Experience the Power of Water at Neeltje Jans

Heather Tucker, zondag 21 april 2013

Over 1800 lives lost, 30,000 drowned animals and 47,300 damaged buildings - the 1953 North Sea flood was a major disaster by almost anyone’s standards.

A combination of spring tides, strong winds and storms meant that the dykes in place to protect the Netherlands were washed away almost as easily as a toddlers sandcastle on the beach. Following the storm, the Dutch once again attempted to remove the danger of the sea. Over a period of 30-years the sea inlets that pierced Zeeland’s coast leaving it vulnerable to the North Sea were closed off. One of the most important elements of the Delta Works is the Oosterschelde Stormvloedkering (Eastern Schelde Storm Surge Barrier).

In bad weather the 65 enormous gates can be slammed shut to keep the North Sea out. In times of calm, they remain open to help preserve the inlet’s saltwater shellfish beds and mud flats. The ten-year construction programme to build the barrier was a feat on its own that even required its own artificial island for the main barrier construction elements to be built on. That island, known as Neeltje Jans, is now an educational theme park.

I arrived at Neeltje Jans on a sunny but windy day. The wished for spring wasn’t quite in sight and this was reflected in the empty feel that greeted me at the entrance. While there is an interesting exhibition about the Delta and the protective initiatives put in place there, including a film about the construction of the storm surge barrier, outside is where you want to go in order to truly enjoy the park.

Outside you will find seal and sea-lion shows, a boat trip, a hurricane simulator, a water playground that will have you wishing you were a kid again and a whale exhibition. But what really makes the trip worthwhile is the opportunity to wander through and on the storm surge barrier. Only as you stand above the rushing water feeling slightly dizzy can you really begin to understand what an accomplishment it was to build.

On your way back to the main building, don’t miss the Bluereef Aquarium Zeeland. Despite its relatively small size, the main aquarium is well worth seeing. And if you are brave enough, you can even go in the tank with the sharks (an additional cost applies).

At 22.50 Euros per person (4 years old and above), Neeltje Jans isn’t the cheapest day out and in the height of summer I imagine that it is uncomfortably crowded but at the right time, it makes an interesting visit and the up close and personal experience of the barrier goes a long way towards making up for the cost.
Four tips to make the most out of your Neeltje Jans experience:

  1. Many of the items at Neeltje Jans run on a scheduled basis - for example the boat trip, the animal shows and the hurricane simulator. You’ll want to take a look at the schedule and plan your day around it to make sure that you see everything you want to see.
  2. Neeltje Jans is not open every day during the colder months, so be sure to check the website before you head off to Zeeland.
  3. Parking is plentiful but you do pay for the pleasure.
  4. To ride on the boat you will need to buy a separate ticket. The staff at the ticket desk will ask you if you wish to buy one.