Sea kayaking Croatia in winter is almost a paradox. In a country that is the embodiment of summer, warm sea, heat, old towns, and beaches, winter is just a period of silence. However, in Croatia temperatures sometimes do drop below -5 and snowfall can be so abundant that it blocks the whole country for days. At the same time, on the islands, roads are snow covered, ferries canceled and ice flowstones decorate the cliffs and walls. Polar conditions in the Adriatic - can you ask for a better setting for a kayaking adventure in Zadar archipelago?
Don’t get me wrong, most of the winters are cozy for North European standards. It means temperatures between 5 and 10-degree Celsius, with only occasionally winds although you may have a completely calm day. A perfect paddling ground.
But sometimes, as happened last week, you have winds beyond 50 knots, temperatures around minus 5 Celsius and snowfall. Even in those conditions, Croatia is a paddling refuge to two Finnish paddlers little searching for a piece of water to paddle. Finnish waters have long been covered with meter deep ice cover.
The day starts with a peek through the window. When you see a flock of seagulls happily cruising in front of your balcony, it means that the wind forecast was right – strong Bura wind.
When you look down and see snow around our ‘White Arrow’, it hints this will be a special day.
We drive on a small road that cuts through the island hilltops, only to find the road is completely snow covered. It is 'as if we are driving in Finland', says Timo who is wondering what is all the fuss about snow on the road.
Looking at this image, you can easily get fooled thinking this was taken in Spring. The sea looks inviting - perhaps even for a swim. It only the dry suits that hint at the -5 air temperature we had this morning. Wind chill effect with the Bura wind is probably around -10.
What’s different when kayaking Croatia in winter?
Some things really are different as we paddle the islands this cold morning. Firstly, the colors and the feel of the light have a mystique winterish touch to it. Sun lazily moves not far from the horizon making long shadows and making the whole trip feel like a sunrise or a sunset.
Another thing that is different in winter is the temperature inversion in the caves. Normally we paddle inside natural and man-made cracks and holes in the islands in search of fresh air and shade. Now, it’s the opposite. It’s the caves that trap the moisture and a provide a bath in the warm air.
Caves and more caves. It is just a cool photo from this trip we want to share with you here. :)
As we paddled through this cold winter morning we were sharing experiences about route planning. Croatian milestones are potential exit spots and sights to see (cliffs, caves, military tunnels) or wind protected areas and island crossings. In Finland, it appears, routes are planned around – sauna locations. Choice of the archipelago to paddle is very much driven by who knows someone with a summer house. It goes without saying that house has a sauna. :) Ofcourse, there is a significant amount of security considerations. But the fact that saunas are there on the list is refreshing on this cold winter morning in Croatia. If the winters continue to look like this in Croatia, we are definitely installing one in the archipelago. :)
Moving down to the cliffs comes the biggest winter surprise. Jugs and cracks that we sometimes use in our DWS sessions are now like just buckets from which ice abundantly flows. The fascination with ice flowstones of mine must have been odd to our Finish companions who find ice as common as we find octopus here.
Next day, we move up north on the island and take a rest day from kayaking. Wind changes to Jugo (literally means 'south'). Characteristic of Jugo is low air pressure, precipitation and in this case - thick dark clouds. It feels like we are somewhere in Scotland.
We go for a hiking trip and select a route on the wind protected side of the island. Cracking of fresh powder under your feet blends with the sound of the waves hitting the shoreline far below in the distance.
What’s the same, no matter if you paddle in Croatia in winter or summer?
Then there are some things that are the same, no matter if you paddle in winter, spring, summer or autumn. Coffee, honey and biscuits are served even if rocks are falling from the sky.
Moments of complete silence and tranquillity happen despite the fact that forecasts predicted wind strengths near hale. As the wind shifts from Bura to Jugo, we manage to take full advantage of this silend wind intermezzo. It allowed us to combine both of the planned routes into one. 26k today.
Rock hopping between the stone stacks is a fun way to practice new strokes and skills. It allows us to better perceive the rocky shoreline of the islands and become aware of the razor sharp rocks. This very much answers the question why we have only plastic kayaks and inflatable SUPs here.
Another thing that is the same no matter if you paddle in winter or summer are the sea's surprises we find washed out on the beaches. Today, it's a football on this pebblestone beach. We bounced the ball for warm-up before getting back in the kayaks. Luckily the dry suit keeps Timo warm as he collects one of the rebounds.
Check out our video from the trip here:
Video by NevenGo.
Planning your kayaking trip to Croatia in winter
We are always happy to go for a paddle and lead a trip. No matter what is the time of year or sea state. This trip went beyond any of our earlier paddling experience in terms of temperature (and hale winds). But those things are only limits. Limits are here to be moved (i.e. temperature) or circumnavigated (hale wind) in a safe way.
Anyway, if you are up for a winter paddle, let us know ahead of time. Paddlers normally bring their own drysuits or wetsuits (depending on the temperature). The rest of the stuff you get from us.
Here is what you can expect from a ‘normal Adriatic winter’:
- Air temperature between 3 and 8 degrees Celsius
- Sea temperature around 10 degrees Celsius
- Wind between 5 and 10m/s with possible storm days of up to 15m/s
Practical tips for sea kayaking Croatia in winter
Given the above, here are three practical tips for sea kayaking Croatia in winter:
1. Where do you sleep? It’s good to go for a BnB based trip instead of camping (you may have perfect weather, but you may also have rain 3/7 days or wind above 10m/s for a few days
2. Who are you paddling with? It’s good to opt for a guided trip. Wind and weather changes can be hard to predict. We had a positive surprise with zen moment out on the sea, but it may go the other way, too. Living here makes a big difference in spotting the nature’s weather clues.
3. When are you paddling? January is probably the least practical time to come. Most venues are closed, and things start opening up in February.
4. What gear to bring with you? Plan to bring your own personal gear. Dry suit is probably the safest pick. Wetsuits work (I wore one on several -5 degree Celziius paddles), but if the weather is cold it is definitely better to stay dry. For more info about packing tips, see our packing tips for your adventures in Croatia.
5. Where to go paddling? Consider which archipelago offers most wind protected paddling routes. We are obviously a bit biased towards Zadar archipelago where we have all our kayaking bases. It is one of the densest island groups in Adriatic. Also, as we have learned this week. The north Adriatic is blocked (literally, you cant get to the islands) with strong Bura and south Adriatic is hit by heavy southernly wind, our home turf offers some enjoyable paddling.
Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to go for a winter paddling trip in Croatia.
‘Moving your limits’ isn’t necessarily about the highest mountains, biggest caves, deepest canyons or oldest ruins. But it is about great adventures. It’s about that constant pursuit of world’s secrets – cultural as well as natural. It’s about how we move in nature and raise our expectations about each and every place in the world, moving our mental and physical limits on the way.