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World Heritage Site

for World Heritage Travellers

Blog: WHS #583: Laponia

The Laponian Area is a big WHS comprising 9 nature reserves that needs some time and research to cover. Not many general interest tourists put it on their itinerary: on the web I mostly found trip reports about multi-day hikes, for which you have to take everything with you on your back (25 kg seems to be a minimum). Paths are scarcely marked: those that are experienced enough to hike here get along fine with GPS and/or compass. From the comfort of my rental car I encountered several of these long distance hikers with their huge backpacks by the side of the road, waiting for a bus or just getting ready to start their walk.

Reindeer: check!

The designated area lies north of the Arctic Circle between the towns of Jokkmokk and Gällivare. I used the latter as my base for 2 nights. The town will never win any beauty contest, but if you’re not fussy I can recommend Gällivare B&B and the local Thai restaurant. I started my Laponian exploration with a day trip by car to Stora Sjöfallet National Park. From Gällivare it takes 2.5 hours (184 km) to Ritsem, which is as far as you can go into the park on a paved road.

The forest landscape is beautiful against a clear sky, it often reminded me of the Jasper area in Canada. However the views here are tainted by omnipresent mega-electricity poles that run parallel to the road to Ritsem: the area has several huge hydro-electric plants. The 'Naturum' visitor center lies about half-way, and offers great (unspoiled) views of the lake and the surrounding mountains. The center itself is worth a quick visit too, though for more in-depth exhibitions on this region and its inhabitants I recommend the Ajtte museum in Jokkmokk.

Original remains of the Saami lifestyle are harder to find. At the turnoff for Appojavrre, a 350m long path into the forest ends up at nine former hearths that were used to warm the Saami tents. This is what remains of a Saami settlement after they’ve moved on. Another exit, marked “G Kapellplats", leads you to Nabrreluokta Chapel. The chapel was built in 1646, but did not last long: it burned down a few years later as the Saami were more attached to their traditional beliefs and most were not christianized. Now there’s only a commemorative marker and a heap of stones that may or may not be from the original building.

Remains of a Saami settlement: check!

There’s a clear visible difference between the west side of the parks and the east side: the more west you go, the more mountaineous it gets. The east consists mostly of taiga or boreal forest. On my second day in the area I visited a park in the eastern zone: Muddus National Park. There’s access from Liggadammen (just south of Porjus), where a sign to the park sends you 11km on a bumpy road. It ends at a car park, where to my surprise I already found some 10 other cars.

Two trails are marked from here: a 7km hike to the Muddu waterfall, or a 5 km hike to “Moskokorso” (whatever that may be). I choose the shorter walk. The trail turned out to be mostly flat. You walk on boardwalks for half of the time, as the ground in this forest is very squashy. I dubbed it the “taiga hike” - a wander in this kind of forest was a first for me. I enjoyed the colours of the forest, the fungi and the large male reindeer that I startled on the path. After some 45 minutes the track gets more rocky and wasn’t so nice to walk on anymore. I never made it to the end: I turned around after 1.5 hours. A rather fine walk on a bright sunny day, and fortunately the mosquitos were mostly absent.

Boreal forest (aka Taiga): check!

At the time of inscription IUCN proposed extension of this Laponian WHS across the border to Norway. The area still is on that country’s Tentative List but the Norwegians seem in no hurry to nominate it. From the beginning of the 20th century, the Saami in Norway, Sweden and Finland live under different conditions. They represent themselves in three different parliaments 1, and do not seem to have a strong pan-nationalist lobby. So the Laponian area may well stay a purely Swedish contribution to the WH List.

Published 15 August 2015

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Responses to WHS #583: Laponia
Ian (17 August 2015)

Glad you had wider eating option than us in Gällivare! And you managed to avoid the worst of the insects, seems you had more luck than us.