We did a thing—something we have never done before. We mudflat hiked our way across the Wadden Sea in the North Sea! This hike was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and if you haven’t done this, you definitely should! Come find out why this should be on your bucket list of things to do in the North Sea!
Wadden Sea 411
- The Wadden Sea is the largest tidal mudflat on the North Sea and in the world.
- According to this site, the Wadden Sea extends from the coastline of the Netherlands, Denmark, and German Wadden Sea Conservation with a total coastline of an estimate of 500km and area 3,900 square miles; that’s pretty big, if you ask me.
- It is on the UNESCO World Heritage list
- The word “Wad” is Dutch and Frisian for “Mud Flat”
- It is one of the most important ecosystems to date as the Wadden Sea is home to 10,000 species of sea animals and plants (such as shellfish, worms, crabs) that live in this vast area of the North Sea.
- For more information about the Wadden Sea, check out this Youtube video below by the Wadden Sea World Heritage.
Walking the North Sea
The whole idea of our trip to the North Sea, since Covid restrictions are slowly easing off here in Germany (May 2021), was to stay within the German border and visit a region we hadn’t visited before. The North Sea was new territory for us. When I researched top things to do in Cuxhaven (our home base station for the weekend- blog post on that coming soonish), the Watt tour (aka mudflat tours) piqued our interest. We had never done a mudflat hike before and thought how cool it would be to walk on the North Sea’s waterbed? Almost like being able to walk on water!
To walk on the Wadden Sea, one must be familiar with the tide schedule and wait for when the Wadden Seawater has receded and the seabed is exposed. This makes it the perfect time to explore the mudflat seabed and its inhabitants of shellfish, worms, small jellyfish, and more. There’s a lot of science behind the tidal schedule as it all relates to the moon phases.
Take a Guided Tour to the Nearest Island
My intention for this experience was to not only walk across the Wadden Sea but also hike to the nearest island of Neuwerk and explore. But, the catch to hike to the island of Neuwerk (accessible from Cuxhaven if you want to walk there) would be a long one, 12 km or roughly about 7.5 miles one way. A long hike, I know, but the experience, at that, would be amazing!
Although once the water has receded and the seabed is open for exploring if you’re not familiar with the tide schedule and you decide to hike to the island of Neuwerk, I highly recommend taking a guided tour to walk you across the Wadden Sea (more info below). Yes, it’s possible to walk the Wadden Sea on your own, but again, it’s advisable to take a guide with you if you’re not familiar with the area and you are walking the full 12km to the island of Neuwerk.
Walk the North Sea
We took a guided tour with Gönn dir Watt. Our amazing tour guide, Mr. Lehmann, accommodated our last-minute reservations (I recommend making reservations in advance, though). As an English-speaking family, he was willing to work with us and his already scheduled tour. He communicated wonderfully via email and phone calls and sent us the information we needed for the logistics and schedule for the tour as well as what to pack for the hike. See below for what his hike includes.
We started the morning off at the Cuxhaven Harbor to be picked up by a taxi. The taxi had already been arranged for us by our amazing tour guide and included in the tour. The reason for this meeting location, the boat taking us back from the island of Neuwerk would drop us off at the Cuxhaven Harbor at the end of the day. The taxi drove us to Sahlenburg Beach (aka Sahlenburg Strand) a 20-minute taxi ride from the harbor, where we met Mr. Lehmann.
I will be honest, I was nervous for this hike due to the weather and distance and having the kids with us, not toddlers, but I have a school-age child who doesn’t like to walk long distances. The weather has been unusually cold and wet for late May, and Northern Germany on the coast is no exception. As we began our trek through the Watt Sea in the North Sea, it was such an amazing thing to see the sea bed exposed and all the creatures that were living under the sea.
Throughout our tour and hike through the mudflat, our tour guide discussed many important aspects of the Watt Sea. Our tour had a group of German-native speakers also taking his tours, but Mr. Lehmann made sure to provide my family (the only English speakers there) with English information after explaining it all in German. We learned about the Watt sea and the many creatures who live among the sea beds and how important they are to this ecosystem.
There were many things we noticed during our hike besides the living organisms living in the seabeds. We noticed a pathway that leads to the island of Neuwerk via this system of bundles of branches, this also helps determine where the tide is at the moment. These branches also guides the horses and horse-drawn carriages (another great way to enjoy crossing the Wadden Sea without having to walk on it). However, I still recommend a tour guide to help guide you through the sea beds when exposed, especially when you are walking. You wouldn’t want to be stuck out in the middle of the Wadden Sea when the tide is high. If you do get stuck out in the sea bed when the tide is up, there is a tall rescue tower you can climb to call for help; but like I said, you don’t want this to happen to you. A guide is best.
What Attire to Wear
Depending on when you go, be prepared to dress appropriately for the weather and the hike across the Wadden Sea. Since the weather was surprisingly still wet and cold at the end of May, we made sure to dress warmly. Because you’ll be walking across the Wadden Sea and you will get to walk in some areas where there is still water up to your knees, you will get wet and muddy; so we packed extra dry clothes for after the hike! Shoes-wise, Mr. Lehmann recommended tennis shoes that you do not mind getting wet and dirty as you walk across the sea bed; boots are not recommended! I am so glad we took Mr. Lehmann’s advice; wearing our tennis shoes worked out perfectly for us! Plain water shoes are ok, however, I did see a few people wearing water shoes who ended up taking them off as the shoes would get stuck in muddy areas. We did bring extra dry shoes for after our hike.
What to Expect for the Hike
I like to put expectations in advance for those who love to plan ahead, and remember, this is a 12km hike on the Wadden Sea, not to include the tour of the island of Neuwerk after crossing the seabed. See below for what to expect for the hike:
- As mentioned above, you will get wet and muddy, so be prepared to get dirty.
- Bring snacks and water for the long hike!
- Use the bathroom prior to your hike, there is a rest area (pay the fee) you can use where the meeting point at Sahlenburg beach is located. You don’t want to be caught in the middle of your three-hour hike needing to use the loo.
- Be prepared for the weather and be sure you check the forecast prior to your hike. The weather can change, but Mr. Lehmann is good about including the weather in his pre-hike brief he emails you in advance.
- Wear dry-wick clothing that easily dries.
- Wear tennis shoes you don’t mind getting wet and dirty. If you decide to wear watershoes, it’s recommended to have socks on with the water shoes.
- Pack extra dry clothes and shoes, we packed our trustworthy travel backpack that also doubles as our travel carryon!
- Pack any electronic devices in ziplock bags or waterproof case, you will get wet!
- Expect to walk in areas with water that can go up all the way to your knee and waist. The highest the water level was during our hike, was to my knees and I am 5ft. 1in. in height. But, just be prepared.
- Children are welcome to hike, just know their limits and be aware, this is a long hike with a tour of the island of Neuwerk afterwawrds. On the site, it is recommended for children ages 10 year old and up. My 9 year old hesitated the hike at first, but I think she ended up enjoying playing in the water, despite the cold!
- Pets are welcome for the tour (fee for pets)
- For Covid measures (our visit was May 2021), we had to provide a negative Covid Test in order to board the Ferry and it must be less than 24 hours old.
Hiking Tour Information and Other Tours
We took our tour with Mr. Lehmann of Gönn dir Watt.
There are several other tours offered as listed on their website; we opted to take the Neuwerk Island Tour. This tour was a full-day tour. We started our day meeting the taxi at 0800 in the morning and ended the day with the ferry dropping us off at Cuxhaven at around 1830 (6:30 pm).
Our tour included:
- an email/call of the packing list and brief prior to the day of the hike
- the taxi price for the ride to the meeting location
- the tour of the Wadden Sea
- the tour of the island of Neuwerk
- reservation for lunch at a restaurant on the island of Neuwerk (the lunch was not incluced in the price)
- the 90-minute ferry ride back to Cuxhaven
Prices: According to the website:
- Adults € 64
- Children up to 14 years € 48
- Dogs € 16
Reservations can be made in advance (recommended) via their website and/or email email@example.com
As mentioned above, several different tours are also offered and not just the Neuwerk tour, so you can choose other tours to do in the Wadden Sea that may be shorter and fits your needs. Inquire with Gönn dir Watt.
If hiking the Wadden Sea is not your thing, as mentioned earlier, you can also take a horse-drawn carriage or ride horses along the seabed. Unfortunately, I do not have the information for companies to choose from, but they are readily available at Sahlenburg Beach to inquire about if needed, or visit this site for more information on Cuxhaven tours.
I never thought we would ever get the opportunity to hike along a UNESCO World Heritage Site, even better, the mudflat of the North Sea! How cool is that?! I highly recommend this hike! Though it was a long hike, it was worth learning about the sea beds and ecosystem of the North Sea and how important it is to our environment, not to mention, the opportunity to walk along the North Sea. Mr. Lehmann catered to our needs and really made this tour an adventure and one we will never forget. So, go explore the North Sea and walk along the sea bed! You might just find some interesting sea creatures living under the sea bed you have never seen before. Until next time adventurers! Bis zum nächsten Mal Abenteurer!