The Land of Stunning Parks, Ep. 113

It was mid-June and by this time, we had been in Croatia for a little over two weeks and had spent a lot of time in the southern islands of this lovely country; however, as our next set of friends joined us, we were excited to be moving further northwest into an area abundant with national and nature parks! Tom wrote about our visit to Mljet National Park which occupies significant land and coastline on the island of the same name. Before we would leave Croatia, we will have visited Mljet two more times! This post will introduce two additional national parks and one equally special nature park. We’re lucky to be able to capture this beauty digitally today. I would hate to have had to ration my film use in these amazing places in the days of my youth. Prepare for a high number of photos!

Three friends got on board just hours after our previous guests left in a taxi for the ferry terminal. I recently worked with Patty and Mike; and Beth is Mike’s wife and a pleasure to have on board as we all got to know one another better. Patty and I have known each other for more than 25 years and she spent a week on Sea Rose last summer so she will be familiar with the boat and our life on board. Patty’s flight was due in late afternoon, so after initial chitter-chatter and refreshments with Mike and Beth, we held an impromptu knot-tying & sailing lesson as a way to acclimate them to the boat.  As soon as Patty boarded, we headed out of our slip at D’Marin Marina (which was in the town of Trogir, near Split) and off towards nearby Drvenik Island for our first night out with our new crew.

Our initial path with the new crew, from Trogir (near Split) to the Krka River and beyond!

We settled into a calm spot just as darkness fell. The anchorage we picked was in the shallow water between several islands (see map above). Everyone enjoyed our first night together as we prepared a simple meal and relaxed in the warm evening air. In the morning, we watched lots of boats picking up their anchor to move on to their first activity. As you look at the chart detail of the area immediately in front of us, it is obvious that you cannot pass between the islands, but instead you need to approach the various sections within the sizeable anchorage from the deep-water side of each island. Since Croatia is such a popular area for cruising, everyone rushes from anchorage to anchorage trying to pack in as many sights as they can each day while they also maneuver to secure the best spot to drop their anchor, whether for a morning swim, a lunchtime snorkel or an overnight stop. As we enjoyed our coffee, one such chartered sailboat motored quickly by us … right toward shallow water. I was just wondering if they knew something we didn’t when the 45-foot boat, with a deck crowded with people, came to a sudden stop. The scene was made complete by the accompanying crunching sound and rattled, swinging rigging! They were aground – for sure – but they didn’t seem at all alarmed and after a quick evaluation, they didn’t seem to have any meaningful damage either … though time will tell! They tried several motor-initiated methods of escaping from their entrapment but were not budging. Eventually, everyone except for the captain jumped in the water and began pulling on lines connected to the stern of the boat. With the decrease in weight, the boat floated higher and this combined with the engine and pulled lines finally released the boat from the bottom. Everyone climbed back on board, refreshed from their morning dip, and the captain casually headed out the way he entered. Remind me never to put our boat into a charter fleet!

After a dinghy ride around the anchorage and some fun on the paddle boards, we got underway for the day. Our goal was to get near the mouth of the Krka River for the night so we could visit our next national park (Krka Falls National Park) the following day. We oscillated between motoring and attempting to sail but generally had a nice 15 mile trip. We passed this great island, shown below, as we rounded the corner to head almost directly north.

Otocic Mulo with a captivating lighthouse

We picked a quiet spot in the lee of the tiny hour-glass-shaped island of Dvainka for the night. We had the anchorage to ourselves, which is always a treat. After dinner, we learned that we had a near-professional star-gazer on board – Mike! We sat on the bow for hours pointing out favorite constellations, tracking satellite arks across the dark night sky and witnessing shooting stars. Even though somewhat-nearby Sibenik was a sizable town, the sky was perfect for exploration.

Here’s a google satellite shot of Dvainka – wish we flew our drone!
Sea Rose on anchor in the lee of Dvainka
Sunset over Dvainka and nearby islands

Beth and Patty circumnavigated Dvainka Island on SUPs early the next morning, then we headed out to have a full day on the Krka River! We had a great sail to the river’s mouth before we dropped sails so we could take in the sights while motoring up the crooked waterway to the town of Skradin – see map below.

Our path from Dvainka to and up the Krka River and then off to Otok Kakan, just south of Kornati Islands National Park

As we passed by the city of Sibenik, we agreed it might be a great place to visit on our way down the river! You could see a fortification wall stretching from the hilltop to the water’s edge and the restaurant-lined waterfront was active and inviting. As we motored beyond Sibenik, the sides of the riverbank rose and the river’s path began meandering further inland. Though lacking in vegetation, the trip up the river was beautiful and we were close enough to the sides to see hiking trails, caves and gnarled rock faces presenting a historic perspective of their interaction with the Krka River’s power.

Just off Sibenik, Mike enjoys the views during our river transit
The rising river banks as we curved our way up the Krka River

Before lunch, we found ourselves anchored off the quaint town of Skradin, in a marshy pool which bumped out from the main waterway. We quickly prepared for time ashore – Krka Falls National Park awaited. Skradin had everything we needed right near the dinghy landing … a quick lunch, a refreshing beverage and rental bikes! We hopped on and followed the directions up and out of town to the park gate. The road turned to dirt here but the ride was gently sloping as it followed the river up-stream to the key attractions – the waterfalls! This place was incredible … so unique. I’ll let the pictures and the sign-post text we copied down tell the rest of the story.

Overlooking the Krka River during our bike ride from Skradin to the Krka Falls National Park
Krka’s bathing pool at the base of the complex network of falls!

Skradinski buk, the longest and most commonly visited waterfall on the Krka River is one of Croatia’s best known natural wonders. The waterfalls were created by travertine barriers, islands and lakes. The waterfalls can be viewed year-round thanks to the network of trails and bridges that allow for pleasant and safe walking. The combined waters of the Krka and Cikola Rivers flow over the 17 steps at Skradinski buk, distributed along the 800 meters in length. The width of the cascades is between 200 and 400 meters with a total height difference of 45.7 meters. Several renovated water mills, rolling mills, and washing columns that for centuries have utilized the power of the river are also located at the Skradinski buk.

~ Text from sign at entrance to the falls trail

It was late afternoon when we hopped onto our bikes for the ride back to the cute town of Skradin. What a full and fun day and it wasn’t nearly over. Below is the beautiful view of the Krka River from the dirt road/bike path we rode from Skradin to the base of the falls and back.

The road from Krka National Park gate into the falls

Back in town, we sat to order a drink at one of the many small establishments along the dock and quickly realized the only options at this place were locally made wine and walnut liquor … well, we tried them. None of us were thrilled but we did have a very fun time people watching so we plugged through. There was a big luxury yacht in front of us and the crew carefully put out the passerelle (the ‘gang plank’) and railing as the guests patiently waited to disembark. Should the guests depart now? Not yet … next came a small welcome mat and a captain’s chair which were meticulously placed to the left of the gang plank landing. Ready? Nope, not yet … a basket full of shoes came over and was followed by a second full basket of shoes. Both were placed next to the captain’s chair. Ok, ready! One by one, the eight or so guests walked across the passerelle, picked out their shoes, put them on and walked away. We couldn’t stop laughing at the amount of effort that went into shoe management – it would have been so easy if each guest had grabbed their own shoes while still on the boat and carried them the 5 or 6 steps to the dock. Sure, the chair was a nice touch but no one used it. Too funny.

After buying some fresh produce and picking out a spot for dinner ashore, we all went back to the boat to take advantage of the fresh (non-salty) water that Sea Rose was anchored amongst. In the morning, we were visited by a hungry swan. Tom quietly sat on the stern throwing bits of bread to his new friend. Apparently, they had bonded. As soon as I approached the stern I was made keenly aware that I was not a welcome addition. I laughed at the boldness of the swan but didn’t get close. We all knew who was making the rules right then.

By mid-morning we were headed back downstream. We had all enjoyed Skradin and Krka Falls National Park but it was time to move on. If we were lucky, we could take advantage of two hours of free dockage along Sibenik’s waterfront before we searched for a place to stay for the night. Once tied stern-to the town dock, we set off to explore the narrow alleyways and steep streets. We discovered an ancient garden and then went into the hilltop fortification that afforded terrific views of the river, the nearby islands and the sea beyond. Inside the fort, a huge amphitheater was set up and ready for night-time concerts. This would be a great venue for outdoor performing arts. We probably pushed our luck on the free two hours as we scrambled back aboard mid-afternoon; however, the dock was big with plenty of vacant spots and we had spent some money in the town so we felt ok as we cast off and headed the short distance out of the river.

Back in the more open waters, we could see the impact of hours of moderately high winds; but, as soon as we raised our sails, Sea Rose settled in on a course toward some of the outer islands. After three hours of good sailing, we arrived at our destination – a grouping of small islands off the northeast corner of Otok Kakan (or Kakan Island). We dropped our anchor in the late afternoon and thought it would be great to walk to the top of the small island between us and the path of the setting sun. We took our dinghy to shore and met two boat’s worth of very nice people preparing to enjoy a bon fire on the beach. We quickly realized the scrub-brush was far too thick and pointy to make our way over and around so we altered our plan … we would watch the sun set from the dinghy as we took a bit of a harbor cruise!

The wind picked up overnight and had us swinging too close to boats on moorings next to us. Tom stayed awake to make sure we were ok as the winds continued to build. The seas were building as well and this made our anchorage a bit uncomfortable, so we left the anchorage after a quick breakfast and enjoyed a vigorous downwind sail into Kornati Islands National Park. Our intended destination was roughly the middle of Otok Kornat, and a cove that was near a small, ancient tower assumed to be of Roman origin from the 6th century.

Sailing towards Kornati Islands National Park, Croatia

Everyone except for me hiked to the tower after we got settled into our cove. The view from the high bluff was stunning, as the pictures below show.

Kornati Islands National Park, according to Wikipedia, is the most dense archipelago in the Mediterranean Sea. It is 35 kilometers in length and is made of up 89 islands, the largest of which gives the park its name – Otok Kornat. There are no permanent settlements in these islands, only summer dwellings used by owners who reside elsewhere and the occasional building erected to support tourism.

There is very little vegetation on any of these islands, which are largely karst-limestone. The stark landscape is attributed to deforestation and erosion plus overgrazing by sheep and goats. Apparently, the practice of burning the scrub brushes also contributed to the demise of the fauna and the depopulation of the area. The water surrounding these tan-colored, rocky islands is crystal blue and very clear. Our eyes had another day of feasting, although it was so very different from the forested lands around the Krka Falls.

In the morning, we decided to move on to Dugi Otok and Telascica Nature Park. The mooring field in the cove called Mir is popular and nearby several points of interest, so that was our goal. Croatia’s parks are expensive, especially if you don’t plan ahead and purchase your park pass online. The web sites from which to purchase these passes are confusing and we accidentally purchased a pass for the next day and not for the current day. We knew we wouldn’t be in the park the next day so we tried to explain our predicament and were finally allowed to stay and use the improperly dated pass!

Once on land and beyond the haggling, we were so happy we didn’t by-pass this place. The cliffs on the west side of Dugi Otok are breathtaking and a short hike from the protected harbor takes you right to the edge where the expanse of blue sea stretches to the horizon! Just inland from the cliffs is a wonderfully warm salt-water lake that was calling to offer a refreshing dip!

The mooring field is large (probably 40 moorings) and very popular. Because of the large number of visitors and the remoteness of the location, an entrepreneur is able to successfully run a business from his boat selling fresh produce and baked goods. How fun it was to call over this boat and pick out some yummy, fresh food. It was expensive, but what a novelty! In the morning, Mike bought some donuts and croissants too!

Our time with Patty, Mike and Beth was coming to a close so we needed to make our way to a location from which they could catch a ferry into Zadar. After lots of research, we settled on the town of Sali on the eastern side of the same large island of Dugi – Dugi Otok. This short hop allowed us time for a morning walk around the lake before we got underway.

As we approached the southeastern point of Dugi Otok we were navigating amongst lots of other boat traffic – fast moving ferries, tons of gulet boats on day tours going in every direction and lots of other sailboats. If you look back at the map showing this part of our trip you will see a narrow, curvy path under Dugi Otok. By slowing up a little, the timing worked out ok for us to pass through without much pressure from other boats; however, on the way there we were nervously anticipating different interpretations of navigational rules. Ferries often act as if they are entitled to a right-of-way given they are operating on tight schedules. Gulet captains are always hurrying to get the best spot at their next stop and charter sailboat captains are frequently just unpredictable! Once through the gauntlet, we had a straight shot up to Sali.

We arrived early enough to have an easy time dropping our anchor and going stern-to the dock. Even though it was only June, the days were crazy hot and this fact is always more pronounced when you are on a dock surrounded by concrete and buildings and when the wind is blocked from providing at least some amount of refreshment. We all quickly wilted and even a card game proved too much in the oppressive heat! By mid-afternoon, we went in search of a swimming spot to help us make it until sunset. The intense heat had us using all tools at our disposal to cool off … a stop for ice cream, a swim, a stop for a cold beverage and finally a shower! Taking a siesta makes so much sense after living in these climates for a while.

Our guests would be catching the ferry in the morning so we had one more night with them. Sali had many terrific restaurants to choose from but we were thrilled with our selection. We each loved our meal and we had a great view over the harbor. We like to ask people what they liked most or were most surprised about from their week with us and doing this helped us recall all that we had done in that short time! Mike really enjoyed our sails and we had some great ones. Patty enjoyed time together with friends and we all loved the Kornati moon-scape, the Telascica cliffs, the Krka waterfalls and star gazing!

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