An amazing congregation of nearly 16 crystalline lakes separated by natural dams of travertine & linked by a series of waterfalls & cascades, surrounded by a thick layer of foliage forms one of the most picturesque sites in the entire Europe! The Plitvice National Park in Croatia constitutes the oldest national park in the ‘Southeast Europe’ & the largest national park in the country.
The national park was founded in 1949 & was inscribed in the list of ‘World Heritage sites’ by UNESCO in the year 1979. The secured area of the park extends over 295.85 sq. km & is located in the alpine region of the ‘Karst’ area of ‘Central Croatia’, near the border of ‘Bosnia & Herzegovina’.
The ‘Plitvice National Park’ contains a series of beautiful lakes, caves, waterfalls & rich, evergreen foliage. There are 16 lakes interlinked by cascades & waterfalls, which are situated between Mala Kapela & Pljesevica Mountain. The lakes are divided into two parts- Upper & Lower.
The ‘Upper lakes’ are located in a dolomite valley & are linked by numerous magnificent waterfalls. The ‘Lower lakes’ are, on the hand, are located on the limestone bedrock & are much shallower & smaller than the Upper lakes. The series of lakes extends over a distance of some 8 km & are located within an altitude of 636 m to 503 m, occupying some 2 sq.km of the area. The lowest lake gives rise to the Korana River.
The dolomite & limestone rocks present in the vicinity have given rise to the unique feature of this national park. The lakes are separated by natural dams of travertine which are constructed due to the continuous sedimentation of the limestone rocks. ‘Tufa barriers’ are the reasons behind the formation of travertine. Tufa barriers are created due to continuous sedimentation processes alongside natural edges due to the overflowing water & the incrustation of moss, algae & bacteria with calcium carbonate. It is estimated that the travertine barriers are growing at the rate of 1 cm/year.
In geological terms, the travertine barriers that have given rise to the astonishing ‘Plitvice Lakes’ have existed since the end of the ice age, some 12,000 to 15,000 years back! The lakes feature distinctive colors, ranging from blue to green or gray. The colors vary depending upon the quantity of minerals or microbes in the water & the intensity of the sunlight.
Two largest lakes, Proscansko Jezero & Kozjak, occupy the largest part of the lake area. These two lakes are also the deepest & plunges up to 37 m & 47 m respectively. The group of 12 upper lakes is called as ‘Gornja Jezera’ & the four lower lakes are known as ‘Donja Jezera’. Myriad waterfalls present inside the national park act as the linkages between successive lakes located at different heights. The ‘Veliki Slap’ (Large waterfall) which stands 78 m tall, is the highest waterfall in ‘Croatia’. ‘River Plitvica’ plunges into the end of the Plitvice lake chain through the ‘Veliki Slap’ to form the ‘Korana River’.
The caves are also aptly important features of this region. The Golubnjaca Cave (145 m), Supljara Cave (68 m), Mracna Cave (160 m), Vila Jezerkinje Cave (104 m) & ‘Golubnjaca Cave’ near Homoljacko Field (153 m) are worth visiting. The national park is a home of myriad pit-caves, including ‘Cuinka pit-cave’ (-203 m) & ‘Jama’ on Vrisic (-154 m).
FLORA & FAUNA:
Rich, evergreen foliage is the key feature of the national park. The park features a mixture of Alpine & Mediterranean vegetation, mainly consisting of beech, spruce & fir trees. So far, nearly 109 different plant species have been recognized within the forest area, out of which, 75 species are endemic. 55 different species of orchids can also be found within the park limit. A unique part of the forest area known as ‘Corkova Uvala’ is the massive virgin forest situated in the northwestern terrain, is famous for the beech & fir trees, some of which are up to 700 years old.
Thick vegetation provides shelter to multitudes of the wild creatures. It is the last shelter for a number of endangered species, including, the European brown bear, wolf, eagle, lynx, wild cats & capercillie. Around 50 species of mammals, 321 species of butterflies, 12 species of amphibians & some species of reptiles have been found flourishing in this area. Till now, 157 bird species have also been recorded, of which 70 have been breeding there.
EXCURSION THROUGH THE PARK:
Several paths are made available for the tourists to get around the lakes depending upon the time constraints & difficulty level. Trail H is ideal for covering the majority of the area & it normally takes 4-5 hours for completion. Some trails have boat & bus transfers to save the walking. The paths are very well maintained & consist of gravel, wooden planks & rock steps. All the trails run for almost 18 km under & across the cascades & gushing water.
HOW TO REACH:
Zadar, Zagreb & Rijeka are the nearest airports from the park, whereas Josipdol & Plaski are the closest railway stations, although no direst bus service from these stations to the park is available. The highway ‘A1 Zagreb-Split’ located 50 km west of the national park is well suited for the road journey. The national park is accessible from the ‘Gornja Ploca’ exit in the south, from the ‘Karlovac’ exit in the north & from the ‘Octocac’ exit in the west.