What happens when you combine kayak camping in the Zadar archipelago in winter with torrential rain, southerly wind (Jugo), and a complete camping beginner? In other words, is the winter kayak camping trip in Croatia worthwhile? See below to find your answer.
Four days were set in the calendar for our kayak camping in the Zadar archipelago this winter. Ivan who joined me on this kayaking trip runs a company and doing the legwork for taking time off is akin to launching a spacecraft. In other words, the weather would have to be really really bad for us to reschedule the trip. The weather was a bit edgy, but then again, the best photos come from the craziest weather conditions and this trip was no exception.
Kayak camping: the two extremes of Dalmatian winters
Writing this I have realized how ambiguous many things about the trip were.
On the one hand there is the juxtaposition of the Dalmatian weather patterns: calm sunny days meet rain and wind. There are as many perfectly sunny days with no wind and 10 degrees Celsius weather as there are days with torrential rain and the infamous Bura winds.
On the other hand there is the juxtaposition of a complete camping beginner vs a seasoned outdoors person. Ivan is an intermediate kayaker and has taken several kayaking courses with us. Endurance wise, even though we are all recovering from lock-down inactivity, Ivan has use the trip served as a countdown that forced him to find time for enough training so we can paddle 15-25km days. This is his first proper camping trip, though. We joke it is the Balkan learning methodology – you get thrown into it and learn on the go.
Our kayak camping expeditions are for people with kayaking experience and appropriate personal gear (drysuits/dry pants if it is winter) and who train in some kind of endurance activity at home (walking, hiking, running, cross-fit or anything similar). At the end of the day, we are here to pass on the skills and experience of outdoor living. You can be a complete camping beginner to do the winter camping trip, let a long a summer camping one. After all, what is a holiday if you don’t come back home with some newly acquired skills?
Kayaking expedition part 1: the rain
The southernly wind comes with low air pressure and builds up speed and precipitation over several days. This time, the sea temperature was 18 degrees Celsius and the air was around 10 degrees Celsius. Wind speeds up to 15knots and bulk of the front with abundant lighting were supposed to hit us on day 3.
We packed all our gear and head north along the coastline of Dugi Otok.
On the islands it often happens that clouds just skim through. Rain is seldom an ongoing annoyance. It’s actually short enough you enjoy it while it lasts. Here clouds passing us by.
As they say, ‘the sweet is not the sweet without the bitter’. You need a gray day to appreciate the sun when it comes out.
Some rock hopping along the way.
Seagulls are flocking for a feast. Dolphins, tuna and other predator fish chase showls of fish to the surface, making it an easy pray.
Light passing through the thick rain clouds.
Even though the forecast was rain, the night was calmer than expected. Early morning saw clouds build up again.
Time on the water. Sometimes meditative, other times chatty. A quick joke?
What did the Ocean say to the shore?
Nothing. It just waved.
Why are there fish at the bottom of the sea?
– Because they dropped out of school.
Why is the sea so strong?
– Because it has a lot of mussels.
Today, the forecast predicted strong thunder lightning in the night. We skipped the tents and took an apartment with one of our suppliers on Dugi Otok. We swapped the kayaking gear for hiking shoes and headed to the hills (see in the in the back of this photo).
The circular hiking trail takes us along the open-water rugged coastline…
…past a cave…
…and over the hilltop for stunning views of little islands and fishing villages…
…and with views of paddling routes for the next few days.
One of the routes was past the island Rava.
Kayaking expedition part 2: the sun
The next morning, the weather cleared. Fishing boat returning with full load of sardines/anchoves and the ubiquitous seagull escort.
A lunch break and restocking with supplies in one of the slipways. Ivan’s after lunch coffee doubled as a quick work meeting.
Islands in Zadar archipelago have summer populations between 200 and 800 people. In winter, the reality kicks in. Populations decline to anything between 12 and 200 souls. Many places don’t have bars, so the only place you can see people is in the harbor. The gentleman behind Ivan is emptying the boat from the night’s rain. The boats still serve as the main source of protein: fishing.
As we turned the corner, the views over the mountains opened up. We discovered that the night’s storm has brought a share of snow that now covers the 1700m high peaks of Velebit mountain range.
A stop in the picturesque village of Mali Iž.
The temperature dropped, the wind stopped and the views cleared.
This evening we had a spectacular sky views with light polution only from the fishing boats attracting sardens with their strong lights.
Night and day air temperatures are around 8 and 15 degrees Celsisus respectively. If you are coming from anywhere north of Austria, you could easily mistake Croatian winter for North European summer. The only discomfort of kayak camping in winter in Croatia is the fact that sun rises late (7am) and doesn’t really dry out the dew. As a bonus, you get the stunning misty hues.
It is hard to tell if this was shot now or in July, isnt’ it?
Another day of calm water paddling.
Winter may bring a few days of hard conditions, but nothing that well customised route planning can’t compensate.
Our final island crossing.
Do you think this is a landing ground or a passage to the other side of the island? Check the video below for the answer.
Here is a short video from the trip.
And so, this trip comes to an end. The ferry takes us back to our base on island Molat and our next winter trip starts from there. Stay tuned for more info.
Complement this piece with a photo essay about sea kayaking course and summer kayak camping trip in this archipelago. Read more about our expedition around island Lastovo or a winter sea kayaking trip on island Hvar.
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‘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 the 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.