Beneath the waters lie 44 species of fish, including carp, bream, pike, catfish and perch. Above the water buzz 21 kinds of mosquito (bring a tonne of repellent!) and on land roam red deer, wild boar, beaver, pine marten and foxes. But it’s really about the birds here – look for the rare black storks, white-tailed eagles, great crested grebes, purple herons, spoonbills and wild geese. The best time to come is during the spring and autumn migrations.
The park was heavily mined during the war and closed for many years as a result. Most mines have now been cleared: safe trails have been marked. The park has a visitor centre located at the main entrance, along the Bilje–Kopačevo road, featuring a lovely new interpretation centre in a string of straw-roofed wooden huts that house interactive exhibits and a cafe. You can walk the new series of wooden boardwalks and the educational trails nearby; there are also various guided tours offered. A tour of the zoological reserve by boat, taking in a castle complex, costs 80KN for adults and 60KN for children and students; a wildlife tour in a small boat is 100KN per hour (maximum four people) and by canoe it costs 80KN. Tours depart from an embarkation point about 1km from the visitor centre. Book in advance, especially during spring and autumn.
At the northern end of the park, 12km from the visitor centre, is an Austro-Hungarian castle complex and bio-ecological research station, Dvorac Tikveš. Once used by Tito as a hunting lodge, the castle was occupied by Serbs during the 1990s and forests around the complex are still mined, so don’t wander off by yourself.
Cycling is an increasingly popular activity in the region, and a cycle path connects Bilje with Osijek. The Pannonian Peace Route is an 80km ride from Osijek to the Serbian city of Sombor, along the Danube and through Kopački Rit. For more info and a map, browse www.zeleni-osijek.hr, the website of a local association for environmental protection. Also popular is the 138km-long Danube Route, which traces easternmost Croatia along its borders with Hungary and Serbia.
Kopački Rit Nature Park also rents bikes at its visitor centre, for 20KN per hour or 100KN for a whole day.
Bilje, 5km north of Osijek, is a dormitory suburb for the city, with a clutch of accommodation options. It makes an alternative base for exploring Kopački Rit. Family-run B&B Mazur is a good bet here, and Crvendać is another great B&B in Bilje. Zlatna Greda is also a fantastic alternative on the park's edge, with hostel-type accommodation.
Kopački Rit Nature Park and the immediate area around it have a clutch of excellent country restaurants that serve regional specialities, such as river fish and game-meat stews.