An early rising at Michael’s roadside Auto Kamp, a brisk service of the van’s more necessary facilities (including the directed and unusual draining of our waste/grey water into a gravelled depression by the water-tap) and then back onto the breathtaking Croatian coast road, inexorably southbound, zigzagging our route around the mountainous scenery until we reached Zadar, a large and modern-looking city which was reputed to contain a recently installed tourist attraction. This ‘wave-organ’ – an architect-designed set of seaside steps – apparently produces variable musical notes as water movement forces air through a series of installed vents. However, it was already very hot; the outskirts of the city-centre were busy; road-signage was confusing; we hadn’t told SatNav exactly where we wanted to go; we don’t really ‘do’ big modern cities and so it came to pass that instead of checking out the organ (if you’ll forgive the expression), we completed a quick, unstopping circuit of a shopping-centre car-park and used this orbital inertia to propel ourselves out of Zadar and onwards.
Earlier (and very cursory) guidebook reading had highlighted that Krka National Park was within passing reach of Zadar, so it was to Skradin that we now headed, along a route which took us inland and through some surprising scenery. With a brief roadside stop to repair a suddenly flapping over-cab sealing trim (too much sun appeared to have dried and shrunk it) we were suddenly aware that roadside buildings were showing signs of the 1991-1995 civil war. Randomly, buildings were pock-marked with identifiable bullet-holes (or at least clearly visible indentations in brick and plaster work) which provided a stark reminder of the bitter struggle for independence which tore Yugoslavia apart. In the UK, while it happened, we seemed to have absorbed the news by a sort of distance-learning process, a media-based osmosis, if you like, from a safe, impartial (and probably indifferent) distance on our comparatively unconflicted little island. Today, however, as we drove past road-signs for Zagreb; collapsed houses (which could have been attributable to bombing, explosions or post-war cowboy builders) as well as a pock-marked military barracks, the enforced dissolution of a country into several hostile component parts all became very visible, very real and very chilling in its proximity.
At Skradin, our approach was welcomed with open arms as a series of T-shirted young parking touts beckoned us in to roadside fields. Uncertain at that stage of what we were expecting to find, we pressed on into Skradin itself, a large village reminiscent of Grasmere in the Lake District, where our ongoing curiosity was rewarded by an empty parking field almost adjacent to the village centre. Here we were roundly fleeced of 100 kuna (about £12.00) but then fulfilled by a very short walk to a modern, mirror-glassed tourist office rather incongruously adjacent to a more historic church in the little beating heart of Skradin. A brief wander around imparted the lie of the land and the sight of a queue of people rapidly forming alongside a riverside quay prompted us into the tourist office to acquire two ‘tour’ tickets to see the Krka waterfalls.
This exercise involved joining the lengthening queue and eventually boarding a large National Park river boat, which then took us on a 20-minute shuttle-like trip upriver towards the falls. Onboard, we had the pleasure of Steve’s company; a fellow-passenger and well-travelled Australian with whom we could at least converse in native language. Although he appeared to be travelling alone, it transpired his wife had taken up position on the opposite side of the boat, a tactic they had adopted during their travels to ensure they covered two separate photographic angles.
Disembarking along with about 100 other passengers, it became immediately clear that the waterfalls and park area surrounding them were going to be A Busy Place, confirmed after a short boardwalk to an enormous picnic and café area which was positively teeming with human life. We wandered through this area along with the general pedestrian flow and found ourselves on a wooden bridge which provided a great (if somewhat cluttered) view of both the falls and the pools below them. Here, surprisingly, many visitors were either swimming or cavorting in the shallow water above a curiously folded limestone riverbed clearly visible through the clear, flowing water.
How to describe the waterfalls? Well, they looked as if film-director Peter Jackson (of ‘Lord Of The Rings’ fame) had conceived, created and installed them after he’d done with his trilogy of box-office successes. In essence, it was difficult to believe they were a natural phenomenon. Low level, boulder-like outcrops were almost entirely covered with moss-like vegetation, and rose gently in ordered layers so the water flowed and cascaded over and around them while sparkling through the greenery. Hordes of us jostled for suitable ‘selfie’ positions on the bridge before wandering further along the designated pathways and up into a jungle-like interior where amazingly clear flowing water simply poured and flowed everywhere you looked, seemingly from – and to – every direction.
A wide wooden boardwalk carried a thinning crowd into the depths of the park, where every pool and every slowing bend contained languid shoals of fish, just lazily holding station against the water’s gentle flow – to provide much intrigue and beautifully sunlit photo-opportunities. Guides could be heard telling their tours that these fish were trout, but closer inspection revealed that – unlike trout – they all sported a well-defined diamond-pattern to their scales – and when a later signboard identified them as Adriatic Dace, then who were we to disagree?
Full with wonder and amazement at this whole natural spectacle, we continued on a 2km circular walk around the boardwalks, eventually returning past some more traditional waterfalls, beneath which swim-suited people were dousing either themselves or their children amidst screams of excitement and cold-shocked laughter. A brief queue for one of the return shuttle-boats and a cruise back to the dock at Skradin brought our visit to the falls to an end; we extricated the van from its expensive rest-stop and set off back towards the coast at Sibenik, in search of a place to rest our own weary selves overnight.