Experimental Visions From Sweden’s Saint Anna Archipelago
Five meandering days spent kayak camping, star gazing, and forest bathing among the Baltic Sea's many private islands
Kodak Portra 400, Fujicolor 200C film
With over 6,000 islands, islets, and reefs Sweden’s Sankt Anna Archipelago is ideally explored by kayak and perfect for wild camping. With a mixture of old bedrock and a geologically young landscape, it’s one of those lesser-known magical places that you will always long to return to. Widely regarded as one of Scandinavia’s best kayaking destinations, its limited sea traffic and infinite routes amongst the maze of islands and skerries make it a paradise for paddlers of all skill levels. Other reasons to keep visiting are the diversity of plant and animal life and ever-changing scenery, with the land rising by 2-3 millimeters annually and new land appearing yet in the outer archipelago.
The following journal entries capture the mood and magic of the region over a five-day trip this past August.
Everything turned turquoise after sunset. We lay awake on the rocks waiting for shooting stars under a red moon. I was lucky enough to see three. Made one wish. Saved two for later. It was the tail end of the Perseid Meteor Shower. I camped on granite close to the shore, tent covered in fairy lights. We stayed at Häradsskär for another day and night, woken up by morning birds.
Still camped at Häradsskär, our own private island, we had kayaked against strong winds in the afternoon but everything became still before dusk. I tried to capture all the things you can’t see in pictures: the sound of birch trees in the wind mixed with the chants of insects, the soft back and forth of the water, the citronella in the air... I soon realized it was easier to write it down and went to sleep.
With our kayaks parked after a few hours of rain and grey, we witnessed the mother of all sunsets. The light was warm and its changing colors lasted for hours, ending in a crazy sea of lilac, mirrored in the still water and dozens of tiny pools created by the storm on Sankt Anna’s 1.9 billion year old gneiss and granite rock.
For our last night we set camp on an idyllic spot nicknamed “Paradise Island” due to its long, sandy beach guarded by tall pine trees. I jumped in to swim with the thousands of moon jellyfish that inhabit this part of the Baltic. The real name is Skällö but it will always be Paradise Island.
Still water. Rough water. Still water. After paddling for two hours, we make it to our final destination. Time to say goodbye to this beautiful place. Internal monologue going something like this: “Too late to turn back but I’m sure I can just stow away in the middle compartment of the double kayak. No one will notice. I’ve read Robinson Crusoe and seen Cast Away. It’ll be fine. Hide. Keep quiet. Act normal. Stay.”