The Kornati archipelago has qualities that make it unique. It is made up of 140 islands and islets in an area only 35 kilometres long and 14 kilometres wide. Between the long, thin island of Kornat, which faces the coast, and the chain of islands on the other side, there is a stretch of water naturally protected from the open sea, with dozens of safe bays to drop anchor. Once you pass through one of the two narrow gates to the north and south, you leave the worst of the waves behind, and enter a strange, other-worldly environment, of treeless hills.
The islands on the inside of the national park seem deserted. You might sight the occasional sheep, or a small votive chapel, built by a grateful sailor saved from a storm by the natural barrier of the islands, otherwise there’s little sign of human habitation. It’s a very meditative and minimal landscape, unlike any other island chain in the Adriatic. When you enter Kornati, you’ve arrived somewhere completely different.
Whether you have your own yacht, or come on one of the many tour boats offering day trips around the national park, you will also get to experience the outer side of the archipelago. The contrast between the calm inner space of Kornati and the wild world of the open sea is unmistakable, not least in the geomorphology of the exposed rocks. Sheer cliffs offer spectacular scenes and dramatic sounds, from crashing waves to the echo of the human voice. The seaward side of the island of Mana is the most impressive; boats can come right up close to the 100-metre cliffs that stretch for 1.5 kilometres. If the sea is not too rough, the outer edge of Kornati is a superlative place to swim and snorkel, with a happening marine life just below the surface of the rocky shoreline.
The wildest part of the park is in the far south, where a 500-metre exclusion zone has been declared around the islet of Purara, to allow the development of natural life. One hopeful sign is a colony of dolphins that lives between Kornati and the mainland and manages to co-exist with the fishermen, thrilling lucky visitors who get a leaping dolphin escort across the straits.
Although signs at the motorway exit for Murter suggest it’s an easy journey from there to Kornati, visiting the park is more complicated in practice. There is no ferry or public transport, and no way to get around the islands without a boat. There are few accommodation options in Kornati; most overnight visitors stay on their own yachts. Unless you have an international captain’s licence, the only way to reach the park is on a tour. The best are the ones offered by the fishermen of Murter. Tourist boats also leave from Vodice,Pirovac and Šibenik.
Recreational fishing permits and scuba diving permits are each 100kn per day. These are the prices for tickets bought outside the park (see www.kornati.hr for offices); in all cases prices are more or less double if bought within the park itself.
With your own boat you enter Kornati through the straits of Opat, between the south side of Kornat andSmokvica. You will be accosted by park rangers on speedboats, who sell you an entrance ticket (250kn-1,500kn per boat). There are reception centres on Ravni Žakan and in the village of Vruje. Overnight mooring is possible in a dozen bays, at floating moorings marked by red buoys. Among the best bays are Lavsa, Levrnaka and Ravni Žakan. There is a marina on Piškera, open in summer.
The nearest departure points for an excursion to Kornati are on the island of Murter. If you take a stroll along the harbours of Jezera or Murter town, you’ll see boats offering day trips – there’ll probably be someone standing with a clipboard trying to sell tickets.
All offer a similar deal: entry to the national park; a journey around the most impressive natural sights; the chance to swim, and a fish barbecue. Most vessels are converted fishing boats, and many of them convert back in winter, when the tourist guides return to their true profession.
Where to stay
Apart from sleeping on a private yacht, the only lodging is the small, campsite on Levrnaka; or renting a stone house, arranged through an agency in Murter.
Where to eat
There are around 20 restaurants in Kornati, most offering fresh fish and the islands’ traditional aromatic lamb. Many are only accessed from the sea. Party-minded Konoba Idro (Lavsa Bay) has plenty of buoys, a long jetty and good scampi. For the Restoran Piccolo (022 435 106) in Smokvica Bay, turn left as you enter Kornati through the strait of Opata. It runs on solar energy so there’s no distracting hum from a diesel electricity generator. The Piškera on the island of the same name has a longer season and faces the only marina (www.aci-club.hr) in the national park. The chef prepares the freshest fish for the many returning guests.