This is one of the most famous rivers in Poland and for many decades thousands of poles have paddled along its length. Its source comes from lake Hancza, Poland's deepest lake at 108 metres depth. The river is approximately 140km long, 108kms flow through Poland and the remaining section through Belarus. One of the most popular starting places for this route is at the location of the 17th century monastery at Wigry, this is set on a hill overlooking the lake. It also has the great honour of being chosen as the rest place for the John Paul II nd on his visit to Poland in 1999.
The river has a gentle current and is ideal for first time canoeists, it meanders through fields and forests. You will paddle through the Puszcza Augustowska ( Poland's largest forest complex) where there are high forested banks , if you are fortunate enough you may see one of the many animals that live in this area, ranging from racoon dogs to wolves. Along other stretches you will paddle through short canyons with high sandy banks. There are numerous hostels and campsites to stay overnight, during the season you may also buy local produce from river side vendors. This river is fairly free of obstacles, however, every now and again, nature will spring a suprise and you may encounter a large tree blocking your path, then you have a choice going through it ,above it or underneath it. Which ever option you choose, you can be certain that you canoeing skills will have considerably improved after overcoming this challenge. Rivers can change their character very quickly and what I may describe here, may not be relevant in a few months time, this may be due to increased water flow, damming action by beavers, blocking by trees , collapsing sand banks etc. But this is one of the major attractions of this type of activity, you never know what you may encounter on your journey. I had, been out paddling on day trips and everything is fairly normal, until I encountered a herd of cattle swimming across the river in front of me, there was never any mention of this in the guide books, however at that moment I could have been in the wild west, it is up to this time one of my most memorable canoeing moments.
The river flows for about 50kms until it reaches the junction of the Augustow canal, we then have a choice of going east or west, most people go west, this direction takes us back to Augustow along a picturesque route of the canal and numerous lakes of all sizes and the added attraction of going through several locks. We can also go east, but this route is very short, it takes us to the Belarus border, however if you are adventurous you may wish to see the work that is going on to renovate the old locks and return them to their majestic glory. The plan is to make this route fully navigable again so in theory one can canoe to the Baltic but this will take a few years yet.
The Czarna Hancza has its own unique charm and history and also very interesting future. This is an all season river, the summer is the most popular. The spring and autumn periods are quiet and in all probability you will encounter nobody else on the river apart from maybe me and my mate. At this time of year the water is crystal clear and you can see the sandy bottom and if you have a rod you may be lucky enough to catch a trout or pike. If you push yourself you can complete this route in about five days or less, but on the other hand why rush
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