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17-20 May 2022. We get to the bus stop really early. We know it’s going to be a double-decker bus and we want the upstairs front seats. Don told me recently about a study of what people find fun and exciting at different ages. Of course it varies with age, but the one thing that people of all ages from five to ninety-five agree on is that riding in a double-decker bus in the upstairs front seats rates right up there.

Anyway we’re there really early. Don guards all the bags while I find the office and ask which bay the bus will be in, and check when it will arrive. Then later, a bus arrives and I ask the driver. I know it’s not our bus but I ask anyway. I want to make sure!

Finally our bus arrives and I get right close to the bus with our bags and the others join me. Don’s job is to get on the bus and upstairs as quickly as he can while I see that our bags get stowed underneath. Too funny: we’re waiting by the front door of the bus, they take our luggage, and only open the back door for people to get on. Didn’t see that coming. Still, we are quick enough! Four of us in a row across the front seats upstairs. Hooray, we made it!

We are on a journey from Split to Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia’s shining jewel. This UNESCO World Heritage site is the first created, and the largest, national park in the country. It covers 300 square kilometres and is home to bears, wolves, and lynx, luxuriant plant life including old-growth beech and fir forests, and many species of birds. Most of all it is home to a series of sixteen emerald lakes that cascade down and down and down flowing from one into the other. As soon as I knew we were going to Croatia, Plitvice was instantly at the top of the list of places we had to see.

From Don’s notes: 17 May. Today is a travel day, a long bus trip to Plitvice Lakes, leaving Split at 15:30 arriving Plitvice at 19:55. So a nice easy day. Up, shave and shower, then breakfast, some packing, go out to get food for lunch and bus provisions, finish packing, have lunch and wait for Suzanne to get a taxi to take us to the bus station. As has happened so often on our travels I’ve already been scammed by a taxi driver. 200 Kuna (CAN$40) to take us from the Riva to our apartment, a five minute drive. Grr to the taxi driver, and grr to me for not making sure the meter was running before we began. Suzanne will make sure that she gets a taxi with a meter running. She finds one that only charges her 40 Kuna! What a deal. We get to the bus terminal before 14:30, find our bus stand, and oh joy, we’re going to be travelling on a double-decker bus! We want the front seats upstairs and are first in line to get them. The trip initially seems endless, but the last hour, through beautiful rural countryside goes quickly.

The trip doesn’t seem endless to me. There are photos I take from my aerie in the bus of ordinary Split, and photos of the land along the way. It’s spring. The broom is blooming in all its golden gorgeousness;

there’s a host of brilliant-red wild poppies growing in between the railway tracks that we pass; there are towns with ancient fortifications;

and tunnels, and bridges.

We travel on a swift four-lane divided highway that gets us quickly away from the city, and takes us over, or through, the mountains that form the backdrop to Split.

Then at last we are on rural roads, in the countryside, passing through small villages,

in the midst of lush green farming country. It feels unspoiled here. Oh I’m sure the people who live here work hard, and don’t necessarily have an easy life, but it feels peaceful to me as I pass through, peaceful and prosperous.

After several stops along the way we arrive at Hotel Jezero where we will stay for the next three nights. There is almost no accommodation within the park, just this and two other hotels. There is more accommodation in a nearby village, but we choose the hotel for easy access to the park entrance and walking trails. All we have to do is walk out of the front door and down well-maintained paths to get to the little dock on the lake where we begin our exploration of one of the most splendiferous places I’ve ever been to.

Those of you who have been following the blog for a long time know that I’ve been to many beautiful and magnificent and spectacular places all around the world. Plitvice Lakes National Park makes the list of the very best amongst the best. There aren’t enough superlatives.

From Don’s notes: 18 May. Up at 06:30 for breakfast at 07:00. A lovely big bright breakfast room with a lovely big bright buffet breakfast. I have a big breakfast and multiple cups of tea. We each make sandwiches to take with us for lunch. . . . . .

Let’s begin at the beginning: it’s a short walk from the hotel followed by a short ride in an open electric boat across Lake Kozjak, the lowest of the group of twelve lakes known as the Upper Lakes. We climb up the tidy wooden stairs from the dock and begin walking.

Initially we are welcomed by pleasant views around the lake, then as we get closer we see there are clumps of grasses, growing vertically, hanging down a moss-covered rock wall. The clumps of grasses reach down almost to the water and drip drip drip into a clear pristine luminous jade pool surrounded by lush vegetation. They remind me a little of the vegetation that endlessly drips into the cenotes of the Yucatan.

And then, as we get to the end of the lake we are suddenly beside a tumbling creek, right beside it, the water flowing swiftly around and over rocks turned bright chartreuse with thick moss. Continuing to follow the path upward we’ve now ascended to the the next lake, the surrounding forest perfectly reflected, the water soft, still, a calm mirror. But look across to the other side! There are mini waterfalls tumbling over a rock wall into the aqua waters. Further around the lake are tall spring flowers, silent witnesses to it all.

And we’ve hardly started. Continuing on there are endless secret views of the lake through the foliage of the trees. Soon we’re moving up to the next level. The water runs wild and fast right next to us as it races down from the lake above to the one below. We are walking upstream as the water flows down right next to the path.

Now another lake, the dirt path winding along its shore, tree roots clinging tenaciously on one side, the canopy shading us above, and on the other side the ever-present lake water. It’s the third lake I think, or the fourth. As we go higher I lose count.

Look, across this lake there’s a rock wall with long tufts of grasses, most likely some form of moss, hanging side by side, and a profusion of mini waterfalls; I imagine in the rainy season they’re all joined into one.

We come to another waterfall, closer the path; we can feel the spray, feel it caressing us.

And now, having reached the end of the lake we’re back beside a turbulent river the water crashing and roiling over the rocks.

Our constant companions on this journey are watersong, birdsong, frogsong; the song of the earth; the song of the green Gaia; and a variety of wild flowers, white, purple, and pink.

We arrive at the next lake, this time the path has risen high above it, and we see the water flowing through the trees down the steep slope of the land. Then we’re back down to water-level for the next lake, and then crossing a small bridge, with the water thundering turbulent and wild beneath us, we reach the next lake,

and more waterfalls, and another river, gentler this time, the slope of the land not so severe.

On we go from lake to lake, sometimes a long wide view,

sometimes framed by the forest along the path,

and frequently embellished with myriad waterfalls cascading into the pristine emerald waters.

Photo by Don Read

After several hours, having done a loop to the highest of the Upper Lakes and back down again, we return to the hotel for a quiet dinner, then Don and I head out again for a peaceful stroll alongside the water,

and are entertained by hundreds of tiny brown birds singing a great medley of songs, a sustained and enthusiastic call and response; and by the antics of one duck running at high speed across the top of the water, over and over and over. 

And so to bed. It’s been a very long day. We’ve walked 15 kilometres.

Oh you think we’re done? That’s only day one. On day two we go to the Lower Lakes. Early morning, waiting for the ferry, S and I spontaneously start singing songs from our childhood, then Don joins in with Ting Tang Walla Walla Bing Bang, and we all sing Purple People Eater, (It was a one-eyed one-horned flying purple people eater . . . ) and other songs from the distant past. Fun.

And then the electric ferry arrives, and in the silent gentle stillness of early morning we travel the length of Kozjak Lake.

It’s a longer ride today but soon enough the ferry docks and we start walking. We are given one last view of Kozjak

before we are once again beside galloping waters as they rush downhill hurtling over the rocks to the next lake, which like the others, is all shimmering turquoise surrounded by lush forest and myriad mini waterfalls.

And then as we travel downhill we are right beside the torrent. Here you can see it traveling headlong to the next lake.

And here, from that lake, with its white cliff background, the water pours across the land wherever it can find a path, a valley, a crevice to fill, and always giving rise to a great profusion of iridescent exuberant plant life. We are right beside it all, this water-and-plant being, this living oneness,

until we get to here,

here where the boardwalk crosses in front of the flow and we are beside a small aquamarine pond and all is peaceful again.

We follow the boardwalk along the shore of the lake

and the path rises until we are above it, looking down on all this luminous viridian beauty.

Following the path we gradually descend

and return to the the ferry terminal where there is a variety of food stalls around a spacious area filled with picnic tables. After a break we follow another path that takes us even higher above it. 

We are filled up. Nourished. Elated. What a place! Just this small glimpse of the wonders of Plitvice Lakes National Park is special enough that I’ll probably never forget it. I am a great lover of nature and the outdoors, and seek it out as I travel, and I’ve never seen anything quite like this. It’s a waterfall that goes on forever, a river of white water on the grandest of scales, a sumptuous nurturing spread for the soul.

The following morning we take the bus back to Split,

and prepare for the next adventure.

Have I gone overboard with the photos? Are there too many? Why no! No there are not! How can there be too many photos of such beauty?

Next post: The island of Vis

All words and images by Alison Louise Armstrong unless otherwise noted
© Alison Louise Armstrong and Adventures in Wonderland – a pilgrimage of the heart, 2010-2022.