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Paddle Away from Your Cares 3 minutes to read

The paddle dips silently into the turquoise water as the canoe glides gently down the river. The leaves of the grey alder rustle in the breeze and every now and then a bird calls. Here, you simply paddle your cares away.

Author: Michaela Schwarz

 

The idea of exploring the wilderness carried only by the current of the river and your own muscles has a charm of its own. As you immerse yourself in the natural beauty that surrounds you, you suddenly realise that with each stroke of the paddle your breath is becoming slower and your mind quieter. That is relaxation in its purest form.

And yet the beginning of the day had not exactly been relaxing. When I arrived at the canoe camp in Dellach in the Carinthian Drau valley, the outdoor thermometer was showing an oppressive 33 degrees – and the prospect of squeezing into a wetsuit was anything but enticing. Of course, what I didn’t know then was that the water in the Drau barely reaches 10 degrees, because unlike other rivers, such as the Gail, it is fed by meltwater from the glaciers in the Hohe Tauern.

Like so many things that day, this was something I learned from our young guide Hanna. On my canoe tour from Oberdrauburg to Dellach, she took care of absolutely everything: from making sure we got ourselves kitted out properly, to skilfully manoeuvring the canoe, to providing a wealth of fascinating information about the flora and fauna of the Upper Drau Valley and, last but by no means least, grilling the fat, juicy Bauernwürstel we enjoyed as a well-deserved treat at the end of the day.

But to get back to the beginning. There were four of us on the trip: Hanna of course, then a British holidaymaker called Peter, his 17-year-old daughter Diana and me. And to be honest, as first-time canoeists, the three of us were rather nervous. Due to the heavy rain that had fallen during the last couple of days before our trip, the water level in the Drau was higher and the current rather stronger than usual.

But after a brief and easy-to-understand introduction - on how to paddle and when - we finally took the plunge. Following Hanna’s expert instructions, we pushed the canoe a couple of metres into the knee-deep water, and then rather clumsily clambered in. And then, I was suddenly pleasantly surprised: Because the river was so cold, a cool and pleasant breeze wafted towards us over the surface of the water. My wetsuit, which was actually supposed to be a piece of safety equipment, was now more than welcome as a warm piece of clothing and I began to look forward even more to the experiences ahead.

Canoeing on the Drau

  • Canoeing on the Drau, Carinthia © Kärnten Werbung / Franz Gerdl Canoeing on the Drau, Carinthia © Kärnten Werbung / Franz Gerdl
  • Canoeing on the Drau, Carinthia © Franz Gerdl Canoeing on the Drau, Carinthia © Franz Gerdl
  • At the heart of nature, the Oberdrau valley © Franz Gerdl At the heart of nature, the Oberdrau valley © Franz Gerdl
  • At the heart of nature, the Oberdrau valley © Kärnten Werbung / Franz Gerdl At the heart of nature, the Oberdrau valley © Kärnten Werbung / Franz Gerdl
  • Canoeing in the Oberdrau valley, Carinthia © Franz Gerdl Canoeing in the Oberdrau valley, Carinthia © Franz Gerdl

My wetsuit, which was actually supposed to be a safety measure, was now more than welcome as a warm piece of clothing and I began to look forward even more to the experiences ahead. The first one: Wow! We were moving at a spanking pace. But Hanna skilfully steered our canoe – a very stable inflatable Canadian – safely over the occasional rapids. To be honest, the rest of us didn’t have to do much more than occasionally paddle forwards or backwards a little at her command.

I could see the tour was going to be more of a pleasure ride than a sporting challenge, which was fine by me, as it meant I could concentrate more on what was most important: the beauty of the untouched wetlands through which we were gliding so elegantly and seemingly weightlessly.

Our trip along one of the most pristine rivers in the Southern Alps took us through the biggest grey alder alluvial forest in Austria. The area is home to more than 140 species of birds, including such rare breeds as the kingfisher or the common sandpiper - which was so well camouflaged we almost missed it even though we were less than five metres away. But nothing escaped Hanna’s practiced eye and so she also drew our attention to the German Tamarisk as we raced by. This rare, two-metre high shrub was once close to extinction in Austria but has been successfully reintroduced.
 
Occasionally, we saw old wooden ladders on the river bank leading to hidden jetties in the water. They are used by fisherman to land big fish such as Danube salmon – which, after all, can weigh in at up to 50 kilos. Even crayfish scuttle around in the clear, cold water of the Drau. They all bear witness to the unspoilt nature we have the privilege of exploring.
 
And time and again, we caught sight of isolated sandy coves created by the fine sand known as “glacial milk”. This is generated by the mechanical grinding of bedrock as the ice of the glacier moves down the valley and it all ends up in the Drau together with the meltwater.

Just as I was reflecting on that, I saw another sandy cove, and to our surprise a group of local children, who obviously knew the way here, were making their wayalong the well-hidden path through the forest. They were having the time of their lives sinking down to their ankles in the fine sand and then all jumping out together at the same time. They willingly helped us drag the canoe on land and one of them seized the opportunity to practice the latest English phrases he had learned at school on Peter: “How are you?” When we finally headed on down the river, he called after us: “We are family!”

Inspiring lake and river scenery

Bathing Lakes in Carinthia

Carinthia is not known as "Austria's Riviera" without reason.

Bathing Lakes in Carinthia

Carinthia is not known as "Austria's Riviera" without reason.
  • River Salza
    Deemed by many as Austria’s most beautiful untamed river, with one of the most captivating gorges.
  • Ottenstein reservoir
    The many branches of the Ottenstein reservoir in the idyllic Waldviertel region are ideal for exploring.

Thanks to the strong current, the ride was slightly shorter than planned and the bridge across the Drau in Dellach soon rose before us. I was curious about how Hanna would manage the landing manoeuvre but it turned out to be child’s play for her.

By the time the four of us had carried the canoe the short distance up from the river to our camp, my stomach was growling. But that was also taken care of! In a nearby idyllic sandy cove we grilled tasty Carinthian sausages at a barbecue area on the bank of the river. We washed it all down with lemonade, water and beer taken from the cool box we had brought with us and then put in Nature’s cool box: Come to think about it, a freezing cold river definitely has its upsides.

As I bit into my spicy sausage I suddenly noticed how hungry I had become. No wonder, I chuckled to myself – after all, I had paddled the four of us down the river practically single-handed.

Encounters with nature

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Paddle Away from Your Cares

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