Croatia is divided into 4 cultural regions, and Dalmatia has the lions share of the coastline.
The Dalmation coast which is the area where hundreds of islands dot the fragmented coastline making it the most indented coastline in the Mediterranean. It was formed by rising sea levels rising almost 100 meters after the last ice age, turning mountains into islands and valleys into channels full of sea life.
The history of Dalmatia is rich, the name “Dalmatia’ derives from an Illyrian tribe called the ‘Dalmate’, and you don't need to look far to see evidence of human activity in the area stretching right the way back to these early setters from the bronze age.
Tombs can be seen on mountain tops when the sea was many meters lower, conveniently now just a short hike above sea level!
Its also been ruled by the Romans, and many of the spectacular buildings in Zadar, Spilt and Dubrovnik are Roman.
Croats arrived in the 8th century, mixing with the existing Romans, and during the middle ages cities were fought over and often switched alliances, until a relatively stable period of rule under the Republic of Venice created an Italian love hate affair, with the proud Croats and the passionate Italians!
In modern history Croatia was once apart of the former Yugoslavia ruled by the communist leader Tito from the end of the second world war up until 1980 when he died. In 1991 a civil war, split the Balkan countries into those that exist today, and since the year 2000 Dalmatia has once again returned as a favourite holiday destination, alive with visitors from almost every country in Europe and beyond.
Italians make the annual holiday pilgrimage across the Adriatic in the month of August, or ‘Ferragosto’ which is their traditional holiday period.
Some making the almost 200km journey in boats ranging from super yachts to small motor boats, and as all things Italian, everything is done with a certain style.
Slovenians, Germans, and the Dutch, are also plentiful and frequent visitors to Dalmatia’s sunny shores, drawn by the crystal clear water, safe bathing, and endless sunny days Dalmatia boasts in abundance.
As a sea kayaker we are often drawn to secret places rather than following the crowds, so how does Dalmatia fair and as a sea kayaking destination?
Zadar, Split and Dubrovnik, are beautiful ancient walled cities, which you find absolutely amazing, but if you find yourself in any of these in the middle of summer, you will soon want to escape, and find some where quieter.
Even on some of the islands the feeling of escaping the crowds can be a challenge, with Hvar and korcula attracting thousands of visitors.
I might add - for good reason, as these places are absolutely stunning, and when visited out of season you can really absorb the magic of these islands.
But even in July and August its possible to dig your paddle into some pristine coastline, and find coves and bays of stunning beauty all to your self, its simply a matter of exploring.
I have been lucky enough to spend a summer season working for Malik Adventures as a kayak guide of the small island of Molat, just north west of Zadar, where the pace of life slows to a mediterranean trickle, and a busy day can look like a sleepy afternoon at any time of day.
The only access to the island unless you have your own boat is by the state owned ‘Jadrolinija line’ ferry which operates a daily service for both car and foot passengers from Zadar, and you will know you have left the hustle and bustle of Zadar behind just as soon as you step off the ferry.
Life here you could imagine hasn't changed much in generations, and certainly for the 60 or so full time residents, change isn't something that takes places in a hurry.
Malik Adventures is run by a charismatic Croat called Marko. It is small sea kayaking business on islands Molat and Dugi Otok, with a fleet of single/double Prijon kayaks and touring SUPs offering day and weeklong trips around Molat and the neighbouring islands.
The sea kayak or a SUP is really is one of the best ways to explore the islands, as roads are few and far between, and as access to sheltered bays and island hoping in the normally unchallenging sea conditions is surprisingly straightforward and you are left wondering why you don't see more kayakers.
The Dalmatian coast has been a favourite amounts yachts men and women for many years now, as winds are often predictable, the tides negligible, ports plentiful and the excellent local food and drink round off a week or so of sailing very nicely.
But most of these highlights of the Dalmatian islands translate to sea kayaking quite well, very much making for a holiday feel to the trip.
As the sea conditions are manageable for most kayakers in the summer months, with novices quite comfortably covering distances usually reserved for more experienced kayakers and occasional strong winds being the only significant danger.
Its a place well suited to beginner/intermediate level kayaking, and good distances can be covered can be more experienced kayakers, and with so much warm water, plenty of time to nail those wet skills!
Ok Croatia sounds interesting give me the low down!
Tides - Negligible, and in most places the maximum range is about about 40cm.
How ever in between some of the islands strong tidal flows can be experienced but the distance you paddle over these accelerated areas is often just a few meters, so in most areas tidal planning is not necessary.
Wind - Winds can be interesting in Croatia, but normally fall into 3 or 4 patterns. They also name the winds here as each wind tends to have a different characteristic.
In the summer the dominant wind tends to blow from the north with a variation between NW and NE, even though the direction is similar the formation of these winds is almost opposite.
The Bora is a NE wind, and is formed by an accumulation of cold air on the Velebit mountains, when the accumulated cold air on top of the mountain reaches tipping point it literally falls off, creating a katabatic wind which increases in strength until the cold and warm air have been sufficiently mixed.
The NW wind is called the Mistral, and is often attributed to being an afternoon sea breeze which builds as cool air from the sea is drawn towards the warming land, this is very common in summer. This wind normally won’t blow as strong or hard as the Bora and is normally associated with good weather in a stable pressure zone.
Pulenat blows from the west and is normally very light and causes no problems, however it is normally a wind which indicates a change in direction, and occasionally when the sky darkens to the west, this wind can indicate a brewing summer storm which can blow hard and fast and often brings rain thunder and lightening. So although this in most cases is harmless it can be an indication of what is coming next!
The Yugo blows from the SE, and can bring strong winds and stormy weather. This can blow at any time of year and can and often is a strong wind.
Having described the winds here, it’s important to note that with planning almost everyday can be paddled and the only time you absolutely need to be off the water is during a summer storm when winds can increase dramatically to 30 knots or above.
Camping - No wild camping is allowed any where in Dalmatia, and campsites are few and far between, at least campsites in interesting places. Single nights accommodation can also be difficult to book. This is where booking on to a trip where accommodation is included has its advantages.
Wild camping as possible as there are plenty islands which are uninhabited, but you need to be aware this is still technically forbidden as are open fires.
Flights to Zadar, Split and Dubrovnik are frequent and inexpensive from most big airports in Europe from May to September.
Car travel is possible to the islands as most larger islands have a regular ferry service operated by Jadrolinija line, most accommodate for both car and on foot.
Buses - Buses are frequent, cheap and reliable and will take you between main towns and cities on the mainland, but on the islands, only the bigger and more popular ones such as Hvar, Brac and Korcula offer bus services.
Hiring kayaks - This can be possible in some places such as on Hvar, Molat, and Rab
but do check with the company on their policy of hiring as some only hire to experienced kayaks.
Language - Croatian is the national language but English is widely spoken.
useful words include
Dobar dan - good day
Sutra - Tomorrow
Pivo - Beer
Idemo - lets go!
Dobro - good
Environment - In the summer the Dalmatian coast is hot, sunny and rocky, and the water temperature often reaching a balmy 26 degrees, but drops dramatically over the winter period
Limestone covers most of the islands and most coves are rocky so be prepared for this as the rocks near the shoreline can be incredibly sharp, so foot wear a must when exiting.
There are some beaches but you will not find epic beaches stretching on for miles, but instead very small typically rocky beaches are the norm. There are some very popular beaches but in most cases its best to avoid these as they get so busy in the summer.
The water is mostly crystal clear out on the islands but you will sometimes find a lot of plastic rubbish washed up on the east coast of some of the islands that has mostly been blown across from the mainland.
The dalmatian islands are famous for sea food, and locally caught fish, squid and octopus is usually fantastic, Croatian grown beef, lamb and vegetables also provide the ingredients for some truly mouth watering meals.
The local peka is a meat and vegetable dish cooked in a wood fired out door oven, and served sizzling to your table as a sharing platter.
If this has left you wanting to paddle the Dalmation islands, various operators offer trips, excursions and expeditions along the Croatian coastline.