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The north of the Netherlands is home to my roots but also to pristine nature, culture and a lot of unique activities. I take you in this post to the area around Lauwersmeer, a national nature park. Visiting the seal refuge center Pieterburen, a course on filleting fish, a boat ride on the Waddenzee and getting dirty while walking mudflats. These are a few of the unique things this place has to offer and I will take you to each one of them making together a great day full of activities.
Seal refuge center Pieterburen
It all started in 1971 when Lenie ‘t Hart started with one lost baby seal in a small tub. Since then the seal refugee center Pieterburen (Zeehonden Crèche Pieterburen) has grown rescuing over 650 seals a year. Over the years a lot of research has been done which is shared with institutions all over the world. With over 100.000 visitors a year and over 30.000 donors it is a place which should be on your itinerary when in the north of the Netherlands. Look at the poor eyes in the following photo knowing this poor baby seal was in great danger before it was found.
Feel the emotion? Maybe a tear? The cute eyes in need of YOUR help? The refugee center depends on your help as they do not receive any subsidy from the government. At the center you will learn about the history of the center, the “huilers” (baby seals who lost their mother), illnesses and other reasons why the center takes in the seals. It is not a zoo you will spend all day but an hour will give you enough time to experience the center and maybe blink away a few tears looking at those big black eyes of the baby seals in need. If you do this visit in the morning then, if tides allow, you can continue onwards to walk the mudflats nearby.
Walking mudflats on the Waddenzee
Want to get me nervous? Then ask me to do something that could get me dirty without the possibility of a hot shower after. Yes, you may call me a pussy. During my trip around the Lauwersmeer just that happened when I went to walk the mudflats of the Waddenzee, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. My car with 4 out of 12 people arrived first at Noordpolderzijl where we would walk the mudflats with a guide from Wadloop Centrum Pieterburen. A bit shivery and waiting what the rest would do, as weather was not perfect, I finally decided to put on some old shoes. I was actually hoping a few would decide not to go. I know a few were thinking the same but nobody said something. So, off we went!
After a short introduction of the Noordpolderzijl area and some important safety instructions we walked up the dike. At the top I looked over some small grasslands but for the rest it was mainly water. It seemed we would go walk the mudflats during high tide, something I did not sign up for. When we arrived at the waterfront the guide walked a short-cut through the water (top photo on page) and after everyone followed struggling with the mud sucking them in till knee-deep. The small devil on my shoulder said: go cheat, just walk around; it’s faster and you won’t get wet! So I did; ignoring my other shoulder. We walked further over slippery mud, some grass and jumped various ditches until we arrived at a ditch a bit too wide to jump. Here I learned that the first walk through the water was a practice as this went deep and you must keep moving to not get stuck. Always follow the guide, he is right! I’m lucky I’m tall but some of us were smaller and went till over their belly button under water with mud all over them. Looking back at the above photo I think the guide not told us the fine tricks as his legs seem pretty clean to me; or is it experience? or maybe just making sure we have a lot of laughter? 🙂
Luckily the difficult part was behind us. We walked over mud until we arrived at the sea and walked a bit further through shallow water. With your feet all the time being sucked into the mud it’s quite an intense walk. The guide explained us how they use land reclamation and dredging to keep the nature in shape. If you walk during low tide it is possible to make a 10 kilometer walk to one of the Dutch islands, something I want to do for sure sometime in the future. This tour came to an end and after cleaning up a bit in a canal nearby we went onwards to a course on filleting fish! I’m happy I participated and that I experienced this although I’m always a bit shivery for such things. If you feel the same, just put your feelings aside and do it!
TIP! Do not walk the mudflats alone, always take a guide. It is possible tides change quickly and currents can take you in danger. Always do what the guide tells you to do to stay safe.
Filleting gurnard fish for dinner
The next stop is in the city of Lauwersoog at t’Ailand a knowledge center, restaurant, tasting center of “good fishermen”. They fish during 4-5 days of the week following a durable method on the Waddenzee and Noordzee. The other days they process the fish, offer workshops, information and other activities at their property. It is also a great place to go with a group of business partners to unwind. I opted to follow a course on filleting gurnard fish and some others of our group made seaweed pesto. Other (full day) activities on offer are fishing trips for fish, crabs and oysters but also more extensive courses on fish filleting and more. The location is perfect with a beautiful view over the Waddenzee and during summertime you can sit on the rooftop terrace. Everything is done in a durable way which our nature needs!
I was shivery for walking mudflats and getting dirty but filleting a fish is no problem at all for me. I know I can wash my hands after. In the newly build filleting local of ‘t Ailand we learned how to fillet fish and some others made seaweed pesto. A fresh gurnard on the cutting board looking me in the eyes made me think “yes, you will taste good on the BBQ”. With the super sharp knife I cutted the top part of the back and I made two precision incisions on both sides just below the head. I turned the gurnard having the belly upwards. I then made a precision cut just behind the head through the 8th vertebra. No just kidding, just behind the head breaking the spine is enough. Good that I was wearing an apron as it catched everything that came out of the fish. The last part was the most difficult, holding the spine with the back of the knife and pulling the head all the way down to the tail removing the skin and intestines. The fillet went in a crate for the BBQ, the intestines would be food for other animals and the back and head are used to make fish soup. If you are up to it you can suck the fish head after it has been boiled for the soup, it has great taste!
The just freshly filleted gurnards went on the BBQ and reached our table a while later. Together with some other fish and side dishes and a good bottle of white wine we enjoyed our dinner. After a lot of talk and laughter we needed to head to the harbor for our 9 PM boat trip on the Waddenzee. During the boat ride we would be able to continue our good time!
A boat tour on the Waddenzee
The idea was to go to Engelmansplaat a sandbank in the Waddenzee but due to extreme high tide this was not possible so we just drove around for an hour or two. The weather was turning bad with lots of wind and rain so we stayed inside the boat from WadOp, a great operator with a boat for small groups on the Waddenzee. They can arrange a wide variety of tours for you from just driving around, visiting sandbanks or watching seals. We had some drinks and small snacks arranged by Anton the shipper. I enjoyed this good time together a lot while rain was pouring outside making a cozy atmosphere inside.
We returned to the docks around 11 PM and we all headed back to our accommodations. A 20 minute drive brought me back to the luxury Bed & Breakfast Batenborg where I had the best night of sleep ever! What I did the next days I will share with you in another post, so stay tuned.
TIP! This day trip is also easily done if you are just for business in the Netherlands, take a day free, unwind alone or with business partners after some busy days. Its worth it!
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Did you visit Lauwersmeer too or do you have questions? Please leave a comment at the bottom of the page. Love to hear from you!