WELCOME TO HIIUMAA!
By Douglas Wells
Thank you for choosing to visit Hiiumaa. The people of Hiiumaa would like to welcome you to their island and encourage you to discover some of the natural and historical treasures that can be found here.
This booklet is designed to make you familiar with the history, culture and nature of the island Hiiumaa. However, it is not intended to tell you everything about every place. There is just too much interesting information about this island to be put in a small booklet of this size. In compiling this self-guided tour we have chosen to include the most interesting and most accessible places. The more adventurous visitor is strongly encouraged to visit some of the other points of interest on the island. There are also official guides on Hiiumaa who are very knowledgeable about the history of the island. Their services can be obtained for a reasonable price. This tour follows mostly the main roads and takes a roughly circular path around the island.
We would like to offer a few words of advice and caution to those who plan on walking in the forest or along the seashore. Most importantly, open fires are prohibited in the forest because of the dry conditions. Extreme care should be taken when smoking or using cookstoves. Secondly, the entire island of Hiiumaa is a nature reserve and many of its plant and animal species as well as points of interest are protected by law. Please use caution and common sense when in the forest or along the seashore. Help us preserve Hiiumaa's environment for future generations. More information about the nature reserve and its regulations can be obtained from the Hiiumaa Biosphere Reserve office in Kärdla. We hope that your stay here is educational and rewarding. The tourist information center in Kärdla is ready to help you with any questions or problems you might have. It is open every day in summer.
The tour route is marked with signs bearing the lighthouse symbol. When it is necessary, signs have been placed to show you where to turn. Also, on long stretches of road, route signs have been placed to let you know you are on the right track. This booklet often refers to kilometer marker numbers which are the small blue and white signs along the side of the road. It should be noted that the numbers will be different when traveling in the opposite direction. Our tour begins in Heltermaa in the southeast and runs counter-clockwise around the island.
It is interesting to note that a few short years ago this tour would not have been possible. For 50 years Hiiumaa was a restricted area within the larger restricted area that was the Soviet Union. Even citizens of Estonia where prohibited from coming to the island without proper authorization. In some ways this was helpful because Hiiumaa has many rare plant and animal species and these were protected, though somewhat unintentionally. Now that Estonia is a free country it is facing a whole new set of problems and Hiiumaa is facing new problems as well. One of these problems is how to convert the island from a place where outsiders were kept away to a place where visitors are welcome and information about the island is freely available to anyone who is interested. The Lighthouse Tour Project hopes to help bring some openness back to the society on Hiiumaa and replace the Soviets' obsessive desire for secrecy with the islanders' natural friendliness and pride. Now... on with the tour!
- The starting point for the tour is in Heltermaa.
If you arrive by ferry, your first glimpse of Hiiumaa (pronounced hee-yew-maw) will be Heltermaa harbor. This harbor is not very glamorous but it has served the people of Hiiumaa for over 100 years. There have been farmsteads in this area for over 300 years.
The harbor was built around 1870 and served as the terminal for the first ferry line between Heltermaa and the mainland. The first ferry was a steamship appropriately named "Progress". The ferries have run almost continuously since that time, bringing visitors on vacation and bringing islanders home after trips to the mainland. The harbor was rebuilt in its present form in 1971. There are plans for more development that include a new harbor building and improved services.
There is an interesting legend about how Heltermaa got its name. According to legends, the island of Hiiumaa was inhabited long ago by a race of giants. One of the more famous giants was named Leiger. He and his wife Tiiu jealously guarded the island against all newcomers. Still, people would occasionally come from the mainland or from some of the other islands to try to set up farmsteads and pastureland. One day, two Swedish brothers named Per and Ter arrived on the island and began digging holes for fenceposts. While they were working, the giant approached. The brothers were of course very frightened and they dropped their tools and ran for their boat. Ter reached the boat first and began to push it out into the water. He paused to wait for his brother but when he saw the giant was about to catch Per he decided to save himself. He jumped into the boat and began to furiously row away from the island. Per was about to be caught by the giant and he yelled out to his brother "Hjälpa Ter!". This means "Help me Ter!" in Swedish. However, his brother kept rowing and things looked very bad for Per. But Leiger saw how terrified the man was and felt pity for him. He decided that he would help Per be reunited with his brother so he put the frightened man on his shoulders and walked out into the sea towards the boat. He put Per into the boat with his equally frightened brother and then turned and walked back to the island. The two brothers rowed away from the island as fast as they could, vowing never to return. The giant Leiger felt so proud of the good deed he had done he decided to name the place after the strange words that the frightened Per had called out again and again. He called the place "Help Ter Maa". "Maa" means land in Estonian. As the years went by, the name gradually changed to "Heltermaa".
There are many places on the island with legends about their history. Some have more truth in them than others. This is due, in part, to the fact that there is very little written history of the island's distant past. However, there is a very strong oral tradition that has passed down many of these legends. Hiiumaa people love to tell stories and the fact that they may not be entirely true won't stop them from telling the story anyway. There is a saying that if you believe only half of what a Hiiumaa person tells you, you still have only a quarter of the truth. With that in mind, head straight west out of the harbor gates and on to Pühalepa Church, our first stop on the tour.
As you are driving the six kilometers to Pühalepa, take note of the birch and pine trees along the road. These species, along with the spruce, are the most plentiful on the island. There are a lot of these trees since over half of Hiiumaa's 1000 square kilometers is covered with forest. Only about 15% of the island is agricultural land. As you have probably noticed, the soil is very rocky and sandy. This makes it difficult to cultivate and the soil often is not very fertile. In spite of this, wheat, potatoes, hay, rye and barley are grown here every year with some success.
- As you round the curve just past kilometer marker 4 you will see the spire of Pühalepa Church come into view. A few hundred meters before the church you will need to turn left on to the road to Suuremoisa. After you make this turn go on to kilometer marker 6 and take a right turn into the church parking lot. Bring this booklet with you and take a walk around this 700 year-old church yard, it is rich in history.