Posts Tagged ‘Islands’

Lundy Island

Years ago I read a book called “Attention All Shipping: A Journey Round the Shipping Forecast” (highly recommended!) and this is where I first heard about Lundy Island – and I’ve been wanting to visit it ever since 🙂 It’s 11 miles off the coast of North Devon (2 hours by ferry from Ilfracombe), about 5 km long and 1-1.5 km wide. It’s an amazing place where you really get away from it all: no cars, no wifi, no tv’s, hardly any mobile signal (and you get fined if you use your mobile in the pub). There is one village (populated mostly by Landmark Trust wardens) with a shop and a tavern, where they let you run a tab 🙂 People are really friendly. There are no signposts, explanations or warning signs and you don’t even have to stay on the paths – you are encouraged to explore the island with your own common sense. I love this attitude, and I totally fell in love with Lundy Island!

But I’m getting ahead of myself now, let’s start from the beginning. It took me 6 hours to reach Ilfracombe from Reading, where I had been for a course at ECMWF. The next morning I went to the harbour to check in for the ferry. They give you colour coded labels for your luggage, which is loaded on the boat in crates. Ilfracombe is a pretty village, but (like many others) I had mixed feelings about the enourmous Damien Hirst sculpture in the harbour – it seems quite out of place there.

View over the harbour of Ilfracombe, with the Verity sculture by Damien Hirst From the other side the sculture is quite erm, cruel I think! Would look impressive in front of the Tate Modern or something, but it looks a bit out of place in this small harbour town - it's over 20 m tall!

It was cloudy with a bit of rain in Ilfracombe, but it cleared up during the two hour trip to Lundy. The MS Oldenburg rolls quite a lot though, and several people were getting seasick. I was just having fun 🙂 it was very exciting to see the island come into view. From the jetty, everybody has to climb the hill to the top of the island (they do take some people up in a Landrover), but luckily you don’t have to carry your luggage – they deliver it to your cottage 🙂 People were either visiting for the day (4 hours on the island), or for 2 or more days. I would have loved to stay for a whole week 😉 but I had to get back to work so I stayed for 2 nights.

The MS Oldenburg on the jetty at Lundy Island Climbing up to the top of the island

The Landmark Trust has lots of holiday rentals on the island, and they all look amazing. Millcombe House (below) sleeps 12 and is actually quite cheap if you share the cost with 12. I went to reception, where they told me my cottage was ready. I was more keen to just start hiking though, so I bought some chocolate biscuits (what’s a girl to do if the bread hasn’t arrived yet? 😉 ), rented binoculars and started walking. The sun was shining, it was going to be a beautiful day!

Millcombe House on Lundy, also a holiday rental! The tractor road that goes south to north on the island

There was flowering gorse, very pretty against the blue sky. I visited the ruins of some cottages that I think belonged to an old quarry.

Flowering gorse against the gorgeous blue sky! Ruins of cottages which I think belonged to the quarry

The view to the south was really nice 🙂

Daffodils & the view south Ruins seen from the other side

I continued my way north, alternating between walking on top of the cliffs or following some path lower down. The island is full of funny names, an easy way to keep track how far you’ve come are the walls that cross the island: quarter wall, halfway wall, and threequarter wall 🙂

Impressive rock formations! The threequarter wall - it's easy to know how far you've come on your hike :)

The views were amazing the whole way.

Panorama looking south - you can see there's several paths to follow, either on top of the cliffs or further down Nice views

The cottage is in the photo below is called Tibbetts – another holiday rental. It’s built on the highest point of the island, quite far from the village and it doesn’t have electricity, but what a view! It was originally built as a signal and watch station, in use until 1926. Would love to stay there once!

Tibbetts, which you can rent as well! It's a long way from the village and it doesn't have electricity, but what an amazing place to stay!!

Finally I reached my destionation: the north tip of Lundy Island. There is a lighthouse there, simple called the North Lighthouse (you can guess what the lighthouse at the south tip is called). A beautiful wild place, and I happened to catch the MS Oldenburg passing on its round-the-island trip. The lighthouse was built in 1897, and automated in 1985.

The North Lighthouse The MS Oldenburg was doing a tour of the island, before going back to the mainland, and I managed to catch it passing the north tip :)

The MS Oldenburg on its way around the island I loved the lighthouse :)

I spent quite some time around the lighthouse, before starting my way south again. I came across these Japanese Sika deer, they are so cute! They are indigenous to South East Asia, and were introduced to Lundy in 1927. They are supposed to be shy and hard to spot, but I saw quite a lot of them. They won’t let you come very close though.

Old railway to where provisions used to arrive - it's an automated lighthouse now Japanese Sika deer - very cute!

I walked back along the west side of the island, the wilder, Atlantic side, with spectacular cliffs…

The impressive wild cliffs on the west side of Lundy

Lundy also has wild sheep, a flock of Soay sheep originally from the Hebridean Islands, introduced to Lundy in 1944. They are adorable! The Highland cow was a lot less adorable, he started stamping at me when I tried to pass…

Lambs of the wild Soay sheep - aren't they adorable?? This one wasn't quite so adorable, he was stamping around and I got scared enough to take the long way round, through a swamp...

More pretty views…

Looking north And looking south. Wow :)

Walking towards The Old Light. Nearly 200 years old, this lighthouse was built for a lot of money but never worked well. It’s modern new flashing light actually caused a ship disaster in 1828, and in foggy conditions the lighthouse was too high up and lost in the fog. Finally it was abandoned in 1897 and replaced by the two lighthouses at the north and south tip.

On the way to the Old Light - can you guess the dominant wind direction? :) The Old Light

I was now nearing the southern part of the island again – time to finally go and visit my cottage: Hanmers. Hanmers was built by a fisherman on the path from the beach to the castle, and it has the most amazing views! I fell in love with this cottage, perhaps the prettiest place I ever stayed!

The Old Light Hanmers cottage, where I was lucky enough to spend 2 nights - perhaps the prettiest place I've ever stayed??

Here’s an impression of the cottage: two living rooms…

The living room of my cottage Another living room with books and games

The incredible view from the windows…

View from the window And view from the window looking south, you can see all along the island, so pretty!

One of the bedrooms (the other has a bunk bed), and the kitchen…

One of the bedrooms (it sleeps 4, there's another room with a bunk bed) The kitchen

St Helen’s church in the evening, and sunset at Hanmers…

St Helen's church in the evening Hanmers Cottage at sunset :)

The view to the village in the evening, I love the golden lights 🙂 and the view towards the mainland. In the evening I had dinner in the tavern, a very nice and social place.

View towards the village in the evening - love all the yellow lights :) the building with most lights on is the tavern ;) Night view towards the mainland, you could just about see the lights over there. The long exposure makes the sea glassy smooth, but it actually was very calm then

It had been a long day and I fell asleep early. After a couple of hours I woke up from a lot of noise: the wind had changed direction and got stronger, and the cottage was creaking like crazy in the wind. There were also other strange noises right behind my bed, which I tried to ignore 😉 The next day I found out those noises had come from a pygmy shrew that happily walked around the cottage, checking out the bins… (it’s a tiny mouse, but don’t say that on Lundy as THEY DON’T HAVE MICE 😛 ).

It was a very windy and rainy morning, so after breakfast at the tavern, I just had tea and biscuits and read books and looked at the view 🙂 until the rain stopped and I decided to go for a walk. I met some goats, and climbed to the top of the Old Light (which is always open) and sat in the deck chairs with an amazing view 🙂

Three goats, and if you look carefully on the left: two angry birds :D The deck chairs at the Old Light - what a great idea!

Climbing the Old Light The Old Light seen from the graveyard 'next door'

After that I visited the Battery, which I had skipped the day before. It’s another chapter in the ‘we need a lighthouse’ story. With the Old Light being problematic, they installed two cannons at the bottom of the cliff which they fired every 10 minutes (blank shots, which I assume means there’s no cannonball in there?? 😛 ) This was also abandoned when the North & South Lighthouses were built. I also visited the sculpture by Antony Gormley (famous from the Angel of the North) that was erected the day before. There was a group of people on the ferry with someone filming – I realised later it was Antony Gormley and his wife and I assume two journalists. One of them wrote this beautiful article about their visit and about his work.

Going down to the Battery, impressed by all the plants growing on the old wall This sculpture by Antony Gormley had been erected the day before, I actually walked past right afterwards but didn't want to disturb their ceremony

Just below the sculpture is the Devil’s Limekiln, a natural pit more than a 100 m deep. ‘Approach with care’ is all it says in the brochure – there seems to be a path around the edge. I took one look at that and decided against it – especially being on my own 😉

The Devil's Limekiln, a natural pit that's more than 100 m deep

That evening in the tavern was even more social as two women joined me – always very nice when you’re travelling alone! And later on I started talking to a man who was there to ring birds, and ended up being invited to join them to the bottom of a cliff to wait for Manx Shearwaters to fly into a net. It was such an amazing experience, it just shows that sometimes it’s totally fine to follow some strangers down a cliff in the dark 😉 They caught a couple, ringed them, and I got to release one of them 🙂 Andrew Cleave was kind enough to send me this photo, you can see from my grin how much I’m enjoying it!

Me holding  a Manx Shearwater

Walking back it was nearing midnight, and that’s when they turn off the electricity. It made me smile when all they could think off was getting to their cottage in time to put the kettle on for ‘one last cuppa’ – oh so British! 😀

The next day the MS Oldenburg was supposed to leave late in the afternoon, but we were told to come to the pub at 09:30 for ‘an announcement’. I was hoping we’d go back by helicopter, that’s an often used alternative when the weather is bad. But no, they decided to cancel the daytrippers and send the MS Oldenburg back as soon as it got there. So after breakfast I just went for a short walk around the village to take some last photos. This is the shop…

The shop

The tavern, and another cottage in front of the church.

The tavern, entrance on the left, and the reception on the right A cottage in front of the church

After paying my tabs at the shop and tavern, I made my way down the hill (your luggage gets picked up from the cottage again, a real luxury!).

Church & Gorse Back at the landing place...

I watched the MS Oldenburg arrive – it looked choppy!

The MS Oldenburg arriving with new visitors Arrival of the MS Oldenburg

And then it was time to leave…

Queueing for our choppy trip back to the mainland

The way back was so different from the way there. The weather was very different obviously, but one nice difference was that on the way back I knew a lot of people on board and I had a very social trip back. What a great trip 🙂 I fell in love with Lundy and hope I can come back again!

Brazil part 1: Ilha Grande

In November/December I decided to escape the dark time in Tromsø and catch some summer sun in the southern hemisphere: I spent 4 weeks in Brazil! I flew from Tromsø to London and from there direct to Rio de Janeiro. I was visiting friends there, but I only spent about 12 hours with them before I left for a 5 day adventure to Ilha Grande (I came back to Rio afterwards, but more on that later). I used a company called EasyTransfer to get there: they picked me up from my door, and with a minibus full of excited backpackers we drove to Conceição de Jacare (about 2 hours from Rio), from where we caught a boat ride to Vila Abraão on Ilha Grande (about 45 minutes). See below for a map of the journey…

The journey from Rio de Janeiro to Ilha Grande: 2 hours by car and 45 minutes by boat Walking to our boat at Conceição de Jacare

The trip there is a great way of meeting people, and I was lucky enough to meet a really fun group of French people (part of a samba band from Paris 😀 ) with whom I spent most of my time on the island. It took me a while to locate my pousada (Brazilian guesthouse) but I didn’t mind walking through the sandy streets of Vila Abraão. The island is car free (no proper roads either!) and has a very relaxed atmosphere. I stayed at Aratinga Inn, a wonderful place. A super friendly owner, beautiful rooms, a hammock and an afternoon tea with wayyy too many cakes to try – who could ask for more? 😀

My guesthouse Relaxing in my hammock :)

The next day I joined the French group for a day of hiking, to Lopes Mendes, a famous beach on the south side of the island.

The hike from Vila Abraão to Lopes Mendes - crossing a hill in the jungle, followed by beach hopping. On the way back we took a water taxi

We started from the beach, then climbed up through the jungle. At some point we had a nice view back to the village…

The beach at Vila Abraão Vila Abraão

We walked through Atlantic rainforest, which was so exotic to me 🙂

Marie walking through the jungle Reaching an open area near the top

Lots of critters everywhere, and very lush vegetation.

Giant ants! Intertwined :) The only butterfly I managed to capture - there were some huge fluorescent blue ones flying around, but they never sat down!

Then imagine, after a sweaty uphill hike through the jungly, the path finally descends until you reach this view… Palmas beach 🙂

Amazing moment when you come out of the jungly and see THIS! With Ivo, Marie and Karim. Photo borrowed from Karim :)

Time for a coconut and a refreshing dip in the sea!

Beautiful Palmas Beach Enjoying a coconut with Marie

We didn’t rest for for too long though, we were only halfway through our hike here…

Island life :) Photo borrowed from Karim. Oh Isla Grande, you are a dream! Driftwood artwork

But I couldn’t help slowing down for lots and lots of photos along the way…

A booby on the doorstep :D Bye bye beautiful Palmas beach! Arriving at the next beach: Pouso

Not long after Palmas beach we reached the next beautiful beach: Pouso.

Pouso beach P A R A D I S E !!!

Another paradise, postcard-perfect beach!

Giant shadow of a palm tree :) A very pretty boat. The taxi we took back was the one to the right though :D

We didn’t stop for a swim though, as we were close to our final destination now. We did stop to negotiate a water taxi back from this beach as late as possible (at 18:30), so we could enjoy Lopes Mendes to the fullest (you can’t take boats from Lopes Mendes as the waves are too big there).

It didn’t take long to reach Lopes Mendes from there, a HUGE white beach with sand so fine it squeaks under your feet 😀

The entrance to Lopes Mendes Lopes Mendes

We found a very Brazilian photo opportunity that we couldn’t resist…

The whole group on the beach. Photo borrowed from Karim. Lopes Mendes

And then we swam (well, more like: played in the big waves until they got too big for my liking), and had lunch, and relaxed, and went for walks, and took lots of photos… 🙂

A coconut on the beach Fun on the beach Ivo who we nicknamed 'the king of selfies' ;)

Until it was time to catch our water taxi back to Vila Abraão. A caipirinha on the beach at sunset, followed by a big dinner. Followed by SLEEP – I was totally exhausted, but it had been a perfect day 🙂

Sunset Caipirinha time! Photo by Etienne. Followed by a great dinner. Photo borrowed from Karim.

The water taxi guy had convinced us to book his boat for the whole next day, to enjoy more beaches and to go snorkelling. Here we discovered the not-so-paradise side of the island: huge container ships passing and a snorkelling place that was very crowded with quite a lot of rubbish floating around. Our next stop was an idyllic beach though, where we had lunch and swam and read in the shade. The highlight of the day though, was stopping at a floating bar where we drank caipirinhas…

The floating bar Relaxing at the bar

… but best of all, where we snorkelled with TURTLES. Oh this was pure magic! Owls are associated with wisdom, but I think it should be sea turtles instead. They look so wise and old, and swim calmly. It was a dream and a feeling of total freedom to be able to snorkel next to these amazing creatures…

A sea turtle!! And a sea turtle photographed with an underwater camera

There were lots of turtles and we couldn’t get enough of taking photos of them…

Papparazzi stalking a turtle Thomas and the turtle... :)

We stopped for more snorkelling at the Blue Lagoon…

Pretty fishes :) Very long skinny fish... the guy from the boat told me the name but I forgot!

Our final stop was at a beach where we walked to a nice waterfall.

Marie at the waterfall Nice views during the hike

We saw monkeys during the hike, including a baby one! I didn’t get any good photos of them, but it was an amazing experience. We got back to the beach at sunset, time to go back…

Jackfruit Back at the beach at sunset Boarding 'our' boat for the last time

Most of the French group was leaving the next day, so we went for a very nice dinner on the beach…

Last dinner on the beach... Photo borrowed from Karim.

The next day some people were planning to climb Pico do Papagaio, a spectacular 982 m high mountain shaped as a parrot’s beak. I REALLY wanted to climb it, but I had burnt my back pretty badly during the day on the boat and I was very tired. So instead I had a very lazy day, reading in my hammock and going for a short walk. At the pousada, a roadrunner type bird ran into my bathroom 😀

Some sort of roadrunner bird ran into my room! Just before it escaped and ran away like a meep-meep

I took some photos around the village as well. The amazing VERY blue church…

The blue church that we often used as a meeting point There was a bird in the cage next to the blue church!

At the waterfront 🙂

Vila Abraão waterfront Very tall palm trees! Watch out for falling coconuts... yeah I imagine if they fall from those high trees they hit you HARD

And some more village views…

Typical sandy street in Vila Abraã Church in the centre

The lush vegetation always amazed me 🙂

A tree with red flowers Plants growing all over a tree

And on my short walk I encountered the vultures that are souring in the sky over the island all day long, another pretty beach, and an old aqueduct built in 1893 with stones and whale oil 😀 (and it’s still in use!).

Vulture on the beach Another pretty beach Aqueduct built with stones and whale oil in 1893, and still in use!

In the evening I met up with the exhausted Pico do Papagaio climbers, who were joined by two Englishmen who turned out to be members of Norwich Samba Band – the world is a small place 😀 I was very envious of the amazing photos they came back with, but judging by the exhaustion of these much-fitter people I was convinced that I had taken the right decision. The next day it was time to say goodbye to Paradise Island, and head back to noisy Rio de Janeiro… One last look, and in this photo you can clearly see Pico do Papagaio.

Cocktails and BBQ at the beach. Photo by Etienne. One last look at Ilha Grande, and here you can clearly recognize Pico do Papagaio!

Ilha Grande was truly a dream, such a laid-back, beautiful, exotic island. Go there if you have the chance! I can’t even capture it all in my photos, as the incredible sounds of the jungle (especially at night), the music playing everywhere, and the fantastic sea food and other dishes are a large part of the experience!

Texel

After my brother’s birthday and the weekend full of family visits, I went to Texel for 5 days with my parents. Texel is one of the Dutch islands (like Vlieland and Terschelling). Texel is the largest of the islands, and the easiest one to reach from my parents. My dad had to wait for their new kitchen to be delivered on Tuesday morning, so my mum and I travelled there by train, ferry and bus. We rented a small bungalow in Landal Park de Sluftervallei.

It was a very rainy day, but by the time we reached our bungalow, it started to clear up. We had only just arrived when these two pheasants decided to pay us a visit. I had a new lens with me (a Canon 75-300 mm telezoom), they were perfect “victims” to try it on 😀

We had visitors: a pair of pheasants The males are so colourful

And here is his wife Very pretty as well :)

We rented bicycles, and I decided to go for a bike ride after dinner. I cycled to the north tip of the island, where the lighthouse is situated. I also cycled past the ferry “terminal” for the ferry between Texel and the next island (Vlieland). This ferry is only for pedestrians and bikes, and is used a lot by people who are “island hopping” by bike. This is something I would very much like to do one day 🙂 In summer, all the islands are connected by small ferries, so you can cycle from island to island without returning to the mainland.

The lighthouse on the north tip of Texel The ferry from Texel to the next island (Vlieland), only for pedestrians and bikes

The sun came out eventually 🙂 I cycled back through this tunnel of trees, with wildflowers on the sides – so pretty.

Beautiful clouds, especially when the sun came out Cycling back through a tunnel of trees

The next day I went cycling with my mum. We followed the cycle path along the edge of the dunes, until we came to some stair leading to the other side. Here we went for a walk along the Slufter, a dune valley where the water is connected to the sea and experiences tides. It started to get quite warm, and we really enjoyed watching all the birds and flowers along the path. We even saw a spoonbill (lepelaar), a very pretty bird that unfortunately I didn’t get a good photo of.

The Slufter, the water here is connected to the sea Sea pink/thrift (Engels Gras in Dutch) growing in the dunes The path we followed

After our walk, we cycled to the small airport where there is a nice cafe with outside terrace so we can see all the small planes land and take off, and people parachuting. Pity my youngest brother couldn’t come to visit us, he just got his small plane licence! Our visit turned quite strange when we witnessed a parachuting accident – the parachute got tangled in its lines and the guy came down upside down. He came down so slowly and (seemingly) controlled, that I thought he was an acrobate who did it on purpose. We didn’t see his landing as it was behind a building, but he was taken away by helicopter ambulance a while later. From what we’ve heard and read, he was lucky – he was conscious and had feelings in arms and legs after the crash, but complained of pain in his back. In the local newspaper it was mentioned briefly as a “unhappy landing” so I think everything ended relatively well, but it was strange to witness something like that.

Anyway… in the mean time my dad had driven to Texel and we cycled back to our bungalow to meet up with him. After some sunbathing in the garden, I took my parents on the same bike ride I took the previous evening. This time the ferry to Vlieland was about to leave, it was fun watching all the cyclists getting on board!

Impressive clouds at low tide Cyclists ready to board the ferry to Vlieland

Another bike getting on board Queueing for the ferry to Vlieland

It was a really nice evening, and I decided to cycle to the beach to watch the sunset. It was so beautiful and calm there… only a few people left, some fishing boats close the beach, and no wind at all. A couple of people were fishing from the beach, it was fun to watch them – and with the new lens I can be paparazzi without them noticing 😉

The fishing boats were fishing quite close to the beach LOTS of small beach huts :)

Such a beautiful evening There were some people fishing from the beach

A family spending the evening on the beach Getting out into the waves

Waiting... Huge grin after a catch :)

The next morning it was rainy, a perfect time to visit Ecomare. This museum is most famous as a seal sanctuary, it takes cary of several baby seals that are orphaned, as well as older ones that can’t be released (due to illnesses/handicaps that they wouldn’t survive with in the wild), but it’s also a really great museum about the nature on Texel and the Wadden Sea. We spent several hours here, it was really interesting 🙂

One of the seals in Ecomare, this one is a young orphan They usually put the seals back after they've recovered but some seals get to stay as they wouldn't survive in the wild for various reasons

In the afternoon it suddenly cleared up completely, and after an early dinner we decided to go for a bike trip. We cycled along the dyke, full of wildflowers (and sheep), with the sea and lots of birds on the other side – so pretty!

Cycling on the wrong side of the dyke - it was very windy on the inside, while the outside was sheltered Texel is famous for its sheep

View from the top of the dyke This construction was used as a beacon for ships, even if it had no light

A house just behind the dyke

We visited Oosterend, a small village built around a church. Really nice 🙂

The village of Oosterend Oosterend - we had dinner in the restaurant on the left the next day

It was a beautiful evening and to our surprise we found a cafe that was still open – time for ice cream and cold drinks before the last kilometres to our bungalow. Well-deserved after nearly 30 km of cycling after dinner!

Such a lovely evening!

The disadvantage of staying on the north side of the island, is that it’s quite a long way to get to the southern part (about 25 km). But my dad had a solution: he managed to put all three bikes in the back of the car, and we drove south to a nice place to start a bike trip from. Our first stop was Oudeschild, the only real harbour on Texel. It was nice to watch people work on the ships, maintaining the nets, etc. The boats here mainly fish for sole and plaice on the North Sea, and there are several shrimp boats that let you join on their trip. You can read more about fishery on Texel here.

Fishing boat in the harbour of Oudeschild Maintenance of the nets

Colourful characters working in the harbour! More maintenance of the nets

The day started grey, but it soon cleared up to a warm and sunny day. We watched a navy boat come in (the Dutch navy has its headquarters in nearby Den Helder), and a fishing boat coming back. Most of the fishing boat are beam-trawlers (80% of fish caught by the Dutch is caught with this technique), some are now replaced by pulse-trawlers which use (weak) electrical shocks instead of heavy weights to get the flatfish from the bottom – and is therefore friendlier to other marine life living at the bottom of the sea.

My dad watching a Navy boat arrive A shrimp boat coming back from the sea

We cycled to the beach on the other side of the island, and passed this lake full of birdlife on the way.

A lake full of birds near the sea More beach huts :)

It was warm enough for some paddling in the sea, but we could see some threatening clouds on the horizon. We decided to make our way back towards the car just in case. We found these heath spotted orchids (gevlekte orchis in Dutch) in a field along the way. Unfortunately we didn’t manage to escape from the rain shower, although by the time by had all our rain gear on, the rain had stopped already 😀

Orchids

We spent some time in Den Burg, the capital of Texel. Quite a nice place! After some shopping, and a coffee/tea break at a bakery, it was time to cycle back to the car.

A shop in the Den Burg, the capital of Texel - this one belongs to the daughter of our neighbours A typical Texel sheep shed, with its door facing away from the dominant wind direction

The next day it was time to leave Texel… it was a beautiful sunny day but VERY windy so it wouldn’t have been good for cycling anyway 😉 It was sad to leave, Texel is such a nice place, and I could have easily spent another week there.

A seagull seen from the ferry - they were struggling against the wind Lunch break at the coast - but it was so windy we ate our sandwiches inside the car!

It was a perfect little holiday, but that evening it was time to fly back to Tromsø – with a suntan and many good memories 🙂

Cycling around Hiiumaa (Estonia)

(Better late than never right? This cycling holiday in Estonia was 3 months ago…)

We visited Estonia in early May, and after a few days in very pretty – but very touristy – Tallinn, we left for a cycling trip to an island called Hiiumaa. We rented bikes from Citybike who are based in Tallinn. They are excellent! They can arrange almost everything. You can book complete trips with accommodation included, but we decided to design our own trip. We arranged a transfer from Tallinn to Haapsalu, an easy cycle away from the ferry to Hiiumaa.

Here’s a map of our 5 days of cyling… (click to enlarge)

Map of our cycle trip on the island of Hiuumaa.

Day 1: Haapsalu to Orjaku (36 km of cycling, plus a ferry crossing)

We had visited Citybike the day before, and picked up our panniers so we could pack them with our clothes and quite a lot of food. We knew we’d be staying in quite remote areas without many facilities so were took almost all the food we needed with us. We left the rest of our luggage behind at City Bike.  Toomas (the owner) drove us and two Russian ladies to Haapsalu, which took about 1.5 hours. From there, it’s 10 km to Rohuküla, from where the ferry to Hiiumaa departs.

I managed to buy a gps map of Estonia before we left Norway. This was quite a challenge as the Garmin website (and instructions) were only in Estonian, and credit cards were not accepted for payment, but the customer support people were really friendly so I managed in the end. I had preloaded our planned routes into the gps as well. This was a HUGE advantage on our trip, as we never had to study the map. The gps even worked as a satnav, and came up with alternative route suggestions if necessary.

After a quick stop for lunch at a supermarket, we left Haapsalu. It looked like a really nice town, full of colourful wooden buildings housing art galleries and cafes. Too bad we had a ferry to catch! Just outside Haapsalu we came accross the old train station (not in use anymore) from where there used to be direct trains to St Petersburg. Now there is a museum and lots of old trains on display. The second photo was taken just before the ferry crossing – lots and lots of wood coming from Hiiumaa.

One of the old locomotives at Haapsalu station. There used to be a direct connection to St Petersburg from here. A preview of Hiiuumaa: LOTS and LOTS of wood :)

The day had started grey, but on the island we had sunshine. It wasn’t very warm though, we were actually really happy that we brought gloves with us! After the cars from the ferry had passed us, the roads were almost empty and the cycling was very easy.

Nice and quiet country roads Paul cycling on the Kassari Peninsula

When we crossed the bridge to the Kassari peninsula, we noticed lots of people. They were all fishing 😀 This turned out to be a very popular activity on Hiuumaa, the only times we saw lots of people were at fishing spots…

Fishing is very popular, we didn't meet a lot of people on the way except when we passed a stream full of fish...

We reached our accommodation in Orjaku at around dinner time. We stayed in wonderful Dagen Haus, a beautifully renovated old building. Look at that window in our bedroom… I could watch that view for days! We were the only guests, and we used the kitchen to make dinner. Afterwards, we went for a walk along the water. This area is perfect if you like bird watching 🙂 I wished we could have stayed there longer, it’s one of the prettiest areas of the island.

Our lovely room at Dagen Haus. I could sit there and watch the birds all day! During a walk in the evening, watching lots of birds - I think I counted 25 swans on the water behind us!

Day 2: Orjaku to Ristna (52 km)

The next day we woke up to… SNOW! Can you believe it? It was wet snow and luckily not sticking on the ground, but this shows what the temperatures were like. The owner of Dagen Haus prepared a really nice breakfast for us, including a large slice of cake :D. By the time we left, the snow had turned to rain. Our destination of the day was the western tip of Hiiumaa, and to get there we took minor roads through the central part of the island. These are all dirt roads, and with the rain we ended up caked in mud…

Still, it was nice cycling through the countryside, with very nice farmhouses.

Dirt roads through central Hiiumaa - in combination with rain it resulted in VERY dirty bikes/trousers One of the many deserted houses we passed, though this one seems to be in use as a shed.

After a while, the countryside gave way to a forest. There were hardly any houses in this part, and we didn’t see anybody for hours.

Central Hiiumaa is mostly forest, for miles and miles...

Later on we joined the main road again and shortly after we reached the Kõpu peninsula. The road here was asphalted, and very straight. It was a bit of a tough day, with so much rain and quite a distance to cover. We were really glad to reach the Kõpu lighthouse, which was open AND it had a cafe! Tired, cold and hungry, we couldn’t believe our luck 🙂 The tourist season had only just started, the lighthouse had opened just 2 days before, on the 1st of May. There were 2 guys in 2 separate parts of the building: one selling tickets to visit the lighthouse and also running a small tourist shop, and one running the cafe. I honestly think we were the only tourists on the island that week so I bet they were glad to see us 😛

After cycling through the rainy forest for hours, this cafe was a very welcome break Tea to warm our hands up, while waiting for sausages with fries :)

After a nice meal of sausages and fries, we visited the lighthouse itself. Kõpu lighthouse is one of the oldest lighthouses in the world, built in 1531. A very interesting building! We enjoyed our visit, even though it was cold and windy on the top. From our tickets, we could see we were visitors number 2 and 3 that season, no surprise 😀 but I do wonder who the first one was!

Kõpu Lighthouse, dating from 1531! Insude Kõpu Lighthouse - endless stairs

From the lighthouse, it wasn’t very far to our accommodation. We rented a cottage from the owner of Dagen Haus, the small Puumetsa cottage. On the way, we passed a small farming village where we found this Russian phone booth. The other photo shows our cottage, very pretty! It had a fireplace, and a wood-fired sauna, which was excellent at the end of such a cold and wet day 🙂

A Russian phone booth in the middle of nowhere. Next to it was a disconnected modern phone... odd! Our little house for 2 nights, wonderful! It had a fireplace and a wood-fired sauna :)

Day 3: Around Ristna (about 10 km)

We booked the cabin at Ristna for 2 nights, so that we could spend some time exploring the area. Close to the cabin, we came upon this abandoned Russian building. Estonia was part of the Soviet Union from 1944 to 1991, and you can find traces of this everywhere around Hiiumaa. On the walls of this building were layers off wallpaper that were peeling off, and underneath were Russian newspapers from the 80s. This illustration is about the Falkland War…

An abandoned building that belonged to the Russians. Looks like it used to be quite pretty! The rooms had several layers of wallpaper, including a layer of newspapers from the 80s. This article is about the Falklands war.

We also visited this Russian watchtower. Paul was brave enough to climb to the top, I didn’t like the look of the falling apart building and preferred to stay outside. Afterwards, we visited Ristna lighthouse. This one also opened on the 1st of May, but we couldn’t find any sign of somebody to buy tickets from. The door was open though, so we climbed the tower anyway.

An old Russian watch tower - Paul was brave enough to climb up! Ristna lighthouse, at the western most point of Hiiumaa.

When I came down, somebody had arrived so we bought our tickets 😀 She also ran a small cafe which unfortunately didn’t serve warm food yet, instead we stocked up on crisps as we were quite hungry!

Impressive door to the lighthouse On top of Ristna lighthouse, with the cafe in the background.

Afterwards, we went for a walk along the beach. We hardly saw anybody all day, it was lovely. Close to the sea we found this funny hairy flowers.

Skies cleared up in the afternoon and we went for a nice walk along the beach We found this funny hairy flowers close to the beach

Speaking of flowers, here are some more flowers I found on Hiuumaa. So pretty!

Speaking about flowers, these were everywhere in the forest. So pretty! Especially as it was still early spring and not very green otherwise And some more pretty flowers :)

Here is Paul cycling back to our cabin at the end of a fun day 🙂

Cycling back to our cabin in the evening sun

Day 4: Ristna to Kärdla (47 km)

The next morning the sun was still shining and it was noticeably warmer. We had breakfast outside, with this view overhead…

The view from (or rather: above) our sunny breakfast table in the morning

The cycle from Ristna to Kärdla was really pretty, especially when we followed minor roads through the forests. We found this windmill, slightly falling apart. We also visited the Hill of Crosses, an impressive place full of crosses made of natural materials. If it’s your first visit to Hiiumaa, you’re supposed to add a cross to the hill. You can read more about the origin of this place here.

A slightly falling apart windmill A break with some chocolate at an old church

We reached Kärdla, the capital of Hiiumaa in the early evening. What a nice town! It mostly consists of detached houses with large gardens, and it feels more like the countryside than the capital. We stayed in Nordtooder, a hotel right on the central square. It’s really nicely decorated. They were just changing ownership, and the restaurant wasn’t actually open, but it was a very friendly place. In the evening we tried to go out for dinner, but everything closed very early as it was still off season. Finally we had a burger in the supermarket cafe 😀 and bought some more munchies and a game of dominos to entertain ourselves in our hotelroom.

Kärdla is a very sleepy but friendly town, full of detached houses with nice gardens Another pretty house in Kärdla A nice park near the sea in Kärdla, with lots of wood carvings

Day 5: Daytrip from Ristna to Tahkuna Lighthouse (47 km)

We had breakfast with pancaked, yum! It was served by one of the owners, a very quiet man. Suddenly he grabbed a guitar and started singing. The song was in Estonian so I have no idea what it was about, but it was beautiful and full of nostalgia… so beautiful. What a surprise, a serenade for breakfast 😀

We started our day by visiting the tourist information, where they were very happy to see us, and really helpful 🙂 We also went to the bus station, where we were supposed to leave our bikes later in the day, to be sent back to Tallinn by cargo bus. It was a bit of a hassle, as they said the bikes would have to be packed in cardboard, but luckily a quick phone call with Citybike sorted everything out. After buying some food for lunch, we were off on our daytrip to the Tahkuna peninsula.

We took a small road through the forest and reached the northern part of the peninsula relatively fast. Our first stop was the lighthouse 🙂 A very pretty white one. The top had been replaced at some point, and the old top was standing in the garden.

Paul cycling on the deserted roads near Tahkuna lighthouse The old top of the lighthouse

The views from the lighthouse were very nice, you can see a lot of the coastline with beautiful sandy beaches and the forests behind. After our visit, we had lunch on the beach with a nice view of the lighthouse.

Enjoying the views from Tahkuna lighthouse The beach seen from Tahkuna lighthouse... ... and Tahkuna lighthouse seen from the beach :)

But first we also visited the memorial to the MS Estonia, a ferry that sunk on 28 september 1994, killing 852… I remember watching the news of this terrible accident back then, I was 13.  Tahkuna was the nearest bit of land to where the ship sank, that’s why the monument has been placed here.  It’s a bell hanging from a cross, and apparently the bell starts ringing in strong winds. That must be eerie… The bell had childrens faces, obviously modelled from a doll.

A memorial for the MS Estonia, that sunk not so far from here on 28 September 1994, claiming 852 lives. The bell will ring in strong winds... The monument is dedicated to the children lost in the disaster (all children on board died), those who lost their parents, and children who will never be born because of the disaster... I find that last one a bit odd!

There are many Soviet bunkers on the Tahkuna peninsula, and all of them are open for exploring! You’re even encouraged to bring a headtorch and have a look around. And so we did… of course these bunkers have been stripped from almost everything they contained, so there is not that much to see. I can’t stand walking around in these cold, dark, concrete buildings for very long, but they used to have electricity so perhaps it wasn’t so bad back then.

One of the bunkers we explored Bunk beds in a bunker... cosy! But they did have electricity then, so I am sure it used to be nicer

Most of them are small, but we also visited a large one which had several floors. Suddenly we heard voices in the distance… you’d never believe it, but a whole group of DUTCH students was entering the bunker with a tour guide. During our entire stay in Hiiumaa we didn’t meet a single tourist, but here in an underground bunker we meet a busload of Dutch ones 😀 I think they were students on some kind of history tour.

Paul exploring the multi storey bunker Me sitting on top of the big bunker, we could actually hear the guide speaking down below us :D

After our visit to the bunker, we had to more or less hurry straight back to Kärdla, as we had to deliver our bikes to the bus station before the office closed. The road went mostly through the forest so we didn’t see much of the beaches. At some point we found a little path leading to the beach, so we went to have a look. So beautiful… we were both frustrated that we had to continue instead of spending more time at this lovely coast.

 

Hiiumaa has many beautiful beaches! The beautiful coastline, pity we couldn't see much of it from the road due to all the trees

We went for dinner at the restaurant by the sea, which was closed the night before. This time it was open, but they were holding a belly dancing event, so we were asked to sit in the corner. It turned out the local belly dancing club was giving a performance, and it seemed like everybody in town was there to watch! It was a lot of fun watching everybody arrive and seeing some of the dances. After dinner, we went for a last walk around Kärdla – we were leaving the next morning.

Wooden boats at Kärdla Swan swimming in the sea

Day 6: Kärdla to Tallinn (by plane)

On Saturday morning we had an early breakfast (without any concerts). The bus stop for the airport was just a few steps from the hotel. The bus was tiny, and we were the only passengers. For the enormous fee of 0.60 euro per person we had private transport to the airport 😀 It’s located 7 km out of town and it’s very small. One of those airports where  everybody is multitasking 😉 The flight to Tallinn takes only half an hour, and there were 2 more passengers besides us. We only paid 20 euros each for our tickets… crazy!

The small plane at Kärdla airport

It was a pretty flight, and the flight attendents came about 3 times with a bowl of sweets 😀 What a nice experience!

In Tallinn, we delivered our panier backs back to Citybike and picked up the rest of our luggage. We took the ferry over to Helsinki in the afternoon, where I was attending a course for a week.

We really enjoyed our trip to Hiiumaa, it’s a very pretty laid-back island without much traffic – perfect for cycling. I’m sure it gets a lot busier in summer, which will add a bit more life. We’d love to come back when it’s slightly warmer and we can swim in the sea 🙂 We’re hoping to come back at some point, and also explore the island of Saaremaa to the south. It was such an easy cycle trip to arrange with the help of Citybike, can recommend it to anyone!