Kaleship Routes

Despite the fact that Lake Võrtsjärv is the biggest inland body of water in Estonia, it is shallow, with the average depth of only three meters. For swimming it is necessary to walk a long distance before your feet don't feel the ground. This huge lake is almost like a bigger basin on the flowing route of river Emajõgi: the narrow southern tip of Võrtsjärv takes in the water of Small-Emajõgi and in the north-east Great-Emajõgi takes it out again. Even the deepest locations of the lake are situated on the imaginary riverbed.

There are few islands in Lake Võrtsjärv, most of them together in the narrow southern tip of the lake. Many of the islands can be called islands only during the appropriate water levels, turning into a shallow during the high levels and into peninsulas during the low levels. The island of Tondisaaris situated far in the middle of the lake. It is a popular nesting place for water fowl, so it is better to visit the camping site after midsummer when the offspring is capable of flying already. Pähksaar is also a permanent island, that has been inhabited by humans throughout the history. Among fishermen the numerous underwater stone ruins are quite popular, because they are frequented by perches.

During the migration season many birds stop near the southern tip in Pikasilla and on Väike-Rakke polder in the north-eastern part of the lake. Lake Võrsjärv is especially noteworthy because of the massive migration of Smews. On the fields between Rannu and Sangla thousands of Bean Geese and White-fronted Geese feed in spring and autumn seasons. A lot of waterfowl nest on lake Võrtsjärv - Great Crested Grebe, Great Bittern, Great Reed Warbler, Black Tern and Little Gull being most common among them. Over the lake White-tailed Eagles, Ospreys and Marsh Harriers hunt their prey.

As Lake Võrtsjärv is connected to Lake Peipsi, its fish life is very diverse. 36 species of fish have been caught here all in all. Right next to the Lake Võrtsjärv Museum on the lake shore is the Limonology Station with its own little port. When before Lake Peipsi was known mainly for its Ruff and Bream, then now when it is being managed by the scientists of the Limnology station more valuable fish like Eel and Pike Perch have dominated in Võrtsjärv. Also Bream, Perch and Pike are caught here. The population of Eels is regularly supplemented by releasing young Eels in the lake. In the Lake Museum you can go indepth into the flora and fauna of Estonian inland bodies of water and meet the denizens of the waterworld eye-to-eye in their aquariums. Bigger nature fans have the wonderful opportunity to make fieldtrips (or lake trips in this case) on board of the kaleship and try to apply the theory in practice. The museum also gives an overview of the local life and history.

The 100 kilometer coast of Võrtsjärv is well-jointed and mostly covered with reed, but it also has nice sandy beaches for swimming – for example in Vehendi on the east coast and around Vaibla on the north coast. Also on the east coast is the huge 8 meters tall and 200 meters long Tamme sandstone denudation, which was famous for the finding of Devonian placoderm fish already in the 19. century. Today the denudation with its surroundings is under protection as a site with scientific-historic importance. To exhibit it a few-kilometer hiking trail with information stands and picnic areas has been built. Moving south along the eastern coast of the lake you will reach one of the most beautiful resting areas on Lake Võrtsjärv – the stairs-like river bank called Trepimägi hill ('Stairhill'). Here lies Neitsikivi – a great erratic boulder brought here by ice thousand of years ago. The nearby Vehendi village is also the oldest settlement in Võrtsjärve area– the fields found here were cultivated already 2500 years ago. Near Trepimägi hill on the eastern shore of the lake is a little swamp lake Mustjärv. Here it is possible to go hiking on the trail along the swamps and fens interspersed with pine thickets with a guide, who will tell you about the rather grand enterprises of local beaver population and the exotic swamp landscape.

On the Rõngu river flowing into Lake Võrtsjärv nearby is the village of Lapetukme with the original Lõve watermill, which is first mentioned in written annals already in 1418. Nearby, a few kilometers from Rõngu village lies the Hiugemägi hill, which as its name implies is an ancient holy grove and a burial place, later used for burying the victims of plague and starvation. According to folk belief it is a gate of a great underground passage. Another compulsory sight is Rõngu castle hill – which used to be a 14. century castle-fort. The fort itself was destroyed in the long Livonian war, but a few dozens of meters of the fortwall and the surrounding castlepark commemorate the once proud stronghold. On the southern tip of the lake on the riverbank of Small-Emajõgi lies the heathy woodland of Pikasilla – pinewoods with high landscape value and scenic views. Before the II World War there used to be a settlement here with a barge to cross the Small-Emajõgi, but all this was wiped out by the battles between Soviet and German troops. Today the two ports and the sandy beach make it a good landing place and a resort area.

The trip continues towards Vooru fort hill. This is where the biggest pagan stronghold in the whole legendary Sakala county stood – directly on the trade route between Viljandi and the Russian city of Pihkva. Fans of archeology find a so called Kalevipoeg mound type of fort hill with elevated sides, the many archeological findings are exhibited in the Viljandi Museum. A few kilometers north of Vooru on Õhne river there lies Suislepa village, which can be proud of the Suislepa manor, built in 1796 and a rather peculiar three-storeyed dutch windmill, which is under protection as an architectural site. Closeby is the Suislepa sandstone denudation from the Burtniek layer. Also on the western shore the traveler finds a 14. century Tarvastu pagan forthill. The name Tarvastu refers to the great buffalo like creatures (over two meters tall) called tarvas who became extinct during the middle ages. Nearby is the Kullamäe Landscape Reserve, where travelers can marvel at the river and stream shaped scenic sandstone denudations.

On the shores of Lake Võrtsärve are numerous old fishing villages – for example Valma, Oiu and Kivilõpe. People have inhabited these shores rich in fish already since the Stone age. The oldest settlement, over 4000 years old is Valma village. Though first written information about a settlement named Walmabe date back to 1584, archeologists have ascertained that a steady settlement in this location is from third millenia B.C. Today Valma is the center of local life, where in addition to a decent port and camping ground the local fishermen annually celebrate the merry Fishermen's Day with many odd happenings.

On the north shore, near the Tartu-Viljandi road lies Vaibla, a popular resort with sandy beaches, many camping grounds and rental houses, boats and paddle wheels. The northern shore is also a suitable base to plan a more thorough trip in the Lake Võrtsjärve area.

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