Plitvice Lakes – Walking Boots and Karma
Lack of time to do any real research and an innate desire to reach the coast of Croatia on my recent trip were the key reasons for asking to visit the Plitvice Lakes. Having started my journey in Slavonia I needed a landmark midway between Osijek and Split. I looked at a map of Croatia and noticed a large dark green area – Plitvice Lakes National Park. Fine! That seemed a good stopping point on the way to the sea. We arrived in the evening into a heavily forested area. The hotel was large and full of tour groups. It was charming partly because of the rather dated feel – everything was very functional – but it did feel like stepping into the set of a Seventies TV show. We ate in the huge dining room feeling slightly out of place with most of the other tables seating lively groups of 10 or more.
The next morning I opened the balcony window of my bedroom and stepped out into blazing sunshine. So, I put on sandals and a light summer dress and went to eat breakfast before my tour of the lakes. And, then I met my guide. Dressed in jeans and hiking boots and carrying a rucksack and a walking umbrella she looked every inch a serious walker! And, as she outlined the walk we were going to do I realised I DID need to change my footwear for the walk she’d planned (3 hours or so). Of course she offered me the option of the ‘shorter’ version (there are various routes available depending on your walking ability). But, it would have been sad to miss what promised to be an astonishing spectacle. So, shod in a rather more suitable pair of trainers, I set off with her to visit the upper and lower Plitvice Lakes.
We could walk to one of the entrances into the lakes from the hotel, so didn’t need the truck buses. My guide explained that at one point you could drive around the top of the lakes. But, this is a National Park (the oldest in Europe, founded in 1949) and a Unesco listed heritage site, and the cars were damaging some of the lake infrastructure. So now visitors have to use carefully positioned entrances – and transport for those who want to follow certain routes is provided via the truck buses.
Transport across the lakes is also provided via electric ferries, specially designed to ensure the lakes’ ecosystem is not disturbed unnecessarily. And, walking routes are carefully marked out and maintained. All of this careful management enables Plitvice Lakes to welcome over a million guests each year hopefully without damage to what is an ever-evolving system of lakes and waterfalls.
Once we’d cross the lake we started our tour following the upper lakes route. Of the two routes, my guide told me that the upper lakes were generally a little quieter.
And that meant we had a chance to see some of the flowers that grow around the lakes as well as fish (trout and chubb) and a few dragon flies (it was a little early in the year!). We also listened to the unhappy frogs, complaining to each other about how thoughtless the humans were to disturb them in their homes (or so the guide told me).
I was rather pleased with myself for being able to identify a ladies-slipper orchid. But I don’t have a note of the name of the second orchid we spotted.
My guide explained a little of how the lakes and waterfalls form. There’s something quite special about this constantly evolving natural wonder and because you can see the formation of the travertine in progress, countered by still lake waters and then by the torrents of the waterfalls there’s a kind of magic dynamic to the whole place.
The underlying rock structure is limestone and dolomite and, the lakes and waterfalls are at a point where several small rivers meet. The water flowing over plant-life causes the formation of what is called travertine. It’s a kind of calcification and if you look closely you can sometimes see the old tree roots and moss in the rocks.
I was fascinated to learn that Nikola Tesla had tried to persuade the owners of the Plitvice lakes to create a hydroelectric generating station at Plitvice Lakes way back in 1892. His request was turned down, but the hut where he started to work on the project still exists, as a kind of unofficial memorial to the man who spent much of his life in America working on early developments in electricity.
Reaching the lower lakes involved another trip by electric ferry. We visited the picnic spot before walking round to the largest of the waterfalls ‘Veliki Slap’ which means ‘big waterfall’. For an amateur photographer like me it is impossible to give a proper idea of the scale of this series of waterfalls. About 70m tall, you can stand at the bottom and look up…
But, you can also walk across a rather narrow path and up the hill on the other side toward the exit,and perhaps this photo gives the best idea of scale with tiny ant-like people marching across the wooden suspension bridge.
Once you reach the other side, you walk up a hill where you can look across at the ‘BIG WATERFALL’. And from there, you can see the whole series of waterfalls that make up this particular part of the Plitvice Lakes.
I visited Plitvice Lakes in the middle of June. It was already busy and at times, particularly in the lower lakes, difficult to get any real sense of the place. I’d suggest that visitors during peak season who CAN do so would be advised to take the longer and quieter hiking route. And, for those who want to take a gentler walk, perhaps consider visiting in spring or autumn when the lakes are quieter. It’s a very, very special place and worth seeing when there’s a real chance to take time over it. And, I believe in Karma – that I was meant to see this place, which was nominated as the eight wonder of the world and, for me, deserved that accolade. I feel very privileged to have visited what must be one of Croatia’s greatest natural treasures
With thanks to the Tourist Board of Croatia for hosting me on this trip
For more information on what to see and do in Croatia, please visit www.croatia.hr.
For my visit to Plitvice I stayed at Hotel Jezero which costs from £46 based on two people sharing a double room with breakfast. For more information or to book, please see here.
I travelled with Easy Jet. One-way flights from London Gatwick to Zagreb cost from £32.99. For more information or to book, please visit www.easyjet.com