69 Degrees North: A Paddling Holiday in the Land of the Midnight Sun


As a landscape photographer, I’m heavily drawn to remote and special places where you can feel the wild and almost untouched nature. That’s why Finland, one of the northernmost parts of Europe, is perfect for a quick paddling holiday.

I’m lucky enough to have a wife who shares this passion for nature and the outdoors with me. Although we are quite new to paddling, we really enjoyed the slow feeling and soundless movement of a small boat right from the start. The combination of being out in nature for ten days without seeing a person, spending any money or sleeping in a proper bed, sounded just right to us. The wide-open water of Finland’s Inarijärvi with at least 3,500 wild islands and our well-loaded inflatable kayak blended together perfectly.

We spent our first night on the Ivalojoki River, which feeds into Lake Inari, camping on a beautiful sandbar with loads of reindeer hoof prints and temperatures just slightly above zero. In the morning, we loaded the kayak in the rain and started moving to get warm. After a few kilometres, the weather grew more pleasant and our mood enlightened, too. Continuing the trip on the eastern part of the lake, we discovered the first of many islands and enjoyed a coffee with a few pieces of chocolate we had packed.

On day five, the wind picked up and Lake Inari showed us its wild side with quite impressive waves. The conditions forced us put in a lot of effort to make progress. And, suddenly, at probably the worst timing imaginable, a fish bit our dragging line. Trying to get it out of the water with our busted fishing rod was quite a challenge. Meanwhile, Conny had to keep the boat on track as I tried to find all I needed to take care of the fish. We had hopes to grill it for dinner at our next camp.

The contrast could hardly be stronger, as we paddled across the wide-open waters from the eastern to the western part of the lake. The day before the waves were crashing and now the lake looked like a liquid mirror. It felt like you could just get out of the boat and walk to the next island. The conditions were perfect for aerial shots and amazing reflections. Continuing our trip on the western part of the huge lake to the south, day nine held something really special for us. We arrived at a quite big island and landed our boat on a beautiful bay with a beach mixed with sand and small pebbles of all kinds of colors. As we got out of the boat, we saw the reindeer steps and two curious Siberian jays were already waiting for us.

After setting up our camp, we enjoyed a warm meal and watched the lake as it grew quieter and the sky turned into nice and subtle colors. The midnight sun that night offered so many great images and big vistas for us and we enjoyed soaking in the atmosphere. Just minutes after midnight, the almost full moon went over the horizon in a light orange, which painted a really amazing picture. And then, as soon as it dipped below the horizon, a midnight fog began to float through the woods.

We immediately knew that the coves within this lake and its islands must appear incredible. After a short walk, the forest opened up to a majestic view—waters so tranquil and irresistible light. The sun may never truly set or rise, but all of the components of this moment were simply perfect. We enjoyed the transition from arctic dusk to dawn in its waves of soft light until almost six in the morning before heading to bed. The experience was so magical, we—more or less—didn’t even care about the mosquitos.

To end this incredible experience properly, on our last day, we paddled the last 15 of the 175 kilometers upstream on the Ivalojoki River and spent the night on the very spot we started this adventure. The same two people on this huge sandy river bench, but so much richer and happier to have had the opportunity to experience something this special.

After this comfortable night on the soft and sandy beach, we packed our gear and loaded our 90 kilos of luggage into a taxi. As we set our feet onto the airport ground, we immediately started planning our next trip to the land of the midnight sun.

Editor’s Note: Guest Contributor Philipp Jakesch is an Austrian native who has liked the idea of portraying nature with a camera since he was a child and got his own at age 15. In 2017, he began his professional career leading workshops as well as photo travels, giving audiovisual presentations and selling limited prints.