Horizontal alpinism across the Wadden Sea mudflats

When arriving to the Netherlands, gazing out of your airplane window, you cannot help but wonder if this extremely organized and cultivated country really is the most nature deprived corner of the world. Look again.

Surrounded by sea, sand and wind

From above you will see the North Sea and the long, straight coastline. Then behind the dunes a patchwork of green and yellow fields, neatly side by side. Remarkable is the amount of water you see: rivers, lakes, canals, sea. Then you notice houses, and more houses, and high buildings and roads. Not a single square meter seems to be unutilized. All elements here are tamed and subjected to the (comfortable) living of the Dutch.

It may therefore be even more surprising that this diligent country contains world heritage nature. Totally unspoilt and untrodden nature? Well no, we’re still in the Netherlands. The country that has shaped and defended its land against the sea for centuries. But, much to the luck of our generation, the land reclamation urge of our ancestors hasn’t pursued in the area between the Dutch islands and the northern mainland: the Wadden Sea.

The Wadden Sea, the coast and the islands together are part of a larger ecosystem. According to Unesco we’re talking ‘the largest unbroken system of intertidal sand and mud flats in the world. […] The area is home to numerous plant and animal species, including marine mammals such as the harbour seal, grey seal and harbour porpoise. Wadden Sea is one of the last remaining large-scale, intertidal ecosystems where natural processes continue to function largely undisturbed.’

Obviously, this nature conservation area attracts many nature-loving tourists and bird watchers. One of the most popular must-do’s in the area is “mudflat walking” (wadlopen in Dutch). Twice a day, with low tide, one can walk from mainland to island or vice versa across the seabed, only surrounded by water, sand and wind. The experience is sometimes dubbed ‘horizontal alpinism‘. Quite an experience! Who would’ve thought you could feel small and tiny in Holland’s wilderness?

Horizontal alpinism
Explore up close

Due to the delicate ecosystem and the danger of getting lost and trapped in rising tide, hikes across the mudflats are only allowed with an expert guide. We’re usually not big fans of guided outdoor tours, however, in this case it is worth making the exception. It’s just an experience not to miss and, quite simply, venturing out on your own is perilous. Guided tours are the best opportunity to explore the Wadden Sea up close.

For individual hiking in the surroundings of the Wadden Sea pay a visit to the Wadden Walks website. It offers many trails as well as information in English. Interested in combining mudflat walking with a boat tour to an uninhabitated island? Read about this experience on Rottumeroog!

  • Costs: depending on the tour. A one day tour (3-5 hours) costs around €15.
  • Address: depending on the tour. Start locations on the mainland include Holwerd, Lauwersoog, Pieterburen, Noordpolderzijl.

    And this is only knee-deep…
  • More info: mudflat walking is relatively tough, choose a tour according to your level of fitness. There are numerous centres that organize tours. Check Wadloopcentrum Fryslan for various tours starting from different places along the Frisian coast. Wadlopen Pieterburen has one day or multi day tours, night specials, sleeping arrangements, souvenirs and shoe rental options. Contact wadlopers.nl for tours with kids, starting from a campsite in Pieterburen (yay! we love camping).
  • Bring: good hiking shoes with shoelaces, covering your ankles and allowed to get dirty. For shoe rental contact Wadlopen Pieterburen. Depending on the weather it’s best to wear shorts and swim wear underneath. Also bring a warm sweater and a rain coat. Don’t forget drinking water, food, binoculars and camera. Make sure you have a dry set of clothes waiting for you upon return.

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