You may not think the Belgian coast needs a new attraction. But it’s got one. And actually it’s a really nice one! It’s the completely renovated Zwin Nature Park in Knokke-Heist.
How to get there
As it’s an eco-park, you are encouraged to take the train. And as it’s located just outside the busy upmarket resort of Knokke-Heist, renowned for its traffic jams of Porsche Cayennes, Bentley Continentals and … golf buggies (yes, residents use their golf buggies to get around town!), that’s a good idea.
So I put this into practice, travelling by train to Knokke station and then catching the hourly bus to Het Zwin.
I could also have purchased a B-Excursion ticket from Belgian Rail which covers the train journey, the bus connection and the entry ticket. Despite it being a Saturday morning in July, I was the only passenger on the bus! I just couldn’t decide where to sit!
What is Het Zwin?
Basically it’s loads of mud, tons of sand, and hectares of grass.
But if you sprinkle it with the magic ingredient of seawater twice a day, you get a wonderful ecosystem full of tasty, squirmy, wriggly things that birds can’t get enough of. Which makes it an important stopover for thousands of migrating ducks, geese, waders, gulls and terns, quite a few of which stay to make babies. And it’s therefore a great place to build a Nature Park to show off the local birdlife to visitors, young and old.
The last time I visited (the old) Het Zwin Nature Park, I ended up writing a none too positive blog post of it (remember my rant about wild birds in cages?), so I was curious to see what had changed.
In a word — everything!
There’s a spanking brand new visitor centre, for example.
It’s a huge barn-like wooden structure with all kinds of interactive displays, exhibits, panels, slide shows, movies, models … all to do with migrating birds.
I just had to flash the chip on my entrance ticket at various screens to get information relating to a specific bird that I was allocated (the pied avocet).
So after an hour I knew absolutely everything about the pied avocet – and lots of other birds, and the wonderful mystery of migration.
But I hadn’t seen an actual live bird yet.
But that was about to change, because when I’d had enough of flashing my chip, I went on the outdoor trail.
It led me to seven themed huts. The first one was called the Feeding Hut.
Upon entering it, I got a real surprise. The visitor centre had been hyper-interactive, but the Feeding Hut took interactivity up yet another notch. Or did it take it down a notch? Because there was something very Olde Worlde Interactive: a real, live person!
Yes, each hut had its own resident, interactive nature expert, who in a very warm and friendly manner explained what you could see in the hut.
The Feeding Hut had a big one-way mirror, just like in police stations (so I’ve heard!). So we could see the finches, tits and woodpeckers feeding on the nut holders, while they couldn’t see or hear us.
In the Laboratory Hut someone was on hand to hand out nets to swoop into a pond, and then help us identify all the bugs, larvae and little fishes we had caught.
In the Observation Hut, powerful telescopes were set up to look out over the mudflats.
And yes, someone was there too, pointing out what to see. I saw my pied avocet! But even better, a whole flock of spoonbills, which you don’t often see in Belgium.
There is also a Stork Tower.
From the top you look down into a stork’s nest.
And a sleepy storklet!
After finishing the trail through the park, I then took a very pleasant circular walk around the Zwin plain.
I was impressed by the new Zwin Nature Park. It’s very child-friendly too, with an activity playground in case the kids still have some energy left.
Should you want to spend the whole day there, the self-service cafÃ© on-site or the more upmarket bistro should fill your tummies. Or you can take your sarnies and eat them on the picnic terrace.
Tickets on the door cost 12 EUR for adults and 5 EUR for children aged 6 to 17. Online reductions are possible. It’s open every day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. throughout the summer.
Let me know how you get on there!