Comino is the third largest island in the Maltese archipelago and a particularly special one to paddle around. Leaving from Hondoq, on Gozo, it is not a particularly long trip, just under 6 nautical miles, but it never fails to entertain. For today’s paddle we were fortunate enough to be able to use kayaks from Kayak Gozo and were really pleased that Chris, from the company was able to join us. It has been just over 2 years since I last paddled with him, on a particularly memorable visit to Herm.
Thousands of tourists visit the Blue Lagoon every day during the height of the tourist season and even on a Friday in November it was pretty busy. During the summer months it isn’t possible to paddle through the Blue Lagoon as it is roped off for swimmers, but the ropes were taken away a few days previously and so for the first time in over 5 years I passed through the Blue Lagoon.
There was some reasonably choppy water as we made our way around the south west corner of the island, past the small lighthouse. It wasn’t long though before we were surfing parallel to the south coast.
After stopping for a quick stretch of the legs we carried on until we reached the east coast. The kayaking is truly memorable with some challenging rock hopping at times plus some superb caves just waiting to be explored.
The weather wasn’t quite as good as on some previous visits but the circumnavigation of Comino is always something special. It didn’t disappoint today.
There are some truly memorable urban sea kayaking destinations such as the Hudson River in New York and the Thames in London. Today we experienced a third, the Grand Harbour Valletta. A paddle steeped in history and geography.
Once again we were the guests of the Malta Sea Kayak Club. They have really convenient premises close to the Sliema – Valletta ferry, with a good selection of sea kayaks. Once we were kitted out what followed was 3 hours of memorable sea kayaking, explore the various areas of the Grand Harbour. Clearly paddling in such a busy commercial environment requires care and knowledge. Our local guides were, yet again, Ian and Andrea and it was a pleasure to be on the water with them again.
The history of the various locations around the harbour is well documented, ranging from the Great Siege of Malta in 1565 when the Ottoman’s tried to evict the Knights of St John, and the blockade of 1800 as a result of which, the French surrendered, enabling the British to establish rule over the islands. Possibly the most memorable military event was the relentless bombing of the island by the Italians and Germans during the Second World War.
It is possible to read about the history and to visit some of the excellent museums, but what we had today was a totally unique perspective on one of the great natural harbours in the world.
The coast of north west Malta was to provide an entertaining introduction to kayaking on the largest island of the archipelago. We launched out through the surf at Ghajn Bay before turning north with the intention of reaching Popeye’s Village.
As we paddled along the coast we passed Golden Bay, its beach dominated by the large hotel above. It is easy to imagine just how busy this area could be on a hot August day but on the last day of October it appeared relatively quiet. There were numerous opportunities for rock hopping along this section of coast but the ever present swell was creating some entertaining conditions.
Although the modern developments associated with the tourist industry are clearly visible on the cliffs above fortifications are an indication of the more turbulent past. Ta Ghajn Tuffieha Tower was the first tower that we passed, built in 1637. It was the second of a series of small coastal towers known as Lascaris Towers constructed when Giovanni Paolo Lascaris was elected Grand Master of the Order of St John.
The most northerly point of our paddle was Popeye Village, it started life in 1980 as a film set for the musical “Popeye” starring Robin Williams. A popular tourist attraction, it was fairly quiet and today and we were allowed to land on the slip briefly. A member of the staff from the cafe came down and took our coffee order, which was promptly delivered. Such excellent service.
From there we turned south, enjoying the lively water conditions, aiming for the large headland of Ras ir Raheb. The steep limestone cliffs were reflecting the waves straight back out to sea and the resulting clapotis provided some enjoyable paddling. Just to the south of the headland there was a large cave, which we managed to paddled into despite the sea conditions, although the noise was quite something.
We returned north to Ghajn Bay, enjoying the last of the 11 nautical miles that we had paddled along the coast of north west Malta. A great introduction to paddling in Malta with the Malta Sea Kayak Club.
Malta and its smaller neighbour, Gozo, have been a rich hunting ground for my sea kayaking journeys in recent years although I first visited Malta in 1971, when on a school cruise. We disembarked at Valletta, had a coach tour of the Island, of which I have virtually no memory, re-embarked on the ship and headed for Lisbon.
It wasn’t until 41 years later that I returned to the archipelago, drawn by the prospect of potential sea kayaking. I had been taking groups of young people kayaking in the Greek islands on an annual basis for a number of years but I needed somewhere a bit more accessible and that didn’t require an extra nights stop in London, both the way out and the way back. One of the disadvantages of living in Jersey are flight connections.
A quick search of potential sites produced a company called Gozo Adventures. They were able to offer the complete package and the flight timings were pretty much ideal. A booking was made for June 2012.
I strongly believe that if you are working with groups you should really have paddled in the area beforehand otherwise how can you acquire the knowledge, which is necessary for the group to gain maximum benefit from the experience. It is simple things such as, where do I park the car, which café serves the best ice cream and where are we going to stop for lunch? Getting these little things right can have a significant impact on the quality of the experience of the group members.
The plan was for Nicky and myself to visit Gozo over the Easter period so that I could familiarize myself with the Island before arriving in June. Unfortunately 10 days before the visit was due to start I broke my elbow, whilst tying some Stand Up Paddleboards on the roof of the car. Fortunately I have a wife who is a strong paddler so the visit went ahead and I was paddled around in the front seat of a double. It did enable me to get some great photographs of the coastline and enabled me to prepare for the later visit.
In the 4 years that followed I made a further 7 visits, with groups of a young people, with members of the Jersey Canoe Club and to offer training to some of the paddlers who were living on Gozo.
In the intervening years I have welcomed Maltese kayakers to Jersey waters and even had one of the people who I trained move in with me, as he moved to Jersey for a short while to work as a kayaking instructor. Sadly I didn’t manage to visit the islands in 2016 and I wasn’t going to allow a repeat performance in 2017 so this morning we flew from London to Malta. We are really looking forward to the opportunity to explore more of this archipelago by kayak, hopefully starting tomorrow when we head out with some of the members of Sea Kayak Malta.
Having paddled quite regularly in Gozo over the last few years there was still one section of coast which had eluded me, the north west corner of the island. A visit in June provided the opportunity to explore this section of coast and we weren’t disappointed.
We left from Obajjar Bay on the north coast with the aim of paddling to Xlendi on the south coast. For me this was closing the circle. This was the only section of the Gozo coastline that I hadn’t paddled before. To the right of the paddlers the low lying rocks are the salt pans. The are about 350 years old.
Entering Wied il-Ghasri, a narrow inlet on the north coast. It is the last place with easy access to the cliff top until you reach the Inland Sea on the west coast.
Turning west from Wied il-Ghasri, the vertical and uninterrupted cliffs stretch to the west. The start of some really memorable kayaking.
Wied Il-Mielah is a stunning arch, part of the way along the northcoast. We returned the following day, abseiled down the side of the arch before climbing back out. a pleasant addition to a kayaking trip.
There were numerous caves to be explored, some of them going some considerable way into the cliffs.
Approaching the north coast cliffs, the top of the lighthouse is just visible.
Looking down from the cliff top later in the day.
Approaching San Dimitri Point, the north west corner of Gozo. Amazingly from this point there is no land before Barcelona. You don’t always imagine areas in the Mediterranean having such a large fetch.
One of the great thing about paddling in Gozo there is always something to do over lunch. Laurie swimming off the slip.
If people can hold their breath long enough it is always good fun to build a human tower. 4 people standing on each others shoulders was our best result that day.