A few years ago, on a trip to Crete we tried sea kayaking for the first time. It was a windy day and out of what was supposed to be a day trip along the coast became a two hour test in a bay, trying to not get thrown over by the rough waves. Although short, after this experience we wanted to explore more places with a kayak. Last summer, we finally got round to it. We spent a week kayaking on the Mecklenburgische Seenplatte, an area of lakes in the north east of Germany.
We started our trip on a Sunday in the end of August with a train ride. The train was crowded as train drivers had announced a strike for the next week. Luckily, we did not have to go far. After an hour, we reached Neustreelitz where we had time for lunch with a view on the first of many lakes of this vacation.
Our journey continued on a smaller train with only a couple of passengers. It started to feel like a vacation as we saw cyclists and hikers who stopped to watch and wave at the Kleinseenbahn passing by on its single-track line. We passed along sunflower fields and saw crane birds standing beside the tracks. The train brought us to Mirow from where we walked 5 km to the kayak station in Granzow.
The first metres in more than a year with our backpacks full with camping gear, some back-up clothes and waterproof bags felt heavy. It took a moment until our bodies and minds – used to city life – accepted that the little rain would not do any harm and our hiking boots would get us safely over the muddy path. We soon got our walking rhythm back and from thereon enjoyed the hike. Lake Mirow lay hidden behind trees and thick undergrowth to our left and fields were to our right.
At the kayak station in Granzow we put up our tent, strolled through the neighbouring holiday park and took a first look at the boats for the next day.
Day 1 – settling in
The next day surprised us with sunny and warm but windy weather. The predicted rain was nowhere to be seen. We rented our two touring kayaks – one a little lighter and thinner, the other wider with more leg space. Packing our stuff into the boats took longer than expected even though there was plenty of space.
Our first destination was Mirow, 5 km to the south. We wanted to stock up on food for the next days, most importantly milk as our “milk powder” had turned out to be an energy drink from Kevin’s bike trip last year. We also needed to find a cash machine. As we prepared for our trip we had completely forgotten that many places in Germany are a little behind in time and still accept only cash payments, including the place where we rented our kayaks.
The first strokes with our paddles felt shaky and we sat a little tense in our boats as we experimented with left and right turns. Quickly we were heading in the direction of Mirow and after some back and forth found a pier of a fish restaurant to stop at. Kevin left off into town while Franziska waited in the increasingly hot sun guarding the boats.
The pier was very busy and without shade, so we kayaked a little further and stopped for a lunch break at a sandy bay. While at the pier we had been worried about the boats and held on to them the entire time, here, we felt more at ease. We left the boats on the shore and climbed up a slope. In hindsight, we were a little too relaxed. When a big tourist ship passed through the narrow canal it created waves and a strong current that pulled the boats from the beach. A quick jump into the water from Franziska saved us a lot of trouble.
We continued towards the first campsite with only one obstacle in our way: the first lock to get through. A long row of motor boats waiting in line showed us the way. We passed them all and waited first in line to get into the lock. Once the lock was full with motor boats, the lock attendant waived us in to fill the gaps. It felt intimidating to be between the big boats and the thick walls. Slowly the water rose and we got to see a spectacle of swallows flying over the rising water and whirling around our heads. High cheep noises above our heads led us to discover their nests on the walls of the lock. As the water rose we got closer, our heads at the same height of the little baby birds sticking their heads out.
We reached the camping site in time to still go for a quick swim in cold Kleiner Peetschsee. After a hot shower we had dinner at the campsite’s restaurant and crawled early into our tent.
Day 2 – heavy winds
The next morning, another close encounter with the swallows awaited us in the lock. We continued north east through the river Oberbek where we reached an old mill. We got the boats out of the water to carry them 20 meters over a barrage. From there on, we passed through what seemed like an untouched paradise. With no more motorboats around we could finally fully take in our surroundings: water lilies in yellow and white, birch and oak trees along the banks. There were no houses or any other signs of civilization around us – only green.
It had been sunny all day but as we left the Overbek to join Rätzsee we noticed the strong winds blowing right into our faces. From the easygoing, relaxed paddling before we had to change for more focused strokes using all our strength to push forward. The waves were coming right at us, lifting the front of our little boats up, only to let them drop hard in the space between the waves. We were getting wet and felt our arms tiring but it was also a beautiful moment. It felt like the fresh air was blowing right into our lungs and we watched the cloud formations get distorted into the next shape.
It was a fight to cross the lake, trying to follow the banks to hide from the wind as much as possible but with little success. After an hour and a half we reached the campsite at the northern side of the lake and stopped for lunch in the sun. To our luck our route continued through a canal, protected from the wind.
Not much further and we reached our campsite for the night. We were lucky that we had arrived quite early. After we had gone for a quick swim, the campsite was crowded with other water tourists trying to find a decent spot for their tent.
Day 3 – shallow waters
With so many people around, the next morning was very busy. Everybody was getting their boats ready at the same time. Only once we were on the water, it got quiet again. In this area there were still no motorized boats allowed. After two days, we felt more comfortable and confident in our boats and enjoyed this day a lot. We passed through lakes overgrown with water lilies and buzzing from insects and small birds.
As we reached the end of Klenzsee, we once again had to carry our boats to the next lake. After contemplating a little, we decided to pay the rent for a trolley to get our boats over the street. Out on Plätlinsee the winds were strong again but thankfully coming from the back this time. At the northern end of the lake we entered the Schwanhavel, a narrow canal, well hidden between the reeds. The water was clear and not very deep, so we went very slowly watching the fish below us. The canal passes through a forest with its trees hanging into the water. We had to navigate through this jungle, trying not to get stuck on roots and branches. As the canal was very narrow, it was especially difficult whenever there were paddlers coming the other direction.
At one point the water of the Schwanhavel was so shallow that we had to get out of our boats. We waded through the sandy riverbed, the water no higher than our ankles and pulled our boats behind us. After 15 minutes of walking like this, we got back into the boats and continued paddling through the lush forest.
Through the lock of Wesenberg we reached our camp site for the night just in time. As we set up the tent the clouds got darker. In the first drizzle we walked towards the center of Wesenberg. Sheltered from the rain by a terrace roof we had hot soup for dinner and listened to a concert of Irish music on a stage in the park across from us.
Thursday – rain
The forecast for the next day predicted more rain, so we got up early. We hoped to reach the next campsite in time to choose a sunny moment to put up our tent. It was sunny as we crossed Wöblitzsee and stayed like this as we followed the Havel with very clear water. We advanced very slowly as we watched the fish under our boats and often had to make way for motor boats.
All night we had heard crane birds calling. When we stopped for a quick break at the side of a field we finally saw them strutting along. Back on the water, the rain arrived. Luckily, rain on the boat was not as bad as we had expected. We were warm from moving our upper body and well protected under our rain jackets and the splash guard over our legs.
From the Havel we reached the Großer Labussee. Here we found ourselves once again fighting against the wind. The Zenzower Lock was closed but we found a car on rails to help us carry the boats to Useriner See in the Müritz-National-Park. After a last effort to cross Useriner See, we reached our campsite before lunch time. As the rain stopped, we put up our tent and spent the afternoon walking through the national park. We picked blackberries and blueberries and took in the variety of trees which we had not noticed from the water.
The day ended with a cosy dinner at a picnic table of the campsite with some fellow paddlers.
Friday – the best last day
After it had rained all night, the next morning was dry and we enjoyed being in this motor boat free zone. We hurried over Zierzsee to pass the other kayakers and paddlers to be the first ones in the river ahead. Instantly, we were rewarded for this effort. Without other people around we had calm, untouched waters in front of us. We spotted two kingfishers and followed them for a while as they flew from tree to tree.
Half way through the river, the rain was back. However, this weather offered us another spectacle. On Jäthensee the swallows were flying low, chasing around our heads and incredibly close over the water surface. It was still drizzling as we reached Babke. There, we had to get the boats out of the water and take a shuttle service to return to the lakes north of Granzow to complete our round tour. But first we got a Fischbrötchen from the fishery.
Together with a group of paddlers we loaded our boats on the shuttle. When we reached Leppinsee, the sun was out again. We enjoyed the last kilometres southwards on the lakes with little traffic and many water lilies.
Back at Granzow, we cleaned our boats and then jumped into the lake from one of the platforms before we put up the tent one last time. We spent the evening playing cards with a group of paddlers. In between turns they shared their travel tips. We now have a long list of places to continue our kayaking experiences.