Nature + Free = Dunes
What kind of excursion makes a family with three boys feel good? One in nature and one thats free! Ah, the Loonse en Drunense Duinen National Park is music to my ears. But its a mouthful, right? These loony adjectives describe two small towns bordering the “Dutch Sahara” desert: Loon op Zand and Drunen. Somewhere between these two towns lies 35 square kilometres of the largest sand drift area in Western Europe.
The park is surrounded by pine trees that were planted for harvesting by the wood industry way back in the day. Further to the interior, the huge expanses of fine sand is dotted with clusters of heather growth, moss and lichen patches. I hear August is the time to rock up here as the heather blooms in bright purple and the contrast between the colour and the sand and the blue sky is just majestic.
Camoflage and Drone Wars
The boys were in seventh heaven with all the open space and could run around in any direction without us parents yelling sporadically to “Watch out for cars!” or “Left, right, left!” or “Don’t climb that! You’re wearing your good jacket!”.
We ended up here because it was Daniël’s seventh birthday and his boy phase at the moment is everything army. The house is strewn with crunchy army soldiers, he only wears camo and when he leaves the house his wardrobe includes ammunition and a toy gun stuffed in his backpack. We brainstormed a commando course at the Duinen with him running over obstacles, making a shelter, camoflaging in the brushes and hiding from Dad’s drone attacks. HE. LOVED. IT.
Below is a short video of some of the adventures the boys went on while we were at the Dunes. All we need now is a Nerf attachment on the drone so we can give them something to hide from.
Parking Close to the Sand
Okay, practicalities. We first just entered the park into Google Maps and ended up driving the half an hour, parking at the Kinkaert café parking lot (red arrow on the map below), loading everyone into winter hiking gear, walking 500 metres and then realising we were heading totally in the opposite direction of the park and would have to backtrack to the starting point again and then have to walk 1.7 kilometre through the forest until we hit the sand. Were the kids going to survive such a hike just on the promise of sand? I think not.
Reroute! Everyone out of winter gear, into the car, hands full of snacks, drive another half an hour all the way around the national park, out of the car and into winter gear. And, we’re ready! This is my best advice: If you’re going for the sand with kids, park at the closest point to the sand. This is Bosch en Duin on the map. I’ve made a blue arrow on the picture below. You can grab a hot chocolate and apple tart slice at the café and then you only have to walk a few hundred metres through the forest to the sand break.
If the Kalahari had a Twin
We felt as if we were in Namibia! Even the dead tree logs look like twins of the ones in Sossusvlei. I’ve heard that temperatures in the summer can hit 40° Celsius in this desert. Bregje over at Breg Blogt describes how she grew up going to the Duinen for the day as a mini vacation with sand toys and picnic. Definitely what I’ll remember for next time.
Shrooms, oh Deer
Of the 5250 varieties of mushrooms in the Netherlands, we spotted at least seven of these. Besides the normal bird sightings, this area is home to some birds of prey, deer and badgers. We would’ve loved to spot these…next time! The boys hid inside stick shelters made by visitors before us and climbed every tree on our path. The freedom and the space is definitely the highlight for me.
You do have to keep in mind the toilet restrictions. Once you’ve passed the parking lot, you’re out of facilities, unless you’re a 5-year-old boy, then “every tree is a lava
torytree”. By the time we reached the car after all the frolicking, we had covered a 6.6 kilometre distance. Don’t let the dead ground fool you – this place is BIG.
MTB, Horses and Dogs
If the kids were older, and maybe only a small chunk with our 7-year-old, we would consider the mountain bike trail that circles the park. Mark at Bicycle Dutch does a really nice in-depth report of what the area is like on a bike. I wouldn’t recommend his 41.4 kilometre journey on your first try, but cruising this district in the summer seems like a lovely outing. Oh! And horses! Besides the walking routes and cycling trails, there are also horse paths. Can you hear the cowboy music in the background?
Harvey, our Imaginary Pup
My boys have an imaginary dog at the moment. Harvey. He could come along, I guess. But if you have a real pup, this park is so super dog friendly! They can be off their leash until about one kilometre into the sandy area, then there are signs to have them restrained. What’s really nice is in the “leashed area”, they have poles sticking out of the sand where you can loop them onto while you sit and picnic. This gives you peace of mind that you won’t be covering a possible six extra kilometres just to retrieve your mutt.
Was your Sky as Blue as Mine?
Have you been to the Dunes? Were your highlights the same as mine?