What to do in The Netherlands? Cross the sea…on foot!
Looking for exceptional adventures in the Netherlands? Well, the mudflat hiking or "wadlopen" is definitely for you especially in the Wadden Sea, a Unesco World Heritage!
Are you looking for an activity in the Netherlands that the usual tourist guides don’t mention? An activity that is original, authentic and truly close to nature?
Then “Waldlopen” is something that you must try. A one of a kind activity, 100% Dutch – the crossing of the Wadden Sea on foot!
A little bit of history about the Wadden Sea in the Netherlands
For the record, the Wadden Sea is a protected area registered in the World Heritage of Unesco. Its fauna and flora are very rich and numerous animals live due to this sea, specifically the birds as the Wadden Sea is the most important area in the world for bird migration. The Dutchies are crazy about this region called Friesland and a lot of them love to spend a part of their summer here should weather conditions be favorable enough. The Wadden Sea comprises 5 islands, all formed during the Middle Ages.
- Texel is the largest one and you can pretty much do anything from relaxing in a spa to walking on the beach with your dog!
- Vieland which is the smallest one and probably the least known from the islands. Beautiful sand dunes. We haven’t had the chance to visit it yet.
- Terschelling, renowned for its cranberries
- Schiermonnikoog, refuge and bird sanctuary, and where cars are not allowed. It is the only island from the 5 that is fully protected and included in the Unesco patrimony.
- Ameland where you can go parachuting, sailing and engage in other outdoor activities. An amusement park is located there as well
And these islands are moving!!! The Wadden Sea is an extremely dynamic biological treasure and each year the scenery is changing, modulated by winds and sea currents, constantly reshaping the Netherlands coasts. Wadden islands thus move slowly (actually quite fast at a speed of 1m per year!!). And the landscapes are constantly renewed. This happens as the marine movements of the Wadden Sea are especially active and certain areas are so shallow that during low tide you can literally walk where Google maps are displaying the sea.
The Dutch have benefitted from this since the 30’s. In the beginning it was only with a scientific purpose. And throughout time this activity became a touristic activity in its own right, 100% Dutch. There are several routes towards the 5 islands. You must absolutely book an experienced guide as certain areas are dangerous and the tide could take you by surprise.
A couple of pieces of practical information with regards to Waldlopen in the Netherlands
Most guides only speak Dutch given that visiting groups consist mostly of Dutch people. However do not hesitate to ask for the English translation for yourselves (we were not able to find guides that speak French). Either way, the explanations given by the guide are not necessary for the walk, as long as you have read the information in advance. For us it wasn’t really an issue, our guide was friendly and translated upon demand. Put aside 25 euros, payable in cash on the day of the waldlopen. And 5 euros extra if you want to rent bikes once you’re on the island.
In general, you must book the activity in advance without knowing the weather. The guide will confirm the evening before if the walk will take place depending on weather conditions. So the walk can be cancelled last minute. Which is exactly what happened to us last year.
Our group consisted of approximately 25 people, of various ages and in different physical shape. However this muflat hike can only be done by people taller than 1.65m. One of the people gave up after about 1h of walking. Therefore if you are not a good walker, if you do not feel really capable of walking for 4h straight under somewhat difficult conditions, this activity is not for you. Overweight people, over 60 years old were present in the group so ultimately it all depends on how in shape you are. This walk is physically demanding, having to walk in the mud at a steady pace without being able to sit down and rest up can represent an obstacle for certain people. The guide takes breaks but you remain standing.
Time and distance
The departure takes place around 9h30, so you arrive on the island around 14h. It takes about 4-5h to walk the road that we chose linking Howferd to Ameland equal to a distance of 11km. There are other paths but they can be more challenging and much longer, the one that we chose is recommended for “beginners”.
The groups leave from the Howerd Harbour or from the ferry that links the island to the mainland itself. Following a brief description of the process, you will start your walk in the mud. After a couple of minutes of walking, you will find yourselves in mud at the level of your ankles so it is recommended to wear shoes likes Converses or surf shoes. We chose hiking shoes. Not exactly a great idea, as once soaked in water, these shoes are very heavy and made the walk even more difficult.
We advise you to wear shorts because you will end up in the water at some point and it can go up all the way to the waist. The shorts will dry out faster and they will be more pleasant and comfortable than a pair of pants. Take a waterproof backpack with a change of clothes, including an extra pair of shoes. Also you should take some snacks, sandwiches and drinks. A hat or cap is also recommended as well as a rain jacket and a sweater. We were extremely lucky to benefit from great weather but it can be the case that the weather is fickle and that there is wind and even a bit of rain. But do not over pack either! Make sure you also take sealed bags to put the wet clothes in them once finished.
How to get to Howerd, the departure point in the Netherlands?
We decided to rent a car as unfortunately from Amsterdam it would have taken us 2h30 by public transport and there was no option for us to make it on time for the departure time. So we were 4 people renting a car to travel the 200km separating Amsterdam from the starting point of the walk. Plan for a 2h drive. There is a paid parking area available on site. If you have the possibility to spend the night before in the surrounding area, this will save you the trouble of renting a car and you will be able to use public transport.
Anecdotes 100% made in the Netherlands
During the walk you will encounter many seagulls, mussels, giant oysters, crabs and if you’re lucky, maybe even seals and sea lions. We weren’t lucky enough to see them this time around.
Back to childhood
I fell in the mud just one time which was impressive I must say and it was rather amusing. You must know that once you are sinking in the mud it is quite difficult to extract yourself from it and if you stay too much in one spot in certain areas you will have the sensation that you are sinking in quick sands. So out of a sudden I fell. There was nothing dramatic about it since the mud dampened the fall. But this made my friends have a good laugh and we ended up having a mud fight.
You feel like going to the toilet? Do like the Dutchies
As far as toilets are concerned, well it’s fairly simple: either you hold it or you do like the Dutchies and you subtly distance yourself from the group (or not) to take care of your needs out of the group’s sight. For girls it’s more complicated but Dutch women handle this situation well, waiting for the right moment when the water has reached the hips to do what they have to (or not).
Our guide, from Moses’ blood line?
The one who made us all have a good laugh was our guide who magically didn’t seem to have mud on him, being constantly dry and walking without taking a break in front of the group, while the rest of us were proceeding with great difficulty in the mud. Even before starting he told us:
“You know, it’s not so much a physical test but a psychological one” LOL.
Well yes LOL since honestly I found this challenge quite physically draining and I consider myself to be in good shape. After 5h of walking in the mud I can tell you that the only thing that you crave for is to sit!! A man from our group stopped after the first hour and a woman kept on falling due to exhaustion. Therefore I don’t understand what the deal was with our 50+ year old guide, fresh like fish in the water…maybe a descendant of Moses?
What to do once arrived in Ameland? ?
After having passed multiple steps, walked in the water, in the mud, on mussels, on sand, you will finally reach the mainland of the island Ameland. And from there onwards there are 30 more minutes of walking before you reach the end point.
Showers? Not really… Changing clothes… Of course! but with everybody around!
Upon arrival there are no showers but some sort of basic washing area where you can rinse off the mud. The water is warm and you can also change your clothes. Pay attention though that there is no changing room but you can use the toilets. Or you could follow our guide’s example and change in front of everybody! The Dutch are not very prude, so don’t be shocked if one or two people are naked in your vicinity for a couple of seconds.
One thing that surprised both Denis and I was the huge waste of shoes. A lot of people bought cheap Converse type shoes for this event but threw them away after the walk. What a waste!! Not at all eco-friendly! Therefore avoid doing the same thing. Your shoes can be well washed and recovered. Ours were cleaned in the washing machine and are good as new, so why throw them away?
Activities in Ameland in the Netherlands
Once changed, you can start exploring the city by bike and we recommend renting bikes in advance by asking your guide. The bikes will wait for you upon arrival and you will be able to use them to your heart’s desire for 5 euros for the whole day. A lot of activities are available in Ameland, it all depends on your level of fatigue and available time.
You could decide to spend the weekend in Ameland, the island has several camping sites, hotels and airbnbs. You could go horseback riding, go to the beach, visit the various villages on the island like Nes or simply go biking in the sand dunes and nature, typical landscapes from those Northern Islands of the Netherlands.
We wanted to spend the weekend in Ameland but we decided too late and the only option left was camping. Unfortunately it was impossible to carry the tent during the walk and to have it brought was 9 euros plus the fees for the additional day of car rental. So we preferred to come back on the same day as renting a car in the Netherlands can be pretty expensive!
Translation & Copy Editing by Liana Marinoiu