Sea Kayaking the Elafitski Otoci
Since my first glimpse years ago of a photo of the azure waters off the Dalmatian coast of Croatia, a dream lingered in my wanderlustful mind of sea kayaking there. And isn’t it an amazing piece of grace when dreams come true! I joined a NOLS Alumnae trip there in September, 2018.
The bus from the Dubrovnik airport takes travelers across the high plains to an exciting first view from above as you descend to the water. For a couple of days, our group rested and wandered this historical, spectacular 8th century city, including an uncharacteristically uncrowded walk around the old city wall. Below us, at one point, a joyous wedding party paraded in the street with a flag-waver and an enthusiastic band! Later, a rainbow hovered for a long time above us all.
Our journey was to the Elafitski Otici (“Elaphiti Islands” in English). They are a small archipelago of 13 islands in the Adriatic Sea that protects Croatia northwest of Dubrovnik. Just three of the islands are populated, barely (total population 850)
We finally pushed our kayaks into the water at the coastal beach at Budima, near Banići, about 15 miles north of Dubrovnik. We paddled eight miles north that day, up a long inlet to the salt-producing small city of Ston.
Experience at sea kayaking varied among the group, but that was no problem. There were doubles and single kayaks, and the (lovely) NOLS concept of expedition behavior was well-entrenched among our group: we were a wonderful temporary tribe, supportive and fun.
The fortress of Ston is said to have the second-longest medieval wall in the world. After wandering on it the following morning, we got into our kayaks and headed eleven miles south to the fishing village of Luka, on the island of Šipan. We shared the waterways with numerous other vessels, large and small. I was given the chance to lead on our first major shipping channel crossing; happily, our kayaks stayed well-grouped and everyone made it safely.
With fine weather the following day, we were able to paddle the outer coast of Sipan, stopping for lunch in the hamlet of Sudurad at the southern end. Then we grouped up to cross another major shipping channel to reach the island of Lopud. We stayed two nights at a delightful guesthouse, and had a true, multi-course banquet at a local’s (elegant) patio overlooking the water.
On our “day off” most of us paddled back across to Šipan to see its “Green Cave” just for fun, and practiced self-rescue techniques and other emergency kayak procedures in the warm, welcoming waters of the Adriatic Sea. Others hiked over the top of the small island to a renowned sandy beach called Šunj.
The weather held, so again we paddled sea-side, this time around Lopud. We paused to swim in the “Blue Cave” on the island’s south shore. Then we dashed across the shipping channel, bypassing the island of Koločep, arriving back on the mainland for a night in Zaton. There, we stayed in a gigantic 500-year-old guesthouse where we shared a traditional Croatian meal in which veggies are slow-cooked in a large round pan with either lamb, veal, or octopus. The sauce and flavors were delectable!
The first part of the final day was so much fun! We paddled south to the walls of old-town Dubrovnik, and looked up at the people walking there, remembering how we’d seen paddlers—and now, they were us! What a different view of this amazing, iconic city.
Afterwards, it was seven long miles before we could reach a place without cliffs where we could get off the water. Our take-out from our week’s total of 49 miles of paddling was in the sad, bombed-out, unrepaired ex-resort town of Čilipi. There, the hardships of the not-so-distant past were palpable, with abundant evidence of the war in the 1990s. But the Croatian people are moving forward. Their spirits were steady, their hospitality unimpeachable, their wine and olives and other edibles divine. I’d go back in a heartbeat.
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