AFTER a high speed rib boat ride across the Wadden Sea off the north coast of the Netherlands, the skipper suddenly cuts the engine and says: "OK this is where you all jump out."

At first we thought he must be joking because we were literally in the middle of nowhere, many miles from any of the islands we'd previously seen on the map.

But then our two guides armed with 2 metre long poles leapt out over the side of the boat into waist high water and gestured for us to follow them. (Apparently the poles are multipurpose – used for testing water depth or for carrying a stretcher!)

This certainly wasn't what I was expecting when we were told we were going mudflat walking. Until this trip, I never knew it was even a thing. The term mudflat walking is clearly a bit of a misnomer though – and to think I was worried about whether my footwear was waterproof!

At least the water was warm and it wasn't long before we had waded across to the mudflats and were skirting our way round to an island called Schiermonnikoog.

We were told that this is a UNESCO World Heritage Site – one of the world's last tidal regions which provides a unique foraging area for a wide range of wildlife from sea birds to seals.

But it's the sheer remoteness and silence that's so surreal. You can literally see for miles around in every direction under an endless expanse of sky.

What followed was a 15k trek with our guides stopping every half an hour or so to make sure we had something to eat and drink, or to point out creatures that usually lurk beneath the waves including some of the biggest oysters I've ever seen to some of tiniest sea snails. There was also an abundance of birdlife including the appropriately named Spoonbills.

And this was just one of the many activities that we packed into our Off Track weekend trip in June. We cycled part of the Kiek over Diek, a 90k cycle track that takes you along the coast from Lauwersoog to Nieuwe Statenzil, and took a jeep safari through Lauwersmeer National Park.

Apparently when the Lauwers Sea was closed off in 1969, it created this beautiful nature reserve famed for its rugged open landscape, green grasslands, reed beds and marshy bogs. An abundance of tiny seashells along the trailways is the only evidence that this place used to be at the bottom of the sea. We also saw Konik horses, Highland cattle and a variety of water birds – the famed white-tailed eagle managed to elude us though.

On the first night we experienced the Lauwersmeer Park sunset cruise. All the light fixtures in the reserve have been specially adjusted to cause as little light pollution as possible so you get a stunning view of the night sky and constellations.

The following night we had the chance to sleep under this big sky at the Wadden dyke. We were kitted out with camp beds, head torches and blankets and then invited to pick a spot!

All in all this part of the Netherlands was a real revelation. Until now, I tended to think of this area as being rather flat and featureless but by contrast it's a wildlife haven and full of surprises.

The big benefits of the flat landscape are effortless cycling and great vistas as you can see for miles in every direction.

It's easily accessible too – just a 30-minute drive from the bustling, cosmopolitan city of Groningen and just over an hour's flight from London (see details below).

And finally if you enjoy fine food, we visited a variety of superb restaurants along the way including fresh, sustainably sourced fish at De Voormalige Noorman and a Middle Eastern themed feast at a quirky village cafe called Wongema.


We flew with Flybe from London Southend to Groningen Airport Eelde.

There are daily flights with only 40 minutes before flight check-in (so no time wasting at the airport) and rapid security clearance.

From plane to parking/taxi is 10 minutes.

Groningen Airport Eelde is just a ten minute journey to the city centre.

London Southend is closer than you think, it's a 45 minutes to the airport from London city centre by rail.

Tickets from £35/€39 (one way).