An Ode to Local Adventure

After years of exploring remote and exotic places around the world, adventurer Alastair Humphreys returned to the roots of adventure: his own backyard. In his book Local, he describes how he spent a year discovering the beauty of his immediate surroundings and gained a new appreciation for the nature close to home. His story is an inspiration for everyone to appreciate and protect the wild places in our own neighborhoods.

My First Canoe Trip

I, too, am a big fan of local adventure, although I must admit that sometimes I travel farther than necessary to find a fun canoe trip. My first canoe trip, over twenty years ago, was on the Grote Nete, the small river that flows through my village. Those first five kilometers to the next village were a great adventure, full of obstacles and surprises. The nature I discovered was overwhelming; I saw parts of my surroundings I had never noticed before, and I vividly remember how a startled deer almost jumped into our canoe.

The Kleine Nete

After the Grote Nete, the Kleine Nete quickly followed. Unfortunately, the experience there was less adventurous. In the past, the Kleine Nete was straightened, meanders were filled in, and marshes were drained. These interventions, carried out mainly for economic reasons, had a significant impact on the river’s ecology and its surroundings. The straightening led to accelerated water runoff and drying in the upstream areas, reducing the ecological value of the valley. Additionally, the old dikes along the river, especially in the agricultural area of De Zegge, were subject to erosion, causing them to be almost vertical and, at lower water levels, more than two meters high. The canoeing and nature experience was limited because most of the route felt like paddling through a trench. The beautiful surroundings remained largely hidden.

Renewal and Restoration

Fortunately, much work has recently been done to revitalize the Kleine Nete. In February 2023, the Flemish Environmental Agency (VMM) began dike improvement works as part of the integrated river restoration program for the Kleine Nete. This project is an essential part of the Blue Deal, a program by the Flemish Government to combat drought and water scarcity.

The restoration project included not only strengthening the dikes but also moving them inland to give the river more space and increase its water storage capacity. This project restored the green-blue ribbon along the river and took into account local agricultural interests and historical infrastructure. For canoeists like us, the experience is now optimal again, with plenty of space on the water and a wide view of the surroundings.


In 2023, re-meandering works were also completed in the nature reserve Olens Broek-Langendonk in Herentals and Olen. The Kleine Nete now meanders again through this nature reserve, significantly improving ecological diversity and water storage. This restoration of historical meanders helps create a more natural river system and offers new opportunities for flora and fauna.

Canoeing on the Kleine Nete Today

Today, the Kleine Nete is once again a beautiful place for canoe trips. The river offers not only a serene and picturesque environment but is also ecologically rich with rare fish species and valuable plants. You can start at the watermill in Retie. The next boarding and landing points are at the watermill in Kasterlee, the Ark van Noë in Kasterlee, Bobbejaanland in Kasterlee, Spaans Hof in Herentals, and the watermill in Grobbendonk.

Canoeing on the Kleine Nete at Retie

Tips for a Safe and Sustainable Canoe Trip

  • Paddle between sunrise and sunset.
  • Avoid paddling during very high or very low water levels.
  • Use designated boarding and landing points.
  • Respect nature and avoid damaging plants and animals.
  • Leave no litter and keep the banks clean.
  • Preferably paddle with others for extra safety.
  • Wear a life jacket.

Rediscovering an Old Love

Canoeing on the Kleine Nete was for me a rediscovery of an old love. It is an adventure that once again reminds me of the beauty and importance of nature close to home. With the recent restoration projects, the river now offers even more opportunities for adventurous and ecologically responsible recreation. So why travel further when nature’s beauty is so close? Grab a canoe, explore the winding waterways of the Kleine Nete, and discover the wild beauty that awaits you.

We offer Canoe Trips on the Kleine Nete

Trips are guided and fully outfitted and start for groups from 3 up to a maximum of 8 persons.