One day, this island might disappear in the sea… Rottumeroog is a small uninhabited island with long sandy beaches, home to birds and grey seals, situated in the Wadden Sea world heritage site. The island is left to the dynamics of nature. Sea, sand and wind endlessly change the island’s shape and position, making its future uncertain. Given Rottumeroog is part of a natural reserve access to the island is prohibited. There is a way, however, for wilderness enthusiasts to join an expedition by the State Forest Service and to discover what happens when nature is given free rein.
Rottumeroog may now be one of the last true wildernesses of the Netherlands, it has not always been like this. Humans inhabitated the island in the 14th century, when it belonged to two monasteries. From the 18th century on it was in hands of the government. The only inhabitants were wardens with their families. After the last warden had left in 1965, the government kept maintaining the island to protect it from sand demand by the sea. More than a decade ago, maintenance has ceased altogether, giving rise to heated debates among the Dutch. Some argue it should be left to nature, others claim it’s part of cultural heritage and investing in its protection is therefore justifiable.
“Rottumeroog will disappear without maintenance. That is a terrible shame, we already have very little unspoilt nature in this country” – Opinion of a Dutch citizen retrieved from an online forum. ‘Maintaining unspoilt nature’ is of course a contradiction in itself. This clearly shows the difficult relation of the Dutch with nature and their urge to control it.
Curious yet? Here’s how it works. This activity requires a littly more effort by the non-Dutch speaking traveler. The information given online and during the expedition itself is in Dutch only. Then again, you’re reading this blog because you’re interested to go off the beaten path. So you’re not afraid to use a little Google translate here and ask for some help there. In fact, you’re happy to do a little more research in order to enjoy a day in the great Dutch outdoors, far far away from overcrowded Amsterdam, and in the company of locals only.
A day trip to Rottumeroog truly is an expedition; the ship sets off from the harbour of Lauwersoog and for the next three hours you will be zigzagging in north eastern direction across the Wadden Sea, avoiding shallow parts and sand banks. The volunteer guide will explain about the area, the nature and the history. Read up in advance, so you know what you will encounter on the way. Try for example Wikipedia, Dutch News, NL Times, Wadden Sea World Heritage or consider purchasing this book by a Dutch author (especially if you’re keen to visit the other Wadden islands as well).
The ship approaches the island Rottumeroog as close as possible. Everyone has to wait for another hour till tide is lowest. You climb off the ship and walk for 30 minutes across the mudflats towards the island. Even though the landscape is seemingly empty, be sure to have a close look at all the life that the mudflats inhabit! Birds, lugworms, crabs, cockles. The guide will be happy to point out all interesting things. Once on the island the group will walk around the island together. It is not allowed to explore on your own for two reasons: 1. this is a protected nature reserve and 2. you have to be back at the ship on time, i.e. before high tide.
The fact that the island is uninhabited doesn’t mean it is devoid of human presence. The island houses the ‘smallest campsite of the country’: two tents occupied by volunteer rangers stationed here from April to July to count birds. Other than that, we were a little shocked by the amount of waste washed ashore and the remains on the beach of a dam built decades ago. Also a look at the horizon shows the region is rather busy: windmills, an oilrig and the crowded German island Borkum. Nevertheless, it was a special moment knowing that only few people come here, even though it may seem “busy” with a group of 30 people around you. If you get the chance, dissociate yourself a little from the group for a few minutes and contemplate your surroundings. Feel the wind, smell the fresh air and listen to the sea and the birds.
- Costs: €85/person, including coffee, lunch and light meal.
- Address: Visserijhaven, 9976 VN Lauwersoog (53.407301, 6.201225)
- More info: order tickets online via the State Forest Service. This blog provides information (in Dutch) about the expedition. Check the latest information on the day before your expedition, after 2pm (‘De tocht gaat door‘ means the expedition on the mentioned date will happen). Expeditions may be cancelled if weather conditions are unsafe or in situations of very high or very low tide.
- Bring: warm and rainproof clothes, suitable shoes for walking in water and mud, camera, binoculars, a book to read on the way back.