National Park Sjeverni (North) Velebit
National Park Sjeverni Velebit includes a diversity of karstic phenomena, flora and fauna, which is just a part of this natural world. The Park covers the surface of 109 km2, and inside there is the Hajdučki & Rožanski Ledges Strict Reserve, known for its geomorphological phenomena – the pits. There are more than 150 pits discovered, out of which the most famous is Luke’s pit, discovered in 1992.
Velebit is an untamed mountainous ridge which looms as large in the Croatian mentality as it does on the ground. Lying adjacent to the Adriatic and occupying over 2,000 sq km in a belt 145km long and up to 30km wide, this limestone mass is a designated UNESCO biosphere reserve. Velebit is perfect for those wanting to explore a fascinating area in solitude. It is possible to hike the whole length of the ridge, following Premuzic’s path and staying in mountain huts, whilst the more compact Paklenica National Park also offers excellent walking opportunities.
On the ridge
Despite its proximity to the coast and the pleasant climate of nearby island archipelagos, Velebit’s size ensures that only on the coastal slopes is it typically Mediterranean. On the top of the ridge the climate is consistently continental, with intense summers exacerbated by the scarcity of surface water and then followed by cold, harsh winters. The peaks of Velebit endure temperatures below 0°C on 160 days in a year. July to September are thus the best months to visit.
Velebit combines sheer size with the jagged intricacies of karst landforms. From afar it has an impressive bulk, with the ridge being untouched by any major transverse passes. On both sides steep slopes sweep downwards, to sea level at the coast and inland to the Lika plateau. Thus, Velebit stands isolated and aloof as a long barrier separating the sea from the interior. The ridge’s limestone has been weathered over thousands of years to create a landscape of deep gorges, sheer cliffs, dark sinkholes, caves and subterranean drainage systems.
As with the climate, the flora of Velebit varies with altitude and location. The coastal slopes are rocky, with a thin covering of maquis and scrub. Inland there is considerably more variety, with broad, leafy woods developing into denser, wilder beech, juniper and pine forests towards the peaks. Just below the ridge, the flora becomes sub-alpine with meadows filled with wildflowers. Bears are the most famous residents of the reserve, but wolves, martens, wildcats, deer, snakes, golden eagles, griffon vultures and long-eared owls can also be found.
Paklenica, the area surrounding Vaganski (1,757m), was designated a national park in 1949. One of the more accessible areas of Velebit, the 36 sq km park offers an impressive array of karst phenomena. Paklenica is based within the catchment area of two rivers, centring on a long, forested valley with cliffs rising to 400m. Isolated peaks, such as Anica kuk, are favourites with climbers, whilst Manita pec and Jama vodarica are two subterranean formations for potholers to explore.
Croatia has many complex cave systems but few are open to visitors. However, in the Cerovac caves, south of the town of Gra¢cac, 900m of both Gorna S¢pilja (1,290m) and Donja S¢pilja (2,510m) are accessible to the public. Amongst the stalactites and caverns, highlights include the ‘Wishing Well of Life’ and the ‘Crystal Hall’, as well as a rock profile said to resemble Djed Mraz (Santa Claus).
Wandering the wilderness
For the adventurous, Hajdu¢cki and Ro¢zanski kukovi represent Velebit at its wildest and most inhospitable. Covering an area of 20 sq km in the north of the park, these imposing, white peaks are separated from each other by seemingly endless ravines. One of these, Lukina Jama, descends for 1,353m, making it one of the world’s deepest holes. Elsewhere the landscape is characterised by strangely shaped rocks, vertical cliffs and stunted, windblown trees.
Part of the attraction of Velebit is the variety of different landscapes hidden in small niches of the reserve. On the Podorje coast, deep river gorges have been flooded by the Adriatic, creating long sheltered coves. Nearly 1km long and around 100m wide, Zaratnica Bay would be termed a fjord in Norway.
The Stirovaca valley has been called a romantic corner in the wilderness. Like an enchanted kingdom, the secluded valley floor with its dense spruce forest and fresh water springs offers solitude and peace.
Baske Ostarije is one of the few places in Velebit where the different climatic regimes meet. Separating the central and southern sections of the reserve, the plateau is known as the Mountain Pass of Wind and Sun. Cold continental winds whipping over the peaks meet the warmth of the Mediterranean sun under clear skies..
Zadar is the administrative, commercial and cultural centre of the Velebit area. The town has had a turbulent history having been occupied by or defended from the Romans, Croat-Hungarians, Venetians and Turks at different points, resulting in a variety of architectural styles and a mosaic of city walls. It is best known for its ecclesiastical architecture. The 9th century St Donat’s church is a fine example of a pre-Romanesque building, and the Cathedral of St Stosija is a 12th century Romanesque church built on an early Christian basilica. Zadar’s museums also house a collection of paintings by Carpaccia, Lotha and Banic. © Walk Europe
National park website : www.np-sjeverni-velebit.hr