Catriona Rowntree has been to Croatia a couple of times. She's visited Hvar, Split, Dubrovnik and Zagreb and loved it all, but her Croatian friends back home told her she was missing something. They said she hadn't really
been to Croatia if she hadn't seen Plitvice Lakes. It didn't take long for her to realise they were quite right.
The 300 square kilometre Plitvice Lakes National Park, around two hours from Zagreb, is the green heart of Croatia,. Catriona was shown around by guide Katika Peljak, Croatia's first female ranger.
It's hard to imagine that 15 years ago the beautiful area was a war zone. Now it is the country's prime tourism destination.
The highlight is an 8km string of 16 turquoise lakes linked by a series of waterfalls and cascades. Water enters the park from nearby mountains, and lakes are separated by natural dams of travertine deposited by moss, algae and bacteria. Woodlands are populated by deer, bears, wolves, rabbits, badgers, boars and rare birds.
It's divided into upper and lower lakes. Upper lakes are surrounded by thick forests and are connected by lots of waterfalls. Lower lakes are smaller, shallower and vegetation isn't quite as lush.
Wooden footbridges follow the lakes and streams with water every imaginable shade of azure, green, grey and blue, depending upon the minerals, organisms and angle of sunlight. Dolomite and limestone provide the distinctive colours.
Each lake and waterfall has its own story. Catriona liked Milka Ternina, named after Croatia's greatest opera singer. She gave money from concerts to preserve the park, upgrade tracks and build pathways.
There are 10km of walking trails, but if you want to take it easy, boats and buses will get you around.
There's no "best time" to visit Plitvice. Every season has its own special something to offer. In spring waterfalls are flush with water; summer brings bright greenery to the hills; leaves turn miraculous colours in autumn and there are fewer visitors; there's plenty of snow in winter, and even the waterfall freeze, but it's still beautiful.
As it's the water source for the local area said to be the purest in the world swimming is not permitted, but you are more than welcome to drink it. You don't have to wander far off the path for a sip as Catriona did, and she said she felt as though she was in a mountain spring water commercial.
It's not exactly like climbing Mt Everest. There are plenty of toilets, picnic tables, a restaurant and gift shop. If you don't feel like walking any further, there's a shuttle bus called Panoramic Train running every 20 minutes or so between four stations.
Related: Catriona's Croatian overview
Halfway between Zagreb and Zadar in Croatia.
Plitvice Lakes National Park is open every day year-around, usually between 8am and 7pm. Entrance fees between November and April are around $10, $16 in May, June, September and October and $20 in July and August. A boat ride is included. Fees are used for the park's upkeep and protection.
Emirates has flights to Rome.
- Perth $2051
- Melbourne and Adelaide $2253
- Sydney $2272
- Brisbane $2275
Sales, validity dates and conditions apply.
Connections to Zagreb in Croatia are available.
Prices correct at September 23, 2010.
For further information
Ph: 1300 303 777
Plitvice Lakes National Park Scientific Research Center
HR 53231 Plitvice Lakes
Ph: +385 53 751 015
Visas: Australian citizens do not require a visa for stays of up to 90 days. They must have a passport valid for the period of the stay.
Electricity: 230V at 50HZ and two-pin plugs.
Time zone: GMT +1.
Currency: The kuna.
International dialling code: +385.
It is recommended travellers to Croatia see their doctor at least six weeks before departure as there may be specific vaccinations recommended. Other health precautions and preventions may also be recommended. For further information, visit www.smartraveller.gov.au.