My beginnings with scuba diving are surprisingly linked to Belgium. After a few trips in Thailand, Egypt and Mexico, this is where I organised a gathering of dive travel addicts from all over Europe. This event with its cultural mix and passion for scuba diving from every attendee profoundly inspired the first articles on this blog. I went back 2 years later and as Brussels is only 1h15 away by high-speed train from Paris, I felt it was time to go back for an underwater pilgrimage. Except for this time, my friends from Brussels suggested adding a twist to that trip by going scuba diving in the Netherlands.
“Let’s go diving to Zeeland!”
“Ok, ok, so you’re telling me that we are going to dive beginning of October, after a 2h30 drive from Brussels, bringing our dry suits and tanks which means we need a car for 2, in the middle of the Dutch countryside, with potentially such a bad visibility that a buddy line is needed?… I’m in!”
Unlimited shore diving in the Netherlands
I heard many times from Belgian friends about the diving in Zeeland, but every time I was looking for information, it was almost impossible to know exactly where and how to organise it. Of all the books I have at home, only one is mentioning it. That was already enough for me to want to fix that.
One of my Brussels’ friends, is so addicted to scuba diving that sometimes he can drive, with his dive buddy after work, the 2h30 distance to Zeeland for a night dive before going back home! Lucky me, I could count on the guidance of a local expert to understand where to go, how to enjoy the dive sites and bring delicious Belgian beers for the evening!
What if I tell you the dive sites in Zeeland, this beautiful region of South Netherlands, made of islands lower than the sea level (the famous polders, representing 15% of the territory in the Netherlands) have been perfectly organised for the leisure of scuba divers, including large parking spaces, restrooms, rinsing zones and even on demand compressors available 24/7 which allows you to fill up your tank any time for as little as 1 to 2€. This is almost making Netherlands the cheapest place I ever dived! I must say the possibility to go for as many dives as you can per day really attracted me in the first place.
The islands of Zeeland are below sea level. It means all-around them you will see dykes that you need to climb up, fully equipped, to get access to the piers (fitness training anyone?). If you want to take it easy, I would suggest first equip your tank with your BDC and regulator, bring it to the bottom of the stairs, and then only, put your wetsuit (if you’re brave) or your dry suit (like I did) on.
Beginning of October, the water wasn’t that cold, but 14°C, sorry, I don’t do wetsuits anymore below 18°C. Especially since my air consumption considerably dropped in the last past year, I tend to stay underwater for a while as I’m taking pictures and videos, I don’t want the cold to be the reason I call the dive. Water in summer can reach around 18°C, so a wetsuit or a drysuit is really up to you.
My scuba diving weekend from Belgium to the Netherlands
All my dives were on the north shore of the island of Shouwen-Duiveland, the northernmost island of the province of Zeeland. Scuba diving in Zeeland is going to be a fantastic experience if you’re into marine biology and underwater photography. Visibility can be as poor as 50cm in green water, but if you’re lucky like me, with a visibility up to 10m, you can take fabulous pictures of the local wildlife, with a green background. Dive sites are rarely deeper than 10-15m and water is at a refreshing temperature of 14°C in early autumn. You can do it with a wetsuit, like most of the Dutch people I saw diving there, but I can tell you I enjoyed wearing my drysuit!
The program of my weekend between Belgium and the Netherlands:
- On Friday night, I arrived by train from Paris to Belgium
- On Saturday morning, I rented a car for 2 days and I went for a morning dive at Nemo 33 before renting my tank and weights at a dive shop nearby.
- On Saturday afternoon and evening, I did my first dive in Dreischor and after dinner, I went for a night dive in Den Osse
- On Sunday morning, we went for a dive in Scharendijke
- On Sunday afternoon, before driving back to Brussels, I went for some sightseeing in two charming villages on the island of Shouwen-Duiveland: Brouwershaven & Dreischor.
- I took my train back in the evening around 9 pm after a few more delicious Belgian beers in Brussels.
Scuba diving in Dreischor
My first dive site happened to be my favourite one in the end. We arrived around 3 pm and it took us about 30 minutes to be ready. It was important not to delay too much as we didn’t want to do a night dive for this one, at this time of the year you need to watch sunset time. After walking from the parking fully equipped with my dry suit, 8kg of lead, my tank and my camera, I was honestly delighted to jump into 14°C water. Weather was nice, sometimes cloudy, sometimes sunny, but I was sweating so much after the climb of the dyke. Once in the water, we got two big surprises: water was really clear and full of tiny jellyfish (not stingy ones), but green as expected.
With visibility between 5 to 10m, I had all the leisure of to explore easily the reef balls (artificial reef) located from 7m to 10 m deep and take really good shots from a distance with my dive buddies in the background. This was completely unexpected.
In this green water, it was so much fun to look for all the local marine wildlife, the many crabs and lobsters are easy to find, but you will need good eyes to spot the nudibranchs and pipefishes. The pillars of the jetty at the end of the dive offer great underwater photos opportunities as they are covered in mussels and sea anemones.
Diving in Zeeland almost never includes deep diving: I stayed for 45 minutes and my maximum depth was 13m. Dreschor was my favourite dive site in Zeeland and it could be added to the list of the best diving in Europe.
Scuba diving in Den Osse
After my positive experience of the afternoon, I was happy somebody else of our team was motivated for a night dive at Den Osse. It was my 1st night dive in Europe: I was so eager to see what was going on in the dark!
I wasn’t disappointed, on the shallow bottoms of Den Osse, covered in oyster shells, I saw a few enormous lobsters walking on the seafloor: it was a first for me! Huge edible crabs were also out and many flounders were “sliding” in all directions in the sand. At the end of the dive, I was lucky a pink shrimp decided to stay with me for a while for a great underwater portrait.
Visibility was still decent with 5 to 10 m, and I didn’t go deeper than 10 m. Once more our dive time was 45 minutes.
Scuba diving in Scharendijke
The next morning, we headed to the Marina of Scharendijke, for a deeper dive on a wreck. Zeeland is not all about muck diving, even if it mostly is, you can vary the pleasures. Unfortunately, on that site, the visibility was not the same than in Den Osse and Dreischor the day before. I think it was about 50cm! I don’t think I ever had such terrible conditions in Scotland.
We immersed ourselves a first time to find the wreck based on compass orientation, but it didn’t work, we had to ascend again and swim to a buoy that was closer to it. On our second attempt we first found a few reef balls where we found a beautiful nudibranch, but because of the poor visibility, it was simply impossible to take any good picture.
The small shipwreck, the “Zeehond” is not the most exciting shipwreck I dived but it was loaded with marine fauna. I discovered with pleasure a few butterfish like in Scotland. I was doing my best to take some scenic shots of the crabs with the wreck in the background but the poor visibility played against me. Still, I was still happy I got fairly good conditions the day before, as I wasn’t expecting anything good at all in Zeeland. I was actually happy that I got this low visibility on the second day to appreciate how challenging diving in Zeeland can be at times and at the same how much rewarding it is.
On this dive, my maximum depth was 29,6m and we stayed underwater for 45 minutes.
Windmill photo-hunting in Brouwershaven & Dreischor
I couldn’t leave the Netherlands without a few shots of windmills, they are so pretty! So I agreed to my co-pilot to go photo-hunting for them in the countryside of Shouwaven-Duiveland. The landscape is so flat that you can’t drive long before spotting one. After looking at a map, there is one in almost every village.
Beyond my windmills photo hunt, I discovered some of the most charming villages I got to visit in Europe. The tiny cobblestone streets, the colourful houses, the flowered gardens, everything was so perfect! So perfect that I couldn’t help thinking that it should be tiring to keep up such a level of perfection! Dutch people usually don’t put curtains on their windows, so people can check how perfectly arranged everything is inside too. My friend asked, “Do you think this is the display room? And they actually live behind, in a real room?”. Don’t take me wrong, I marvelled at it.
On top of this, we had such wonderful Indian summer weather with a bright blue sky so everything looked even more gorgeous. For sure, if you can dedicate a bit of time at the end of your weekend to visit one or two villages you’ll end it perfectly. To complete your Dutch experience, don’t forget as a treat going shopping for the best “stroopwafels” (thin caramel waffles) or taste a freshly cooked “apfel pannenkoeken” (apple pancakes) in a restaurant specialised in them.
For information, Brouwershaven and Dreischor are the two closest villages from the dive sites, so don’t miss this opportunity!
Where to stay in Zeeland?
To complete this adventure, I couldn’t think of a better place than a campsite in a beautiful natural site. If you’re really into the mood you can bring all your camping gear, but if, like us, you already bring tanks and dry suits, high chances are you’ll be glad to know that comfy mobile homes and cabins are available too at Den Osse Camping.
The campsite is only 5 minutes driving away from the dive site of Den Osse, ideal for a night dive like I did. Scharendijke is only 10 minutes away and Dreischor 20 minutes away. All the mobile homes, cabins and tent sites are nicely spread between the trees and 2 ponds where a few families of ducks enjoy hanging around.
We were staying in a charming wooden cabin that can host 5 persons, it was very simple inside but very convenient: one sleeping area for everyone, a small kitchen with a gas stove and fridge, and a dining table. We also had plenty of space outside to let our drysuits drip dry.
It was camping without the hassles of bringing everything. The staff of Den Osse camping even provided a small heater for when the temperature dropped at night. The common facilities for showers and washing-up are impeccable, practical and heated (which after a night dive I was absolutely grateful for). So all you need to bring is a sleeping bag and some food and drinks.
The cost of our cabin was only 70€ per night, so as we were 5, it was only 14€ per night per person.
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