In the middle of our second week in Croatia, we drove 3 hours from Split to visit Plitvice, our third and last national park. This was the part of the trip I had been the most excited for and it definitely did not disappoint! We spent two days and one night in Plitvice. Our plan was to check out the upper lakes on our first day and the lower lakes on the second.
Walking through Plitvice's wooden planks made for a very magical experience that is difficult to put to words. We were surrounded by stunning views of turquoise lakes, running waterfalls of all shapes and sizes, and lush green backdrops everywhere. I remember on our first day, there was a moment where I suddenly felt a strong desire to worship in song as we were hiking. It was hard not to be moved as I saw the splendor of God's majesty displayed throughout the park. It was seriously gorgeous and breathtaking at every turn. On our second day at the lower lakes, there was another moment where we stood at the top of a waterfall looking down at a lush, green, and flowering valley. I couldn't help but imagine that this was probably what being in the Garden of Eden felt like. I also couldn't help but feel like I got to experience a little taste of heaven while we were there. Even though my photos don't do justice, I'm thankful that they allow me to look back and remember what it felt like to step foot in this magnificent place.
On the morning of our second day in Split, we headed out in our rental car for KrKa National Park, which was about a 1.5 hour drive away. We had planned to get there early before it opened at 8am in order to avoid the crowd. From the entrance, there was a short 10-minute walk down to a wooden walkway that lead to Skradinski Buk, the park's main waterfall. On the walkway, we could already begin to see several smaller waterfalls flowing along the path. We took our time walking around the platform and just enjoying the picturesque scenery. Then we bought some lunch from one of the food stands at the bottom of Skradinski Buk before jumping into the water. Honestly, we couldn't really swim too much since it was pretty shallow and there were a lot of slippery moss-covered rocks below the falls, but we did get a nice closer up view of the falls. Since there was a ton of people there, we decided not to stay too long. Instead, we left that area and drove to a viewpoint of Visovac, a medieval Franciscan monastery built on a tiny island in the park. We also drove to check out Roski Slap, another one of Krka's main waterfalls.
The last island that we visited from Dubrovnik was Mljet for its national park! (This was going to be the first out of the three national parks we planned to visit in Croatia!) By that morning, we had the whole routine down: walk down from our apartment to Old Town, take the bus from Old Town to Gruz Harbor, eat breakfast at a nearby cafe, and hop on a ferry. This time, we took the G&V Line ferry to Polace, Mljet.
Once we arrived, Clay and I purchased our NP tickets and rented a couple of bikes to get to Veliko Jezero, the bigger of the two saltwater lakes in Mljet. (Unfortunately, we didn't have enough time to check out Malo Jezero, the smaller lake, that day.) We ended up biking to the gift shop located at the edge of Veliko Jezero, where we parked our bikes and took a small boat to St. Mary (an island within the island!). On St. Mary, we visited a 12th century Benedictine Monastery and then spent the rest of the afternoon swimming in Veliko Jezero. We probably swam about 1/4 of the way around St. Mary. After our swim, we ate lunch at Restaurant Melita before we took the 5-minute boat ride back across the lake. The bike ride back involved some uphill and took us about 30 minutes. Back at Polace Harbor, we had some extra time to bike and walk around before our 4pm ferry back to Gruz Harbor.
I thought that Mljet National Park was definitely worth a day trip to visit! Clay and I actually realized that maybe we should have moved from Dubrovnik that morning and stayed a night on the island, which was very beautiful and green. The nature was breathtaking since most of it has been left untouched. Note for those thinking of visiting, the entry ticket for the NP comes with a bus ride that will get you close to the lake. Biking can be challenging with some up and down hill, especially on a hot day, but it's fun! As for the water around St. Mary, it is very clear, calm, and great for swimming -- just be mindful of the rocks along the edge.
On our second day in Croatia, Clay and I began our island hopping adventures starting with Lokrum island. After enjoying a nice English breakfast in Dubrovnik Old Town, we took a 10am ferry to this beautiful nature reserve that was just a 15-minute boat ride away. Upon arrival, we were welcomed by peacocks, the island's only inhabitants!
Right away, we explored the island by trail and found our way to the Dead Sea, a small semi-caved pond that was connected to the sea. We also found some fluffy wild bunnies hopping around nearby. Then we walked to one edge of the island and found lots of ladders built on rocky edges that went straight into the sea (definitely not a swim for the faint of heart). We continued our walk through the Gardens of Maximilian, sat on the Iron Throne at Game of Thrones Center, and checked out Lokrum's botanical garden (where GoT city of Qarth was filmed). Overall, the island wasn't too big, and we were able to see everything that we wanted, including the Path of Paradise, which lead up to Fort Royal.
The highlight of our trip out to Lokrum was the remainder of our afternoon, which we spent swimming in the beautiful Adriatic Sea at the Bay of Portoc, located right next to the island's main dock (bottom right photo). There were lots of people jumping in the water and sunbathing on the rocks that afternoon. After our swim, we got a bite to eat at Lacroma Snack Bar and then took the 2:30pm ferry back to Old Town Harbor, which left us with plenty more of the day to spend in Dubrovnik.
Clay planned a weekend getaway for us to Safari West in Santa Rosa (which I never knew existed before). Our weekend consisted of a one-night stay in one of their giant African safari tents, as well as an in-room massage and an afternoon safari tour. I must admit, this glamping experience was quite pricy. Clay and I also had mixed feelings seeing some of the animals being kept in cages when we first arrived. However, we ended up really enjoying the safari tour, which helped us to change our minds about our initial reservations. Our 4-hour tour was extremely informative and allowed us to learn so much about each animal that we saw. We learned about how Safari West cares for its animals by practicing enrichment, which involves changing the animal's physical environment on a daily basis. We were able to see how the animals (whether it be monkey, rhino, or ostrich) really did have a good relationship with their caretakers. Some benefits the animals at Safari West get are: ample food and shelter, safety from predators, and breeding opportunities. Overall, it was neat to see how Safari West promotes wildlife conservation, research, and public education. It also gives those who love animals the opportunity to work closely with them. Pretty much all the employees we met there were genuinely excited and passionate about their work with the wildlife.
During our trip, we were also able to visit downtown Santa Rosa for a couple of meals, and were surprised by how hip the restaurants and coffee shops there were! Bird & the Bottle, where we went for brunch, served us a delicious Asian fusion dish. We also found out that Santa Rosa is the home of Charles Schulz! We saw several statues of different Peanuts characters scattered throughout downtown -- apparently, there are 70 statues in public view that one could spend an entire weekend looking for in Santa Rosa!
Just capturing as I go.