This was a birthday gift for my husband and came from a recommendation from a friend who is also a keen wildlife photographer. After a late arrival we spent the night in Helsinki at the Radisson Blu Seaside Hotel (complete with midnight En- Suite Sauna!).
We took the 11am flight from Helsinki to Kajaani. had been our contact at Bear Centre and had been tremendously helpful with making all the logistical arrangements. He collected us promptly for our transfer to the bear centre base. On arrival we had a cup of coffee and a quick snooze to prepare ourselves for the night ahead. We had a triple room with en-suite for us to dump our bags and have a sleep and shower whilst in the hide. Very comfortable.
At 16h00 we headed over for our dinner and met a seasoned visitor who had been frequenting and photographing here for 8 years and see it all! A pleasant Belgian couple were newbies like ourselves. A lovely lady from Hamburg was also visiting for the first time on her own. We enjoyed a fish stew before being led to our hide which was no. 23.
Once you enter the forest it is strictly no talking – even in the hides you have to whisper. Our hide was interesting: 2×2.5m with a bunk bed and a bucket for a loo (not great as Paul had the runs!). We played Pigs and kept a careful lookout.
Johu creates a whatsapp group for those in the hides and we pinged each other naming the bird life. We heard and spotted a cuckoo, Spotted 2x green winged teals, wagtail, golden eye, woodpecker and sea gulls. The Russian border was evident from the yellow marks on the poles on the oppiste side to the pond from us.
At 2h30 we were delighted with a visit from a wolverine! Such an energetic beast – a cross with a honey badger and a bear! The Latin name ‘gulo gulo’ comes from the term ‘glutton’ as was evident in its voracious appetite in picking up the bait. A fox soon came to investigate and they had a brief standoff before the wolverine scarpered with his spoils whilst a raven and gull looked on.
At 22h40 a magnificent bear graced our presence sniffing the ground as he investigated the territory – apparently he is a newcomer to the area. Paul got some wonderful photos and I managed to snap some footage on my iphone. The sun lowered at 23h00 – nearly midnight sun time…still light though.
I went to sleep from 23h30-14h30 and then Paul woke me up when another wolverine? same wolverine? arrived again to entertain us for 10minutes. Paul took his turn to sleep and I watched the sky turn pink as the sun ‘rose’ at 14h45. Nothing of interest until I woke Paul at 07h00. We headed back for breakfast at 08h00 and to discuss the night’s activity.
We had booked to stay in the luxury lodge for the next evening – it is indeed a step up with views across the forest.
We headed off on a walk to the Russian border to take a few photos. All was quiet on the Western Front other than a few bear prints and poop. We had a good sleep from 10h00 until 15h00.
Headed for another good meal which was a chicken stew. We opted to stay in a hide instead of our luxury cabin and switched pond location too and headed off at 17h00. There were lots of mosquitoes. At 19h30 the fox came to help himself to some bait. Unfortunately apart from the gulls and teals no other activity. I slept until 03h00 and then Paul slept until 07h00. A little disappointing – but that is the way of the wild! (The next evening the Mother Bear and 4 yearlings made an appearance – that is what we had been hoping for!). The views however were still stunning. Stefan captured a moose in the forest.
After breakfast we had a sleep until 13h00 and then headed down to the ‘smoke house’ sauna which they had prepared for us. We enjoyed two hours spending 10mins in the sauna and then jumping into the freezing lake and repeat! They kindly sold us 4 beers as this is a ‘no alcohol’ environment when in the bear hides.
At 16h30 Johu drive us to the airport in Kuusamo. We checked in along with two other people but Security was not open yet and we were starving as breakfast had been at 8am! The Finnish Air lady kindly called us a taxi and we headed in to enjoy a pizza. Our flight left promptly at 21h30 and we were asleep in our hotel at midnight ready for our flight home the next morning. A wonderful weekend in the wilderness – great way to have spent the Jubilee weekend.