5:45am We’re sitting on an air conditioned bus ready to tuck into a breakfast of a chocolate croissant and orange juice.
The advantage of such an early departure could not be truly appreciated until our day was fully done (by which time the park trails were thick with tourists), as our 8.30am arrival meant we were able to hit the paths and boardwalks in relative peace as most of the organised tour groups would arrive later in the morning.
Expletives really do not do this place justice, so I’m sure this will be a time when images rather than words can best convey what I am trying to say here.
Back in 1979 (my birth year) the Plitvice Lakes National Park was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list and after only minutes here you can see why.
We quickly decided to complete as many of the trails as possible before our return bus to Zagreb, and in choosing some of the seemingly harder trails it wasn’t long before we found ourselves on a slightly more overgrown path following the shoreline of one of the larger lakes.
At times the route descended into small gullies where the trail all but disappeared and before long, our feet were both muddied and dusty at the same time (we’d worn our usual hiking shoes for the day, our thongs or if you prefer, flip-flops).
When we made it back to the more popular tourist trails near the cascades, a series of cleverly devised boardwalks replaced the dirt path, so at times we would be walking over water or seemingly amongst the falls. It really was a beautiful means to allow one to get as close as possible.
At 3 points around the edge of the major lakes, the park authorities have also taken into consideration those visitors who are either not as mobile, short on time or perhaps just lazy, as from these points they run a free ferry.
Essentially you can shortcut your way from point to point, although for us it was only used when absolutely necessary (there was no path to get to this particular point). It also gave us the chance to recharge with a quick icy-pole as again the mercury began to rise.
There was also the opportunity to hire row boats by the hour, however as lovely is it sounded in theory, it did not come with an eager local ready to row, and the thought of exerting myself without any shade was far from appealing.
As the afternoon wore on, we found ourselves revisiting some areas of path we’d seen earlier in the day (it became necessary to take some of these trails to get to areas we’d not yet seen), yet by 3pm we had exhausted even these last options as we realised that we’d covered every area we could possibly go.
Not for the first time, something that was listed in the guidebooks as taking possibly 2 full days, we’d managed to complete in less than 1. Given the heat, I’d be lying if the thought of heading back to the park entrance for a cold beer and a chance to rest my weary legs wasn’t the most wonderful finish to a beautiful day.
The biggest tips I can pass on? Get there early to beat the crowds (it really was much more peaceful in the morning) and feel confident in the local buses. By catching the bus ourselves and not joining a tour group, we saved over $100US and had the freedom to see the park on our schedule.
We’d happily come back here in an instant, and our desire is to certainly to do so in winter when this spectacular place is a wonderland of white snow and frozen falls.