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  • Writer's pictureMarion Marquardt

Pumalin National Park "Extreme" - one night in a kayak

On the way in the idyllic Quintupeu Fjord, accompanied by sea lions and dolphins
Species-rich nature paradise in the temperate Valdivian rainforest
Be careful when choosing a campsite - the tides are not to be underestimated in the Chilean fjords
The sea is catching up - my first night in a kayak

We have already explored the southern part of Pumalin National Park. Most of it is easily accessible by car and foot. The northern part, on the other hand, consists of a branched fjord landscape, only accessible from the water. We heard about multi-day kayak tours there. Hot springs, diverse flora and fauna and calm fjords sound alluring. But why book a guide when you have your own kayak on board?


With our camper we drive to the end of the road, to Pichanco, where we launch our kayak. We content ourselves with a 2-day tour into the Quintupeu Fjord. It's about 12 kilometers one-way. Packed with a tent, equipment and provisions for 2 days, we set off in the morning.


Pichanco Pumalin Kayak Trip
From here we continue by kayak...

The sea is quite calm in the morning hours. We are accompanied by some sea lions. They swim around us, sunbathe on buoys and tease each other. Splendid! However, they are a little more shy than their Argentine counterparts in Puerto Deseado. After about an hour along the coast we turn into Quintupeu Fjord. The landscape reminds us of Norway. Again and again waterfalls flow left and right down from the surrounding mountains. The only thing that disturbs the idyll is the two salmon breeding stations. However, we don't meet anyone except a few workers arriving by boat for their shift.

Seelöwen, Seehunde Pumalin Nationalpark Natur Chile Kayak Tour
Sea lions fighting for the best place



After a while we land on a small beach that invites us to take a break. Not so easy to find such a place, with the steep walls on the fjord. We are only about half an hour on land and already during that short time we notice how quickly the tide is approaching. The water rises every minute. We heard that the tides in the Andean fjords are extreme. However we did not inform ourselves about exact heights. You can guess from the shorelines that there could easily be a difference of 2 meters. Strengthened we continue paddling. The weather is gorgeous. Finally we are rid of the southern Patagonian winds. The sunshine feels warm now. At the end of the fjord, the river of the same name flows into it. Now the tide has probably reached its highest level. We hardly have a chance to land. Difficult to find a campsite here. The shore here is flatter, but also overgrown with reeds and shrubs and often swampy before it turns into dense rainforest.


A little way down the river a small peninsula had emerged. We land and choose it as a campsite - for lack of alternatives. We are aware that we must not calculate too tightly if the water is rising at the next high tide in the night, and position ourselves at the highest point - about 1 meter above. In the afternoon sun we build a table and chairs out of driftwood and enjoy a coffee. Really idyllic here.



In the meantime the tide has started to drop noticeably. The water is sinking rapidly. We'll soon be stranded. Stones and sand all around us. If we'd start paddling at low tide tomorrow morning, we first have to carry our kayak 200m to the water. Well... We take advantage of the moment - Micha, of course, to take pictures and I to collect mussels. At low tide you can find countless mussels. That makes a delicious dinner after our kayak trip.


Quintupeu Fjord Pumalin National Park Kayak Trip Heisse Quellen Thermen Chile Abenteuer
Quintupeu Fjord at sunset - at low tide

Quintupeu Fjord Pumalin National Park Kayak Trip Heisse Quellen Thermen Chile Abenteuer
Spectacular colors make the fjord shine

Cut - 1:34 am in our tent.


Micha is shaking me. I wake up. Why so rude? I guess I wasn't snoring. Wait a minute... I'm floating. What??? Suddenly I'm wide awake. The sea caught up with us. That's impossible!!!! After the first panic, the emergency protocol takes effect:


1st priority: keep sleeping bags dry. Everything else was or is soaked in no time. Fortunately, spare clothing and camera equipment are stored in waterproof pack sacks. The water rises rapidly. We're about 40cm under water... and that's not the end. And it's f... cold. With flashlights we look for a dry place. For vain. Even our dining table is under water. The entire peninsula is submerged. We can hang the sleeping bags on a tree.


2nd priority: Find our kayak as this is the only way out of the fjord. Hopefully our kayak didn't drift off. Micha has to dive waist-deep into the water to get it. Luckily the reeds did their job and did catch it. After this action, Micha begins to tremble and can hardly speak - the first signs of an impending hypothermia. No surprise with a water temperature of around 12 degrees.


3rd priority: find a place over water. After scanning the area, it quickly became clear to us that it is linked to priority 2, especially since our kayak is the only dry place far and wide. We tie the kayak tightly so that we don't drift off and get on the boat with our sleeping bags. Bizarre! So bizarre that I have to laugh.



It gets even more bizarre. In the kayak it gets warm quickly and it even is quite comfortable. However, sea lions keep swimming past our kayak, roaring loudly. Micha is afraid that they will splash us or even knock us over, which fortunately doesn't happen. After all, we can actually sleep a bit. And when I wake up at 7 a.m. by the sunrise, we're stranded again. I still can't believe we let the tides fool us like that. As we research later, there is actually a difference of about 4.70m between low and high tide. A guide would have known where to position our camp :-)


Our tent looks a bit battered. Reeds and algae stick everywhere, everything is soaking wet. We pack everything together as best we can. Now we actually have to carry our kayak a few hundred meters to the fjord. We make our way back and smile with relief that everything went smoothly after all.


This is what your tent looks like when the sea has just flowed through


The "expedition follow-up" is a bit more extensive this time. At the campsite we first spread everything out to dry, clean our tent etc. But afterwards we can laugh about it. And in the evening we cook delicious mussels in white wine sauce. Well deserved after this adventure :-)




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