Unusual discovery of the north coast of Oléron Island in a sea kayak

Saint-Denis-d'Oléron
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The island of Oléron is a great adventure playground for lovers of outdoor sports, in particular water sports. Because it is good to sail on the surface of the water and to be able to discover the north coast of the island from another angle, head to the marina of Saint-Denis-d'Oléron for an excursion on the water in sea kayaking! A very gentle approach that allows you to glide towards wonderful treasures and fully savor this feeling of freedom in the middle of the ocean.

Saint Denis d'Oléron marina

The marina of St Denis d'Oléron  

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Immediate boarding!

To reach Stéphane, the founder of Sur Une Île, and his colorful kayaks, you have to go to the marina of Saint-Denis-d'Oléron, at the end of the parking lot (free). We are warmly welcomed by this native of the island and fervent kayaker who has shared his passion for sport and the discovery of the marine environment with the public for several decades now! A qualified guide in sailing and sea and wave kayaking, also a nature guide, Stéphane favors small groups to help us progress, whatever our level of navigation. Perfect leisure for an outing with family or friends, this kayak excursion promises beautiful surprises!


Stéphane from On An Island

I find Stéphane from Sur Une Ile at the port to equip myself


During a short briefing, Stéphane discusses the areas facing sea kayakers: the maritime environment (tides, currents, ecosystems), weather, technique (boarding, paddling at sea, waves, currents, winds) and security. He helps us to adjust the correct paddle, the one that arrives at the end of the outstretched arm. We take the boats down to the beach. We take advantage of the morning calm and the very smooth water to explore this wild part of the island: an area classified as a "Marine Natural Park" since 2015 for its unique flora and fauna.

The departure is from the superb Plage de Soubregeon which stretches over 700m. In the distance, stretches the endless luminous cordon formed by the beach and the steep coast, between creeks and rocky islets. Ideally located, this starting point allows you to admire the strait of Antioch, the Ile de Ré and La Rochelle on one side, on the other the tip of the Ile d'Oléron dominated by the Chassiron lighthouse. The aspect of the coastline of the island changes every day under the effect of the tides, giving way to submerged lands which are revealed according to the coefficients.  

It is a magical place to navigate in a kayak: the bay takes on the appearance of a lagoon. The water is crystal clear. We take place in our kayaks (1 or 2 people) for 2 hours of ride, in total symbiosis with the nature that surrounds us.


kayaks

The secret garden of the ocean

Cradled by the choppy water and the steady plunge of our paddles into the water, we quickly escape terrestrial realities, our gaze fixed on a course. With around thirty centimeters of draft, the first few minutes are reserved for discovering the kayak, adjusting the toe clips, the notion of balance and a few simple maneuvers. We are working on some techniques for maneuvering, turning and changing direction. Nothing's easier!  

We go along the seaside in the direction of the open sea. Algae ripples just below the surface of the crystal clear waters. We glide silently between the reefs of the foreshore. Stéphane calls us to come and observe the strange growths fixed on the rocks, built by the sea worm Sabellaria Alveolata , commonly called hermelle. Living in tubes that they build by agglomerating sand and fragments of shells, these 3 cm long “architect” worms erect veritable massifs which extend for hundreds of meters. These impressive structures protect the coastline against erosion by reducing the force of the waves and sheltering a whole biodiversity of the coastal ecosystem: bivalve molluscs (mussels and clams), crabs, shrimps and fish.


hermelles reefs

Hermelle reefs are constructions of sea worms!

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We resume navigation guided by this remarkable connoisseur of the coast, absorbed by his comments on the rhythm of the tides, the geology, the history of the island... while observing the fauna and sea birds without disturbing them. A fascinating natural spectacle!


kayaks

A rich heritage to discover

At the bend of a pile of huge masses of stones in the open sea, the kayaks stop and gather around Stéphane. We get off our boats to admire this jewel of Oleron heritage and traditions : the famous fish locks.


kayak

In the shape of a horseshoe, these fisheries are fish traps made up of a semi-circular wall of uncemented stones several hundred meters long. On the shore of Oléron, these traditional fishing methods date from the Middle Ages according to the archives. There were up to 237 fish locks in the middle of the 19th century, including 45 in Saint-Denis-d'Oléron. Only 17 of them remain today on the whole island. Their system is simple: completely covered with water at high tide, they allow fish to enter... only to find themselves trapped at ebb tide, surprised by the rapid flow of water through the sluice gate. Fishing at the lock is governed by a community principle and only those authorized to maintain it have the right to fish there. The latter capture sea bass, sea bream, garfish, mackerel and congers, the size of which is also strictly regulated.


fish locks   fish locks
fish locks   fish locks
When the sea goes down, water flows through grids, keeping the fish trapped.

In front of us, on the horizon stands the imposing silhouette of the Lighthouse of Chassiron, one of the emblematic monuments of the island of Oléron, classified as a historical monument since 2012. Originally a simple tower built on the initiative of Colbert in XVIIth century lit with two log fires. The current lighthouse, rising 50m above the water, was commissioned in 1836 to guide navigators in the Antioch sluice. White in color for nearly a century, sailors often confused it with the Phare des Baleines on Île de Ré. To this end, black bands were painted to clearly distinguish the two lighthouses from the ocean. Automated since 1998, its luminous glow is visible for more than fifty kilometers in clear weather!


Chassiron lighthouse
Chassiron lighthouse

Chassiron lighthouse

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Happiness is in the paddle

In addition to the excellent opportunities offered by kayaking to explore remote or difficult to access areas, Stéphane would like to introduce us to a whole other more sporting and sensational discipline: kayaking surfing! We paddle towards the reef barrier and sail as close as possible to the breaking of the waves to let ourselves be carried and slide while controlling our trajectory. A real pleasure and a good dose of adrenaline! A few falls in the water allow us to enjoy the pleasures of swimming.

It's time to get back to the beach. A few tonic paddles bring the small flotilla back to the coast, which we follow, noticing the remains of the Atlantic wall on the dunes: blockhouses bear witness to the island's past. During the Second World War, the Germans built blockhouses on this north face, intended for the surveillance of the maritime passes between Ré, La Rochelle and Rochefort.


blockhouse

The blockhouses of the Atlantic Wall


Back at the slipway, we look back on the turquoise lagoon and on the route covered! For desires elsewhere, at the end of the world, this friendly expedition offers a total change of scenery and a great opportunity to explore the island of Oléron off the beaten track.


Stephane

With Stéphane after an exotic excursion!  

Conditions:

  • Life jackets are mandatory
  • Not present any physical and / or medical contraindication to the practice of kayaking

How to dress?

  • Swimwear + shorts
  • Cap or hat + Sunscreen / Sunglasses  
  • A windbreaker in spring and fall

What to expect

  • Dry and warm clothes to be able to change on arrival
  • A water bottle

Did you like our report? Find others on the Guide Charente Maritime blog. Connect to the Charente Maritime Guide Facebook page to be kept informed of our news. We are also on Instagram @guidecharentemaritime

 

Article and photos prepared by Lesley Williamson for the Charente Maritime Guide


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