Hiiumaa has been expecting you. Welcome!

Hiiumaa can be discovered in many ways: you can wander around by yourself with a knapsack, hire one of our superb local guides to go different places, or plan personal itineraries with the help of a map or travel guide. This book will help you journey around the island - without getting lost, and offers some useful facts and trivia about various places.

The Idea of the Lighthouse Tour began in the early 1990s, when Peace Corps volunteer Douglas Wells was assigned to Hiiumaa. The Nebraskan became a local legend, going on to write a book about his adventures in Estonia. This tour follows the outlines of one of Wells' best-remembered projects: marking a tour of the island's lighthouses along with a guide book for those exploring the island by car. Many of the original wooden signs, marked with a lighthouse symbol, have suffered the ravages of time and have been replaced by new and more contemporary signs, so we decided it was an opportune time to rewrite the guidebook as well. Some of the points of interest have changed, but the idea remains the same. This book is a personal assistant on your first encounter with the wonderful island of Hiiumaa. If it so happens that you fall in love with Hiiumaa, you will surely stay longer, and keep coming back until you discover the essence of the island.

Useful information

Hiiumaa is the smallest county in Estonia (1,023 km²), consisting of numerous small islands, islets, reefs, and some bigger islands, like Hiiumaa proper (989 km²) and Kassari (19 km²). Some people lived on the islets of Hanikatsi and Saarnaki as late as the 1960–1970s, but no permanent settlements remain there nowadays.

You can get to Hiiumaa via Rohuküla harbour, which is approximately 10 km from Haapsalu. The ferry to the island takes 1.5 hours.

Hiiumaa is the most heavily forested county in Estonia. Most of its main roads are paved. As for smaller paths in the forest, the adventurous should bear in mind that walking may be more comfortable than driving: Hiiumaa is very sandy (danger of getting stuck), and besides, fragile vegetation may easily be destroyed under the wheels of a car. During the summertime the forests are often dry, so open fires are prohibited. It is safer to stay in special areas with fireplaces and other facilities that make your stay more enjoyable. Camping is allowed only in designated areas. More information about lodging can be found on the Internet (www.hiiumaa.ee). Hiiumaa lies in shallow waters, so we have lots of pleasant swimming areas, but don’t forget that the sea can also be dangerous, with pockets of cold water and deeper areas that can frighten swimmers. So please: don’t overestimate your abilities in connection with the sea.

Hiiumaa has a peculiar shape. Some say the island has a shape of a cross. The name Hiiumaa may in fact originate from the word “hiis” (sacred grove), so the symbol of cross might confirm the idea of holiness in som way. Or it could derive from the word “hiiud” or “vägilased” (giants, heros). Some people say that Kõpu peninsula is like the big nose of a giant facing west. Some have said that Hiiumaa is like a bird with a long neck coming in for a landing on the sea – a swan, perhaps. In songs and literature the island is compared to a hot cross bun.

The island has not always been shaped this way. The sea, wind and human beings have changed it over many centuries. Hiiumaa is rising as well, about 3 mm each year.

Geologists say that parts of Hiiumaa first arose more than 450 million years ago due to a meteorite that fell into the sea. Nobody was there to see the resulting formation, but the round ridge of the crater measuring 4 km across, is still visible.
Vahepealsete miljonite aastate jooksul jõudis saar uuesti lainetesse kaduda, seejärel jääga kattuda ja alles umbkaudu 10 000 aastat tagasi taandus jää sedavõrd, et haljast maad paistma hakkas. Esialgu kerkis kiiresti Kõpu poolsaar (kus praegu asuvad Lääne-Eesti kõrgemad mäed). Tõepoolest nagu kringlitainas. Tahenemine võttis aega. Kivid kukkusid jää seest välja nagu rosinad. Meretuuled lennutasid liiva-valle. Polnud just ahvatlev paik elama asumiseks. Samas teame, et kala-mehed-hülgekütid märkasid saarekest juba seitsme ja poole tuhande aasta eest, sõitsid kohale, elasid maatükil mõnda aega ja kadusid siis kodu-paikadesse tagasi. Kes nad olid, kust tulid, pole napi leiumaterjali põhjal kerge selgeks teha.

In the millions of years since then, the island disappeared again under the sea, was covered by ice, and about 10,000 years ago the ice receded to expose land. Kõpu peninsula rose rapidly from the sea (today the highest hills of western Estonia are situated there). But it took time to shape the land. In the beginning only bare rocks appeared from under the ice. Wind from the sea piled up ridges of sand. It was not a very tempting living area. However, some findings indicate, that fishermen and seal-hunters came upon the small island about 7,500 years ago and used this piece of land as a resting place during their seasonal catch period. We don’t know who they were and where they came from, since there is not enough archaeological evidence.

Nor is it clear when permanent settlement on Hiiumaa began. Indigenous farm-fields from the 11th–12th century have been found, but the year-round community must have settled down here much earlier.