When planning our Christmas trip to Hamburg, Germany, last year, we decided to cut down on our driving and to travel with Stena’s superferry, the Hollandica, one of the largest superferries in the world. The route she travels is from Harwich to Hook of Holland and this is also the most direct route to the Netherlands and Germany.
For many years, we have just done the usual Dover-Calais route, but this leaves one with a minimum 10-hour drive on the Continent to our destination. I know that the internet route planners say that the Continental leg is a little more than seven hours, but when you factor in the usual traffic gridlock in Belgium and a break or two, travel time is closer to 12 hours. When you then add in our start in West Wales, this makes for one mighty long trip in a day, roughly 17 hours all told.
Sadly the ferry directly to Hamburg doesn’t run any longer, as this would have been a great option – imagine sailing up the river to the town of your birth, that’s a novel way to come home. So a quick call to the folk at Stena sealed the deal, as the Harwich to Hook of Holland route seemed the best option. It offered us the opportunity of collecting our daughter and son-in-law en route to Harwich…simples, as they say.
Travelling with Stena’s superferry would break our long expedition roughly into two almost equal halves, with the first 318 mile leg from our home in Carmarthenshire to Harwich taking us five hours fifty minutes and the second 337 mile leg from Hook of Holland to Hamburg taking five hours ten minutes. The bonus was that the crossing was an overnight one, leaving at 11.15pm and arriving at 6.30am (crossing time 6½ hours). This gave us the opportunity to rest in a five-berth, en suite cabin which was extremely comfortable and clean. Included in our deal was an evening meal and a scrumptious breakfast the next morning bright and early at 5.30am.
Fortunately the weather report was for clear weather on the outward bound leg. We arrived at the Harwich customs and entry point in good time, but were met with a crashed computer system, apparently the problem lay on the Dutch side of the equation. But after a short wait, boarding went smoothly, even though the ferry was almost fully booked. The Hollandica can take 300 cars and 200 trucks as well as 1200 passengers.
We were looking forward to leaving our fully loaded Nissan X-trail below deck, stretching our legs and settling into our cabin after our evening meal. The corridors on board were long and it took a while to find our cabin, not surprising when there are 538 cabins on board. The whole place was teaming with people, and everyone was trying to grab a bite to eat in one of the restaurants or eating places, exploring the shops or booking to see the next movie in the on-board cinema.
For us an excellent 3-course meal followed – man those steaks were good! The service was excellent too, could not have wished for more. Then it was time to settle down for a bit of shut-eye and the beds were so comfortable we struggled to get up the next morning. Before we knew it we were docking in Hook of Holland, and after a scrummy breakfast, we drove off the ferry and onto the keyside for a few quick photos (all pre-arranged of course), and then we hit the road for Germany.
Actually getting through and out of Hook of Holland was not a simple matter because they were busy with some comprehensive roadworks, and we were directed down all manner of side roads…deviation notices were notable by their absence! ‘Sally Sat-Nav’ was confused by all of this as well, but eventually, using our collective common sense direction finders, we got out of the town and onto the motorway. This route to Hamburg also gave us the opportunity to see another part of Holland with all its canals and greenhouses which we had not seen before.
We were glad to get to our final destination in Hamburg not feeling too tired and still able to enjoy the afternoon. We always love driving into Hamburg with stunning views across the harbour before dipping into the Elbtunnel which leads you some 430 metres below the river Elbe. Quite an impressive structure.
The Christmas period spent with the family was as always too short. No snow was to be found this year, unfortunately, but we did get to take in a traditional Weihnachtsmarkt in the centre of Hamburg, a must for most of the city’s inhabitants also, or so it seemed. Moving around with the crowds resulted in the inevitable of course, as I have the stains from a whole glass of Glühwein on my hiking boots to prove it!
All too soon, the time came to return home and so with waves, shouts and tears we set the compass for the port at Hook of Holland. And as it would happen, we crossed the (old) border between Holland and Germany and were greeted by a healthy layer of snow on the ground. This fairytale landscape followed us right the way up to the ferry. A few more photographs, and it was onto the ship for a repeat of the outward journey. Despite some fairly choppy seas, the crossing was remarkably smooth. In this case we were fortunate, in that travellers in and out of Calais were prevented from sailing due to the high and stormy seas.
Looking back at the whole experience, we would definitely do it that way again. Although on paper one seems only to be saving 150 miles of driving, it is through the congested northern France and Belgian regions where one frequently loses a lot of time. But also the timing of an overnight trip suited us, so that we had the whole day ahead of us and still got to our destination fairly rested. So hopefully those pesky road works on the Dutch side have been sorted by December 2015 and we can go travelling with Stena’s superferry again!
Written by: Glen Smale
|Stena Hollandica||built 2010|
|Height above keel||49m|
|Deadweight/gross tonnage||11,600/64,072 tons|
|Service speed||22 knots|
|Main engines||2x MAN 48/60 @ 9600kW; 2x MAN 48/60 @ 7200kW|
|Vehicles||cars 300; 200 trucks|
|Freight capacity||5500 lane metres over four deck|