google map it, it’s actually quite a distance. And the ferry leaves from Riutunkari, a part of Oulunsalo and not the city centre, which is an extra 12km (ish) from the city centre.

I did not know this when I set out in the morning and actually thought it was relatively close to the Oulu city centre (mistake) and thus did not pack accordingly. It was worth the ten hour round trip, believe me, but I would advise taking the proper provisions. There are places to stop for food on the way, but not many, and after passing Oulunsalo city centre there’s very little until you reach the ferry. If you’re going in September or later you will need warm gloves and socks at the very least because mornings are cold and it doesn’t get much better by lunch.

That all said, cycling to Hailuoto was a great way to see the Finnish countryside and I made two new friends whilst doing it. We arranged the trip via the exchange group on Facebook and had a brilliant day, even though we had only just met.

I began at 9am from the Linnanmaa campus and met the other two girls at Tirolintie, another cluster of student apartments. We cycled along the edge of the city until we made the highway. The route to Oulunsalo is signposted well (as most routes are) and after about an hour we reached the city centre – although we didn’t realise it was such until we asked an old Finnish man for directions. Maybe it was so quiet because it was a Saturday morning, but it was a very humble city centre.

From there we made our way out onto the highway again. The cycling here in Finland is great because the network of bike lanes is so extensive. Instead of cycling on the highway you can cycle alongside it on very wide, very smooth paths. I expected a lot more potholes in a place with such harsh winters, but I was surprised to find that it was easy going the majority of the way.

We passed many open fields and felt surrounded by the wild. Often there were abandoned sheds in them and very little livestock. We passed through a  few small ‘villages’; groups of about ten or twenty houses, often very beautiful and elaborate and usually with a school set in the middle. All of them were quiet, and we passed very few people. Occasionally a moped or mini-motorcycle would come humming along the cyclepath (which seems to be the norm here), surprised and sometimes baffled to see us foreign cyclists. You must watch out for these because I don’t think that they expect company and occasionally we had to move quickly to get out of the way.

We passed only one other group of cyclists on the way, who looked like they were going a long distance, and they looked much better prepared! Panniers, waterproofs and everything. It made us look like rookies!

We finally ran out of a cycle path after this and passed a very small, very tired looking village. Despite this, they still had a football pitch and a slide in a makeshift playground. The road here was the worst, especially for my racing-style bike, as it suffered from a lot of pot-holes and rough stones. I had to concentrate hard not to get bumped off my bike by a stray stone or particularly deep hole.

After this we were forced to cycle on the open road. Normally I hate this, but it was fine; there weren’t enough cars for it to be a problem and they had plenty of space to go around us. The worst thing was that they were probably all laughing at us from their warm, fast vehicles. It was quite a monotonous ride for a while, with our view being only the single, straight road and trees on either side.

When we did reach the coast we realised that our effort had been worth it. It was stunning. The sky and the sea were so blue and you could hardly tell where one ended and the other began. It was so peaceful that none of the wind turbines were turning; everything was still and calm. A wave of excitement washed over our group, giving us all a burst of energy after the long ride.

Before you get on the ferry you can get snacks at a small hut and use the toilet (which is free and pretty clean, much better than the one on the other side). There are also maps, brochures and postcards for sale, and a giant map showing you the island. We had lunch on a bench whilst we waited for the ferry and enjoyed the sunshine. By this point I hadn’t been able to feel my toes for about an hour and tried to massage some life back into them and soak up the weak sun that was shining down on us. It was nearing 1.30pm so I bought some chocolate for energy to eat alongside my peanut butter sandwich, and was glad for the extra sugar.

The ferry itself was larger than I expected, although this would make sense as it seems to be quite a popular summer destination for the Finns. One of my riding companions also told me that many people from Oulu choose to buy retirement homes on the island, which doesn’t surprise me. It’s a truly beautiful place. In winter the ferry doesn’t operate; instead you can drive across the ice!

     

We were the only cyclists crossing, and once we reached the other side we realised why. Once again a long, wide road stretched out in front of us. Sadly, Hailuoto’s action all seems to take place on the other side of the island. That’s about 20km of riding before you find anything worthwhile. It was beautiful, but it was dull. Next time it would make much more sense to grab a bus or hitch a ride to the other side and back. At the time, however, we didn’t realise this. We cycled for nearly an hour and stop at the place labelled ‘potti’ on the map.  We had a short break as we admired our surroundings. Pictures can’t capture the atmosphere and the colours of the water and the sky. In the distance we could see livestock (possibly cows, but they were so far away) grazing and I thought to myself ‘such lucky animals!’ I also thought how good the meat would be from them, roaming around, completely carefree in their beautiful environment.

       

After this we headed back, content that we had at least seen something of the island. We all said how much we would like to go back in the summer and camp. It felt like we had only really scratched the surface of the experience of Hailuoto and I would have loved to see more. There is only a small paragraph on it in The Rough Guide to Finland and I think it deserves more, if the outdoors if your kind of thing.

It was a long journey home and we stopped many times to rest our legs. Although it was easy cycling it was getting to 5.30pm and it had been a long day. The sunny afternoon turned into a classic autumnal evening, with the sun shining gold on the fields. When we finally made it back to Oulu we were nearly exhausted, but the view over the river lifted our spirits enough to get us home (just).

All in all it took 10.5 hours and we cycled roughly 90km/55miles. Essentially, from Bournemouth to London. If I had known that when I started I wouldn’t have gone, I wouldn’t have thought it possible. Which is why I’m glad I didn’t know.

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One Response to “Hailuoto Island”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Hello Oulu! « Finland and Back - January 12, 2013

    […] Cycling to Hailuoto Island – One of the longest and craziest bike journeys that I’ve participated in! It led to me making a lifelon friend and seeing one of the most beautiful places in Northern Finland. […]

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