Wadlopen: A Walk on the Sea
Low-lying Schiermonnikoog is like the pearl in a necklace of islands known as the West Frisian Islands on the Netherlands’ northern shore. At 16km (10 miles) long and 4km (21⁄2 miles) wide, Schier, as it’s known to the locals, is the smallest of the inhabited islands in the Wadden Sea, and possibly the prettiest. But at low tide, something magical happens: The shallow sea actually disappears and you can walk all the way to the next island.
Mud flat hiking—wadlopen—is a wildly popular summer pastime around these parts. Hiking on these soggy surfaces lets you see up close and personal just how alive the mud flats can be, with worms, shrimp, crabs, and fish providing sustenance for a wide range of fauna. You can actually mud-walk from the village of Kloosterburen to Schiermonnikoog (8km/5 miles). If you’re game for a wadlopen, however, don’t even think about doing it alone—Dutch law prohibits self-guided mud-walking. Always go with a tour operator or outfitter (see below) and be sure to reserve a spot well in advance—fools sure do love company.
Since 1989, the whole island of Schiermonnikoog has been protected as a national park, a remarkable collection of habitats that range from birch forests to broad, white-sand beaches along the North Sea coast. In its salt marshes and wetlands you’ll find thousands of migratory seabirds, with plenty of gulls, terns, and spoonbills. Ducks, herons, and reed birds gather around the freshwater Westerplas pond; seals sun themselves on sandbanks off the northwest coast. Rare plants like tiny orchids and Parnassus grass can be found around the moss- and lichen-covered dunes. Most vacationers visit between spring and fall; only a hardy few brave the winter gales.
Visitor center, Torenstreek 20 ( 31/519/531-641; www.nationaalpark.nl/schiermonnikoog). Tourist office, Reeweg 5 ( 31/519/531-233; www.vvvschiermonnikoog.nl).
Tour: Stichting ( 31/59/552-8300; www.wadlopen.com).
Amsterdam (2 hr. to Lauwersoog).
45 min. from Lauwersoog.
$ Hotel van der Werff, Reeweg 2 ( 31/519/531-203; www.hotelvanderwerff.nl). $ Pension Westerburen, Middenstreek 32 (31/65/221-2287; www.westerburen.nl).