National Park Sjeverni (North) Velebit

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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 Hajducki & 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 the 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’s landscape

Velebit combines sheer size with the jagged intricacies of karst landforms. From afar it has 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 National Park

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.

Caves

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, Hajducki and Rozanski 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.

Velebit’s variety

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 freshwater springs offer 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

Sometimes, one visits a place and simply is not able to elude the impression of how much that place looks like another part of the world, so distant and unconnected, yet so close. This the case with Velebit, the largest mountain massive in Croatia. If there was an Englishmen to wander to the grounds Velebit, he might easily mistake it for many of those beautiful English seaside mountains like Dover Cliffs.

The mountain is located in the western part of Croatia. It is the part of Dinarids and stretches all the way across Velebitski Kanal, the sea canal in the Adriatic Sea, along with the part of Adriatic Sea, to the canyon of Zrmanja river. It is divided into four areas – North  Middle, South and Southeast.

Even though Velebit is the longest mountain, it is not the highest- its highest peak Vaganski vrh comes at the fourth place of the highest points in Croatia. Furthermore, it is called a mountain, but its structure encompasses complex elements such as small and bigger mountain systems, karst fields and forested slopes near the area of Lika.

The history of Velebit is long and rich. Ancient historians called this area “Albion oros” or “Mons Albius”- The White Mountain. Nevertheless, it was not for snow that it earned its name, but for the presence of the coastal white rocks of Velebit. Due to its size, Velebit might seem like a great natural obstacle, still, it presents an important traffic crossroad between north and south Croatia. This means that throughout history, it was a mark for different conquerors, from Romans to the Ottomans.

As for its beauty, the mountain is somewhat a symbol of Croatia. It is sung in popular poems and songs, linked to mystical beings like fairies and remains the landmark of Croatia.

The whole area of Velebit is declared as a part of nature, whereas North Velebit and the region of Paklenica are recognised as national parks. Paklenica is known for the immense richness of forests, most notably black pine forests, while North Velebit boasts with the presence of thousands different species of plants, as well as the presence of many wild animals such as eagles, bears or lynxes. The mountain is home to Velebitska degenija, an extremely rare plant, a symbol of Velebit and Croatia. The plant (Degenija) even found its way to the Lipa- Kuna coins of the Croatian national currency.

Due to its breathtaking scenery, Velebit presents an appealing tourist site. The area of North Velebit alone has more than 30 hiking treks. Velebit is also well known for its caves, or “holes”, as they are popularly called. Among these, Lukina jama sticks out as one of the deepest holes on the planet, with a staggering depth of 1431 meters. It possesses a three-part structure and it is completely vertical, thus adding up to the overall sensation of awe. Aside from Lukina Jama, Velebit has plenty of other deep caves, such as Patkov Gušt, Velebita, Meduza and so on. Botanic reserve Zavizan-Balinovac-Velika Kosa is a real treat for botanic aficionados, alongside with the Botanic garden of Velebit, centred in the heart of the reserve.

What with all the natural beauty and unique feel its famous white rock entice in a person, Velebit remains the symbol of Croatia. It is not by accident that it is often called ‘The fairy of all Croats’, after all.

National park website : www.np-sjeverni-velebit.hr