The Ein Afeq Nature Reserve, in the Acre Valley north of Haifa, is a great counterpoint to the walled city of Acre with its antiquities and colorful markets.
At 660 dunams (165 acres) fed by the Na’aman Stream, the reserve is the largest wetland habitat in Israel's western drainage basin and is home to an amazing variety of wetland species of plants and animals, including water buffalo. Herds of these shy, lumbering creatures were brought here from Egypt; before the swamps were nearly drained, they were used as work animals and provided milk for local Bedouin families.The few that live here now were brought from the Hula Nature Reserve in 1991 to nibble back trees and leave room for meadowland vegetation.
You can also climb Tel Afeq, the ancient mound of biblical Afeq, a Canaanite city in the area of the tribe of Asher (Josh. 18:30).
Your touring route (which you can follow using the map in the Israel Nature and Parks Authority pamphlet you receive with your ticket; it is available online on the INPA website) begins at the Crusader flour mill. There you’ll find a display of traditional farming tools, a short audio-visual presentation and a fabulous view from the roof of the reserve and far beyond – to the mountainous Upper Galilee, the Lebanese border, Mount Carmel, the Haifa Bay suburbs and the Mediterranean Sea.
You’ll learn how in medieval times this area flourished with fields of grain that was ground at the Ein Afeq mill. The Crusader loopholes (narrow firing slits), can still be seen in the building they fortified, along with the dam they built to give the mill more oomph.
On an easy walk along reserve’s trail you’ll be serenaded by songbirds and may spot ducks, teals and mallards, turtles and mongooses (especially if you time your visit close to the 8 A.M. opening time before most visitors arrive). The trail crosses a slatted wooden bridge over the water that’s a bit exciting, perfect for strollers and almost perfect for wheelchairs. The reserve’s nocturnal denizens – porcupines, jungle cats, wild boars and jackals – will be hiding from you deep in the thickets of aquatic plants.
You can also visit the Zeitzer Pools, the remains of fishponds, now maintained as ecosystems away from the reserve’s main water sources, that are named after a pioneer from Hungary who dug them in 1930. Although the carp he imported from Yugoslavia tended to be swept away or eaten by eels, Branco Zeitzer persisted in his efforts until he died in 1945. The locals say he was a strange bird, known for plying the Acre-Haifa road in his convertible at frightening speeds, sometimes reaching 30 kilometers an hour.
Ein Afeq Nature Reserve Tel.: (04) 877-8226
Opening hours: During Daylight Saving Time: 8 A.M. to 5 P.M. (last entry 4 P.M.); in the winter: 8 A.M. to 4 P.M. (last entry 3 P.M.); on Fridays and holiday eves the reserve closes one hour earlier.
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