Cycling and walking through the park
Together with the female forester of Schiermonnikoog, we explored the beautiful national park on our bike. Unfortunately, there was a lot of fog and the raindrops fell non-stop on our numb hands. But even then, the Schiermonnikoog national park is still a feast for the eyes!
I think that the best way to explore the national park is by bicycle. You can also see a lot by walking around, but then you would need a lot of time! Cars aren’t allowed on the island anyway, unless you are an island resident. But you actually see a lot more when you walk through the park quietly.
Personally, I recommend renting a two-wheeler or taking it with you to the island. Although Schiermonnikoog is a small island, you can easily travel a few miles to discover the extensive beauty of the park. Especially if you’re on the island for a day or a weekend this is a good idea. There is a lot to discover!
Dune valleys, salt marshes, mud flats and forest
The Schiermonnikoog national park consists of many different areas, and they are all very important for the local fauna and flora. If you walk around the park you can view all these different areas. But what are they and what can you see here? Our guide explained it all to us, and now I’ll try my very best to do so for you.
The dune valleys surround the island with wide and high sand hills on which all kinds of unique plants and flowers have flourished. These magical landscapes change day after day thanks to strong winds, new vegetation and grazers such as rabbits, cows, sheep and horses.
Due to acidic rain and all sorts of illnesses the rabbits of the island almost got eradicated. Because of this, many dunes have been swept away and replaced by grasslands. Rabbits and hares eat all the grass away so that open areas arise where new dunes can form. Moreover, they also help mother nature by digging pits and making heaps of sand. The sand that gets moved because of the winds stick to these heaps and eventually gigantic dune valleys are formed.
To prevent the dune landscapes from being changed into grasses, sheep, cows and horses are used. They eat away a lot of grass, and in addition they sometimes dig so they can take a relaxing dust bath or to impress the other sex.
The mudflats are of course a very large part of the Wadden Islands, and on Schiermonnikoog that is no different. The mudflats are very important for fish and birds. Fish mate here and also use it as a childbed to let their little ones grow up. The many birds also use this part as a resting place to strengthen before they continue on their long journeys. After all, the Wadden Sea lies right between the northern areas where the birds breed, and Africa; where the birds hibernate.
During low tide, the thousands of birds search for food left behind on the wet sandbanks, and at high tide the feathered animals rest on drier places of the Schiermonnikoog national park.
Salt marshes are areas that have been inundated for years. Due to all the flooding, layers of mud were deposited here every time. After several years, this landscape will get higher and higher, until it can no longer -or much less – be flooded. Salt marshes are actually a kind of natural embankment.
In these salt marshes you’ll also find an enormous number of plants and bird species. Because it’s so often flooded by salt water, there are many plants that can survive both in fresh and salt water. For over ten years now, you can also find a colony of spoonbills on the salt marshes of the national park Schiermonnikoog. Beautiful animals!
There was no forest on Schiermonnikoog originally. This made it very difficult for many islanders to build houses. Occasionally, pieces of driftwood washed ashore, and the villagers started to fight for it!
To tackle this problem, smart islanders planted some forests on the island. Nowadays you can still see the result of this: beautiful pine trees that take over the area next to the beautiful dunes and salt marshes. These beautiful pines are slowly dying out and are taken over by deciduous trees, which can flourish here because of the rich grounds. Because of these forests, many birds that you’ll find on the mainland are also to be found here.
Some figures from the national park
- In total, 5400 hectares of the island is reserved as a national park. It is calculated that no less than 54 square kilometers!
- You could spot more than 300 bird species throughout the year.
- There are more than 500 plant species that overrun the national park of Schiermonnikoog.
- Since 1989 the park has been declared a national park, and with that it was also the first national park in the Netherlands. Since 2009 it is also on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
- Less than 1000 people live on Schiermonnikoog, but every year about 275,000 visitors come to see the beauty of the beautiful park.
Best places in the park to spot birds
As you probably already noticed, there are a lot of birds on Schiermonnikoog. You can see beautiful stilt-walkers parading on the mud flats, but also majestic herons, lots of geese and ducks, and lightning-fast birds of prey. Because of the bad weather we saw only a few of these feathered creatures fluttering around, but even then we saw a colorful collection of birds.
Around the Westerplas you can see a colorful collection of many of these birds. In order to get closer without disturbing the animals, a special bird viewing hut has been created. It’s well hidden so you don’t startle the birds when you look at them with your camera or binoculars. If you don’t have binoculars, you can rent thel at the tourist office of Schiermonnikoog national park.
Another place where you can observe a huge number of birds is on the high-water refuges. Once the flood is over, all birds return to land to rest on these high water refuges. In the national park of Schiermonnikoog there are two very large ones: one on the edge of the Oosterkwelder and the other on the south-west side of the island: the Rif.
To see most birds you should plan your visit between May and October, but even in the winter months a lot of birds come here too.
If you are fond of geese, you can see them grazing on just about any large meadow. It may not seem impressive, but because they are present in such large numbers it really is an exceptional view! Also keep in mind that these barnacle and wild geese are looking quite a bit nicer than a normal goose…
Best places in the park to see seals
Around 5000 seals swim around the Wadden Islands. That’s a lot. But not too long ago, there were many more. Due to a murderous virus in 1988 and 2002, thousands of seals died, making it very difficult to spot one of these cute animals when spending a few days on one of the Wadden islands. Nowadays, their numbers are rising again, and let’s hope it stays that way!
The biggest chance to see a seal is from the North Sea beach. At the end of the ‘Badweg’ (a street) there is a sandbank just off the coast. You’ll often find some very noisy seals on it.
Take your binoculars with you, because the sandbank lies a little into the sea. Don’t disturb the animals unnecessarily, because if a person comes too close they will dive into the water and you probably won’t see them again.
Moreover, there is always some quicksand around these sandbanks. So watch out!
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Hi, I'm Sam Van den Haute. The last three years I've been traveling the world almost constantly. Heading out for an adventure and visiting the most beautiful places are what I love to do! Let me inspire you with great stories, beautiful pictures and handy tips from my adventures and travels. On my facebook page and instagram account you'll get to see the latest updates and photos to inspire you for your next vacation.