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In the Markermeer about 9 kilometers from Lelystad, a new piece of the Netherlands has been created: the Marker Wadden. A true paradise for birds, fish, aquatic plants and shellfish. But certainly also for people. In fact, the archipelago consisting of seven islands is perfect for a day trip. I visit this special piece of “new” Holland in the spring and I am incredibly surprised. I actually want to go back as soon as possible. Why? You’ll find out in this article. I tell you what you need to know about the area and how easy it is to spend a day at the Marker Wadden.
Origin of the Marker Wadden
After the construction of the Houtrib dike between Enkhuizen and Lelystad in 1976, much changed in the Markermeer. Due to the embankment, the lake filled up with silt, which eventually meant that the water did not contain enough oxygen for various life forms. Natuurmonumenten came up with plans to create a nature reserve in the Markermeer in 2012, with the goal of restoring the ecosystem in the area. In 2016, Boskalis started the construction of the main island, and in the following years the other islands followed. The islands were created with clay, sand and silt from the Markermeer. Meanwhile, the total project, considered one of the largest nature projects in Western Europe, has been completed and delivered.
National Park Nieuw Land
Together with the Oostvaardersplassen, the Lepelaarsplassen and a large part of the Markermeer, the Marker Wadden are part of the Netherlands’ newest national park: National Park Nieuw Land. With a size of 29,000 hectares of nature, it is the largest man-made nature park in the world.
Restoration of the ecosystem by the Marker Wadden
Research already shows that the ecosystem is tentatively beginning to recover. Bizarre, that building an archipelago in Markermeer accomplishes this. Very simply explained, it is because raw water is held back by the basalt dike on the west coast of the main island in stormy weather, so the area behind the islands is now in the lee. This allows the silt to settle well and the water becomes clear again. As it becomes lighter underwater, algae, water fleas and larvae grow again. These in turn are eaten by insects, which in turn are food for fish and birds.
It is easy to see how the area is growing. Nature seems to be exploding at the Marker Wadden! You will find marshes, mud flats, lakes and water channels. Many species of birds know how to find the islands to breed, but also to rest on transit and to search for food. Several species of plants and shrubs that were not planted by man are already growing there. Seeds have come from the mainland or have been carried by birds and insects. Extraordinary!
Day trip by boat to the Marker Wadden
Having already seen and heard a lot it seems cool to explore the area myself. By Landal GreenParks I am invited to join them for a day trip to the Marker Wadden. I don’t say “no” to that! And so on a weekday morning in Lelystad at 9:30 a.m., I board the MS Waddenzee, an authentic ferry (1920) that for years sailed daily back and forth from Ameland to Holwerd. The Marker Wadden are 9 kilometers off the coast, which means about three quarters of an hour of sailing for the MS Waddenzee.
On our way to Marker Wadden
The weather is nice and clear, you seem to be able to see for miles. I can see Lelystad getting smaller and smaller, and in the distance I can see the skyline of Amsterdam on the horizon. After a while, the new part of the Netherlands looms before us. The first thing I see of the islands is the almost dazzlingly white, mile-long sandy beach with dunes behind it. Soon the Steltloper also appears in view, the Marker Wadden’s striking observation tower. As we sail into the harbor, I feel as if I am entering another world. How serene, idyllic, beautiful and pristine it feels here!
Marker Wadden main island
By boat you will arrive on the main island. This is (so far) the only island where you can go ashore. On the Marker Wadden main island you will find a harbor with a small settlement next to it. The settlement consists of the island pavilion and several small outbuildings. The island pavilion has a small store and you can go here for a snack and a drink. Inside or on the spacious outdoor terrace, overlooking the beach and sea. Inside on the wall you will find information about the island. There is also a large map where visitors can indicate with magnets which birds they have seen in which place.
There are four accommodations on the island that are rented out by Landal GreenParks. More about these cool cottages later in the article. Forest ranger Elsa Pater of Natuurmonumenten tells us all about the Marker Wadden as we walk towards watchtower de Steltloper. After that we have time to ourselves and everyone can do what he or she likes best. For me, that is: hiking and photography!
Hiking on the Marker Wadden
There are currently 12 kilometers of hiking trails on the main island of the Marker Wadden. There are three plotted routes: the Coastal Route (7.2 km), the Butterfly Route (4.2 km) and the Bird’s Eye Route (3.4 km). You can also combine parts of the routes with each other; there are several places where the routes intersect. Among other things, the Coastal Route takes you along the basalt dike on the west side of the island. In calm weather you can keep dry feet here but if the water is rough, you most likely won’t keep completely dry at the washovers. In the eastern part of the main island you walk mostly on decking paths. These are winding through the swampy area, which makes for nice pictures. From this spot you also have a view of the sixth and seventh islands, the youngest islands of the Marker Wadden.
Bird watching huts on the Marker Wadden
There are four bird-watching huts and/or bird-watching screens at the Marker Wadden: the Lepelaar (bird-watching hut), the Duikeend (bird-watching hut) and the Aalscholver (bird-watching screen). The bird-watching screens are ideal, since vistas are installed at different heights. Perfect! After all, people are not all the same height and especially for people in wheelchairs it is an invention. Such a bird watching screen has also been installed on the west side of the island, along the silt field. I can imagine that, in time, such a bird-watching screen will be placed at several places where there is a lot to see.
Bird watching hut Duikeend: photographing birds at eye level
Bird watching hut Duikeend impressed me the most. You walk along a boardwalk to this bird hide, after which you descend a staircase to below water level. Then you can watch the birds at eye level, directly over the surface of the water. An invention for photographing birds on the Marker Wadden. I can easily park myself for a whole day with my camera and a bottle of water, really an ideal place!
Lookout tower Steltloper
Without a doubt the most eye-catching building on Marker Wadden is lookout tower the Steltloper. This 12.5-meter-high watchtower provides a breathtaking view of the archipelago. With clear weather, you can see Amsterdam. You also have a good view of the dike between Lelystad and Enkhuizen. The Steltloper provides by far the most beautiful architecture photos of the Marker Wadden.
What birds will you encounter at the Marker Wadden?
That the Marker Wadden are beloved by birds is obvious by now, so bird watchers already know how to find the islands. In the bird-watching huts you can quietly wait with your camera and/or binoculars for different species of birds, but also during your walk you should keep looking around you. And listen, because the sound of all the birds together alone is a treat! With a little luck you will spot the bald eagle, the blue harrier or a flamingo. Other birds you can spot on the Marker Wadden include the little ringed plover, the Kentish plover, the lesser reed warbler, the bearded reedling, the spoonbill and various species of ducks. Black-headed gull, common tern and little tern are frequently spotted species.
The Marker Wadden are self-sufficient
The Marker Wadden are totally self-sufficient. Even the main island, where the settlement is located, is not connected to the national network of gas, electricity, water and sewage. A smart off-grid electricity network was developed especially for the Marker Wadden. All energy is generated on the island itself by solar panels and by a folding windmill near the harbor, which can jump in when needed. A local well provides water, which is purified and also drained on site.
Spend the night at the Marker Wadden in a Landal cottage
Super nice that there are opportunities to stay overnight in such a beautiful place. Landal GreenParks, in cooperation with Natuurmonumenten, has put up four island cottages for rental. The cottages are sustainably built and the furnishings were provided by IKEA. All income goes to Natuurmonumenten, so if you book a stay here, you are also doing something good for nature.
During my visit to the Marker Wadden, I was able to take a look at one of the cottages, due to a stay being canceled shortly beforehand. The cottage is basic, but fully equipped. A cozy dining area with kitchen, including induction cooktop, combination microwave and even a dishwasher. Furthermore, mainly a lot of glass, so you really experience the island feeling.
There is also a lot of glass upstairs in the bedrooms. If I ever sleep there, I will do so with the curtains open. I’m sure. How cool is it when you can look at the moon and starry sky from your bed and see the sun rise hours later? I would hardly sleep! Anyway, staying overnight on an uninhabited island in the Netherlands is unique. Day visitors go home during the afternoon, after which you have the island virtually to yourself (although two island guards are present at all times). Nothing can beat that!
Can you visit the Marker Wadden with a wheelchair or stroller?
It is certainly quite possible to visit the Marker Wadden with a wheelchair, or bring a stroller for your little one. The walkways are beautifully laid out and have a nice solid top layer of very fine gravel and very small pieces of shell. Perfect for moving around with a wheelchair or stroller. The decking also lends itself well to this. Some of the hiking trails go over the beach, but you can easily ignore those parts.
How do you get to the Marker Wadden?
You can get to the Marker Wadden in three different ways: by ferry, by your own boat or by charter. The easiest way to get to the Marker Wadden is to book a ferry crossing from Lelystad Haven; after about forty-five minutes you will be on the newest piece of the Netherlands. You can choose to explore the Marker Wadden on your own, but it is also possible to book an excursion with a guide. Look for options, departure times and prices on the website below.
Dag trip Marker Wadden, a must-do
Actually, one part of a day is far too short to really explore the Marker Wadden properly. As I wrote above, I could spend a whole day in birdwatching hut the Diving Duck alone to photograph. So I am going back to this beautiful piece of new Holland soon. And I want to thank Landal GreenParks for this nice first introduction!