Kayaking down the Krka. Priceless.
In these late summer days the River Krka, the main artery of Dolenjska, is quiet and mysterious. It may seem somewhat withdrawn and neglected, but the locals are still happy to call it the pride of Dolenjska. At first glance the Krka is a calm river, as it winds around Dolenjska’s largest town, Novo Mesto, and other better known places along the river such as Otočec and Kostanjevica. But that is already its lower course. Higher up, when it flows through the Krka valley and the landscape of Suha Krajina, it reveals its Karstic, limestone nature more clearly. The famed weirs formed from travertine deposits, hidden in the river’s turns and pools, add a touch of adventure. And what better way to explore the beauty of the pride of Dolenjska than by kayak. For so long it had been a secret desire of mine to set off along this river, and I finally found the ideal person to guide me, the former Olympian and top white-water kayaker Borut Javornik.
Not far from the source of the river, in the idyllic village of Krka, it is open house at the Javornik farm, the starting point for canoe trips organised by his company Carpe Diem. This is where Borut Javornik is from, and as a former competitive kayaker he is incredibly enthusiastic about the Krka, on which he learnt the sport. The Krka means everything to him. In his younger days he competed in white-water slaloms, representing Slovenia in the Olympics in Barcelona, before becoming team trainer for Atlanta and Sydney.
Borut has been organising kayaking on the Krka since 1991, when he started his company. Since then he has developed a wide range of programmes for lots of different target groups – from children’s kayak workshops and courses to sports days for primary and secondary schools, special corporate programmes and group work, and, of course, training at various levels of kayak school, and organising kayaking camps and trips down other rivers. They have a wide range of guests too, with whole families sometimes coming along. Borut is also involved in training Slovenia’s next generation of kayak teachers.
Most of his guests are from Slovenia, but they also have regulars from abroad. Borut explains: “We’re very well established around Venice, and work well with kayak clubs and smaller agencies from that area who think we offer an interesting and attractive programme. Some foreigners find us thanks to my competitive past, but more often it’s because we offer an original white-water kayaking package that is fun, safe and attractive.” He stresses the decisive role of the conditions the Krka offers, which they know how to recognise and make best use of. The Krka offers the promise of enjoyment for those sitting in a kayak for the first time, but also for experienced kayakers who will find its diversity very attractive.
Since Borut is a local, the grandson of a miller and a sawyer, he also knows many of the secrets of the Krka’s upper course. When Borut looks at the Krka he sees a top quality recreational and sports course for kayakers. But the Krka also offers excellent opportunities for fly-fishing, and has a history marked by a rich cultural heritage. It is sometimes known as the Valley of Castles, largely because of the many castles along the lower course of the river. The upper course is still part of the limestone Karstic plateau, so the Krka is a Karstic river featuring naturally-occurring and engineered travertine dams and weirs. The source of the river is the Krška Jama cave, which it is possible to visit. You could even meet a bear in the surroundings, as their numbers have started to grow in the local forests. Don’t worry, though, so far there have not been any problems.
The Javornik family and their team offer many trips down the Krka carefully adapted to groups – short to long and tailored to the group’s level of experience. As our group gathers by the Krka on a Saturday morning, Borut Javornik is already speaking. “Okay, let’s go. First choose a wetsuit, then let’s get on the river!” No hanging around, straight into action. A moment later and we were already on the river, listening to instructions on how to paddle. No problem that we had only just seen the kayaks up close for the first time, never mind not having sat in them before. Trained guides accompany us on our descent, encouraging us and keeping an eye on our safety. Life jackets and helmets are of course compulsory.
“As we don’t just rent out our canoes, but always offer guided trips along the Krka, we have avoided most of the dangers,” explains Borut. “It’s important to remember that kayaking is a dangerous sport by definition, since it takes place in water and in the countryside where dangers are always present.” If the water level is too high, they cancel trips for beginners. This approach certainly gives me additional confidence that the boys on the river will take care of me. Borut adds, “A big danger for us are beginners who are too confident and longing for instant adrenalin, which isn’t what we offer. What we are about is offering beginners an entry into kayaking skills.”
Any trip starts while you are still on land, since you have to understand the basics of paddling a kayak. The guides showed us how to hold the oars and how to paddle and then we were in the water. In general Carpe Diem uses special sit-on-top kayaks, which are more stable and simpler to use. These are solid-hull kayaks, where excess water drains through drainage holes in the lower section of the kayak. This makes it more stable and easier to use for people with little or no experience.
As a complete beginner it took some time to get the hang of things at first, but I soon realised I would be okay. These canoes are really excellent for enjoying the river. And the river did not seem particularly cold either. At the height of summer it can reach 18 degrees, but now it is already cooling. It really is so refreshing. “Don’t worry, just get stuck in!” says the guide Zdenko. And I do. And, of course, Borut encourages our every effort.
I take to kayaking straight away, but as soon as I reach the first travertine weirs I promised myself I would be visiting the Krka again. After four hours of kayaking and “dropping anchor” at Žužemberk, I was genuinely tired. But it was the kind of pleasant tiredness that you feel when you have really been in touch with nature. Travelling along the river is a wonderful feeling. From the kayak the environment seems to tell you the story of the places along the river, and you see their culture and countryside from a different point of view. The local forests lend an impression of unspoilt nature as you paddle in the company of trout, ducks and storks. On the river all that matters is the moment and being in touch with the river and its surroundings. Priceless. So I understand why Zdenko, the guide, says that kayaking down the Krka fills you with positive energy. “This is my anti-stress programme. Kayaking really relaxes me,” he explains and adds that it offers “a fantastic feeling, when the people you have guided on a unique experience discover the unspoilt nature of the Krka river valley.”
But your experience with the Javorniks does not end with the river descent. Their farm is celebrated as one of the best inns in the area. Their food is based around the excellent local trout, prepared in many different dishes, as well as game. You will also find them serving all kinds of other things that grow or they gather locally. They also offer their own excellent home-made apple juice.
When people slowly begin to harvest the grapes from the vineyards that spread over the slopes of the Krka valley, it is still a good time to kayak down the river. The Javorniks take people down the river during October (the season goes from the start of April to the end of October), and occasionally even organise winter trips for their friends. And when you have finished the kayaking, there really still is more to come. No more hard work, just pure hedonism round a table piled with delicious food. The kayaking and the eating were fantastic.
Text by Polona Prešeren, Sinfo, October 2010
For more information see: www.kayak.si
Otočec Castle - situated on an island in the river Krka, is the only water castle in Slovenia and far around. Its earliest foundations were built in the Middle Ages, and its present appearance was created during the Renaissance.