Velebit Hiking Trail (Croatia) -sometime in May 2017

Discussion in 'Trips Reports' started by oreocereus, Jun 5, 2018.

  1. oreocereus

    oreocereus Ultralighter

    I planned to do a proper write up of this and a number of other hikes I did when I visited this side of the world last year. I never did. Then my camera and all my kit got lost on the plane back to NZ, so I only have a few rubbish photos from my cellphone.

    So, apologies for the messy vague tale here.


    It took me 7 days. When I first read this website, it said 10 days. I think 9 is probably more accurate for the average person. I went off-piste a fair bit, the maps have nicely marked "points of interest." The maps are also.... not reliable. Sooooo... Be ready to be frustrated and lost and points. I accidentally camped on private land that, at least according to the maps, was fine for me to camp on (the owner was very upset, but inability to communicate meant he let me stay as long as I didn't light a fire).

    Up to date info is hard to find - as I found out when one of my planned huts was in fact derelict (fine because I had my shelter). This lead to panic when I found the derelict hut and couldn't find the marked water source (it was sunset, I was out of water, and the next water source was over 5 hours away). Thankfully there was a well a couple of hundred metres off trail, and my panic had clouded my judgement. It was sweet tasting water.

    The plan: I didn't have much plan. I was hitching around the balkans, and when couchsurfing somewhere I had a quiet day where I realised I hadn't done much hiking. There isn't a lot of info in English on the Croatian mountains - and I don't think many people think of mountains when they think of Croatia.

    But outside the tourist traps, Croatia is a wonderful and fascinating place. The Balkans are a truly special place to hitchhike, everyone has fascinating stories. If you do find yourself hitching, take the coastal road - it's much slower, but much more interesting and beautiful.

    Anyway, this was one of the longer routes that came up on google, so without much more I went to go buy the maps and just get on with it.

    As it turns out, maps are actually hard to find. I had to hitch back a few hundred kilometers back from where I had come to get maps from Rijeka. You can get maps of the mountains in Rijeka and in Zagreb, elsewhere... nope.

    Anyway, here's my phone images, with some kind of narration.
    Don't seem to have any photos of day 1. It took a long time to get a hitch from Sveti Juraj to Oltari to start the trail. I got there later than expected and ended up walking 17km up a dirt road to the start of the trail! A good test in mental stamina I suppose. Entertained myself by spotting foreign insects on the dirt road.
    There's a staffed hut, Zavižan, about an hour from the road head. One benefit of arriving late was there was no one to pay my National Park entry fee to... I wasn't checked at the hut. I had planned to tent, but was exhausted and the wind was something fierce. Took refuge in the hut.
    Note: Expect a grumpy hut warden if you walk around in socks instead of the provided slippers. I'm not sure if this was just this warden, or part of the culture.

    Between Zavižan and Alan there is another bivouac, Rossi. If you got going at the right time, you would probably have the quiet Rossi to yourself. It's unmanned, unlike Alan and Zavižan.

    Day 2
    The section here is really exciting. Unfortunately no phone photos because I was busy hiking (and photos I took were "proper" ones!)
    Lots of exciting rock formation, a fascinating alpine botanical garden, and a few nice summit opportunities.
    The route described has you stop at Hut Alan. I kept going because I arrived before lunch. I slept in a bivouac halfway between Alan & Skorpovac, it was nice to have the place to myself.
    Pretty good sunset over the coast.

    Day 3
    Went off the planned route here, and spotted a way over Bačić kuk. Bačić kuk is stunning and I was drawn to it, so I couldn't really say no right?
    Approaching Bačić kuk.

    Unfortunately, I got a bit spooked trying to climb the route to the top. I got all but 2m away.
    (angle doesn't sell it, but you have to squeeze up and around that overhanging rock on the right, without any rope to help you).
    Already shaken, the way over the other side didn't help.
    It's both better and worse than it looks. Very slippery, but once down the ladders (which are excitingly loosely attached to the rock) there's not huge danger.
    Reasonable view for encouragement.

    This was the night I got in a spot of trouble camping on private land I did not realise was private. In this case I think my terrible serbo-croatian helped in generating enough sympathy (frustration) that I was allowed to stay where i pitched.

    Day 4
    I do not remember the name of the ridge I wanted to pass over (there is a note on the map, but the map doesn't really do a good job of distinguishing what is hike-able and what requires ropes etc).
    But it was this in the distance I wanted to climb over.
    "Maybe you try, maybe you die" was the advice I received when I ran into a group of younger climbers who spoke some english.

    And with that, I stuck to the original route.

    I also rolled an ankle pretty badly. So I stopped half a day early at Baške Oštarije. I rested at a restaurant/hostel there. German is much more useful than English here. Expensive. And they don't exactly cater to non-meat-eaters. I cooked with my cooker in the parking lot to some confused looks.

    Still swollen the next day, I hitched down to the coast to rest for a few days.
    Men On Boats II (Coming this Fall).

    Day 5
    Just a little bit to show how diverse this landscape is. You're on the border of coastal and continental systems.
    Arrived much later than expected to Šugarska duliba as I became quite lost on the way - trails on the ground not agreeing with trails on the map, lack of blazes, making navigation a bit confusing.
    The map shows water right beside the "hut," but when I found it in disarray (I believe being rebuilt, based on the supplies outside) I panicked (nearest water source was another 4 hours away and the sun was setting as I arrived). But of course, there is a well less than 200m away. And a painted rock pointing to it.
    The hut.
    Assume this was to renovate/rebuild.

    Day 6
    Didn't get used to signs like this..
    A long 4-5 hour ramble across a meadow toward Pakelinica NP. No shade. Was brutal.
    There's a church about 3 hours in with a well. Presumably a conversion tactic.
    More homely.
    A bad image of Stapina
    Day 7
    Unfortunately no images of Paklenica, which is a shame as it's very beautiful. Alas the phone battery needed to be conserved.


    Anića kuk is a fun climb to end the trip. Maybe 1.5hrs extra.

    The high peaks in Paklenica are well worth hitting. It was a bit of a shock being in the NP, as I hadn't seen any humans for a few days, and there were.. many there.

    Well that about does it.
    Last edited: Jun 5, 2018
    Clare, gixer, JKM and 7 others like this.
  2. WilliamC

    WilliamC Thru Hiker

    Very interesting, thanks for sharing this. The photos you have really make me wish you had the lost ones as well. I know little about hiking in Croatia and was surprised at the vegetation.
  3. oreocereus

    oreocereus Ultralighter

    Yeah, the phone only came out for quick snaps/less composed images/places where fluffing with two hands on a camera was dangerous. So these are obviously not the pick of the bunch.

    Croatia isn't talked about as a hiking destination, but I enjoyed it (and the Balkans) a lot. It was an impressively diverse and interesting landscape, especially as the first serious hike I did outside NZ (which is of course much more wet and muddy). I'm not sure how the wildlife compares to Turkey, but I found a lot to enjoy in the birds, invertebrates, and the odd snake!
  4. edh

    edh Thru Hiker

    To echo William - really interesting; totally new walking area to me...I was there for a conference a couple of years back at the coast and thought the mountains looked great.
  5. oreocereus

    oreocereus Ultralighter

    Yeah, I don't think anyone thinks too much about Croatia for the hiking. Even Croatians (this seems true in a lot of the Balkans, despite some stunning scenery). I only met a handful of Croatian hikers. Outside Paklenica (which is popular for families of tourists on day walks) things were very quiet. Decent number of daywalkers in Velebit NP, but otherwise.. there were a few long stretches where I didn't see anyone for an entire day or two. Croatians I met outside the mountains were very surprised that I'd gone up there.
    Apparently there used to be a very strong mountain culture, until the still-recent wars. Mountains became combat zones, and a generation or two stopped heading into the hills.
    Given the poor public resources in terms of finding info, and especially in terms of mapping in the Balkans (Slovenia is great, Croatia was ok but hard to source and unreliable, Montenegro/Kosovo/Albania.. not so much), I would postulate this makes things less accessible. At one point this might have been knowledge handed down through families (this is definitely true in Kosovo, and I would speculate the other countries), but the generational disruptions means the knowledge was lost.
    Besides this, there is very little emphasis in tourism campaigns about Croatia's mountains specifically. Which provides fantastic escape in a country already overburdened with tourists!

    There is supposedly something of a resurgence in hiking among locals, though - which is great. If you happen to share a hut with locals, expect late night group singing :D
    Clare and edh like this.
  6. tom

    tom Thru Hiker

    Thanks for sharing and its a shame you lost much of your pictures. I used to teach in post-war Croatia a couple of times a year for a while and we did some great hiking then - in the hills above Split and on some isles or in and around Plitvice National Park which is stunnigly amazing (watch fish swim 10foot below the surface in crystal clear water...) - but land mines were still a big problem back then. Only forrest roads and trails had been cleared in affected areas which tempered the joy of walking somewhat (and what if they missed one...). I also recall food supplies being quite basic (and non-vegetarian) away from the coast or Zagreb... Planning would have difficult without getting tips and directions from hikers amongst my Croatian students so its good to see that there is now some public info about routes and facilities.
    Must plan another trip - your report is good reminder how beautiful the Croatian mountains are....
  7. oreocereus

    oreocereus Ultralighter

    Yeah, most of the tracks you'll find info on in English are pretty clear. Croatia still has land mine problems, but you can usually get pretty good info. They're unlikely to be in areas where you're going to be. There is a section on the edge of Paklenica which has the Opansost mines, which basically mean "don't veer off the route here, this land is difficult to clear so anything off trail might not be." It's mostly in steep/rough terrain with low tough shrubbery that has these signs, so you're unlikely to get off trail in the first place.

    It's a pragmatic warning, as it's a fairly popular park to visit (supposedly 5-10m either side of the trail should definitely be clear). Still, it makes you a bit nervous going for a pee. I ignored the 100m off-trail guideline on this occasion!

    The danger zones are pretty well marked, and if you just pop into an outdoors shop/club (if you can find one) you'll get good info quickly if you're concerned.

    Re: meals. I'm vegan, and yes, the balkans are very limiting. From my recollection I mostly ate lentils/cous-cous/pasta/tortillas. Which isn't all that different to what I would be eating anyway without the ability to dehydrate my own meals.
  8. tom

    tom Thru Hiker

    and... ....heavily salted Pizzas.... :sick: It was a weird feeling hiking through mined areas and I wasn't used to sticking to trails (still not) but that didn't stop us from hiking. Like your experience, local info was good (no sign posts back then...) :)
  9. snow

    snow Summit Camper

    Thanks for posting. Quite intrigued by this trail after visiting Paklenica. There is another TR on the cicerone blog.

    Obviously you were hitching around anyway but any idea how difficult the non-Paklenica trailhead is to get to?
  10. oreocereus

    oreocereus Ultralighter

    From the Oltari end? Do you mean via hitching or via public transport? I met a few travellers at the Zavižan hut/entrance to Velebit NP, so it's obviously possible. In my initial report, I actually made a factual error. The trail does actually begin at Hiking Hut Oltari. But I missed the trail and ended up walking the dirt road. Hiking Hut Oltari needs to be pre-arranged, so if you did want to sleep there before starting, you would be able to get good info on getting there in the first place. That said, my suggestion, if you got there before 11am, would be to start at Oltari, keep going past Zavižan (it is a nice hut, and a cool area to hang out - warden sells beer - you have to pay to use the stove) and sleep in Rossi the first night. Would be 8ish hours walking, and you'd find some nice solitude/skip Hiking hut allan the next day (which is road accessible, so there were a number of loud motorcyclists and families there for picnics).

    So in terms of getting there:
    I hitchhiked to Sveti Juraj (there's a small minimarket and bakeries to stock up at) on the coast, and then walked about 100m out of the village to the road that leads up to Oltari. Quiet road, I waited a long time for a hitch. But it's possible. Oltari is tiny, and the driver I was with didn't speak english and didn't know where Oltari was - so make sure you know/keep an eye out. It's a blink and you'll miss it type trip.

    There are busses down the coast, but getting info can be a bit tricky. It's not a busy road, but it's almost less hassle to hitch. It's a lot less formal, and I found bus stops good places to hitch anyway (easy stopping for cars), but occassionally if I waited a long time, and a bus came, you can just flag it and say where you are going and they'll usually take you (it's pretty informal a lot of the time - which means you might get overcharged!). If you do want to bus, there seem to be quite a number of busses that go from Rijeka to Sveti Juraj daily. You'd probably stay at Rijeka/at least go through it if you're on the coast.

    From Zagreb, there is apparently a bus that may run through Kranso Polje, which is kind of close to the entrance. Apparently you can walk from here. I didn't really visit this part of the country at all and am not qualified to give advice (not that I'm qualified on the former either!). This bus may be the one that runs to Senj (which is further north of Sveti Juraj). Senj is a bigger town. You could walk from Sveti Juraj, but you'd be climbing the very hot, rocky side of the mountain, i wouldn't recommend it

    If hitchhiking is uncomfortable, you could try get yourself to Senj (shouldn't be a problem on busses), then I would try and barter with a taxi - but you'd get a better price talking to locals. If you stay in a hostel or a motel or whatever, try asking the owner if they know a way there, or if they know someone who will drive you there for X price.

    An alternative hitch
    Getting up/down to Baške Oštarije was easier than to Oltari. You could do half the trail either way from this starting point.

    Honestly, I didn't think much about logistics of getting there when I was doing it. I'm making it sound hard. Looking up options with public transport, it is. Taxi/asking someone for a lift if probably you're only non-hitch option. I found it far less stressful and overwhelming to just hitch at the time than I'm finding it now trying to figure out a non-hitching route:)
    Last edited: Jun 6, 2018
    snow likes this.
  11. snow

    snow Summit Camper

    That’s way more information than I was expecting, thanks! Hopefully it will be useful for others too, very hard to find any info online.
  12. oreocereus

    oreocereus Ultralighter

    Yeah, I think that website I linked in the op is about the only source I had at the time online. I very much just winged it. I couldn't find much info on other routes, other than the Via Dinarica (which is its own confusing thing), so I just kind of blindly went into it. I went to that Iglu Sport in Rijeka with the key waypoints written down, and spoke with the guy running the shop, we found them on the relevant maps, and.. off I went.

    I think if I was trying to "plan" it, it would've become logistically confusing and overwhelming. Really, winging it in terms of preparation (pretty much none, other than buying food), and in terms of logistics (i.e. just finding the point I needed to get to on a map and getting to the right road to hitch) worked very well here.

    One more logistical note - no resupply options. You might be able to get a hot meal in Zavižan, and people were buying meals in Hiking hut Allan. You can get a hot meal halfway, at Baške Oštarije. If you want, you hitch down to a town from here if you wanted to find a supermarket. I carried all food (which was part of my reason for a fast-ish pace).
  13. kamov

    kamov Trail Blazer

    Just a note about camping in croatia: it is illegal like in the most countries around, but here it is actually quite common to get a ticket. Fines are brutal, starting at 260€ but you get 50% discount if you pay on site :D Stealth camping shouldn't be a problem tho and the country is worth a visit!
  14. oreocereus

    oreocereus Ultralighter

    You are quite right, I'd forgotten about reading this! I did fine stealth "camping" (usually just sleeping on a beach etc) in small towns, though it could've been a problem there. In the mountains, I highly highly doubt anyone would run into to problems. I did actually get a long questioning from police halfway through this hike (upon arriving on the road to Baške Oštarije). But that wasn't about camping. I suppose I seemed a little suspicious sitting on the side of a mountain/country highway visibily unshowered for several days, unable to speak the language and having trouble locating a passport.
    snow and kamov like this.

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