Canoeing in the Biesbosch National Park

This is my story about the weekend canoeing trip I went on in the NLDelta National Park recently. It's also about the wonderful nature we have here in the Netherlands. Sit back, relax and enjoy this story about my short expedition.

Armed with a Canadian canoe full of camping gear and the weekend ahead of us, we were looking forward to heading off to one of the Netherlands' most beautiful natural reserves. I'd never done a trip like this before, so I jumped at the chance when Erwin, my fellow adventurer, suggested exploring every inch of the Biesbosch National Park in just one weekend.

In the early afternoon, we arrive at the canoe rental business Vissershang in Hank. We've stocked up on food at the supermarket and have enough to last us three days. Erwin found a modern reproduction of a traditional woodworker's hut online, where we are planning to spend the next two nights. This woodworker's hut is just one of a number of legal pole-camping pitches you'll find in the Netherlands. 

We are planning to visit two residents of the Biesbosch while we're here, to find out just how important this area actually is. We start with Jan Saarloos, a farmer. He has a herd of Scottish Highland cattle and also runs a campsite in the heart of the Biesbosch National Park. We talk briefly to Jan about what it's like to be a farmer in the park. He tells us that he works seven days a week – and makes it clear that he's really not joking. It makes me ashamed of the four days I spend in an office every week, but I'm doing the best I can in my own way. I do like Jan's local approach to farming. When his cattle reach the age of three, they are slaughtered and their meat sold by a local butcher.

The coordinates on my navigation system point us to a location in the heart of the forest. Annoyingly, we have to pick our way through stinging nettles after leaving the canoe. This is like a jungle. Are we even in the right place? We walk through what seem like whole 'forests' of stinging nettles for about 20 minutes. It's really starting to get unbearable. Here I am, a self-professed adventurer, wearing shorts and sporting very red legs; this isn't going to work. No woodworker's hut here. We soon decide to return to the canoe, passing the little black pig that's starting to grunt at us a little more aggressively than I might like.

We paddle into another side channel and eventually see our holiday home for the next three days appearing out of the greenery ahead of us. This hut is ideal for anyone who really wants to get out into the great outdoors. Yes, these outdoor resorts really do exist in the Netherlands; you just have to know where to find them. It's got a camp fire, too. I've really got everything I need for a weekend outdoors. Places like this really are quite unique.
 

The Biesbosch National Park is a unique nature conservation area

Although it's a wild place with big rivers and smaller channels, it's actually directly connected to the cities of Dordrecht and Rotterdam in the Randstad conurbation. This makes it the perfect place to take some time out to recover from the hectic bustle of city life. When you paddle into this area, you find yourself in a haven of peace, inhabited by chirping birds, nibbling beavers and flying fish.

 

After waking up the next day with a sore hip from the hut's wooden mattress, we decide to spend the day exploring the entire Biesbosch National Park. Although perhaps a little ambitious, we are determined to give it a go. We set out for our day in the canoe, accompanied by the smell from the dying embers of our camp fire. We decide to take the risk of getting completely lost. After sunset, we try to find our way back to the woodworker's hut in the pitch black. I have to say that canoeing at night really is one of the most beautiful experiences I have ever had. You can't see much, but you do focus on what is and could be happening around you.

After another night's sleep in the woodworker's hut, we decide to visit another Biesbosch resident today. She's a slightly older woman, who has decided to live entirely independently of society. We meet her on our last day in the canoe. We talk about some interesting things, like the nature and our impact on it. 'We are trying to rule nature,' she tells us. 'But it isn't here to be ruled. It's funny,' she says. 'We are part of nature, but we think that we can rule it. Nature can't be ruled; it rules us and will bite back if we continue to ignore it.' I think she's right. This 70-year-old woman told us everything that we would ever need to know. What a relief. She showed us how simple life could be. I don't think there's anyone who doesn't find themselves bogged down with the big questions about life and the things that we think we ought to know. She warned us against falling into this trap and told us just to keep life simple and not continually think that we need to improve or even change the world.

At about 6:30 p.m. on Monday, we returned to the Vissershang canoe rental business in Hank. We had wanted to have a mini adventure, to step away from the grind of our day-to-day lives for a while. Leave Saturday, come back on Monday and back to work on Tuesday. Well, we certainly did what we set out to do and really enjoyed our short stay here.

Bye canoe adventure, we will meet again.

Henk van Dillen

 

Quietly navigate the Biesbosch jungle