Text: Irene Fernandez
Photos: Irene Fernandez, Jeffry Oonk, Daphne Verdoorn.
Last week the European Safari Company spent 24 hours discovering the natural area of the Veluwe in the Netherlands, spotting wildlife and sleeping in a bivouac.
What is a Micro adventure? It is a concept invented by Alastair Humphreys, an English explorer who defined micro-adventure as an outing of a couple of days in nature close by. He called it a “small and achievable adventure for real people with real lives.”
I traveled with our partners from 360º Explore, a Dutch expedition and adventure company that offers, amongst others, micro-adventures in the Netherlands and surroundings. One of their adventures is 24 hours in the Veluwe. The Veluwe is a natural area in Gelderland, The Netherlands, managed by NatuurMonumenten.It has many different landscapes, including woods, heather, and Europe's largest sand drifts.
12.00 Our adventure starts a 12AM at one of the entrances of the park. Our guides Jeffry and Steffan do the introductions and distribute the food and equipment to be carried in our backpacks. They have many years of guiding experience and hold biology degrees.
After a short walk into the park, we sit down in a quiet area to hear about the Veluwe and its importance.
The lands of the Veluwe were never an ideal place to develop agriculture due to the dry soils but during the thirteenth century, a system based on sheep and the use of their excrements for agriculture was developed.
The continuous use of this technique contributed to the erosion of the soil, the disappearance of the woods, and the creation of drift sand. It wasn’t until later that people realized they could make a profit out of the lands through forestry. Due to this new activity, the sheep were taken out of the lands, the drift sands slowly disappeared and the park was full of trees again. In 2001 a project started to restore the landscape of drift sands.
13.00 We stop right in front of an open field for lunch. We sit down for a bit to enjoy the delicious cheese sandwiches our guides prepared. From where we are seated, we can see some horses running across the field.
We walk up and down little hills in the forest. There are puddles where boars bath, and animal scratch marks on the trees. The more we walk the more I get the feeling that we are in the wilderness. Suddenly we start seeing the most beautiful pink and purple colours ahead of us. Heather is in bloom and the Veluwe has unending heather fields of magical colours.
14.30 A strange smell catches our attention and takes us to the remains of a dead animal in the middle of the forest. Only bones are left, the many insects that live in the Veluwe have already taken care of the rest. While we are inspecting this life and death show, one of our guides spots a boar in the vicinity.
Carefully and quietly we walk to a place in the grass where we seat and take our binoculars out. A wild boar and her 4 piglets walk some meters ahead of us. Everybody observes them through the binoculars silently and in amazement. After a while, we break this relaxing and mesmerizing moment to continue walking.
15.00 We hadn't walked much when somebody spots a boar lying under a tree. After further inspection, we get to the conclusion that the animal was not moving and that it was dead. We carefully approach it to take a better look at it. It was very fresh but the flies, worms, and beetles were already starting to do their job in the unstoppable circle of life.
15.30 We continue walking through woods and heather, being silent and minimizing our impact to improve our chances to see wildlife. Along a path by a heather field, we stop for a snack and some water before walking the last kilometers of the day towards our bivouac place deep in nature. On the way, our guide picks up plastic left by other park visitors and talks about the 360º Explore campaign #minus1plastic to pick up the trash others leave in nature and cause a minimal impact on your visit.
16.30 In the last part of the woods before our final destination for the day, we quickly see some roe deer pass by, jumping from the woods to the purple heather and disappearing on the horizon. Some boars and piglets make a quick appearance some meters ahead of us.
During the last part of our walk today, the landscape changes drastically as we exit the woods. Dunes of sand are now in sight.
18.00 Finally we reach an open space between dunes and trees and climb a little hill where we will camp tonight. Camping and making fires are not allowed in the Veluwe but we count with special permission from Natuurmonumenten.
The guiding company donates 250 euros to Natuurmonumenten for every group they travel with. The trip was carefully designed to visit areas normally not acessed by common visitors but at the same time respect other areas where animals cannot be disturbed.
Our accommodation for the night is perhaps one of the most adventurous places where you can sleep, a bivouac. It is a simple tarp tied to two trees and fixed to the ground. We unpack our mattresses and sleeping bags and make a cozy place out of our bivouac.
19.00 Once our sleeping place was all set up we proceeded with making dinner. We counted with several pots and pans, a gas burner, a wood stove and a barbecue. Our guide Jeffry made some tea with ginger, kurkuma, and chaka, a mushroom from Norway with great antioxidant properties. Our dinner consisted of rice with sausage and vegetables, and pita bread with veggie burgers. We stayed out until dark talking about our day and looking at the starts.
21.30 After the long day discovering the Veluwe we go to bed in our cozy bivouac and close our eyes listening to the sounds of nature.
7.00 The rain wakes me up a little earlier than 7 but by the time I get out of the tent is has stopped raining.
We roll up our mattresses and sleeping bags and get ready for a new day in the Veluwe. When you travel light and sleep in such a simple accommodation, packing up and “checking out” is fast and uncomplicated.
8.00 Breakfast is served in our improvised “common room” in the middle of our camping setting. We have different sorts of milk, yogurt, oats, little croissants, and some leftovers from yesterday to make sure nothing goes to waste. We make some tea with the burner and some coffee with a reusable travel coffee filter. We double-check our camping grounds when we leave to make sure nature is left as untouched as we found it.
9.00 After breakfast we start walking back to where we started yesterday. Across the dunes, there is a lonely bull peacefully grazing.
There are many animal tracks in the sand and we wonder if the ones we see might be from the wolf or just from dogs.
We walk in the same woods and heather fields as yesterday but taking different paths and hills. The morning light hits the forest and heather showing all shades of green and pink and purple.
10.00 On the horizon and across fields of heather roe deer run in front of us enjoying their morning peace before tourists arrive at the park.
In complete silence, we observe the deer as they cross the field and disappear into the forest. It is a magical spectacle. Wildlife passes so quickly in front of your eyes that you barely have time to pull out your camera and try to take the perfect shot. The only thing you can do is let this short performance of nature hypnotize you for a few seconds.
On our way back we run into the dead boar again. Nature has claimed it back and big parts of the boar’s body are already missing, feeding some of the insects that will be later eaten by other boars. The circle of life is present everywhere you look.
11.30 Our last pit stop before concluding this adventure is to have lunch under a tree. Bagels that our guides toasted this morning with smoked salmon and pickles. This is a luxury I could easily get used to for further camping trips.
12.00 After a morning of walking through beautiful and varied landscapes full of different colors we arrive where we started. We say goodbye and thank our guides for the amazing past 24 hours. Thanks to their planning and expertise I have experienced the Veluwe in a way no other day visitors do.
This adventure could be booked on our website. Keep posted to find out when is it going to happen again.
In the meantime, we are busy developing new adventures in The Netherlands and Belgium. Follow our social media to keep informed about our new safaris or susbscribe to our newsletter below.
Many thanks to 360 Explore for their hospitality and expertise.