Monday, 22 March 2010

Cucumber Time!

What does one do in the summer months often referred to by the Dutch as ‘komkommer tijd’ (cucumber time)? Not much can be organized or done during this period as everyone is planning his or her holidays. If you have not already flown to foreign shores, or disappeared to the nearest lake with a good book for the afternoon, you could always join the exodus to one of the islands along the coast of the Netherlands for a week or two. There are five in total, Schiermonnikoog, Terschelling, Ameland. Vlieland and Texel each offering a diversity of nature, scenery and activities that will appeal to all tastes.

This island can be reached from Lauwersoog in twenty-five minutes, and its size makes it perfect for a day visit. Cars of visitors are not allowed on the island, as it is a nature reserve so the main means of transport is the bicycle. These come in all sorts of shapes and sizes both for adults and children. The tandem is a regular sight and trailers can be filled with your baggage or even small children for quick transport around the island and down to the seashore. 

Apart form the obvious attraction of the sea with its dunes and grasses, the natural beauty of this national park includes salt marshes as well as a variety of flora and fauna. There are numerous cafes, restaurants and pavilions, a lighthouse, and a bunker from the Second World War to be visited along the way.

Terschelling can be reached from Harlingen by boat and takes an hour and a half. This is somewhat bigger than Schiermonnikoog and is made up of a number of small villages all easily accessed via a connecting road system. The best way to get a good impression of what Terschelling has to offer is to walk from the Noordzee to the Waddenzee right across the island. Along the way you will see the natural dune formations and pass through the different ecosystems of the island (there are nine in total), which are homes to a rich diversity of flora and fauna. The beach is the widest of the Dutch coastline and in the whole of Western Europe. 

Generally there are plenty of places to stay on the island unless you choose to visit around the time of the annual ‘Oerol’ Festival. During this time because of the festivals enormous popularity, most places are fully booked although some camping areas may have a few places available.  
Oerol this year is 10th – 19th June and has a nautical theme entitled ‘Geen zee te hoog’ (‘No sea too high’) and has to do with the bond between the islanders and navigation. During the festival the whole island becomes a stage and the backdrop for (street) theatre, cabaret, circuses, dance acts, and artistic creations. Tickets sales begin on the 8th and 9th of June on the island with half being withheld for sale during the festival itself. More information about Oerol can be found at:

To reach Ameland the boat goes from Holwerd and takes forty-five minutes. Used to belong to the royal family around the beginning of the 18-th century but since the early 19-th century has become part of the property of Friesland.

The island has 4 villages, a population of 3,500 and measures 25 kilometres in length and is 4 km at its widest point. Again interesting to explore it is rich in flora and fauna. One such area, known as the Nieuwlandsreid, is a marsh filled with unusual vegetation due to the fact that it is regularly flooded with salt water.

The natural history museum offers activities and information as well as an enormous aquarium filled with a diversity of fish and shellfish whose natural habitat is the Noord- en Waddenzee.

This island can be reached by boat from Harlingen and takes one and a half hours. This island also has a no car policy for non-residents, the bicycle again being the main means of getting around the island.

The tourist office has all the infomation about what there is to see and do on Vlieland and offers a variety of different excursions around the island. There is an aquarium which is filled with sea life native to the area, but there is also a special aquarium filled with rays and dog sharks that can be stroked if you dare!

Other attractions for all ages include the ‘Kabouterbos’ (‘Gnome wood’), ‘Jutterszolder’, (‘Beachcombers attic’) filled with all kinds of objects that have washed up on the seashore, and a ‘Wrakvondstenzolder’, (‘Shipwreck attic’) exhibiting objects retrieved by divers from Northsea shipwrecks.

Texel is the biggest and most diverse of the ‘waddeneilanden’ (‘wadden islands’) and can be reached by boat from Den Helder in twenty minutes, and is home to large herds of sheep and birds

On Texel, EcoMare can be found in the center of the National Park ‘Duinen van Texel’ (‘Dunes of Texel’). This comprises of a visitor’s center, a center for education about nature and the environment, a museum, a crèche for sea lions, and a bird sanctuary. There is also information available about the North Sea, the Wadden area, nature on Texel and the influence of man’s presence on all this. The dune park of 70-hectares has a number of different walks marked out, which can also be done as part of a guided tour, giving the visitor a good idea of the diversity of plant life on the island.

More information about the islands and travel to and from them can be found at:

First published in the Connections magazine #8 July 2005

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