Nationaal Park Oosterschelde

Oosterschelde National Park: picking seaweed and whalewatching

Did you know we have no less than 21 national parks in The Netherlands? Our country is filled with them and each of them has its own unique features. Over the next couple of months I’ll visit 5 of them and will show you the beauty and variety of Dutch nature. I hope it’ll inspire you to explore our country beyond the well known places and have some truly amazing micro adventures. My first trip took me to Oosterschelde National Park in Zeeland, which is located in the southwest of The Netherlands.
Also read: Van Gogh National Park in the Netherlands – our newest national park!

View over the Oosterscheldekering
View over the Oosterscheldekering

About Oosterschelde National Park

Oosterschelde National Park is the largest and wettest national park in the Netherlands. The park was established in May 2002 and is best known for the Oosterscheldekering, a large construction which makes it possible to close the Oosterschelde (a large water inlet) when the waterlevel is rising. Most of the landscape is formed by wind and water, so you will find different landscapes during the day because of the ever changing tide. During the tide, 800 billion liters of water flows in and out of the Oosterschelde, providing a fantastic nature experience for its vsitors.
There are plenty of adventures you can experience in Oosterschelde National Park. I made a combination of three activities: I’m going to pick seaweed during a so-called seaweed walk, take a hike on the dikes of Zierikzee and look for porpoises, a small whale species. And all that in just one day!

Bird watching in Oosterschelde National Park
Bird watching in Oosterschelde National Park
whales in zeeland
Hike route ‘Bruinvis’ – a themed whale route

Arrival at Neeltje Jans

As I live in the opposite region of The Netherlands, I’m leaving home at about 07.00 am to make sure I’m in Zeeland at the right time. Then there is a message from Ellen who organizes the seaweed walk: the excursion starts an hour and a half later due to rain. Since I’m already on my way and will arrive at the original time, I first decide to take a short walk at Delta Park Neeltje Jans, a work island that is part of the Oosterscheldekering.
I park my car at the visitor center, which is located in the Ir. J. W. Topshuis, from where the Oosterscheldekering is operated. Unfortunately, the visitor center appears to be closed due to the corona virus, but there is an overview map with walking routes at the parking lot. As it’s by now pouring down with rain, I decide to sit in the car and wait out the heaviest bit of it, after which I put on my hiking boots and hit the trail.

Ir J W Topshuis in Nationaal Park Oosterschelde
Ir J W Topshuis

A short walk on Neeltje Jans

I’ve got about an hour and would like to make a short hike on Neeltje Jans. There are no less than five different walks you can do here:
– the ‘Parelpad’ (pearl path), a 1.5 km experience path
– the orange route, 3.5 km to the bird viewing area
– the green route, a 1.5 km long walk for the disabled / wheelchairs
– the yellow route, a 2.8 km long walk along a viewing screen and natural slufter
– the blue route, a 3.7 km long walk to the North Sea beach
The Parelpad starts from the point where I stand and I decide to take that walk and maybe change to another trail along the way. However, there is already so much to see on the Parelpad that I cannot even manage to take a different route in terms of time. I look at information panels about the Oosterschelde and the birds that live here, scan the horizon with my binoculars and suddenly it is time to head to the starting point of the seaweed walk.

The walks on Neeltje Jans
The walks on Neeltje Jans

Just put your head under water

‘If you really want to experience the Oosterschelde, then just put your head under water!’ This is how Ellen starts with the seaweed excursion, an initiative of WildWier. WildWier is run by Ellen and Guido, who stand with their feet in the water every week to pick seaweeds. Sometimes with guests, but also for restaurants, for example. More information can be found here.
We start the excursion with a short introduction to seaweed. Ellen explains that there is a lot of seaweed in the Oosterschelde and that you can eat everything without any problems. The seaweed here is of excellent quality. However, you must know you are not allowed to pick weeds in the Oosterschelde, but WildWier has a permit for this. This is to prevent over-picking and to prevent the Oosterschelde from being picked empty.
I also learn about the different types of seaweed. For example, on the high tide line we see bladderwrack and clubweed and underwater we find the sea lettuce and the wakame among other things. We can pick all seaweeds we want and eat them straight away. At first we stay close to the place where the cars are parked, but after we have tasted and harvested our own seaweeds here, we go to some shallow pools to harvest other species of seaweed.

Seaweed excursion
Ellen from WildWier
A seaweed display
A seaweed display
A crab in an oyster
A crab in an oyster

Tasting the seaweed

As mentioned, you can eat all the seaweeds in the Oosterschelde National Park without any problems. Of course it gives a somewhat salty taste because of the salty water, but to be honest, it tastes really delicious even with a grain of sand here and there. A fellow harvester finds a crab in an oyster and a bunch of young boys who are also on the tour go out on an oyster hunt. Everything is allowed during this excursion, it is playing outside at its best.
We end the excursion with making our own seaweed sushi that we eat during an ode to the sea. It tastes delicious and with a full bowl of seaweed for home I say goodbye to Ellen and my fellow harvesters.

Sea lettuce
Sea lettuce
Oosterschelde National Park seaweed picking
The scissors are ready
Some of the seaweeds
Some of the seaweeds
Picking seaweed in Oosterschelde National Park
Picking seaweed

Onwards to Zierikzee

My plan was to have lunch at ‘Proef Zeeland’, but because the excursion started later than planned, I decide to drive from Neeltje Jans directly to Zierikzee for the second part of my day: a hike in search of porpoises.
Upon arrival in Zierikzee it turns out to be super busy, the summer season is in full swing here and the tourists are everywhere. I manage to get a parking space but decide not to spend much time on my lunch. I walk into the city center, have a quick sandwich and then go to the starting point of my walk.

The harbor of Zierikzee
The harbor of Zierikzee

Porpoises in National Park Oosterschelde

When I discussed with the organization what I would like to do in National Park Oosterschelde, the main thing was that I would like to see porpoises in Zeeland. The porpoise is a small whale that grows to a maximum length of 1.80 meters and therefore looks a lot like a dolphin. You can observe them in different places, but at the pier of Zierikzee at the end of the harbor is one of the best places.
I’m advised to walk the hiking route ‘Levensstijd’ by the Dutch nature association. This walking route combines a visit to the pier with the Levensrijd and Rengerskerke nature reserves, a resting area for birds. The route is connected by a numbered network and therefore easy to follow. Note that the link is in Dutch!
I walk along the Havenkanaal (harbor channel) and quickly leave the hustle and bustle of the city behind. The sun has now started to shine and burns all over my skin, so it’s high time to apply some sunscreen. After about two kilometers I arrive at lookout point Kiekuut, a bird watching spot. I view through my binoculars and see a number of spoonbills. I can stay here for an hour without any problems, but decide to continue my mission in search of the porpoise.
After another kilometer I arrive at the pier. Here is ‘Studio Bruinvis’, an information pole with a sonar hydrophone that picks up the sound of porpoises at the buoy a little further in the water. If there are porpoises swimming near the buoy, you can hear this at the push of a button and you know whether you need to be alert.

I press the button but don’t hear anything. And again. And again. But I don’t hear any porpoise noises. I decide to sit on a bench and bring out the binoculars again. In the distance I see the immense Zeeland Bridge and ships sail everywhere.

Studio Bruinvis
Studio Bruinvis
The Zeeland Bridge
The Zeeland Bridge

And then I wait …

There is a couple sitting behind me and I ask them if they ever see porpoises. “Sure enough, almost every day, between 5 and 6 is a great time.” I look at my watch, it is half past four. I decide to wait another half hour because there is also a long journey home awaiting me.

I peer over the water with the binoculars, but I’m not lucky. Just when I decide to come back another time, I see movement in the water in the distance. I quickly grab my binoculars again and sure enough, I see a fin through the viewer. And another one. They are lightning fast and immediately disappear under water. I grab my camera, but I can’t get a picture, they are too far away and disappear too quick. Then I’ll just enjoy them through the binoculars!
The group of porpoises makes one more jump and then they disappear. I keep looking for another fifteen minutes but don’t pick them up anymore. Too bad, but it was great to see whales from land and that in our my own country!
I stroll further along the dike, I am not even halfway through my original walk just yet. Then I decide to walk on the dike in the wind and below me I see a beautiful boardwalk, which is part of the harbor porpoise walking route. Without a doubt I will leave my planned walk and walk back to my car on the boardwalk. On the way I see more spoonbills and a lot of other birds unknown to me.
At the beginning of the evening I eventually get back to the car. To be fair, it was a long but exciting day. I started with a completely new experience of picking and eating the seaweed and ended with seeing porpoises. I couldn’t have asked for more!

Spotting porpoises
Spotting porpoises
The boardwalk
The boardwalk near Zierikzee
Nature in Oosterschelde National Park
Nature in Oosterschelde National Park

Conclusion en disclaimer

During my ride back home, I decide that I definitely want to come back here again. Not only to spot porpoises, but also to go kayaking, take more walks and view the Oosterscheldekering extensively. Too much for a day, but perfect for a long weekend.
Hopefully I have inspired you to visit the Oosterschelde National Park in The Netherlands. If you want to know more, check out the website of the park . I experienced this micro adventure in collaboration with Dutch National Parks. All opinions expressed are of course only my own.

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