June 7, 2010 Hiking in Plitvicka Jezera

17 06 2010

We woke up to what was already becoming a warm day.  It was going to be a hot one.  Not exactly what I had been hoping for when the plan was to be hiking for most of the day.

We had laid out our plans last night.  We were ready for our attack and the plethora of waterfalls meant that we’d be bringing the tripod and the ND filters to see if we could get the silky flow look going even in the more full sun of the midday.

We headed over to the hotel restaurant for breakfast.  We had powdered Orange Juice (yeach!) and rather than a buffet like many other breakfasts had been, this was an a la carte one.  After looking through the menu, most of us had variations of omelettes – ham and cheese, ham and mushroom etc.  I think it was Maggie that ordered the scrambled eggs and sausage.  As usual, bread was abundant, but there was no butter or jam.  We really had begun to wonder if people just ate their bread dry (yeach again!)

The poor waitress was pretty overworked so breakfast was a bit slow.  That’s OK, we had started early to ensure we’d be moving early enough before the heat of the day. It was going to go up to 32C today!  When our omelettes showed up, they were HUGE.  I’m pretty sure they were 3 egg omelettes.  Shortly after them, the butter and jam for the bread.  Now we had a feast to finish.  The eggs and sausages ended up being basically big pieces of kielbasa sausage cooked up and next to the scrambled eggs.  There was enough cholesterol and fat to put you into cardiac arrest right there and then.  We finished as much as we could and then scrambled out to the van to head up to lakes.

The drive up was quick as we were about 15 minutes at most from the parking lot.  We found a shady place to park the van which we knew would be a small oven later otherwise.  Cameras? Check. Water? Check. Tripod? Check.  Off we went.  The cost to enter the park was 110 Croatian Kruna/person which seemed like a lot.  Then we learned that it would include the cost of bus transportation within the park as well as the boat ride. Well, now it seemed like pretty swell deal!

We walked about 2km over to the pickup point for the “bus”.  We were heading off from ST2 and would head up to ST4 and begin our hike down the lakes, returning to where we had started.  The plan was that the hike would be more downhill than up that way.  The map of the lakes helps you to understand this.  We were going to head from the top left corner down to the bottom right.  It was an ambitious plan that would have us hiking for 4-6 hours according to the park ranger to whom we spoke. The ranger also assured us that there was somewhere along the way that we would be able to buy and eat lunch – which was nice.  No need to pack in lunch!

At ST2 where we were catching our bus we found things that looked a bit like trains with wheels. I should have taken a picture as it’s hard to describe.  They call them “panoramic trains”  The front of the “train” is a bit like a transport truck cab and it’s attached to a passenger compartment that holds about 16 or so people, very much like a normal bus.  Then they chain on 2 or 3 more “cars” which are passenger compartments that hold about 20 people each.  This train then takes you up for a 20 minute drive through the forest and you realize that it’s going to be a lot of walking until you get back to where this thing came from!  We disembarked at ST4 and were immediately fascinated by the beautifully clear water running in the creek near the stop and the sound of what I thought were ducks quacking.  We began our hike at 0950.

Wow!  What can I say?  Words cannot accurately describe the wonderful walk through shaded paths and boardwalks along such a well maintained trail that wound its way around azure and aquamarine lakes that were so clear you could see 14” fish cruising even when they dropped down 10-15 feet into the depths.  Too bad no fishing is allowed. ;)  We were treated to waterfall after waterfall which varied from cliffs to small rivulets.  All the while we stopped and clicked. And Clicked. And Clicked some more. The photo opportunities just kept on rolling.  These lakes are a water landscape photographer’s dream!

It wasn’t all roses though.  One drawback to such natural beauty is that it attracts many tourists. It’s not too hard to shoot around them, but the boardwalks are designed such that a tourist 50 feet away makes your tripod bounce while you are trying to get that 5” water blur shot.  This was annoying.  The only real thing that they could do to stop this would be to build more supports into their boardwalks. Not a HUGE pain but a nit, and one of which I was acutely aware around some of the busier viewpoints.  All the people on the trail were all very well mannered and respectful of photographers – even the group of 30 less than quiet school kids that were on trip.

We got down to the boat launch to catch our boat across the big lake and have lunch.  The boat arrived. We were ready.  Two of us were missing!  Oh no! The boat schedule said it travelled every 30 minutes.  We weren’t looking forward to a 30 minute wait.  Our two companions arrived – late.  We had missed the boat.  Apparently the call of nature had been a bit too much with the sound of all the rushing water. Hehe.  We were lucky.  Since we were into peak season, the boats ran every 15 minutes and one seemed to arrive even sooner.  Without much delay we packed onto the boat and enjoyed a leisurely 20 minute boat ride over to the side of the lake.

As we approached the far shore of the lake you could see one thing.  MASSES of people!  It was crazy… tour after tour of people were all eating lunch, playing games…  You name it. The serene quiet of the lakes was totally SHATTERED!   By now we were around 1300 and the sun was coming straight down from above and working at frying anything exposed into a little sunburnt crisp.  We were anxious to find shade in which we could settle down and eat lunch.  We split up and continued to scan the tables for people that appeared to be leaving.  We set up on a few groups that appeared to be tidying up and we scooped in just in time before another group got a premium table – in the shade and near the cafeteria line.  I went with the classic schnitzel while others had a chicken leg.  Drinks went down really easily and this was one of those times that you were glad that they sold drinks by the bottle and not some tiny glassfull.  While we ate, the school kids moved on and things became a bit more relaxed, but the heat kept us hiding in the protection of the shelter.

We continued our hike down and were treated to more spectacular views and quiet waters.  This continued until we got to the end and went to the “big waterfall”.  It was REALLY tall, and consisted of a group of about 10 different stream points all flowing off the cliff edge.  In the sun, the mist shone and when the wind blew up we all hid our cameras to protect them from the water :)  Due to the angle of the sun, it was tough to get a group shot in front of the falls but we tried and had some moderate success.  We then began our ascent up the steep walk to ST1 where we were going to catch the little bus/train back to ST2.  The walk was open and exposed, making this the hottest part of the whole hike.  It was hot, exposed and uphill.  When we got to the top we were pretty happy to find a little stand where we could buy popsicles and pop.  Wow did we need them!

We pretty much finished our hike around 1550.  All tolled we took 6 hours to walk the walk.  Lot’s of photos!

After getting back to the van we drove home and all took showers to cool down and clean off after the hot day of hiking.  I went out to see if I could find a snake or two or maybe a bird.  No love.

We went over to the hotel restaurant and had dinner before going back to our rooms to review our day’s pictures and activities.  Tomorrow we would drive towards Vienna with a stop at some Austrian castle for the night.  Should be interesting.

Going to be a long day driving…off to sleep.

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