Coasting Through West Sweden's Koster Islands

West Sweden's Koster Islands have long been a summer haven for Swedes. Now, with the designation of the waters around these islands as the country's first marine national park, the locals' secret is out. We sent one of our writers to find out more.
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Fishing boat in Kosterhavets Marine National Park, West Sweden
Fishing boat in Kosterhavets Marine National Park, West Sweden (Mikael Almse/West Sweden Tourist Board)

Sweden's the sort of place you assume to know from any number of well-worn cultural tropes: dependable Volvos, ABBA (or their countless tribute bands), blue-and-yellow IKEAs, curvaceous blonde supermodels. Arriving at Gothenburg—Sweden's "other" big city after Stockholm—doesn't do much to dispel the comforting familiarity, but edge away from the city and things suddenly start to seem just a little bit wild and, dare I say it, foreign.

Last October, I spent several days exploring the craggy coastline of West Sweden as it winds north from Gothenburg to the country's border with Norway. As I drove out of Gothenburg on a two-lane highway flanked by shopping malls and car dealerships, it felt like I was exiting any midsize U.S. city; I turned on the radio to find solace in some Eurotrash dance music—nope, the same Katy Perry and Cee Lo Green tracks I could catch on any Clear Channel playlist.

My ultimate goal was the Koster Islands, a small archipelago that lies off the mainland near Strömstad, a popular seaside town close to the Sweden-Norway border (and reportedly home to the country's largest liquor store, frequented by thirsty Norwegians who flock across the border by car and ferry to stockpile cheaper booze).

The waters around Koster, anchored by two main islands and countless other granite outcrops, were established as a marine national park in 2009, to date the country's first and only such designation. Koster Fjord, a deep oceanic trench that was gouged during Europe's great Ice Age, shelters a dizzying array of deep-sea species in its cold, dark narrows. Together with Norway's adjacent Ytre Hvaler Marine National Park, the two areas form an 800-square-kilometer patch of protected marine habitat where over 6,000 species including bobtail squid, bristleworms, stingrays, and Atlantic harbor seals draw nourishment from the salty, nutrient-rich currents that flow in from the North Atlantic.

Published: 6 Jun 2011 | Last Updated: 7 Jun 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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