Wadlopen (mudflat walking) in the Netherlands
You might be thinking, now why would I want to dirty my clothes walking in the mud? There are plenty of zoos and national parks where you can see mud but don’t have to get in it. Well, in the Netherlands, wadlopen is pretty popular, and, not only that, it allows you to see and learn about landscapes you maybe would have previously avoided or brushed aside.
So, what exactly is wadlopen?
Well, it is pretty much what it says on the tin, walking over mudflats. So, you can expect muddy, wet shoes, but these aren’t too much of a hassle, as what you get in return is simply unique. A great experience, knowledge about nature and a day you will likely always remember and be fond of.
In the Netherlands, those wanting to take part in this activity often head to the Wadden Sea, which is a UNESCO World Heritage property, all 1.143.403 hectares of it. This area is the largest unbroken system of intertidal sand and mudflats the world over. For the most part, the natural processes are undisturbed there.
How much time you spend walking will depend on your route. You could be only walking for a couple of hours, or much longer if you plan to walk to one of the West Frisian Islands, for example. Along the way, a licensed guide will lead you on an organised route across the seabed. A guide is required, as the changing tides can lead to dangerous situations, which can easily be misjudged.
During your walk, your guide will take some time to explain the landscape and may point out certain flora and fauna which grow in the area, such as glasswort and sea lavender. You are likely to spot crabs, oysters, mussels, cockles and other sea creatures.
Why should you go wadlopen?
Wadlopen is typically enjoyed in the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark. It is a pretty unique experience, which you shouldn’t pass up- where else in the world can you walk through the muddy waters and have a downright good time?
If you’re looking to integrate into Dutch culture, wadlopen is a perfect way to get to know the Dutch landscape, history and learn more about the creatures native to the Netherlands. Many Dutch schools take their students to go wadlopen, so it really is something that Dutchies grow up with.
One more thing... You will have so much fun! Trying not to sink into the mud, catching prawns and other creatures in the water, walking - yes it counts as exercise- and laughing at that one person that falls in and gets covered in mud. All these things await you!
Where can you go wadlopen?
There are plenty of routes you can take if you want to go wadlopen. Most of them start from the coast of Friesland or Groningen. If you’re a beginner, you might want to try a roundabout wander trip from Pieterburen, which is the most walked type of wadlopen route in the world! You might even see a seal on that route, if you’re lucky.
You can also go wadlopen from Ameland, Engelsmanplat, Eilanderbult, Pinkegat, Schiermonnikoog, Terschelling, Texel and Simonzand to name a few. Prices for routes vary along with their length. You can expect to be walking for three hours or more. Of course, that is not without breaks to learn about the flora and fauna you come across.
Our IamExpat editor’s experience
“Firstly, it was fantastic! I went from Pieterburen on a sunny day and rented mud-walking boots from the facility there. We drove up to Noordpolderzijl, as a group, where we began the walking route.
The guide we had was very knowledgeable and talked about all the types of flora we could see and the creatures we came across. I’ve never done something like this in my life before, but I would definitely do it again.
I saw tiny crabs, and bigger ones, held a shrimp in my hand from the net, jumped over a ditch and got all muddy, walked through a stream, avoiding pockets of deep mud, learned how you can tell the difference between male and female crabs and tasted a tiny bit of the glasswort which grows there.
These are just a few of the things that come to mind from my wadlopen experience. I also made some friends from the group we went with. All-in-all, a winner of a day. I also saw many sheep and cows and learned about the history of the area. On the way back, we took a different route to the one we had taken into the Wadden Sea area, it was a bit rougher in terms of streams and mud, but so much fun!
If you get a chance to go wadlopen, do it! Getting all muddy may not sound like the best way to pass your time, but it’s a great activity to do with your friends and it makes you appreciate the landscape and history of the Netherlands that little bit more.”
Photo source: Jolijn Hogenbirk
Have you been wadlopen before? Let us know in the comments!