Volkswagen Magazine

Can you please drive properly?” Dirk calls over to me from the passenger seat, “and finally turn down the radio, please!” Actually, nothing at all had happened. I only took a hairpin bend in the gravel road with a bit more verve, through the curve with a little nudge to the accelerator. Nothing that would really ruffle the feathers of our new Tiguan TDI SCR*.

And the steep abyss opening toward the sea in the karst landscape is on my side of the car, anyway. But my best friend is tense. When I turn up the volume on the radio because the station is playing Bon Jovi, he has had enough. All right, then, I’ll drive more circumspectly, and “It’s My Life” is nipped in the bud. After all, I came up with this jaunt for him.

»We need mountains. And the sea,« Dirk said.
»Both would be best,« I said. »I think I might have an idea...«

My plan was as follows: This short trip to Croatia with my mate was a birthday present. The itinerary: Drive around, keep our eyes open, like a kind of fishing trip without the angling. Instead of fish we are hunting down good locations to film with Dirk’s drone. That has been our hobby since Dirk bought a DJI Phantom 3 Pro with 4K camera a year ago.

At weekends we now get up very early, pack the quadcopter and my sons into the car and drive off to lakes, windmills or an open-pit mine. We let the drone fly there, and later Dirk cuts and edits what we shoot into a video. On Sunday evening we put it on the web and get a feeling of somehow having accomplished something worthwhile. I love our hobby, but in the meantime we have just about had our fill of Berlin and its surroundings. “We need mountains. And the sea,” Dirk said. “Both would be best,”I said. “I think I might have an idea...”

Croatia possesses the ideal combination of sea and mountains. In the area where my parents live, one quaint village after the other dots the Croatian Riviera. Between them are larger cities such as Za­dar, Šibenik and Split with their narrow, old town streets, historic sites and plenty of nightlife. It only takes 45 minutes to reach the various national parks and nature reserves that are waiting for visitors in the Velebit mountain range and its high peaks (up to 1,757 metres), which shield
the coast from inclement weather conditions farther inland. Dirk did not need a lot of persuasion.

What we are seeing now out of the window while I steer the Tiguan towards the valley is exactly what we had been imagining: Light grey cliffs; shrubs bowed by the wind; massive, billowy cloud formations rising above us; and the Adriatic Sea in the distance. We just can’t shoot any of it. The drone had a message for us when we attempted to start it up: It needs some kind of update right now – of all times! And we can’t enjoy the scenery, either. At the start of the ascent, Dirk suddenly remembered why he has been wary of mountains since childhood. He doesn’t like heights. At all.

Perhaps we approached this trip with a little too much haste. We abandon our plans for the day and drive back home. My parents have cooked scampi – winding down in Dalmatian. Later we download the necessary drone update. And I find out how I can link my smartphone to the Tiguan and play our own music. Guaranteed Bon-Jovi-free.

The next morning we get started at first light. We head towards the mountains again and, just before crossing a red bridge spanning a river canyon, we spontaneously stop at a rest area. A path leads down the cliffs, we screw the rotors onto the drone, and – take-off at last! Dirk directs the drone far over the water, letting it circle above the bridge and an abandoned hotel on the opposite bank until the first battery is empty. That’s just how we imagined it would be like.

DRONE: WHERE AND HOW?

A licence is not necessary for flying a drone. A permit is only required for drones with a flying weight of 5 kilos or more. Models from the DJI Phantom series, for example, weigh less than 1.5 kilos.

Flying is generally forbidden around crowds of people, military installations, streets, motorways and power plants. As a rule, there is a no-fly zone with a radius of 1.5 kilometres around airports. Numerous cities have special regulations about where flying is not permitted.

The prices of quadcopters vary considerably. Simpler, less expensive models are controlled using a smartphone app, but only make snapshots. Drones with remote controls and high-resolution cameras that transmit live pictures are more expensive.

Rechargeable battery number two – each one keeps the drone in the air for about twenty minutes – is mine, and I use it for another canyon. The Zrmanja river has gouged a deep channel through the landscape, scenes from the 1960s

German-Yugoslav movies about Karl May’s character Winnetou were shot here. Dirk hums the music from the soundtrack with a smile, while I fly the drone into the gorge and far down to the turquoise water.

Near the city of Obrovac, the B-road branches off in the direction of Modrići, where Croatian national football player Luka Modrić was born. Where among all these cliffs can you possibly learn to play football? We drive past a handful of houses, behind which the road hugs the mountain in serpentine bends. Dirk gets very quiet once again. But we had planned to do this – we want to go up there to the small church standing below the distinctive rocky peaks.

Once at the top, we marvel at the view. I do, anyway. Dirk keeps himself distracted by flying and flying and filming until battery three is empty. We then depart with alacrity.

At the roadside we discover a restaurant with a small zoo, where they keep goats and donkeys and ostriches. We’d rather not ask whether they are also on the menu, and decide to order our favourite – a mixed grill platter. We can also recharge the drone batteries here.
We are in heaven.
The afternoon turns into one single meditative movement. Driving, flying, driving, flying – wonderful.

»The afternoon turns into one single meditative movement. Driving, flying, driving, flying – wonderful.«

The Tiguan glides through valleys and past fields. We find a watchtower with a friendly fireman in it and launch from a mountain with the Kornati archipelago at our feet. In the afternoon, my father picks us up in his boat. We let the drone take off from the prow and see white-green flecks of islands in the turquoise water on our remote control’s viewing screen.

We only get nervous once – when the drone announces from an altitude of 200 metres that it has lost contact and is returning automatically to the starting point. It wants to land there “in six seconds ... five ... four ... three ...”
The “starting point” is in the middle of the sea. Dirk manages to stop the drone just in time. We guide it to the boat and snatch it out of the air from the platform at the stern.

What a day, I think, once we are sitting in the car again. “How should we edit that?” I ask Dirk, and we prattle on in high spirits about visual axes, match cuts and soundtracks. Dirk remains silent. I look over at him, he is grinning. The car becomes very still. Best friends can also simply share a companionable silence sometimes.