It’s almost December. Three paddlers, three days, one island, and 85km. Add to it a via ferrata, a hike, ‘Jugo’ (southernly) storm, and put it all in the middle of the olive harvest season. A proper adventure on one of the most unlikely places to find things off the beaten path – island Hvar.
The paradox is that Hvar is one of the islands that is getting significantly impacted by overtourism, as I wrote about it earlier. Along with a handful of other islands in Croatia, it accounts for the majority of island summer tourist arrivals. Yet, it was here that we found some of the most exciting paddling as well as natural and cultural sites. We stayed away from touristy places but such simplification that doesn’t do island Hvar it’s justice. As this trip proves, there is still much to see on Hvar beyond the main tourism magnet – the town itself. Going beyond the obvious may call for a bit of digging under the surface and getting off the beaten path. See what you fill find there in this photo essay and video from our Hvar kayaking winter adventure.
Most of the activities on the island are happening in town Hvar and the Pakleni islands that encircle its harbor. That leaves most of this 67km long island pretty much untouched. As we paddled the coastline, a few observations popped up.
OFF THE BEATEN PATH ON HVAR: THE WINTER
‘Off the beaten path’ is as much about geography as it is about timing. So, visiting Hvar in, almost December is a recipe for the perfect experience. Virtually no boats on the horizon. No people on the beaches, it feels like you have the island for yourself.
Popular opinion has it that the most vibrant part of the year for the Croatian coast is summer. Nothing is black and white. It is precisely in winter that real-life unfolds on the islands. An unassuming building sitting next to the road is an olive grind. It is just another building all year round, but in winter is home to bustling life as oil flows in hectoliters, and tons of olives work their way through its narrow entrance gates.
It is precisely in those areas accessible only by the sea where locals are living way under the big tourism radar, meticulously working in their ‘konobas’, storing their gear, and working the fields or taking care of their apiaries.
As you paddle past the beaches in winter, local life unfolds in front of you. Paddling in the bay, we meet Ante. The first person we saw the entire day. Ante is a local from Brusje, engaged in general touruism in summer, now working on his konoba in a secluded bay. You canget there either by sea or a dirt road. He appreciates the company and tells us about the history of the place.
The sides of the valley on the image above use to be vineyards 1950s. It was then that phylloxera finally came to Croatia and decimated the vines and the local economy, leading to the exodus of Croatias around the world. Now, only a fraction of the vineyard is kept alive (behind the paddlers in autumny yellow above). As Ante says: ‘agriculture is not a way to make a living on the island anymore.’
Agriculture is all for personal consumption: wine, honey, and a garden. The tools he uses today have been used for farming by his ancestors literally for centuries. The wooden handle, he says, he replaced, but the metal frame is the same. He explains how steep rocky terrain is the reason why hoes used on this vineyard are much narrower from the ones used on flatter parts of the island where soil accumulates faster.
WINTER KAYAKING CONDITIONS
By definition going off the beaten path requires a skill. If nothing else, then the skills of hopping behind the fence that locks us in the well-trodden path. On the other side, there is the grit that reveals what each one of us s made of. Beyond the fence there lies adventure. This week it came in form of kayaking downwinding.
The southerly wind that was blowing just days before we started our trip will come to be known as the strongest southerly wind since 1987: 140km/h. That storm came with 10m high waves further south and some damage to several villages on island Hvar.
We used the day for a down-winding session that took us past the villages, beaches, and cliffs of Hvar’s northern coast.
I made this trip in the company of fellows from ISKGA Advanced coastal guiding training in Ireland. To put i into perspective, this kind of waves and winds are Irish weekly occurrence and wouldn’t even tingle the curiosity of Irish journalists. It’s all about perspective.
This is Croatia. The storms come and go. The ubiquitous flat blue sea comes back to be.
The southerly wind will always follow with a bit of a swell looking more dramatic than what it really is.
KAYAKING THINGS TO SEE ON HVAR
What else did we find en route?
We kayaked and climbed to the military tunnels from Cold War period (Yugoslav effort for military indepedence from the Russian and Western block). If you have been paddling with us in Croatia, you will notice taht on each and every kayaking trip and expedition we always have military tunnels. This one, like many others, have the same moisture and water management designs as well as airflow strategy. After having seen so many, I must say the caves here on Hvar have the highest number of steps we have seen.
The perk of paddling in autumn and winter is the timid wildlife that works it’s way to the shallow seas. Two sea breams were shy of the camera, but his fairly big fellow was keen to hang around as we got ready to launch the boats on the water.
In Jelsa we took a short break, only to find those small hamlets were much busier than the center of town. We also found out large man-sized letter spelling out name of the town ‘Jelsa’ were written backward as you approached the town. I guess not many kayakers or boats are expected to enter it’s harbor. 🙂
VIA FERRATA ON HVAR
After we continued kayaking exploration, we turned to the mountains. A via ferrata system that perfectly blends with existing hiking trail and offers unmatched views of the vineyards in Sv.Nedilja.
Very exciting project as it capitalises on the stunning views of picturesque village Sv.Nedilja and it’s surrounding vineyards.
The entire project has been personally financed by a Slovakian, now Sv. Nedilja local who runs the nearby climbing area: cliffbase. Check it out for more of the vertical adventures.
CAN EVERYONE DO THIS?
Can everyone do it? Absolutely. Will you need to train a bit? Perhaps. Will you need to know what you are doing and who you are doing it with? No doubt. Will you need a bit of local insight? Very likely.
You may need to train a bit, but everyone can get fit and skilled enough for it. We have taught hundreds of people how to do kayak and SUP touring. That is the appeal of the outdoors: it inspires us to be better, stronger, and more skilled. In my view, this is why we travel and go out in to nature. It is what makes us more humble nature dwellers and more respectful and responsible human beings.
I know this is not for everyone but it may be for you, as you are reading this. We are here to enable you to develop yourselves as a kayaker, climber, hiker, outdoor person, get rooted in local culture and contribute directly to the local economy as a part of your travels. Join us for our adventures or just share your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org
Complement this piece with a story about kayak circumnavigation of island Lastovo, kayak circumnavigation of island Lošinj, a subzero winter kayaking trip in Croatia, or a multiday hiking trip in Velebit mountain range.
If you like what you’re reading, sign up for my quarterly newsletter here.
Have a great day.
‘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.