Watery Wilds

Paddling Through Lower Lithuania

Nemanus delta
The Nemunas river is rich with color and biodiversity.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    The stand-up paddle board offers a unique if challenging way to see the natural beauty – including swimming elk – of the remote Nemunas River delta near the Baltic Sea.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • The Nemunas River forms the border between Lithuania and the Kaliningrad area that belongs to Russia.
    • The river is known in English as the Neman and in German as the Memel.
    • The delta is almost devoid of people and is one of the most important wildlife sanctuaries in eastern Europe.
  • Audio

    Audio

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Using just her paddle board, Aurelija Jakstaite has journeyed through the delta region where the Nemunas River in eastern Europe drains into the Curonian Lagoon and from there to the Baltic Sea. The low-lying Nemunas delta in Lithuania is remote, sparsely populated, a wildlife sanctuary and, Ms. Jakstaite hopes, a growing ecotourism site.

In summertime, the area where the river empties into the Curonian Lagoon is so placid it’s difficult to imagine the dangers it poses in winter, when powerful winds drive water and ice floes far inshore. “Once the ice floes blocked the entrance to the church at Rusne,” Ms. Jakstaite said, referring to a building five kilometers (or about three miles) from the lagoon.

The 40-year-old used to be a ranger at Nemunas Delta Regional Park. A few years ago, she quit her job and, together with a girlfriend, started a business, Water Tourism Agency Upaite. Tourists used to be a rare sight in these parts, Ms. Jakstaite said.

Her method of transport around the delta looks like a surfboard, but you stand on it and push yourself along with a paddle. “The technique is quite simple. You don’t have to complete a training course. You step onto the board and get going,” she said.

Ms. Jakstaite has spent almost her entire life in the Nemunas delta area and knows its every season and stream. We paddled past green meadows so fertile that in some summers farmers can scythe the grass four times. The full spectrum of blues is striking: dark blue, green blue, ice blue and the mineral blue of the water.

Hundreds of gray geese rested in a meadow in front of the abandoned lighthouse of Uostadvaris. We spotted the nest of two gray sea eagles. In a nearby aspen grove, a dozen gray herons landed, scrupulously keeping their distance from a group of cormorants ― the two don’t get along. Two deer grazed in the thin reeds. A fox appeared and a hare bolted away.

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