Destinations

Ever heard of husky trekking?

I stumble forward as the husky yanks at my waist.

"Slow Hurja,"I command.

It's no use; Hurja was born to run. This husky dog, with his black and white coat, is full of excitement. Although he's a father, Hurja, whose name means wicked, is as playful as a pup.

He yanks again, jolting me down a rubble pathway through the green bush in Eastern Finland, not far from the Russian border. It's the start of summer, so there is no snow on the ground, and therefore feels strange I am with a husky. I have no intention of going dog sledding; I'm here to try husky trekking.

Until today, I had no idea the activity existed. Basically, it's hiking with a husky, yet it's not just Hurja's who's attached to a leash.

Because huskies are used to moving quickly when pulling a sled, they've got a lot of might. So Hurja's owner, Aki Karajaoja, wraps a material harness around my waist, one around Hurja's body and connects us with a leash.

As soon as he does, Hurja wants to get going, knowing adventure awaits. We start off down a path through the woods on Aki's property, 20km from the small village of Kuhmo in the Kainuu area. Hurja jumps and pulls and bites at grass. At first I hold the leash tightly, shortening it in my hand in an attempt to control the bounding Finn at my feet. But when the leash begins to cut into my palm, I realise it's time to do husky trekking properly.

I carefully let go of the leash and rely instead on my body weight to keep Hurja from galloping ahead.

It's difficult to begin with – I have to anchor my weight as I walk – but soon I get the hang of it. I walk with my back slightly leaning away from Hurja and my knees a little bent. It's good exercise and I can feel my abs working under the harness, especially when Hurja yanks me down the track.

Hurja is three years old and is one of 23 Siberian and Greenland huskies at Aki's property, which is also the base for his tour company Routa Travel.

During winter, the huskies pull tourists on dog sledding adventures around the area. In summer, when the visitor season quietens, tourists go husky trekking. It's a good way for the dogs to keep active.

"They are my passion and most of my life," says Aki, a lanky 28-year-old.

"I haven't had any husky," he continues, "that I have taught to pull. They learnt that from the heart."

I look at Hurja jumping forward, begging to bolt, and understand.

Aki has been operating Routa Travel for five years and started with 12 dogs. When I first arrived, the dogs barked with excitement as I reached their kennel beside Aki's red wooden house that looked to be straight from the pages of a fairytale.

I entered a fenced play area and, one by one, the dogs were let out to meet me. They jumped, licked my face and raced around my legs.

"They have a wild way to be friends with you," said Aki as he picked up one of the larger dogs for a hug.

"To keep them all happy, it's very important to know them individually."

Some were attention seekers, he said, while others were mischievous.

Routa Travel is one of the smallest sled-dog companies in Finland and is the smaller of two in the Kajaani (pron. kay-yarn-i) area. Because of this, Aki takes just two people at a time on winter dog sledding tours, which can be short day trips from Hotelli Kalevala (where I'm staying), or part of multi-day packages.

After the meet and greet with the dogs, and husky trekking with Hurja, Rika offers me traditional rye bread "pies" picked up from a local bakery. They're similar to Turkish pides that are open, revealing their varied fillings.

One plate holds pies with pouches of rice, others are filled with carrot, some with purple lingonberry paste, a fourth with fish and the last with reindeer meat. The reindeer meat tastes rich with fat and the lingonberry sweet like a blueberry tart.

We wash them down with tea poured from kettles blackened with ash from a campfire. We sit on split logs in Aki's yard, beside the huskies and a glassy lake down a forested slope. Aki's painted red house is a simple log rectangle with white window frames. The entry overlooks the huskies, while the back faces the glimmery lake, the only obstruction to the view being the patch of bean pole pines.

On the lake's shore is another red building, which is the family's traditional Finnish sauna. Stacked nearby are logs of firewood, while two canoes rest on the bank next to another tea pot over a campfire.

It's typical rustic Finland at its best and I dream of returning in winter to meet the huskies with snow under their feet.

IF YOU GO

GETTING THERE: Finnair is Finland's national carrier and meets connections with One World airline partners flying from Australia to Hong Kong and other Asian cities. Flight prices vary greatly depending on the time of the year and day of the week you travel. To search for flights, visit finnair.com/au.

Kajaani airport is about an hour's flight from Helsinki and is serviced by Flybe. Go to flybe.com. Kuhmo is about 1h 20 min from Kajaani airport in the Kainuu area of Eastern Finland.

The Routa Travel husky property is about 20km from Kuhmo.

STAYING THERE: You can stay in one of the rooms in Aki's simple home or at the nearby Hotelli Kalevala. The hotel is like a large ski lodge, positioned on a lake, not far from the town centre of Kuhmo. For room rates, visit hotellikalevala.fi/en/.

PLAYING THERE: Routa Travel offers husky safaris and nature tours designed for couples, families and small groups. You can go on husky trekking day tours, spend a week living with the huskies, go cross-country skiing with them, go dog sledding or meet the huskies on a day visit to the property. For more details and prices, go to routatravel.fi.

*The writer travelled as a guest of Finnair.

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