The Delta Works (Dutch: Deltawerken) are a series of constructions built between 1950 and 1997 in the southwest of the Netherlands, to protect a large area of land around the Rhine-Meuse-Scheldt delta from the sea. The works consist of dams, sluices, locks, dikes, and storm surge barriers. Along with the Zuiderzee Works, they have been declared one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers.
The estuaries of the Rhine, Meuse and Scheldt have been subject to flooding for centuries. After construction of the Afsluitdijk in the north of the country completed in 1933, the Netherlands started studying the damming of the Rhine-Meuse Delta. Plans were developed to turn the delta into a group of freshwater lakes. New dams, sluices, and storm surge barriers would be built to shorten the coastline, thus reducing the number of dikes that had to be raised. Due to indecision and World War II, little progress was made. In 1950 two small estuary mouths, the Brielse Gat near Brielle and the Botlek near Vlaardingen were dammed. Then the flood of 1953 (Watersnoodramp) took place. In the night of Saturday 31 January 1953 and the morning of 1 February 1953, a heavy storm caused a storm tide. Nearly 2,000 people died in the flood and there was widespread property damage, mostly in the province of Zeeland.
As a result, the Delta Works Commission was installed to research the causes and develop measures to prevent such disasters in future. They revised some of the old plans and came up with the Deltaplan. The plan consisted of blocking the estuary mouths of the Oosterschelde, the Haringvliet and the Grevelingen. This reduced the length of the dikes exposed to the sea by 700 km (430 mi). The mouths of the Nieuwe Waterweg and the Westerschelde were to remain open because these were used as important shipping routes to the ports of Rotterdam and Antwerp. The dikes along these waterways were to be heightened and strengthened. New road and waterway instructure would be built alongside the Deltaworks to stimulate the economy of Zeeland and improve the connection between the ports of Rotterdam and Antwerp.
Plans for a coastline construction had been suggested long before, and small steps had been taken, but it was the 1953 flood that led to the rapid development of the Delta Works. With the Delta Works in place, disastrous floods like the one in 1953 should occur no more than once every 4,000 years. In total, the Delta Works are the largest storm barrier in the world and have served as an example to many similar projects all over the world.
The Delta Works consists of structures that are scattered over Zeeland and South Holland. To explore them, you can stay the night in Rotterdam or one of the other larger destinations in area, hire a car there and then drive out to some of these structures, while also taking in some of Zeeland's endless flat vistas. The Oosterscheldekering and the Maeslantkering are the most interesting attractions to visit, and while driving, you can lay out a route over some of the other dams and dykes.
To go directly to the Deltapark Neeltje Jans, coming from the Randstad, take either the Rotterdam-Beneluxtunnel or the Brienenoordbridge. Then, take direction Zierikzee over the A15-A29-N59. After Zierikzee follow direction Burgh-Haamstede and take exit Westenschouwen/Middelburg (N57). You should follow the signs towards Neeltje Jans and then the signs to Deltapark. The N57 is one of the main roads, connecting several of the dams and leading along the Deltapark Neeltje Jans. If you're using a navigation system to get to the Deltapark, set it on "Faelweg, in Vrouwenpolder".
The Deltapark is well-reachable by public transport in summer, but there are limited services in winter. Take a train to Middelburg and from there, take bus line 133. The whole trip should take 2 to 2,5h one way, from Rotterdam.
It's possible to drive over the Delta Works by car, to get an idea of the massive nature of the structure. At the Haringvliet Expo and Deltapark Neeltje Jans you'll find all kinds of information about the different elements of the construction and it's possible to see part of the dams from the inside.
- Deltapark Neeltje Jans (formerly Delta Expo) (from Rotterdam, follow the A15 towards Europoort. Take exit 12 to Brielle/Middelburg/N57. Follow the N57 and after 10 km you will reach the Haringvlietdam. Keep on following the N57 and you will cross the Brouwersdam, and after 20 km more the Oosterschelde storm surge barrier. Neeltje Jans is indicated there). 1 Apr-6 Nov 10:00-17:30 daily. The Deltapark Neeltje Jans is the most common entry point into the Delta Works, and if you're going to pick just one of the Delta Works points, this is probably your best bet. It's a theme park that goes beyond the storm surge barriers alone. There's an abundance of information about the history, construction and design of the Delta Works as a whole, and an opportunity to see the one of the barriers from the inside. The so-called "Delta-exposition" gives an overview of 2000 years of water works in the Netherlands and of course focusses on the Delta Works construction. The exposition about the dramatic 1953 flood that inspired the whole construction leaves a lasting impression and there's another fine exhibition dealing with whales, including a 22 meter whale skeleton. For children, there's a fun water park and some great slides. The "hurricane-machine" gives an idea of the power of wind and there's the skeleton of Max the Mammoth, who once lived here, to admire. There's seals and sharks to see, as well as other colourful fish and corals in the Bluereef aquarium. €21.
- Expo Haringvliet, Haringvlietplein 3, Stellendam, ☎ +31 187 499-913. This is mainly a nice place for having a drink while getting the best view over the Haringvlietdam. You can also see a film and some pictures about the 1953 flood. €5.
- Maeslantkering, Havennummer 882, Hoek van Holland, ☎ +31 174 511-222. M-F 10:00-16:00, Sa-Su, hols, 11:00-17:00. Officially opened as recently as 1997, this storm surge barrier is one of the largest moving structures in the world. The free visitor's centre, het Keringhuis, does not just explain the history of the Maeslantkering, but also deals with the wider context of Dutch water management. Several times per day, guided tours are provided for 4€ per person (most are in Dutch, some in English). Check the website for time and reservations. Once a year (usually in September), the barrier is tested. On that day, the place might relatively crowded, but it's also possible to see the barrier from the top of the dune next to it. Free.
- Oosterscheldekering (near the Deltapark Neeltje Jans). The Oosterscheldekering is one of the most impressive storm surge barriers in the region. The first plan aimed to place a dam here and close off the water behind it completely from the sea, turning the water into a freshwater lake. The project started with the creation of a couple of artificial islands in the 1960s and in 1973 about 5 km of the projected 9 km were dammed. Then, environmentalists and the fishery sector started protesting as the dams would cause environmental harm and destroy the local mussel and oyster industry. The project went back to the drawing board, and with a national cabinet crisis looming, it was decided that the remaining 4 km would become an open storm surge barrier that only closes when needed. It was opened on 4 October 1986 by Queen Beatrix.
- Walk or cycle up to the Oosterscheldekering, especially when it's very windy (7 bft or more).
- Spend a day at the Deltapark Neeltje Jans. Especially with kids, there're plenty of fun activities around to fill a day's out. Watch an earless seal show at the park, or even join the animals for a swim. It takes a serious fee or €55, but swimming (under professional guidance) with the seals in the park is a pretty special experience. For an even bigger thrill, opt for a swim session with the sharks.
- At the Deltapark, you can hop on a boat for a seal-spotting trip through the neighbouring Oosterschelde National Park.
Eat, drink, sleep
The visitor's centres are all meant as day trip destinations and there's no accommodation available in any of them. There's plenty of places to stay in the many towns, though. Renesse, Middelburg, Vlissingen and Hellevoetsluis are just a few of the most popular destinations in the region, and all have plenty of lodging and camping opportunities. Check the destination guides for individual listings.
The same goes for bars and restaurants, and for dinner you're best of in one of the towns. At the Haringvlietdam and in Deltapark Neeltje Jans there are however restaurants that serve lunch.
- Restaurant Deltapark Neeltje Jans, Faelweg 5, Vrouwenpolder (In the Deltapark). The theme park restaurant has a nice view and serves simple but good lunch dishes. On request, they cater (also dinner) for larger groups of 20 or more people.
It's logical to use Rotterdam or Antwerp as a base and spending the night there. If you want to see more of the region, you can visit the towns Middelburg, Zierikzee Veere,and Vlissingen on Walcheren.