STARGAZING IN AMELAND -WAD ISLANDS – THE NETHERLANDS
Enjoy sensational views, the perfect night sky, and other delights on an island in the Wadden Sea
The last time I was able to see countless stars and the Milky Way was over a year ago. For this to happen, I had to make my way to the middle of the South American Andes. Why? Well, as we all know, spotting such a detailed starry sky in Belgium is a rarity. This country, and Flanders in particular, has a lot of street lamps and other lighting elements, so we almost never get to enjoy a pure and twinkling spread overhead. For a perfectly dark sky that guarantees bright stars, we have to go to our northern neighbors.
And so I went to Friesland.
I started by exploring the mainland in Franeker and then made my way to Ameland, one of the five inhabited islands in the Wadden Sea. Here, you can spot countless stars without being bothered by light pollution. With my camera and tripod carefully stowed in my backpack, I set off for the ultimate ‘Discover the Dark’ experience.
The first stop, Franeker, didn’t disappoint in the slightest.
Photo by TravelRebel Siemon Vanderhulst
The oldest planetarium in the world
I began my adventure with a wonderful lunch at Hert fan Frjentsjer in the former Bethel Church of Franeker. While I munched on delicious local cheeses and other Frisian specialties, astronomical journalist Govert Schilling told more about the beauty of darkness and the stars. I was already enthusiastic about the night and hoped fervently for a beautiful clear sky that would show me the Milky Way.
Over time, Franeker has become the home of Dutch astrology. This is due to Eise Eisinga, a gifted amateur astronomer who built the oldest working planetarium in his living room. Back then, it was claimed that the Earth would be thrown out of its orbit by a collision with the moon and Eisinga wanted to prove the contrary. So, in 1781, he finished his impressive planetarium, which still works incredibly accurately to this day. Oh, and it’s not just the planetarium you should visit but also the house in which he lived!
There’s so much else to see and do in Franeker as well. Explore the Korendragershuisje, the town hall, the many small boutiques, and the many other interesting hotspots that will make for a wonderful afternoon.
The boat to Ameland
There are no connecting roads between the Dutch mainland and the Wadden Islands, so you have to travel by boat. Depending on the type of boat you choose, you’ll get to Ameland in twenty to fifty minutes.
The idea of being on an island completely isolated from the mainland immediately gave me a special holiday feeling. And upon arrival in Ameland, that unique feeling only got stronger.
During the summer months, it can be quite busy on the Wadden Islands. You can spot seals here and that brings a lot of tourists with it. Therefore, I was quite happy that it was already autumn and we didn’t have to deal with those crowds. Ameland radiates so much peace that it makes you calm, quiet and introspective. The wavy dune landscape with the sea in the background looks like a living painting. And here’s the icing on the cake: a perfect red and white striped lighthouse still shining like a jewel. Needless to say, I only needed two minutes to fall in love with this small island.
Out in the Wadden Sea
Soon, we went to The Sunset Beach Club for an aperitif and some snacks. With such a stunning view of the water, fish and seafood could not be missed. The sun gradually descended into the horizon, so it was time to set out.
Experience the blue hour on Ameland beach and then dive further into the darkness along the woods. While the blue sky provided a beautiful reflection on the water, the guide told us more about life on Ameland. Living on an island with fewer than four thousand inhabitants creates a tight-knit community, almost like a family, although the residents of Hollum and residents of Nes are often strangers to each other.
From the beach and the dunes, you end up in the middle of the forest in merely a few minutes, and this too is quite a distinct, special feeling. Interestingly, the trees here were deliberately planted to separate the beach from the villages and to attract animals. Ponds were even made to provide plants, trees and animals with fresh water.
Stunning lighthouse views
The end of our walk had another nice surprise in store: climbing the lighthouse! This photogenic giant on the island is a real eye catcher and gracefully casts rays of light all over Ameland. Do take note that some physical agility is required because there are quite a few stairs that you need to climb before reaching the top… but it’s more than worth it! You’ll be rewarded with mighty views of Ameland, the Wadden Sea and even Terschelling in the distance. When we were there, a strong wind blew through our hair, but it didn’t bother us at all. We basked in the beauty and serenity of it all.
The perfect sky of Ameland
After the walk, we went back to The Sunset Beach Club for the second part of our meal and then made our way to the beach again. By now, it was really dark and therefore a perfect time to look at the sky. Even though the weather forecasts were not promising, we got lucky. The clouds drifted nicely apart and a majestic starry sky spread over us. And yes, the Milky Way shone, too, among the thousands of bright celestial bodies around it.
Afterwards, I dove into my bed like a very happy toddler.
Among the galloping horses
After a good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast buffet at Hotel van Heeckeren, there was one more exciting activity left on the program: an eco-safari through the Kooiduinen nature reserve. With electric cars, we drove through the dune landscape alongside numerous free-roaming animals. We easily spotted different kinds of birds, cows, sheep, and even horses that just galloped by in herds. After the dunes, we also crossed through wide plains along the sea. The weather was not so good on this day but, once again, that did not bother us. With well-buttoned jackets and a shelter above our heads, it turned out to be a great experience that I will not soon forget.
A hot chocolate by the fireplace at Grand Café van Heeckeren was the perfect cap to an amazing stay in Ameland. What a memorable adventure, indeed!
If you plan to visit Ameland soon, do let us know how it goes. Trust me, you won’t regret it!