Staying in your own country for your holiday means discovering new places. And rediscovering them. The Biesbosch is outstanding in proving that even areas that you are already very familiar with may surprise you. For two days, I foraged through this Dutch jungle, paddling through small creeks and walking among the wildlife.
For me, nothing evokes the holiday feeling as much as getting into the car and purposely avoiding the motorway. Driving along local roads, on the lookout for signs that point out places of interest. And so, on a sun-drenched day in July, I instructed Google Maps to ‘avoid the motorway’ and set out in good company for the Biesbosch, travelling through picturesque villages, forts and lookout points.
Our first stop was Drimmelen, one of the gateways to the Biesbosch National Park and the starting point of many routes. There are countless possibilities for hiking, cycling and canoeing in this area, which is why we first went to the visitors’ centre to make a plan for the next two days. We stayed at Oversteeg Marina in Werkendam and, in the end, decided to explore some of countryside on that side of the park. But first, we went for a stroll in Drimmelen, with its photogenic Herengracht and the houses with their characteristic facades.
Leaving Drimmelen, we went past the historic fortified town of Geertruidenberg, took the motorway briefly to cross the water and dove back into the green countryside near Hank. It wasn’t even twenty minutes to the northern side of the Biesbosch in Brabant – time enough to stop a couple of times along the way. We followed the signs for ‘Fort Altena’ and arrived at an impressive defence fortification that is part of the New Holland Defence Line. The fort was built mid-19th century to protect the Vesting Holland and still operates today as a gateway to the countryside. We followed a trail around the fort and enjoyed a sun-drenched lunch outdoors at the brasserie.
As soon as we passed Werkendam, all I could see were vast landscapes with the typical houses on a mound. This is where the Biesbosch really begins. We climbed lookout towers and spied on bathing Scottish Highlanders, and finally arrived at Biesbosch Museum Island. Literally located on an island, entirely at one with the landscape, this museum tells the story of a unique part of the Dutch countryside. It is a story that will have you looking at the surroundings with even more amazement, over the wetlands that were tamed over the centuries, were neglected and finally became the water maze that you are able to experience today.
Not far from the museum is the Oversteeg Marina, where we checked into a Pod: a cosy little hikers’ hut right by the water’s edge. These are the places that allow you to enjoy the Biesbosch to the max – once all the day visitors have left. Armed with a map, I walked over to the canoe rental, where the owner, André, was waiting to help me figure out a route. He showed me the route over meandering creeks, with the Rietplaat as the farthest point: an ideal spot for taking a break on the beach and from which to paddle back in the hope of spotting some beavers.
He told me that the nicest part is actually beyond that spot. André then told me things that I had already learned that day at Museum Island, things that he knew due to his knowledge of the area. Human intervention has actually tamed this area, with the true wilderness only existing in the heart of the Biesbosch. The wilderness can be experienced during canoe trips over a period of several days – something that I will have to come back and do. But when we got into the kayak early that evening, armed with a map, directions for beaver dams and a carefully packed picnic, I did have the feeling that we were going on an adventure.
And an adventure it was. There is a reason this area is called a water maze, and navigating through the labyrinth of islands, having to duck every now and then to fit under a bridge, was a real challenge. We passed large groups of birds to the left and the right, and even caught glimpse of a deer drinking. But there wasn’t another person to be seen. At that time of day, activity in the Biesbosch winds down and we paddled quietly over waterways with unusual names such as ‘Gat van den Kleinen Hil’ and ‘Sloot beneden Petrus’. An hour later, the view became more panoramic as we approached the Rietplaat, where a single boat was moored that contained visitors who, like us, were enjoying the evening in the Biesbosch. With our toes in the sand, we drank some wine while the sun slowly set and sailboats put out to sea.
The best time for spotting beavers is at twilight. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any beavers, but that did not detract from the return trip. While the sky turned purple and mist formed above the water, we paddled back to our Pod, content.
Exploring the Biesbosch in the evening is just as beautiful as exploring it in the early hours of the morning. Close to the marina is the start of a trail that goes through the Jantjesplaat and Deeneplaat. Going to the most southern point and back is a good 15 kilometres, but it is also possible to map out your route on the many paths that wind their way over the two flats. Highly recommended, because the mainly unpaved paths, small bridges and the stiles over fences allow you to really get to know the Biesbosch on foot. And it is clear that we were visiting the actual inhabitants of the area. Waterfowl and butterflies posed for the camera, and I came eye to eye with a deer and her fawn in the high grass.
Being subject to the elements, the Biesbosch changes constantly. The paths and waterways with which I have become familiar will be full of surprises on my next visit. After two days, one thing became very clear: the Biesbosch excels in tempting one to discover and rediscover.
Isn’t backpacking something you only do in faraway lands? No, absolutely not! Put on your backpack and discover how lovely and surprising North Brabant can be. Naline, Stop and Stare travel magazine, has been out on the road and shared her experiences with us. Curious? Then read on right now.