We are going on a bear hunt!

Wednesday 7th and Thursday 8th September 2022

Camping Plitvice – Smoljanak

Phew! We’ve made it! Andy led us on a sat nav adventure from Pula, along mountain roads that were barely 3 metres wide in places (and you know how wide our van is already from our scrapes in Switzerland) and had steep drops either side with no crash barriers. Wendy was breathing in so hard she was in danger of hyperventilating. I was just about to say how lucky we were that we hadn’t met anything coming the other way when around a corner came a lorry which was interesting. We were able to back up into a slightly wider place and with the onside wheels almost on the tarmac, he managed to squeeze past. 

Our destination is Smoljanak, a tiny, scattered village, 400 metres up in the mountain, right on the edge of the Plitivice National Park and the home of the rather swish campsite, Camping Plitvice. It only opened in 2019 and the part that we were staying on only opened two months ago. It has great facilities, if slightly too few, and runs a shuttle service to the Plitvice National Park. It also takes the ACSI card so at only €45 for two nights; one of our cheapest sites so far. 

We are surrounded by a forest that stretches further than the eye can see. There are very few metalled roads and most of the isolated houses we passed, seem to be holiday homes. It does seem very remote and the road signs warning of bears and wolves makes it feel even more so. Apparently there are also wild boar and wild cats hereabouts, but I don’t know why they don’t warrant their own signs too?

Bears, wolves, wild cats and boar? That sounds like a challenge to good to pass up. So armed with pepper sprays, Lesley’s shotgun and a stout stick we set off to see what we could find. 7km later, up hill and down dale, there was not a sign, though Bryn did find a very exciting scent that he followed for a couple of hundred metres into the undergrowth before he returned very hot and bothered. Other than that, we did find a small hamlet which had a restored water powered flour mill and a saw mill. Both were on the  Korana river but, thanks to this year’s pan-European drought, it is more the Korana puddle.

The lack of water in the Korana does not bode well for tomorrow’s trip. Tomorrow (Thursday)we are going to visit the Plitvice National Park, a UNESCO world heritage site. Unlike our National Parks in the UK, this one you have to pay to enter and you have to do so on foot. Sounds a bit weird doesn’t it? But when you get in you realise that it is all set in the canyon of the upper reaches of a tributary of the Korana, and so it is a bit cramped, especially with the thousands of visitors every day. You have to stay on designated routes (from 2 to 18km), many of which are on raised walkways over lakes, streams and waterfalls. Then there are the ferry boats across the largest lake and a road train for part of the way back. Everywhere was scrupulously maintained. However, even with timed tickets and our early 0800 arrival, we felt as if we were in a queue for most of the day. I cannot imagine what it was like to visit in July and August. 

OK, here is the science bit. All you artists can skip the next four paragraphs.

Plitvice is on the UNESCO world heritage list because of the process of tufa formation that takes place here, without the presence of volcanic activity.

The tufa (a type of limestone rock, beloved by the Victorian creators of garden grottos) in Plitvice is formed by algae and mosses extracting the calcium carbonate from the water and depositing it to form barriers. They have done so on a magnificent scale, turning the valley into a cascade of lakes and waterfalls. these are constantly changing due to the active process bringing a human scale of time to a geological process.

Most tufa creation processes are related to volcanic activity, but here it is happening because of a unique combination of three essential environmental factors.

  1. Over-saturation of water with calcium carbonate
  2.  pH value of the water greater than 8.0
  3. Concentration of dissolved organic matter in the water is lower than 10mg/l carbon.

The chemical formula for those of us who enjoy these things is…

CaCO3 + H2O + CO2  Ca2+ + 2HCO3

How many lakes are there? Too many to count! How many waterfalls, cascades and riffles? More than I had seen in my lifetime! They included Croatia’s tallest waterfall, the magnificently named Veliki Slap which is either 62m or 87m depending on what you account as the base of the fall.

The bottom line is that this is a wonderful place. As Venice is to cities; Plitvice is to the natural world. A place that should be on everyone’s list of places to visit.

Let Andy’s photos paint the picture…

And a little bit of drama to finish off the day. As we were having a post prandial coffee, a fire erupted in the woods just next to the campsite. Fortunately it wasn’t a forest fire that we all thought. But a controlled bonfire where the campsite staff had been clearing some land and wanted to get rid of the arisings before it rains tomorrow.

The Forest is alight!

Rain tomorrow?!! We had better pack the table, chairs, groundsheet and awning away so we are ready to move on in the morning.

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