Day 8 - Plitvice Lakes
One of the highlights of any visit to Croatia surely must be a visit to Plitvice Lakes (pronounced ‘pleetveetza’), although it’s less the lakes that people come to see, rather the drops in between each of the 16 lakes that creates some spectacular waterfalls. We’d actually been fairly close to Plitvice just yesterday, only we were the wrong side of the Dinaric mountain range and also on Croatia’s wibbly-wobbliest road to get there; this morning it was much more of a motorway journey to get there. But as we came off the motorway and found ourselves on the smaller roads leading to the national park, there was something that I started to notice - the number of bombed out or abandoned homes in the area. There was a reason for that ...
The area of Plitvice, for all its natural beauty, has a dark background, namely it was the place where the ‘Homeland War’ (as the Croatians refer to it) began in 1991. Croatian Serbs who lived nearby, opposing the referendum on Croatia’s independence, took matters in to their own hands and the militia men captured the Plitvice headquarters, using it as barracks. It was on this site that the first Croatian victim of the war, a policeman, was killed. For many visitors to the site now, this would be very surprising news. The natural beauty of the area could not be harmed, and all that’s left to attest to the history is the collection of shells of houses from the former Serb owners who fled and never came back.
But enough of the politics (for that you have Wikipedia!), what about the nature?
The lakes have the most amazing greeny/bluey/azure colours, depending on the light you have on the day and the depth of each lake. They truly are amazing tones and also incredibly clear. Fish absolutely everywhere ... so inviting to have a swim in, except of course that’s not allowed! But, like I said, it’s all about the waterfalls.
There are two entrances at the site, one of them near the upper lakes, one near the lower. We followed the advice in the Lonely planet and parked at the lower lakes, then caught the buses on site that take you through various stops to the top of the lakes then made our way back down on foot. Most people appeared to have the same idea, a bit easier on the legs! The buses were peculiar looking things - they had a bit of a toy-like quality about them, like they were styled to look like some kind of Postman Pat delivery van. But then you check out the size of the tyres and the scale of them ... and the three carriages that they were pulling up steep inclines and around tight bends and it was clear that they had some serious grunt to them!
All the way through the park routes are set out on a series of boardwalks. There would be no other way of doing it, to be honest, as even between and beside the lakes, the ground is marshy - no solid ground to stand on at all! As well as the lakes and falls, the area is home to many kinds of butterflies, dragonflies, birds and the aforementioned fish. I desperately tried to capture some of this wildlife using the zoom lens, but some proved very elusive. Still, I was pretty pleased to capture a dragonfly mid-flight (and mostly in focus, too!).
Every time you round a corner and spot another waterfall or sight another beautiful lake you think “wow, must catch this on camera”, only to have the same experience again minutes later. Thank heavens for digital cameras. With film this would have worked out to be a very expensive trip!
Somewhere around the half way point, the inclination to walk disappears just as the waterfalls do - for the longest stretch of lake, there’s a very welcome boat trip to take you to, respectively, a rest stop that sells ice creams and the remainder of the falls circuits. We partook of both.
The tallest waterfall - Veliki Slap - was the last that we got to see (and you gotta love that the Croatian word for waterfall is slap, right?) and with that we were done with waterfalls for the day. It had been a great walk through unspoiled beauty, albeit a bit hot and uncomfortable at times. We finished the day off with a road-side stop to have some good old fashioned suckling pig at a grill, sold by the kilogram!