Yay! Today we finally get to see the stunning Plitvice Lakes. On the advice of our host, we aim to arrive before the tourist coach madness starts, so it’s an oh, so very early start. Our host drives us down, narrowly avoiding killing us all coming out of her drive. She didn’t spot an overtaking driver on the wrong side of the road, coming over a crest, almost driving straight into him. I mentioned before, they overtake anywhere here – bends, crests, mountain roads being no impediment whatsoever.
The lakes sit within the Plitvicka Jezera National Park. Designated a protected area since 1949, it’s also listed under World Heritage protected status since 1979 as part of UNESCO. At just under 30,000 hectares it provides habitat to an extraordinary range of flora, fauna and large, endangered predators, including bears, lynx, wolves. There are also wildcats, otters and beavers. All creatures I love, in short. I’m in a lather of excitement spotting a bear warning sign at the entrance.
Big Teds! And yes, I know that they’re more likely to bite your ankle off than negotiate sweetly for treats or ask if you happen to have any honey…but come on! Big Teds!! Mere metres away!!!
The lakes are but a small component of the Park. There are 16 lakes in total, linked by beautiful waterfalls cascading between them, forming layers of tufa (travertine). Walkways around and through the lakes offer a unique insight into this stunning environment – there are a series of paths from short excursions to the full 19 km extravaganza.
As a bonus, we have autumn in full force – the forests are a symphony of reds, yellows and golds. It’s immediately hypnotic. There’s only one option in my book – go hard or go home.
The only fly in the ointment is the sun which resolutely refuses to come out all day, muting the colours somewhat. It’s only an impediment to clarity of photographs – visually, it’s utterly breathtaking.
We set out from Entrance 1, walking anti clockwise through the lower lakes, up to P3. We run into a little coach traffic at the start. One poor Asian lady drops her phone moments from the start – it promptly falls into the lake to her complete disbelief.
Despite the lack of blue sky, the waters are still stunning, with colours bordering on fantasy.
Once at P3, one can take a boat to the higher lakes, but we chose the path less trodden, walking instead to ST3.
This lakeside path, we have, blissfully, almost entirely to ourselves, barely seeing another soul most of the way.
Our surroundings are overwhelmingly breathtaking. Each bend, each hill, offers a fresh vista, equally or more beautiful than its predecessor.
The lakes are full of fish, many varieties. We see shoals of tiny ones, increasing in size until we spot the granddaddy of them all, a two foot trout.
Later in the day we see a mean looking, large mouthed fish, who clearly means business – when he moves the little fish leap out of the water en masse to be clear of him. We’re also incredibly lucky to see a series of very rare freshwater crayfish that live here and endlessly interesting mushrooms.
There is as much beauty in the small things here, as the large.
I’m utterly transported by the autumnal display, but for many, the stars of the show are the waterfalls. These range from the 78 metre Veleki Prstavac
to the 28 metres Mali Prstavac
to mere gurgles under footbridges and everything in between.
I’m also particularly fond of the walk ways through the lake waters offering unparalleled views. Stunning!
On the longer, quieter walk, walkways are also build over soggy sections – some though, are being repaired, missing their cross beams. It turns out we’re both effective plank walkers – only the edge and centre struts remain.
By the time we reach ST3, my adrenaline is on overdrive – I’d happily walk (probably skip) the whole way around. Chris has other plans – he’s ready to bus back. We end up compromising, bussing to P1 then walking the final section, back to where we started.
We’ve spent most of the way in blissful silence away from crowds, just my twittering on, marvelling at all that surrounds us.
On the very last section of our walk, crowds reappear. The views here are on high, offering spectacular views of the lower lakes and their walkways. Coach loads are still arriving, with only a few of hours left in the day. Sadly for them, a light drizzle starts.
We call our host to pick us up and she’s there in no time. I’m buzzing with excitement, eager to tell her how much I loved everything I saw. She smiles. Nature she says, has to be seen. You can talk about it, you can read about it, you can look at a picture of it, but nothing is like seeing it. She then whets my appetite to return by telling me about winter, when the waterfalls, and all bar one of the lakes freeze, and it’s so cold you can only walk for an hour or two. And spring, when the melt thunders down the mountains, engorging the falls.
We walked for 7 hours today – through a carpet of millions of autumnal leaves, up hill and down, across marsh, through forest, water and rock. I took over 500 photographs and had the light been better, would have taken many more. I wouldn’t have missed a step of it, nor a single shot. I’d have walked until the sun set and I was shooed out by security. Or a bear.
I’d like to come back, do it all again, three times over, to create a photographic library of each of the seasons. I feel so awed by the beauty here, it’s truly one of the most stunning places I’ve ever seen.
As an end to the day, we walk a wee bit further, down the road to a restaurant offering a classic local dish, cooked under a “peka” – think of a Dutch oven but with a metal lid, crossed with the functionality of a tangine dish, topped with hot coals to seal in the flavour. The result is mouthwatering. Simple flavours, expertly executed.
What an utterly perfect day.