Croatia’s Plitvice Lakes National Park covers an area of nearly 300 square kilometres in the centre of the country. It is renowned internationally for its beautiful lakes and waterfalls and it is a firm favourite of mine, somewhere I have now returned to on many occasions.
Previously I’ve written about other aspects of the park (the links are at the foot of the article) but this article covers my visits to the Upper Lakes in Winter and early Spring.
As the name suggests, the park’s main attraction is the sixteen lakes which flow from south to north—firstly the twelve Upper Lakes in a wide valley and then the four Lower Lakes in a narrow gorge. In 1949 the lakes were listed by the Croatian government as a national park and, in 1979, the park was recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Theses articles are arranged geographically with the initial ones covering my explorations around the lakes and later ones describing my visits to other areas of the park. The first described my searches for the sources of the lakes’ water and the second my visits to the upper lakes in the summer and autumn of 2015. This describes my visits to the upper lakes in the winter of 2015 and spring of 2016.
The photographs were taken with a Leica X Vario with its fixed 28-70mm zoom. The amount of detail captured by the lens is extraordinary and I recommend viewing the pictures in as large a size as possible. You can click on any image and go to a slide show of larger versions covering all the pictures in the article.
I wrote in my journal that Thursday 19th November 2015 was a perfect autumn day with a clear blue sky. But on the morning of the twenty-first, light rain turned to sleet. Then, at lunchtime as the temperature dropped, to snow. The next day my car was covered in two feet of it. Winter had come to the hills, hard and fast.
When the snow had melted a bit on the trails and boardwalks, I walked the road around the south side of Kozjak lake towards the upper lakes, the ferry service having stopped for the winter. Leaving the road where it met the path beside the lakes, I continued up the valley with the views obscured by the light rain and mist. But I had on my mountain boots and waterproof jacket, I was out in the woods warm and dry; it was going to be a good afternoon.
As the rain struck the hood of my jacket, I lowered my head to the path in front of me. I was in for a surprise; the rain had washed the dust off the path and the tree roots were revealed. Many times I had stepped on or over these roots covered in dust to the point of invisibility and I’d never seen them like this. Bending down to take a closer look, I marvelled at their colours and patterns; the contrast between what they had looked like before and how they looked now was striking. However, as they dried the colours faded and they shrank back into the dust.
The roots brought to mind an incident during my time at university. My childhood was fortunately spent in the south-east of England, among its beautiful countryside, and I was studying on a campus in the Midlands that had previously been part of a country park. Taking a few days away to visit a friend in Manchester, my first time there, I found it grey and bleak in comparison to what I was used to. Dark satanic mills came to mind.
Walking into town, my friend halted unexpectedly and exclaimed excitedly “look at that!” “Look at what?” “That—isn’t it beautiful?”—pointing emphatically to the floor. At the side of the asphalt, under the park railings, was a small yellow flower. An insignificant flower, next to the grubby grey asphalt. And yet, when I took the time to stop and put my doubts and prejudices back in my pocket, I had to agree with him. It was beautiful, fresh and bright, and I’d learnt a lesson for life.
Although I digress, I never cease to be amazed at the beauty of the world around us. I have seen beautiful man-made fabrics with vibrant colours shimmering in the light. Yet none has compared with the exquisite colours, lit from within by a living light, of the tropical fish that I have dived among.
Moving along the trail, my eye was caught by the purple colour of small flowers on the bank beside the rushing waters. I made my way across the bank and, with camera on tripod, played with shutter speeds to juxtapose the stillness of the flowers with the movement of the water behind.
Further up in the woods, I noticed the sun bringing a small section of grubby and nondescript ice momentarily to life. I was fortunate to see and be able to capture it. After a few minutes the sun moved on, leaving the ice in the gloom of the woods to silently melt back into the water.
Although the water between the lakes was running freely, parts of the lakes were frozen and the boardwalks were slippery. In many places the lakes spilled over the paths, making progress intermittent or impossible. Nevertheless, the closeness of the water to solid ground brought opportunities to see the leaves held captive in the ice.
As I reached the frozen Galovački Buk, the barrier above Galovac lake, I saw a dramatic change from its appearance in the Summer. This one view seemed to epitomise the park in winter; quiet, still and patiently waiting for the inevitable thaw.
Deepest winter saw me leaving for warmer climes on a short assignment. When I returned in the New Year the waterfalls were still frozen. As I descended on the boardwalks beside Gradinsko lake one early evening the ice reflected the clouds lit by the setting sun.
A month later and the ice had melted. A long walk in the hills brought me back down to Gradinsko lake in the late afternoon. I paused, in two minds; should I push on down the road to the hotel before dark or wait and see what would happen as the sky was becoming more colourful by the minute?
I decided to wait and descended from the road to the path beside the lake. I set up my tripod and camera and waited. I soon realised that I had made the right decision because the colours in the sky grew in intensity and were duly reflected by the calm waters of the lake.
The colours reached a climax and then, as dusk fell, the sky darkened to a blue grey. Feeling very privileged to have witnessed such a beautiful sight, I continued to the hotel. This photograph hangs on a wall at home.
As spring approached and the snow on the surrounding hills melted, Plitvice Lakes saw weeks of dull, overcast rainy weather. One cold, wet and overcast afternoon I trudged up the trail on the northern side of the upper lakes. I made my way beside, and sometimes through, the freezing lake water covering the paths. I was not expecting much from the afternoon so was surprised to hear the falls roaring, growing louder the higher I climbed.
Turning a rocky corner, I was struck by the view of Galovac Lake and the valley above as the normally orderly streams noisily rioted across the valley floor glistening in the weak wintry light. The view was in stark contrast to that of a few weeks before when the lakes and waterfalls were quiet and frozen. Now they had been released from winter’s icy grip.
I felt very fortunate and rewarded to have witnessed this occasional phenomenon that faded after a day or two; one of the park’s staff told me that they call this phenomenon ‘lace’. To me it was ‘Plitvice lace’.
The phenomenon continued down the barriers between the lakes and the water pouring—the lace draping—over the Galovac barrier and Veliki Prštavac into Gradinsko Lake was visible from the hotel.
Pevalek Waterfall light
One afternoon in early spring I walked up beside the upper lakes, noting in my journal that after days without sun the clouds had finally lifted. Many times I had passed the Pevalek waterfall along the Galovac barrier from Veliki Prštavac. But that afternoon the combination of the melting snow, rain pouring from the hills and the low sun presented me with a sight that enchanted me and delights me to this day. I had downloaded onto my iPhone the Photographers Ephemeris App but knew from experience approximately where the sun would be when I would arrive at the waterfall.
However, baffled, I still couldn’t work out how this wonderful display of water and light had come about. I was very fortunate to be able to experience and capture it, all alone with just my camera and tripod. This is a another photo that hangs on my wall and that of a friend to whom I gifted a print.
I hope you have enjoyed my descriptions of my wanderings around the upper lakes in their broad valley and will join me in the next article in my explorations of Kozjak Lake, the lower lakes in their narrow gorge and in other areas of the park.