Kolkheti national park
Immediately beyond the lake, north and southeast of Poti, on three sides, is the Kolkheti (Colchis) National Park (www.knp.ge), now recognised as globally important wetlands and listed as a Ramsar site; This 285-sq-km national park encompasses three separate areas of coastline and wetlands.
It’s the southeastern area, focused on Lake Paliastomi, which is of most interest to visitors, thanks to its large bird population. This part of the park is reachable only by boat. More than 190 species have been sighted in the park. The best months to visit are September and October, when large and small raptors can be seen migrating southwards, and January to May, when swans, geese, ducks, other water birds and even rare pelicans, storks and booted eagles gather to winter here. The area is also a paradise for frogs (the cacophony in the mating season can be tremendous). Ancient Greek physician Hippocrates wrote that the people here lived in the bogs, making houses out of the materials found here, travelling in boats, and drinking rainwater. (He also commented that the people were so tall and so fat you couldn’t see their faces!)
The coast both north and south of Poti and the wetlands inland, along rivers such as the Rioni, are very young, having formed only in the last 6,200 years. In other words, when Jason and the Argo came here from Greece in the 13th century BC, there was only open sea here. Then around 5000вс the connection from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea burst open, causing the biblical Great Flood, which in fact lasted for about 40 years, and raising the sea level by about 100m. Now there is a coastal sandbank with peat bogs, up to 12m deep (ie: well below sea level) behind, with a system of lagoons. The largest is Lake Paleostomi, 18.2km2 in area and up to 3.2m deep; it's a stopover for 21 threatened bird species.
Despite heavy human impact, there are still important communities of endemic and relict plant species in the wetlands. Among the most interesting is the wingnut tree, whose only relations are in China and Japan, as well as an endemic oak; it's also one of the only two remaining spawning grounds of the Atlantic sturgeon. You may also see three species of dolphin offshore. Many international and Georgian NGOs are now involved in the conservation of the Colchic wetlands, notably the Worldwide Fund for Nature, the Poseidon Marine Association and the Georgian Centre for the Conservation of Wildlife.
The park has an excellent visitors centre (at Guria str. 222; 10am-6pm), 4km south of the centre of Poti on the Batumi road. The main access to Lake Paliastomi is 1.5km further south along the same road. At the visitors centre you can buy an English-language field guide to the park’s birds and organise pontoon-boat trips on the lake (a two-hour trip costs between 10 GEL and 40 GEL per person depending on group size; maximum: 16 people).
Getting There & Away
Marshrutkas 5 and 20 from Poti will stop at the visitors centre or the turning to the lake 1.5km further south. You can pick them up at Akaki heading south off Rustavelis rkali.