Giant Turtles at Alexander River

They're as big as your kids and they love to eat junk food (although they shouldn't). Here's where to spot these massive critters in Israel.

Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster
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Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster

There is in the land of Israel a river called Alexander that intersects with the coastal highway just north of Netanya. In that river is a population of giant turtles.
Specifically, the reptiles in question are soft-shelled turtles and they can grow as large as your own kids. Lengthwise the turtles can reach 120 centimeters, and they can weigh up to 50 kilos.

While the 45-kilometer river flows from the Samarian hills to the coast, the best place to spot turtles is from the aptly-named Turtle Bridge just off the main highway.

They cluster by the bridge because they can be sure of an appreciative audience of visitors, usually feeding junk food to the unfortunate beasts. By the way, please don't do that. Peanut puffs and potato chips are no better for turtles than they are for you.

There is no public transportation to choice turtle-viewing spots along the river, and they're a tad far to walk from Netanya. You will need a car.
To get to Turtle Bridge, drive north (Tel Aviv toward Haifa) on the coastal Route 2 highway. You can exit at Beit Yanay-Kfar Vitkin exit and follow the rather sparse signs to Nahal Alexander ("Alexander River"). Bear in mind that what Israelis think of as a "river" may look like a "stream" to you.

Or, more easily, keep on going on the highway past the Yanay-Vitkin exit and right after you cross the Alexander river you'll find a dirt road marked with a Hebrew sign "Nahal Alexander." Exit here and drive down the dirt road towards the river until you see other cars parked (or until you see the river). Before you will be Gesher Hatzabim – "Turtle Bridge."

Alexander River
Alexander River
Alexander River
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Alexander RiverCredit: Itzik Ben-Malki
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Alexander RiverCredit: Itzik Ben-Malki
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Alexander RiverCredit: Itzik Ben-Malki
Giant turtles at Alexander River

The walk from the impromptu car park to the riverside is an easy one, perfect for small kids. Look out for a crowd of people standing on and by the bridge happily squealing "hinay tzav" – "here's a turtle."

Aside from the turtles you will notice very large catfish, also feasting on junk food and bread thrown into the water by the crowds; a lot of birds, and probably also a lot of floating garbage.

Before you ignore the advice and toss your lunch to a turtle, bear in mind that by nature they are carnivorous and their metabolisms are suited to a fish diet, not candy and reconstituted peanut butter sandwiches.

Done being charmed by the desultorily swimming reptiles, you may like to stroll along the river. There are paths on either side.

What are these African turtles doing there? Well, once upon a time, Israel was their northernmost point of distribution and they were common throughout the freshwater streams, but pollution did most in. The population in Alexander River is the only decently large one left in Israel. Oh, and no matter how cute you find these critters, don't try to touch them. They bite.

The turtles catching a few rays at Nahal Alexander.Credit: Wikimedia

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