Paddling Matka Canyon, North Macedonia

Out and about around Skopje, Part II

Paddling Matka Canyon Skopje

I woke up grumpy. That irritated, stressed, annoyed grumpiness that manifests in sudden outbursts of anger and swearing. Where everything seems to go wrong and everything is against you. After an irritating breakfast, a stressful time packing my bag, and an annoying walk down the stairs and out to the car, I headed off towards Matka Canyon. The traffic shit me. The navigation map pissed me off. Oh it was going to be a great day I could just tell.

Matko Canyon is about 15 kilometres from Skopje as the hooded crow flies, and forms the western border of Mount Vodno, cleaving it from the range that continues to the south-west. It’s a little further by road, but within half an hour I was pulling up in the carpark. My mood hadn’t lifted.

I walked around the side of the canyon, where a walking track had been cut into the rock. I had contacted the kayak hire company a few days before, and to my surprise they were still open, offering kayaks to dickheads like me that turned up midwinter, and locals who braved the frigid air to take a gentle powerboat ride up river. I seemed to be the only tourist there, with the cafes and souvenir stands empty. The bloke renting the kayaks was casual and friendly, explaining the hourly rate and telling me I could pay when I returned from my paddle.

Matka Canyon Skopje

The kayak was a small, open-style boat, made from unsinkable and indestructible plastic. I was clambering aboard from the pontoon, when a large white goose appeared across the water and totally unprovoked, decided to have a lash*. I fended it off with my paddle, wondering why this day appeared to be so cursed.

The psychological benefits of being out and about in nature are well known, and after it had ceased to attack me, and I had begun paddling up the Treska River, my grumpiness melted away. I had Matka Canyon to myself, with its soaring walls, snow covered peaks, and cold, still waters.

My destination, such that I had one, was Vrelo Cave, about an hour’s leisurely paddle away. I settled in to an easy rhythm, following the curves and corners of the Canyon.

Such was my peaceful and near-meditative state of mind (a stark contrast to my mood prior to taking to the water), that before I knew it I was approaching a small wooden landing area with a signpost for the cave. Drifting in, I pulled up alongside and clambered out.

Paddling Matka Canyon Skopje
Paddling Matka Canyon Skopje

A thin layer of icy snow covered the access track up to the cave, and climbing up I slid around like a bloke climbing up an icy snow-covered access track. Whilst eating some lunch at the cave entrance I noticed a boat approaching. It was the bloke who had hired me the kayak, along with a couple of people, the only other tourists at Matka.

Vrelo Cave Matlka Canyon

The bloke greeted me with a cheerful ‘Hello my friend’, and told me he would switch on the cave lights for us. Although I had brought my torch, it was a lucky bit of timing. We descended into the cave with its caverns and rock formations, and coolest of all, an underground lake. The lighting turned out to be a bit kitsch, but it was still speccy down there.

Vrelo Cave Matka Canyon

My fellow spelunkers headed back on the tour boat, leaving me once again to enjoy Matka’s quiet solitude on my return paddle. There were a few huts along the river bank, accessible only by boat, ranging from quite tidy to decrepit.

The shadows had crossed from one side of the canyon to the other by the time I entered the final stretch of water before the boat landing. My avian assailant was nowhere to be seen, and I pulled up at the timber pontoon after having had a thoroughly enjoyable time exploring Matka Canyon.

Paddling Matka Canyon Skopje

After paying for my kayak rental, I wandered back to the car, a completely different man to the grumpy bastard that had arrived three hours earlier. So I recommend that next time you have the shits up, especially if you can’t figure out why, get outside and get into nature. You’ll be so glad you did.

*Australian slang for strking out violently, presumably from ‘lashing out’

For more on Matka Canyon click here

If you liked this post, you may also enjoy Paddling the Bay of Island, Climbing Mount Vodno

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