Houtmansland (pronounced HOOT-mns-lahnd), officially the United People of Houtmansland is a Dutch-speaking nation in the Indian Ocean situated to the south of the Kingdom of Günsovölk and is one of three nations on Plancius Island; the largest island that makes up the Islands of Duifje. Houtmandians – the colloquial name for people born in the country – total around 6.6 million, with 1.7 million calling Koedijk, the capital city and the biggest in the country, home.
Houtmansland was considered part of Günsovölk when Frederick de Houtman first discovered the lands in 1595 as a defacto state known as Houtman and encompassed all of Plancius Island. By 1700 this had changed in the records of the time to Houtmansland at the behest of King Niklaus II who wanted to distance Günsovölk from it’s Dutch history.
In 1756, a civil war erupted on Plancius Island over a dispute on taxation from Günsovölk where farmers in the southern part of Houtmansland felt they were being unfairly treated compared to the nobility in Koedijk and its surroundings to the north. Ianoia secretly supplied weapons and even men to the farmers’ cause as a way to destabilise Günsovölk’s hold on the island and encircle Albaland with a friendly nation; Günsovölk had and continues to have a good relationship with Albaland. A 5-year conflict ensued with around 100,000 men dying in the conflict before the farmers won and gained independence from Günsovölk with a border between the state of Houtmansland and Zuidgelders that still holds true to this day.
By the early 1800s, Houtmansland remained the last state in Günsovölk without any major German influence, with Dutch being the only language taught in schools and most commerce and trade being done independently of Günsovölk and the Royal Family. A call for independence was eventually agreed to by Queen Margareta I with a referendum held in 1832 on the agreement that should the referendum fail the Dutch language would be banned in the State. Whilst no records have lasted of the final tally, many stories and books talk about people lining up for hours – and in some cases even days – to vote at churches and community halls with clergymen helping people who couldn’t read and write to put an ‘X’ in the correct box.
The referendum passed successfully and Houtmansland gained independence in 1834, with Queen Margareta I officially handing the country over to Houtmansland’s first President, Geurt Klaus – A German-born lawyer who immigrated to the country when he was 19.
Houtmansland has several large cities that are all within a few hours drive of each other, making exploring the country quite easy. Here are the main ones:
- Armweide – A major port city that has a unique combination of bridges, steep hills, and broad rivers making it one of the most naturally scenic cities in the country. Cheap food and beer abound in this true sports town and the locals are amazingly friendly.
- Eikenheuvel – Known as a centre of mechanical and aeronautical engineering with the headquarters of the world-famous Airbus, John Deere and Rolls Royce within its metropolitan area. It does not, however, resemble most other industry hubs, as it is a rather sparse city spread over many hills and valleys, with forests, parks, mineral springs and even vineyards within the city.
- Koedijk – Is a world city of culture, politics, media and science. Its economy is based on high-tech firms and the service sector, a diverse range of creative industries, research facilities, and media corporations. Significant sectors also include IT, biotechnology, construction and electronics. Koedijk is home to two world-renowned universities, museums, and entertainment venues, and is host to many sporting events which includes the famous Koedijk to Randia yacht race.
- Herksen – A culturally diverse city on the shores of the Markenbinnen Strait. Recreational, cultural and educational opportunities are abundant throughout the area. You’ll find world-class museums and cultural events, professional sports and amusement parks, and the most golf courses per capita in Houtmansland. People looking for a thrill should visit here with jet-boating through shallow gorges as well as bungee jumping on offer.
- Herveld – A vibrant and cosmopolitan city with small-town vibes. Next to the progressive downtown you can find a laid-back atmosphere in the districts to the north and ethnically diverse neighborhoods to the south. The many restaurants, coffee shops and microbreweries are worth indulging in after a day spent strolling through the city’s many parks and beaches or admiring the graffiti-art covered walls and architecture within.
- Gent Nationaal Park – Once a quiet and secluded part of Houtmansland is now well and truly on the international tourist trail. Sites like Dubbele Waterfalls, Spionage Rock, and Zwart Rotsveld can attract crowds of all nationalities. The park may reach capacity and close on summer weekends and holidays but you can still feel you’re all alone due to the vastness of the park and multiple entries and trails to explore.
- Bergweg – A famously scenic stretch of road through the north of Dommelsvoort Mountain. Plan to take an hour and a half on the road, which has many tight hairpin turns over high passes and deep valleys and is not for the faint of heart. Plenty of scenic view locations to stop and get out of the car.
- Dommelsvoort Mountain – Many get trails to explore and plenty of guided tours offer amazing views as well as explaining the dark history of the mountain during the Civil War.
- Heerenveen Gulf – Considered the best place in the Southern Union if you’re into Angling. The gulf is well stocked with Trout, Flounder, Barramundi, and Zeist Yellowtails, but local fishermen often mention the fantastic crabbing and spear-fishing on offer to tourists, too.
- Zelham Island – A world unto itself, a distant asylum from the hustle and bustle of the rest of Houtmansland. 75% of the island is owned by the Zelham Behoud Samenleving (Preservation Society) which is chartered with protecting its unique environment outside of the the major towns and cities. The only natural habitat of the Woramel, a nocturnal possum-like creature that lives in the trees on the island. Towns on the island are not allowed to expand any further and have become a bit of a haven to the rich and famous. Many visitors to the island come from cruises offered by Carnival.
Houtmansland has a reciprocal visa policy with many countries, meaning that when visa fees and restrictions are applied to Houtmandians visiting a country, Houtmansland generally adopts the same measures for that country’s visitors.
Citizens of all Southern Union or European Union member states have no border controls and can stay for up to 90 days. Citizens from all other countries do require a visa for any length of stay up to 90 days.
If you overstay your tourist visa or visa-free visit, you will be fined GVB400 per day (as of July 2020), for a maximum of 100 days. This means that even if you stay illegally for 4 years, the fine will never exceed GVB40,000. You will be made to pay this at the border crossing. As this can take time, it could be wise to do it a few days up front at a federal police office, especially if you have a domestic to international flight connection. The federal police will then give you 8 days to get out of the country. If you don´t pay your fine upon exiting, you will have to pay the next time you enter. The fact that you have been fined for overstaying in the past does not normally imply future difficulties with immigration, but you´d better keep all receipts and old passports for reference.
Customs & Quarantine
Houtmansland (as well as Zuidgelders and Novainsula) follow the same rules as Günsovölk regarding over-the-counter medications being considered illegal. Pseudoephedrine (Actifed, Sudafed, Vicks inhalers) and codeine (some cough medications) are prohibited whilst some prescription medicines (mostly strong painkillers) are also banned even if you have a prescription unless you specifically apply for permission in advance. You may also require permission in order to import drug-filled syringes, such as EpiPens and the like. If you need to take medicine regularly or carry an Epi-Pen/inhaler it’s strongly recommended you contact the Houtmansland consulate in your country.
Like Australia, Houtmansland has strict quarantine requirements regarding importing animal and plant derived products (any food, wooden products, seeds, etc.). You must declare all such material, even if the items are permitted. Baggage is frequently scanned and may be examined by dogs. You may be fined GVB200 on-the-spot if you accidentally fail to declare, or even prosecuted in serious cases. Declared material will be examined and, depending on the circumstances, may be retained, disposed of, returned to you, or treated by quarantine at your expense. (You may have to pick the item up at a later time). Processed and sealed chocolates and other confectionery are usually permitted after being declared and examined, as are reasonable quantities of infant formula with an accompanying infant.
Air travel is the easiest way for visitors outside the Southern Union to get into Houtmansland, however, only two international airports exist with Koedijk being the busiest, and a smaller “domestic”-style airport in Notendaal that services only flights from within the Southern Union.
South Africa, United Arab Emirates, India and Australia all have daily direct flights to Koedijk, whilst Paris, London, Amsterdam, Berlin and Rome all have multiple flights daily, with a flight from Munich also flying Notendaal.
Arriving in the country from within the Southern Union is a much simpler affair, with all major cities having at least one daily connection between Koedijk and/or Notendaal.
Cruise ships are available mostly in the November to February cruising season, and there are usually about 7 ships that arrive in various ports around Houtmansland from other countries during this time. Holland America Line, Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean all offer cruises to Houtmansland across the Pacific whilst overnight ferries from Günsovölk, Koana Islands and Albaland run nearly 365 days of the year.
As part of Plancius Island, the trains between Zuidgelders and Houtmansland are frequent. ZuidTrein (ZT) services operate every 2 hours from both Valthermussel, Blesdijke and Glinden to Koedijk, whilst a daily service from Houwerzijl makes additional stops at Kromwijk and Hardinxveld. Prices vary but are reasonable with free WiFi and a buffet car.
Novainsula’s rail company GoUrban runs a once-a-week service from Alnwick to Koedijk via Mensingeweer known as the Southern Cruiser. These are not high-speed services but laid-back, slow luxury hotels take their time and enjoy the scenery, taking 5 days to traverse the route stopping at multiple locations along the way for day trips. Tickets can be expensive, costing upwards of US$2000.
Multiple bus companies offer regular services from all major towns and cities throughout Zuidgelders and Novainsula which will all be slower but cheaper than catching a train.
Houtmansland bestuur van Toerisme offers an exceptionally useful website and smartphone app with integrated timetables for all trains and buses in Houtmansland, including all intra-city and inter-city transports, even indicating from which lane your bus will depart. It is also useful for international travel from/to the country. Search for Explore HOU in any app store.
Train is by far the best option to travel across Houtmansland, provided you don’t have a private vehicle. Frequent fast trains connect all important cities, but there are less local trains, even at main lines. For local transport a bus is generally a better alternative. Trains are fairly priced, with the prices competitive with buses, and cheap by western standards. They are reliable and clean.
Opt for an InterCity service if you want Western-style comfort; IC trains link Koedijk and Eikenheuvel every 15 minutes but have compulsory reservations. These can save you from the crowds: ordinary trains do get crowded, usually on Fridays and Sundays or around holidays. Watch out for pickpockets at major stations and steer clear of money scams. Also, sporadic robberies occur to sleeping passengers so keep your belongings close to you.
All train services within Plancius Island is provided by Houtman Spoorwegen (HS), whilst Zelham Transportbedrijf offers train services throughout Zelham Island, including bus routes in the cities of Vossenberg and Leeuwenbeneden.
Bus connections are usually slower than trains, but can get you where trains cannot, and some private companies also offer discounts for international travellers with a foreign passport. The travel from Koedijk to Herksen is a rare example of a route where buses are significantly faster and cheaper than trains.
Tickets for inter-city buses can be purchased on the Explore HOU app or alternatively you can buy them online or at the bus station.
Local intra city buses are punctual, and it is therefore advisable to arrive at the bus stop in advance, the time specified in the timetable is the time it departs. Most tickets are bought directly from the driver, so you will probably need cash. Though the bus driver will give you change, especially for shorter (cheaper) journeys, it is advisable to have some smaller denominations. You can expect to pay a small extra fee if you are carrying a big bag.
A car might be a good way to explore the countryside, especially places not connected by rail, such as Laurens and Park. Drive on the right.
The motorway (freeway) network is rather extensive, though heavily used. Congestion, especially during peak hour, is usual and best avoided. Roads are well signposted and many times provided with new technologies. There are only 2 motorways (autosnelweg) in the country and are indicated with a either the number 1 or 2 which is placed in an orange diamond. Many times connections are made by a semi highway called Autoweg. All these routes are indicated with a letter N/number combination in a yellow box. Most times, motorists will be directed by signage to the nearest A road, so those who would prefer a more scenic drive avoiding main roads will need to follow signs to local villages.
Making your way on thumb is accepted and locals that take you typically expect no payment in return. It’s less suited for short rides from small towns or minor streets, as the lack of traffic may cause a long wait. Hitch-hiking on the highways/motorways is not allowed but generally tolerated on the interchanges/access points, provided you do not create a dangerous traffic situation.
The national language in Houtmansland is Dutch. Dutch, especially in written form, is partially intelligible to someone who knows other Germanic languages (especially German and Afrikaans), and you might be able to get along at least partially in these languages if spoken slowly.
The majority of the adult population is able to speak English relatively well, and most younger people speak it fluently, so you should have no trouble getting by. While less widely spoken than English, basic German and Koanian are also spoken by many due to them being mandatory subjects in high school for two years, though Koanian fluency among younger people is marginal at best. French is spoken by some as well, but proficiency is rare and usually on a much lower level than Koanian or German.
Houtmansland offer a vast number of activities. Hiking and eco tours are incredibly popular, with opportunities for horseback riding, ATV, air tours, and other methods of exploring the landscape. Museums and historical sites such as Gasselte Cape are also to be found throughout the islands. Cultural activities such as Berry Picking, Fishing and Weaving also make for interesting day-long activities.
Zaadstukken and Zwingelspaan are famous for fishing tours, but also popular are shark dives in cages, Wordragen Bay snorkel tours as well as trips to Dommelsvoort Mountain.
Heukelem Island is untamed and beautiful. It has been featured in many major motion pictures over the past two decades (Jurassic Park and Avatar, to name but two). See this island by land or by air to take in the true beauty of this island. Oh and just be ready to see the roaming Bison that inhabit the island.
You can take a land tour or fly over the incredibly huge, but dormant volcano of Dommelsvoort on a helicopter tour. Doors-off flights give you an amazingly unique experience looking down at the view below. Whale watching is best done from Eikenheuvel or Armweide when the whales migrate to warmer temperatures.
If hiking and trails is more your thing, there are dozens of National Parks offering views ranging from waterfalls and gorges, to wildlife and flora.
Back in civilization, a quintessential Houtmansland experience is the Carnaval held in all towns and cities during the month of September for roughly a week. Marching bands and floats along with many food stalls to fashion, wine and flowers are present.
Sport is widely popular in the country with the professional baseball league, Topklasse Divisie close to a religion outside of Koedijk. Association Football (Soccer) and, surprisingly, Cricket are also very popular sports.
Houtmansland has a mild temperate oceanic climate owing to its fairly high latitude and proximity to the Pacific Ocean. As such, daily temperatures rarely reach above the low 20s, except during heat waves in summer. Nightly lows typically range around 10-12°C during summer and 4-5°C in winter, so cold weather gear is recommended all year round. It is not unheard of for temperatures to drop below zero during winter, with Houtmansland’s lowest temperature on record being a chilly -2.8°C.
Rainfall is fairly similar year round, averaging 50 mm per month, occurring around 15 days a month during winter and 10 days a month during summer. Despite the cold weather and occasional rainfall you should not expect to see any snow within Houtmansland, although it is not unheard of. The country receives snowfall at sea level on average only once every 15 years, caused by cold masses arriving from Antarctica. Dommelsvoort Mountain is often seen snowcapped during winter, and its temperatures are much colder than Koedijk — typically 10 degrees colder and easily reaching below zero during winter.
Despite being independent, Houtmanslands uses Günsovölk’s unit of currency which is the Bundesgeld, abbreviated to GVB or just B.
Houtmansland is generally regarded as expensive (unless you’re coming from Scandinavia or other Southern Union countries). Lodging and dining is more expensive than in neighbouring countries, but rail travel, museums, and attractions tend to be on the cheaper side. Retail prices for clothing, gifts, etc. are similar to most of the Southern Union; consumer electronics are a bit more expensive. Gasoline, tobacco and alcohol are relatively expensive due to excise taxes. The standard cigarette packages only have 19 cigarettes in them.
Most shops open by 09:00 or 10.00 and they usually close around 18:00. Supermarkets and DIY-shops often have broader opening hours, opening around 08:30 and closing only at 20:00 or 22:00. Traditionally, most shops are closed on Sundays, with only a few exceptions such as one or two supermarkets in each city.
Time-honored souvenirs from Houtmansland are woollen jumpers and scarves or the famous cross-hatched salt and pepper shakers. Look for them at various gift shops. These gift shops are also known to stock the ever-popular Volcanic Rock Candy and a wide variety of BBQ sauces.
Generally: Houtmansland is a very safe country, with almost no risk of natural disasters or animal attacks. There is one poisonous, but rare and non-aggressive, snake (the European viper or Hugormin Danish) that was brought over in the 1870s but you are unlikely to see it even whilst hiking. As in the rest of the Southern Union and the world at large, borrelia carrying ticks have also been on the rise in Houtmansland. Always check your body for attaching ticks, when you have been in the wild, especially when legs and arms are bare and the vegetation high. If they are removed quickly, no disease will be transmitted. If infection does occur, a red ring will occur around the bite, and you should seek medical assistance as soon as possible.
Since 6 July 2016 it has been prohibited by law to wear garments that hides the human face in public, unless there is a credible purpose such as to protect against cold weather. Wearing a burqa, niqab or balaclava in public is not considered a credible purpose according to the guidelines.
Compared to most other countries, crime and traffic are only minor risks, and the most serious crime visitors are likely to encounter is non-violent pickpocketing.
- On foot: In cities Houtmandians drive by the rules, and they have every expectation that pedestrians do the same. Therefore, it is important to obey Walk/Do not Walk signals and avoid jaywalking in cities, simply because cars will not slow down since you are not supposed to be there. Traffic signals are obeyed around the clock, so do not get surprised to see law-abiding locals, in the dead of night with not a single vehicle in sight, patiently waiting for green light. You are supposed to do the same. Also, take good notice of the dedicated bike lanes when crossing any street to avoid dangerous situations as bikers tend to ride fast and have right of way on these lanes.
- On the beach: Do not bathe alone. Do not get too far away from land. Swim along the coast rather than away from it. In some areas undertow is a danger, and kills a number of tourists every year, but will mostly be signed at the beach. On many beaches, flags indicate water quality. A green flag means excellent water quality, yellow flag means good water quality, red flag means that bathing is not advised.
- In the city: A few districts in major cities are probably best avoided at night by the unwary, or by lone women – but unlike in North America, it is often the suburban projects that are unsafe, not the downtown areas. Tourists will rarely pass through these outskirt areas by chance, but exchange students occasionally end up in apartments here without being aware of these districts reputation beforehand.
In Case of Emergency
Dial 1-1-2 in an emergency for emergency services in case of accidents, serious crime and fire — situations that are dangerous for life, health, property or the environment. This is toll free, and will work even from cell phones without a SIM card. For the police in non-emergencies call 1-1-4.
There is one police force, organised into 5 police regions. Visitors will mostly deal with the regional police. Some specialised forces, such as the railway police and the highway police on main roads, are run by a separate national force.
Houtmandians are supposed to be the most informal and easy-going people in the Southern Union and there are few strict social taboos to speak of. It’s unlikely that Houtmandian people will be offended simply by your behaviour or appearance. In fact, it’s more likely that visitors themselves will be offended by overly direct conversation. Nevertheless, the standards for overt rudeness and hostility are similar to those in other western European countries.
The exception to this openness is personal wealth. For instance, it’s considered vulgar to reveal how rich you are, so asking somebody about this will be considered nosy and will probably just get you an evasive answer.
Likewise, it’s not advisable to be forceful about your own religion or to assume a Houtmandian person you’ve met is a Catholic or a Calvinist, since most people do not adhere to any faith at all. In urban areas it’s not considered rude to ask somebody about this, but you’ll generally be expected to be entirely tolerant of whatever the other person believes and not attempt to proselytise in any way. Openly religious behaviour is usually met with bewilderment and ridicule rather than hostility. An exception is the Reiken Cape, consisting of towns with many strong Christians, who are more likely to be insulted by different religious views.
Openly nationalist sentiments are likewise viewed with some suspicion among the general public, although there are a number of celebrations like Independence Day (25 September) and during baseball championships. Some people dress in blue and/or get drunk, but you don’t have to fear hostility to foreigners.
In Houtmansland, cheek-kissing is a common way of greeting among women and between women and men. Two men will generally shake hands. Kissing is particularly suitable for informal occasions. For greetings, it’s typically used for people who are already acquainted. It’s also common practice when congratulating someone, and is common among strangers in that case too. Hand shaking is more appropriate for formal occasions. Trying to shake hands when offered a kiss or refusing a kiss altogether could be considered odd or rude.
Houtmandians will kiss three times alternating right and left cheeks. This could lead to awkward situations for British people and many other Europeans, being used to just two kisses. Also, always kiss on the cheeks instead of giving air-kisses.
There are few public phone booths left in Houtmansland. They are mostly found at train stations. Telbest booths accept coins, whereas most Elke Oproep booths accept only prepaid cards or credit cards. Some new public phones have been installed which accept coins again. Tariffs (per unit or amount of calling time) can differ between public phones in a truly public area and the same types of machines in a more public-private area.
Hotels usually provide both wireless internet and computers with internet access, but whether this service is provided for free, varies greatly. Many cafés and bars also provide free wireless internet for paying customers, even when it is not signposted, so it is always a good idea to ask. A lot of the McDonalds restaurants in Houtmansland have a couple of internet terminals available for their customers. The easiest way to get online is often the public library, as there is one in almost every town. Public libraries are usually centrally located, well signposted and always free. There can be a bit of waiting time to get a free computer though, but there will normally also be some sort of reservation system in place.