An adventure on the Dutch Wadden Sea
How to win a skirmish with gooey, slippery sludge
When you think about visiting countries to participate in adventurous outdoor pursuits, the Netherlands is probably not the first European country to spring to mind. But think again! The Netherlands is ideal for cycling, canoeing, and hiking. And for the truly adventurous, ‘wadlopen’ offers a unique walking experience. One that is not for the faint-hearted. Annually some 25,000 people undertake this invigorating and strenuous pastime. To join in the fun head to the Wadden Sea, a region between the northern provinces of Friesland and Groningen and the Wadden Islands of Texel, Vlieland, Terschelling, Ameland, Schiermonnikoog, Rottumerplaat, and Rottumeroog.
Wadlopen in the Wadden Sea
A ‘wad’ is Dutch for mud flat; hence ‘wadlopen’ is mudflat walking. Sounds easy? Think again. This activity is too dangerous to be done without experienced guides, and even then, it is not without risk. When to walk is dictated by the tide. The mud flats can only be crossed by foot shortly before and after low tide. Walks generally begin early in the morning. The conditions make it challenging: the depth of mud is variable; the tides inconsistent; perilous currents, and there are often deep channels of water left even at the lowest tide. Wadlopen is not an activity for the unfit or timid.
The worst of the mud is encountered at the beginning as you immediately sink up to your knees in black, gooey, slippery sludge. Trying to stay upright is the first challenge. The secret is to glide along the mud as though you were skating. Stopping almost guarantees you’ll enjoy a mud bath. As you progress, the mud gives way to firm sand. Battling muscle fatigue is the next challenge as you navigate shallow waters that can reach as high as your thighs, waist or chest.
What to Wear
Proper clothing is essential. The first thing to know is that it is never warm on the Wadden Sea. Dress in layers; up top wear a vest followed by a T-shirt, fleece and then a water/wind proof jacket. Down below, shorts or a swimsuit – look for something that dries quickly and won’t chafe. Footwear is a must – think old sneakers and socks, surf shoes or, even better, surf boots. They need to fit well. Otherwise, they’ll be sucked off as soon as your feet encounter mud. In a waterproof backpack, pack a towel, plastic bags (for the wet shoes and socks), sunglasses, sunscreen, gloves, a change of clothes including shoes and socks, and food and drink for the day. Pack plenty because you’ll be guaranteed to work up an appetite.
Wadlopen Season and Tours
The available walks vary in length and difficulty. At roughly 15 kilometers, Schiermonnikoog is considered one of the most difficult. It takes about 4 hours to reach the island where you’ll then return by boat to the mainland. Engelsmanplaat is an easier walk of about 7 kilometers return.
The mudflat walking season is from May to September. Due to the popularity of this activity, it is advisable to book at least a month in advance.
For further information and bookings:
Hotels in Groningen and Near the Wadden Sea
The Prinsenhof Hotel in Groningen is a great choice. Beautiful design combines European chic and Old World style. The flowering gardens invite you to relax and linger. Treat yourself and enjoy this stunning hotel.
If you want to stay a little closer to coast, head to the small town of Dokkum to the Hotel De Abdij Van Dokkum. This way, you will be close to your early morning meeting point for your Wadloopen tour.
Fun Facts and Tips about the Wadden Sea
The Wadden Sea is a World Heritage Site. It was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2009. It’s a massive area encompassing North Sea coastal regions and islands in the Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark. The UNESCO-Wadden Sea World Heritage Visitor Centre is in Cuxhaven, Germany.
A unique and stunning area of natural beauty, it is also one of the most important areas of the world for migratory birds. The invigorating sea air, long sandy stretches of beach, and impressive sand dunes are just some of the fascinating nature you will encounter on the Wadden Islands. The coastal wetlands, salt marshes, mudflats, and estuaries make for a beautiful contrast to the city charms of Amsterdam and the magnificent metropolis of Rotterdam.
If ‘wadlopen’ sounds too strenuous for you, there is an array of hiking trails along the edge of the Wadden Sea stretching over 1,200 km from the Netherlands to Germany. You can follow one of the 14 suggested all-day hikes of around 20 km, or create your own. Along the way, you’ll find plenty of marker points and identifiable signposts highlighting the routes.
Watch this video for tips about this these spectacular coastal walks in the Netherlands and how to download an app to help you find your way.
For your next trip to the Netherlands, take a trip north to this exceptional region. You won’t be disappointed!
Written by Guest Contributor Angela Eldering for EuropeUpClose.com
Angela is a writer and translator based in the Netherlands. Even though she’s ticked off many places to visit in the world, she finds that her list of places to visit just keeps getting longer! You can find out more about Angela at https://scribinghand.com
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