Hailuoto Day Trip from Oulu: Marjaniemi Lighthouse + Keskiniemi Beacon

We visited Hailuoto on Thursday the 14th of September, 2014. It’s a very beautiful and flat island in the northern Baltic Sea in Finland.

Bus 59S from Oulu to Marjaniemi Lighthouse on Hailuoto

Planning this trip wasn’t very difficult; the bus is on Google Maps. Jonas figured out it’s possible to pay with a (debit) card on the bus, so all we had to do was pack our bags and be at the bus stop on time. We walked to this bus stop on Saaristonkatu where there was a woman waiting for the bus. There were no signs that this was the right stop, so I asked her if this was the bus stop for Hailuoto. She confirmed this, saying she was also headed there.

The bus showed up a bit late and at 9:30 we were rolling out of Oulu toward the ferry terminal. The bus journey takes a total of two hours, though there’s an option that takes only 90 minutes but it departs at the ungodly hour of 5:00.

As for how I came up with visiting this island, I had heard about it years ago in the context of the yearly ice road to Hailuoto. The biggest island in the Gulf of Bothnia gets a frozen connection each winter when the sea ice freezes. The Gulf of Bothnia – and the Baltic Sea for that matter – have the lowest salinity levels of any sea in the world. Low salt levels equals easy freezing. Global climate change hasn’t (yet) messed with this phenomenon to such a degree that it doesn’t happen anymore. I’d love to hitchhike such a frozen road in Finland or Estonia one day, hence my familiarity.

The bus carried us to the very basic ferry. It’s pretty much just a raft with a frame. I expected we’d have to leave the vehicle as was the custom in Norway. But in Finland, they didn’t deem this necessary.

1 ferry Oulu to Hailuoto

On the other side, the bus rolled on a skinny road through the forest. It doubles as a mail delivery service, so in Hailuoto town, we stopped at the supermarket to pick up some envelopes and packages. We continued the journey to the end of the line on the west coast of the island. The bus turned around at the lighthouse and the few passengers left disembarked.

Marjaniemi Lighthouse +  Coffee

For starters, Jonas and I walked around Marjaniemi Lighthouse (Marjaniemen majakka). There were many information signs there with ideas for hikes. We continued on to the boardwalk at the coast, which was very pleasant to walk on but also a bit boring. We crossed over the very small dunes to the sea. I’ve missed sandy beaches surrounded by flatness like in the Netherlands. I took some photos in the cold wind and then we headed to the pier.

There was not much to see there besides the pilot station to help ships find their way to Oulu. There were a few campervans and late holidayers. September isn’t exactly the season. Supposedly, there’s also a sauna at the pier, though I wasn’t curious enough to go find it. Very Finnish.

Back at the lighthouse, we headed into one of the restaurants that was still open as I craved a second cup of coffee. I tried to order Jonas a cappuccino, but there was only filter coffee, hot chocolate, and tea. He got a hot chocolate instead as we sat inside away from the wind to discuss our hike.

I wanted to visit the daymark at a hamlet called Karvo on the north side of the island and then continue hiking to the highest peak on Hailuoto. The idea was to then go to the main road and hitchhike to the ferry and perhaps even hitchhike across with a car to save money on the bus.

But Jonas wasn’t convinced of the hike. Perhaps it was too tough. It was almost 20 kilometers on paper, giver or take.

Hiking Hailuoto’s Forests to Karvo

We started our hike at 12:25 with a careful eagerness. I’ve craved walking a long distance on a flat surface, something that Norway absolutely couldn’t provide. The trail parallel to the main road through Hailuoto passed through my favorite kind of forest: forested heathlands. Those trees simply smell the best.

Our path bent away from the main road towards our destination. The forest floor was soft to walk on and there were lots of mushrooms popping up from it. The low-hanging autumn sun flickered as we walked from a narrow trail to a double track deeper into the forest. It was pleasant.

Then something buzzed toward my ear hole and I wasn’t amused. I heard Jonas grunt and turned around to see that he also slapped at something near his head. I immediately covered my ears. Jonas was still under attack and I went to him to identify the culprit. It was some kind of fly that was sitting on his shirt. I tried to make it go away, first by trying to make it fly up, then by trying to wipe it off, and lastly, an attempt to scrape it off with a sprinkle of violence.

What the fuck.

It wasn’t coming off and was almost imperceptible to touch; the bug was as flat as any surface. With a bit of concentration, the shitty bug did come off. But it had brought friends.

I said we’d soon hit a major path that’s big enough for cars, so perhaps we just need to get out of this area. We continued walking while Jonas covered his ears with his hat. We soon hit the somewhat paved road and we didn’t notice these bugs anymore. Thankfully, I was right about this.

But something kept bugging me. What was that? I decided to name it the common stubborn shitbug in my head as a placeholder name.

The trail stayed wide and relatively bug-free. We entered one of Hailuoto’s national parks where we had to translate a sign. It was not targeted at us pedestrians at all. We came past quite a few summer cabins that looked rather abandoned. Europe’s 2023 summer is quite over and it’s time for us to accept that.

When the path got sandier, Jonas noticed a structure in the distance that peeked above the trees. We arrived in the hamlet mapped as ‘Karvo’ where the Keskiniemi Beacon (Keskiniemen pooki) and Lighthouse are located.

Keskiniemi Beacon Tower and Light

This daymark dating back to 1858 helped sailors navigate the shallow waters around Hailuoto and Oulu. The white wooden tower is iconic on the island and it honestly impressed me more than Marjaniemi Lighthouse. Nearby is a smaller lighthouse that first looks barely tall enough to peek above the trees near the water. That one has some kind of electric light for nighttime navigation.

First, we ate some of our sandwiches. I chose a spot behind the wooden daymark that was out of the wind but in the sun. Jonas felt a bit cold on the hike, wearing only a t-shirt under his jacket. After refueling, I improvised a sweater out of my sarong for him to wear under his jacket. We came across a few of the common stubborn shitbugs, cozily crawling over his t-shirt, which we picked off. Thankfully, they were not on his skin. Jonas tucked it all in neatly to prevent gaps for them fuckers to crawl in.

The Keskiniemi Light had a ladder leading up the tower. Since there was no barrier or sign to stop people from climbing it, we did just that. Jonas went first and tested out every rusty step. I followed a bit later to admire the view from the top. The Gulf of Bothnia was a dark blue from up here, with small white horses from the persistent wind. Behind us was the vast and level forest of Hailuoto we came from.

Some people with dogs showed up at the same spot, looking to perhaps also climb the tower. By the time we were done with Kesiniemi Light and climbed down, they were gone. We took photos with both towers.

Though we had brought our swimming stuff, we decided against it. Jonas wasn’t feeling 100%. One woman I’d hitchhiked with the day before told me the sea around Hailuoto is very shallow for very long, so it’s difficult to find a spot deep enough to swim. The harbor at Marjaniemi Lighthouse might have been deep enough. The fact there’s a sauna there might indicate it’s a swimming spot, too. There was still the idea to at least walk to the shore here, but our trail took us back inland and we still had a long distance to go.

We discussed the route and continued walking. I almost forgot the walking stick I’d picked up on a hike in Kilpisjärvi.

Harrassed by Bugs in the Forests of Hailuoto

The next goal would be Hyypänmäki, the highest point of Hailuoto at 31 meters above sea level. The plotted trail there was about 10 kilometers in length and would take us past the south shore of a lake called Nuottajärvi. It’s a dense network of trails near Keskiniemi or Karvo, so finding the correct trail was a bit of an effort.

We walked a variety of trails, from semi-paved roads to skinny paths surrounded by bilberry bushes or sandy tracks. Some were far away from water, and others led us past small lakes and swamps. But one thing remained the same: those stubborn shitbugs were back and crawling all over us. We regularly stopped not to take photos of the nice landscape but to pluck them off each other.

Only once we came past other souls out here. There was a truck parked on the path and a golf cart-like vehicle with two people drove to it while we walked by. They also had concerned looks on their faces, as if they knew the enemy they were about to face. We continued like this past felled trees and shallow bogs.

Because the path north of Nuottajärvi was mapped as a more major path, we decided to go around it that way. I eventually pulled up my buff over my face to be nearly 100% covered. I could see the rocky path well enough through the mesh and only caught a short glimpse of the lake. But we kept the pace and it took us less time than anticipated to head south to Hyypänmäki. We climbed up a ridge where the forest turned a bit sandy and dry. The bugs disappeared, which made our final stop on Hailuoto one we could enjoy a bit more.

Hyypänmäki and the Struve Geodetic Arc

The sandy pits left and right of us had various trails and some buildings suitable for school trips. Close to the peak, we encountered the daymark. A spot close to that area was also used in 1841 to measure the size and shape of the Earth with the Struve Geodetic Arc. In Tornio a few days earlier, we had visited one of the official measuring points as well.

We continued on the ridge but somehow missed the peak. Jonas found a nice folded bench with a view where he took a rest while I found the actual highest point on Hyypänmäki. With GPS, I eventually found a metal square bolted to the ground. A surveying point. I returned to Jonas with the news that it ain’t much.

Once we had rested and refueled, we walked down the hill to the bus stop on the main road. We squeezed past some houses that sell local honey in the high season. We crossed the road very carefully since the ferry had just arrived and the few cars that had come off were all speeding. The bus stop across the road had a bit of a shoulder, useful for hitchhiking. It was right next to a (closed) restaurant/café/campground called Ailasto.

Hitchhiking to the Ferry + Return from Hailuoto to Oulu

The arrival and departure of the ferry dictates whether there’s any traffic on Hailuoto at all. We waited at the sunny spot for a while, picking bugs off each other, and waiting for a car to come in the right direction. From here it’s still more than 13 kilometers to the ferry. If all else fails, we’ll take the bus, of course. At this point, we’d like to go home and take a shower. One car passed us and didn’t stop.

Another five minutes later, a car came and we raised our thumbs another time. The man slowed down and pulled over to the bus stop. I said “Terve” and asked, “Lautta?” and the man said something and got out of the car to move the rifle that was in the back seat. Once he had placed it in the trunk, Jonas got in the back and I sat in the passenger seat. We both said thanks in Finnish.

I introduced us: “Minä olen Iiris, ja hän on Joonas.” He said his name is Teppo. Then he asked us which country we’re from – I understood the question because I picked up the word maa  – and I said something like Hollandalainen and said “Joonas on Saksalainen”. Not correct but it gets the meaning across.

Teppo is one of the less than a thousand people from Hailuoto. He lives somewhere between where we got picked up and the ferry since he pointed at a small road and said his house was there. My Finnish ran out at this point and the rest of the conversation was a mix of gestures, English, and the occasional Finnish word. He works on a farm and is on his way home. He tried to tell us when the ferry would come, but I’m not sure we understood it or if it was correct; we understood at 20:00, but Jonas thought it was at 18:30.

This cheerful guy dropped us off at the ferry, where we met the car that had stopped for us before. Teppo suggested we’d go into the café at the harbor to stay cozy. We thanked him for the ride and said goodbye. A very small dog walked out of the café just minding her own business.

We arrived at the port well before the ferry had arrived. It was really windy outside and we cooled down rather quickly. About ten minutes later, we saw it dock and then asked the staff when it would leave. The three men that operate it all headed to the café where they were going for a big plate of hot food. One said it’s leaving at 19:00. Hmmm.

Jonas and I waited in the café, attempted to obtain a hot drink or two, and then gave up. We waited for about 30 minutes and then the bus showed up, which meant the ferry should go soon. Jonas and I went to the bus and asked how much it would be because of the zones. Unfortunately, it’s still €8 per person on this side. But I don’t think it was an option for us to be on the ferry in the wind and then get on the bus on the other side. So we paid up and stayed warm indoors.

We arrived in Oulu in darkness. Back in the apartment, we put all the hiking clothes and even my backpack in the washing machine immediately. We checked each other for deer flies and still found one on each other before showering.

Though I loved visiting Hailuoto and think it’s a wonderful area to hike, I’d be cautious about the season chosen. Still, I don’t think dealing with bugs is completely avoidable unless one goes in the middle of winter. But then it might be not easy to do this hike. You win some, you lose some. Still, Hailuoto, Oulu, and Finland as a whole are wonderful.

Solving the Mystery: Meet the Deer Fly

Don’t open this if you’re already yucked out. Yes, there’s a picture

Click to read about the horror bug

Deer fly northern Finland Oulu Hailuoto Island pest bug flat sticky lost its wings common stubborn shitbug

For literal weeks after this hike, I kept thinking about those common stubborn shitbugs. The day after our hike to Hailuoto, I googled those fuckers as best I could till I found a match. Their real name is deer fly (lipoptena cervi) and in Finnish their name is hirvikärpänen.

The internet confirmed my suspicions of this terrible creature; their usual hosts are deer or elk/moose and they drink blood. They can bite humans, though they struggle with our skin buffet. A bite on a human can cause an allergic reaction and it could leave a welt that will itch for three weeks. They could potentially carry Lyme disease. Upon closer examination, thankfully, neither Jonas nor I had any visible bites. After they find their host they drop their wings and begin their reproduction cycle. This is one of the worst phrases I’ve ever read:

“Upon finding a host, the adult fly breaks off its wings and it is permanently associated with its host.”

Not sure if that means that the ones that we took home and dropped their wings were ready to produce a larva. If they’re “permanently associated” with me now, that means I’m forever cursed.

I found this excellent Finnish article The Fight Against the Terrible Fly – run through Google Translate – that described our experience with them as well. Like anything bad that ever happened to the Finns, the deer fly came from russia to Finland in the 1960s.

Though I’m not a ‘mushroom hunter’, the article was completely relatable. The subject’s name is Timo Parvela and he met deer flies while out in the forest. He tried to outsmart them by wearing a dry suit. And yet, it’s impossible to deer fly-proof oneself completely since they’re “very flat” and do their creepy-crawly thing into just about any outfit. That also makes them nearly impossible to squish. And yes, he would also find them in his hair afterward.

They stick to the scalp, eyelashes, behind the ears, navel, any part of the person. And they stick tight. The bugs are so tenaciously stuck in the hair that the victim may, in hysteria, think of shaving the hair off completely. “It’s the most repulsive-looking animal in creation,” says Parvela. “And it can’t even die by crushing it. After a nuclear disaster, the deer fly and the scorpion will remain,” Parvela speculates.

After several days, the person may feel that something inside him is still quadrupling. “The worst is a mental deer fly that stays wandering for several days. On a shopping trip, you suddenly get the feeling that the last deer fly has found strategic places. You have to rush home to take off your pants,” describes Parvela.sustained by the researched knowledge that deer flies can still be found on a person many days later, no matter how hard you try to clean yourself of them.

The article confirms my suspicion that no insect repellants are effective against deer flies. That officially puts them at the top of my shit list alongside ticks—which we have encountered many times in 2023. The possibility of encountering deer flies stops many people from visiting the forest anymore. Each year, the problem of deer flies grows in Finland. One person interviewed in the article suggests learning how to live with them and “calmly pick deer flies from your scalp without panicking”. Entomologists confirm “it’s a battle doomed to defeat”.

The good thing is that the deer fly is terrible at flying; the problem of deer flies can be very localized, like malaria. But their location can also vary year by year, depending on where the deer population last visited. That’s why I asked before going to Åland if it was a problem there (luckily, it’s ‘only’ mosquitoes).

Most of the time, deer flies don’t bite – that’s why they think they don’t do anything to humans. According to Vilkamaa, they are rather feared for spiritual reasons: most people hate all insects. Repellents do not help, because they do not have time to be effective against the deer fly.“A mosquito comes to a person cautiously, twists, curves, sniffs, and the repellents have time to work. But the deer fly flies towards you like a projectile, straight and without cursing. It throws its wings because its purpose is no longer to go anywhere, but to stay.”

The Finnish article does have one silver lining: deer flies die from the cold. The deer fly season lasts roughly between mid-August and September. But if you’ve had the displeasure of meeting the deer fly, you’ll know that the real demon is the mental deer fly that will crawl around your brain for weeks, if not months, and cause you to shudder.

Map of Hailuoto Hike

You can import the route from this map to your favorite hiking app.

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