Bavaria-The National Forest
The National Forest, Bavaria,Germany.
Our next stop after Weltenburg Abbey was to head to the small town of Neuschönau which sits on the edge of the “Nationalpark Bayerischer Wald” (The Bavarian National Forest Park) which was founded in 1970 as the first national park in Germany and now covers 24,250 hectares. The park also contains the world's longest (and highest) tree top path and 16 wild animal areas spread over 200 hectares along a 7km trail. Together with the neighbouring Czech Bohemian Forest, the Bavarian Forest forms the largest contiguous area of forest in Central Europe.
Interestingly, within the park nature is left to take its course, meaning there is no human intervention in the life cycle of the forest. Although there are obviously areas designed and maintained for humans and animals (i.e. the wonderful visitor centre, exhibition, cafés, wild animal enclosures and treetop walkway) essentially when any trees or plants die they are left to rot in situ. Apparently no management of the forest or raised bog areas is done, so the park is a much sought after research site even before you take into account the unique wild animal areas. This also means it offers insight into every stage of a forest's life whenever visitors come and subsequently is devoid of that 'manicured' feel that some parks have.
We walked into the forest from our little rental flat in the morning and spent a truly magical day in there. We headed to the information area and treetop walk first. Now, I've been on supposed 'treetop' walks before that comprised of metal walkways about 2 metres off the ground... but this 1.3km walk really IS in the treetops! Made almost entirely of wood from the forest, it eventually culminates in the most spectacular viewing structure that allows you to gently walk upwards to 44 metres (143feet!) and enjoy 360 degree views of the area! For those of you who don't fancy the dizzying heights of the viewing tower there is the option to continue on the treetop section back to the café.
Anyway, we started off at around 10m from the ground on the long walkway that winds through the ancient parts of the forest, passing well maintained but unobtrusive educational information points along the way and enjoying unique views through the forest and even directly above trees as the walkway rises steadily towards the viewing structure. The crisp forest air all around us, plenty of bird-life to enjoy and generous width of the walk structure mean you can relax and really take in the sensation of being within the forest and feel immersed in all it's goings on.
Towards the end of the long treetop section we got our first glimpse of the amazing viewing tower. I love the organic shape to it and clever design that ensures you never tackle more than a 6% gradient and the spiral path affords fascinating views both of a 38m Fir tree growing within the structure and also of the surrounding forest and emerging views across the area as you rise out of the tree line.
As you progress along the spiral route, the structure itself is also a thing of beauty. The perfect natural wood panelling and beam work along with the metal structural elements actually compliment the forest perfectly and provide some interesting lines for design geeks like me to photograph!
As we progressed upwards one of the other great things I noticed was the sheer range of people heading up – we passed toddlers, hikers, research scientists and even elderly family members being effortlessly pushed up the gentle curve in wheelchairs. The fact that anyone of any age can experience the viewing structure in exactly the same way is wonderful.
The views from the very top were breathtaking and we took our time looking right across the Lusen area, the national park itself and beyond to the Czech Republic!
We had slightly underestimated the size of this section of the park and so when we looked at the information board detailing the 7km trail we realised the walking had only just begun really! Since we all love a good hike, it didn't matter at all and in fact the next few hours were so wonderful we hardly noticed.
At this point I should probably explain that I generally have serious misgivings about animals being held in captivity purely for humans to gawk at but I understand and support the need for well designed and responsible zoos or parks that ensure survival of species worldwide. So imagine my delight when I saw the sheer size and minimally engineered enclosures within the national Park. I've never seen such natural and large areas devoted to animals in captivity. There are 45 endemic species contained in bespoke natural areas as well as botanical and geological natural areas throughout.
We personally saw Elk, Red Deer, Wolves, Brown bears, Wildcats, Birds of Prey, Bison, Eagle Owls, Pigeons and Black Storks.
Other animals that are also resident but eluded us that day were Lynx, Capercaillie, Pine Martens, Otters, Beavers and Ravens.
Being less than 10m away from Brown Bears was a particular highlight for me. The fact that the bears were comfortable enough to go about their lives naturally in such a large area meant I got some wonderful photographs!
The Wolves were rather more shy but I managed to get one or two shots at full zoom. It was again a real joy to see that the pack had a huge area to roam in. Only a very small viewing platform area meant that they could take themselves off and disappear from humans completely if they wanted to and therefore we not under any stress through forced proximity to the visitors eager to see them.
At this point I should remark on the behaviour of the humans within the park, if only to point out that despite no bins being available out with the cafés and only minimal (but good) toilet or picnic facilities sprinkled throughout the park, I did not see one single piece of litter during the entire day! There are many signs asking you to be quiet and respect the rules (such as not feeding the animals, not taking dogs to certain parts of the forest and also not taking flash photography within some of the more timid animal's enclosures) so it was wonderful to see that everyone (including teenage school groups) adhered to these requests. Sadly, I'm not confident it would be the same situation here in the UK!
We finally wandered out of the forest after 8hours walking, tired but extremely happy. I would happily go back to spend days in there and in fact I think ideally to get the full experience of this wonderful National Park, you should. For more information, visit: http://www.nationalpark-bayerischer-wald.de/english/
Another great post Kate ! Fabulous pictures, makes me want to visit it.
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