Lakes, Waterfalls, and War

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Words by Dalene Heck / Photo by Pete Heck

On frosted planks of chestnut we carefully stepped so as not to slip and tumble into the chilly blue/green water on either side. When available, we tread on dried crinkly leaves for better grip. Most of our walking minutes were spent with our heads down, paying attention to our footing, but stopping often to admire the incredible scenery before us.

Plitvice Lakes

Ivica chatted almost the entire time. He filled us in on the important aspects of Plitvice National Park, his nearby home, and the decorated and tragic history of the area.

“To know the park, you must know the war,” he said. Declared a national park in 1949, the whole surrounding area suffered blows from the Yugoslav Wars of the early 1990s. Ivica himself moved west with his family, taking jobs on cruise ships in Italy for five years to earn money. When the war ended, he returned to the area in 1995 to help with rebuilding. The park, less than two hours from the capital Zagreb, opened again a year after cleanup was done and paths were able to be reopened.

Plitvice Park Above
Some of the falls, as seen from above.

Now it is the most important national park in the country and can bring in more than 10,000 visitors a day during the busy summer months. We felt lucky to be here on a sunny November day, having much of the park to ourselves (in winter, the number of tourists is as little as 300 a day).

Throughout the park there are a multitude of waterfalls and lakes, the number varying yearly depending on the level of water. We saw ponds of crisp, pristine aquamarine, and sone entirely dried up holes. In the full ones, fish were plentiful unlike anything we had seen before. In some spots, chum lined up by the hundreds, thousands, crowded together in the shallow, warm waters, so thick they looked like weeds.

Plitvice Park Fish

Brown bears live in the park as well, although their numbers are down. Scared off by bombs and mines during the war they followed many human refugees and migrated west. Some bears were found as far as Trentino, Italy.

Images of war understandably focus on the human suffering – not often do we hear of ravaged landscapes or displaced bears. Thankfully the damage to the Park wasn’t devastating, and thus soon brought some prosperity to an area that needed rebuilding.

As well as to give us, and almost one million other visitors a year, this:

Known simply as the “Large Waterfall”, the biggest one in the park stands at 78m high. Small cascades on the edge were just starting to show signs of winter freezing.

Many thanks to Ivica and the Croatian National Tourist Board for the complimentary tour.

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    1. Thanks Jeff! Luckily there were very few tourists around so that we could get away with the slowing the shutter for the flowing water ones. 🙂

      1. I have a trick for getting rid of tourists 🙂 It’s called a neutral density filter. A 10-stop filter will reduce the light by 10 stops so even in bright daylight you’ll need to take an exposure of 30 seconds or longer. Since the exposure time is so long the people walking in the photos rarely even register.

        In my Glacier Melt photo this was a 30 second exposure. People were walking in and out of the picture:

        Here’s the filter I have:

        🙂 Keep shooting! I love ’em!

        1. Oh yeah! We have the filter and were using it, but we just had people walking up and down the wooden platforms, shaking them constantly! Finally, our guide offered to make them wait (I think the exposure was set for 25 secs!) 🙂

    1. Clearly you do! That park is a really amazing place, but I would warn against going in summer when it is apparently wall-to-wall people. We luckily had it almost to ourselves!

  1. I loved Croatia but only saw the coast. Photos like these make it clear that I need to go back and explore more of the interior!

  2. Totally loving your Croatia posts and pictures. Each one makes me want to visit there more. Without your posts I probably would never have put it on my list of places to visit.

  3. Amazing scenery. I didn’t know such beauty existed in Croatia. In the past there has been so much war. I guess it must be safe to travel through the country now. and so much to see. Interesting post and wonderful pics.

    1. The Balkan area is now said to be one of the safest in Europe. A trip to Croatia is definitely worth it – it is an amazingly beautiful country!

    1. I’m glad!! It is so beautiful. Try to go in the shoulder season if you can, we were lucky to be without many tourists, in summers it can be unbearable (so we’ve heard).

  4. Like most I have seem primarily the coast in Croatia. I did spend two days in Zagreb and really wish I knew these lakes where there. I would have so done a day trip instead of sit in the cafes drinking beer (though that was nice at the time). I remember seeing some neat waterfalls in the river next to the train though.

  5. This park is just mesmerizing. Plitvice makes me realize how beautiful and wonderful nature is and I’m glad they’ve rebuilt this place after the war. The waterfalls are my personal favorite. Thank you fro sharing, this is truly amazing.

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