It feels like we are paddling through a Swiss fairy tale; the Alps tower overhead and little villages cling to the cliffs as the lake presses in from all sides. However, it is the castle that demands all of our attention. It sits alone on the shore no more than a kilometer away. With each paddle stroke, the distance between us remains, as if the castle lies suspended on a gigantic canvas. One of the luxuries of Stand Up Paddling is that nothing moves fast. Everything slows down; there is time to look around, to feel nature and count one’s blessings.
A mammoth skeleton blocks our path around the next bend. As we paddle a few cautious strokes closer, the bony frame of the primitive beast constantly tumbling around in the burbling water reveals itself to be the remnants of a huge spruce that has fallen across the Holjeån River.
This river, in the north-east of the southern Swedish province of Skåne, also known as Scania, flows in broad loops from Östafors Bruk, through lush meadows and pristine nature before finally disgorging its waters into the lake of Ivösjön. With its wild riverbanks and huge tree trunks, it feels as though we are exploring a prehistoric land. The river is the first of three disciplines in our personal triathlon on the waters of Skåne. Jean-Luc, Justin and I have set ourselves the goal of paddling across the region from east to west on three waterways: the Holjeån River, the lake of Ivösjön and around the imposing peninsula of Kullaberg that juts out into the ocean channel known as the Kattegat. Our aim is to discover the original wilderness of Skåne and understand how this was shaped by natural forces, evolution and traditions.
A stillness in the Arctic air warns summer’s long days will soon end and the cold northern breezes will call the winter in. But for the moment is endless light, and if fortunate, a midnight sun dancing with the horizon.
It all started with a daydream in the shower. Stand-Up Paddling in pure, untouched nature with unpredictable weather, no cruise-liners plying nearby waters, no wellness retreats or smashed avocado on toast; the only suite a tent with outdoor toilet. We would camp wild, fish for food and explore some of the regions beautiful mountains and lakes. Why not? The chance to experience the midnight sun was what drew us to undertake a self-supported 15-day, 250-kilometer Stand-Up Paddle journey in Norway, north of Tromsø, well within the Arctic Circle, around the islands of Rebbenesoya, Grotoya and Nordkvaløya.
The sun is low on the horizon, the sea is calm. Soon the village of Uummannaq with its heart shaped mountain disappears behind us. Our sea kayaks point towards the massive island of Storøen, 8 km away. Its fiery-red lighted cliff drops 1,000 meters vertically into the sea and attracts us like a magnet. We are at latitude 70° 40’, far north of the Arctic Circle. Here, far away from the rush of human civilization, we have all the time in the world to observe the magical spectacle of nature. Under the midnight sun the sea changes colour to crimson-blue, and its surface becomes so glassy that everything is reflected as in a mirror. Mountain sides light up in powerful reds, shadows lengthen, and the icebergs seem to be under a giant spotlight.
The fascination of its biodiversity, its varied landscapes, its culture both Asian and African and its friendly people is how Madagascar has always charmed the traveler. To the north-east, the Masoala peninsula, also known as the “sanctuary of nature”, is one of the last places in the country where the primary rainforest meets the sea.
Madagascar, which is among the top five countries in the world in terms of biodiversity richness, is famous for its remarkable variety of wildlife and plants. Masoala is the largest National Park in Madagascar. The Peninsula includes both marine and forest habitats. It’s a place rich in culture and Malagasy traditions. The “Fady” or taboos are rigorously observed in some areas, illustrating the still significant links between man and the forest or between the modern and traditional worlds.
Wherever we look, it is the infinite that appears to us. The largest dunes in the world shine red along the Namib. The Fish River Canyon in the south has nothing to envy to its geological cousin in Colorado. The mysterious Damaraland, Kaokoland and the mythical Skeleton Coast contain not only rare ancient rock paintings but also the only desert elephants and the last black rhinos in the world.
There is no better place to experience the wilderness than Canada and Alaska. Sparsely populated, amazing rivers, great fishing and wildlife that keeps one on their toes.
I would be traveling with an old childhood school friend and his partner. The trip would begin in Whitehorse and we would travel the next 40 days to the Dalton Hwy before flying up into northern Alaska where isolation and harshness shaped every day. The idea was to immerse ourselves in the wild, to create a feeling different from a weekend trip. It took a lot of pre-planning because forgetting the puncture kit for ones sleeping mat or the lighter for the cooker could really make life hard.
Exploring the Outer Hebrides islands have brought PlanetVisible photographer Jean-Luc Grossmann and his brother to the ragged northwest coast of Scotland on the very edge of Europe. Here, islanders take deep pride in both their maritime heritage and gaelic ancestry, warning paddlers to heed the Rummlin Kirn, the rumbling noise of a strong tidal race through a narrow rocky channel.