De Hoop Nature Reserve. – How far would you drive to find paradise?
An infinite question as most of us would journey far and wide to find a setting that mimics the way the world should be. One of wilderness, protected seas, relaxed game, fresh air and dark star-filled skies. I know I would go far.
Yet I didn’t have to, as this very paradise is to be found within a scenic three hours drive of Cape Town in the 36000 hectare De Hoop Nature Reserve. I recently spent a weekend of reflective happiness here.
We arrived by car via Caledon and Bredasdorp, the last 60km being on good dirt road. Turning off the highway onto gravel always heightens the anticipation; this was no different as we passed remote farms with curious sheep and lazy windmills keeping watch over the sun-bleached fields. The pace of life had slowed by the time we saw the sign that read: ‘De Hoop Nature Reserve’ and we took the last few kilometers to the Opstal and The Fig Tree Restaurant. A hospitable place for a welcome drink or coffee whilst checking in and obtaining an overview of the place and all it has to offer.
De Hoop can accommodate around 160 guests in various types of lodging ranging from self-catering to luxury, from camping and caravan sites to affordable self-catering chalets and fully catered cottages. For families on a budget to couples wanting a romantic getaway, catered or on your own, the options are there to allow the breakaway that suits you best.
My weekend was booked in Melkkamer Manor across the vlei. An incredible homestead that dates back to 1907 and was originally the center of the farm. Characterised by old-world architecture and gracious charm, the stone gabled Manor House has been restored to its former glory and has four en-suite bedrooms offering true luxury; here we were cared for by our guides Esmeralda and Dalfrenzo, as well as Chef Philip who catered to our every need.
It’s a special place right on the water with easy walks and star-gazing offered after dinner. Access is by boat crossing which allows a bit of a linger on the vlei.
The reserve includes 70 km of rugged coastline and sandy beaches and has a protected vlei that welcomes shoreline exploration. Not to be bragging, but there are 86 species of mammal, the most common being eland, bontebok, baboon, Cape mountain zebra, grey rhebuck, duiker and steenbok. Marine life includes dolphins and seals in the protected marine reserve and there are 259 species of birds. Actually just out on a walk and there is life everywhere.
One of the highlights is undoubtedly the whale viewing. Seven whale species occur off the coast but it is predominantly the Southern Right whale that sets up home here during June to November each year. The less common Bryde’s whale and the rare humpback also make appearances, although they are much harder to spot. I’m told that you can spot upwards of 200 at a time on a calm day in season, making it one of the worlds best land based whale-watching areas.
Few other reserves offer as complete an outdoor experience as De Hoop, that is sea, sand dunes, a floral sensation of rare fynbos, diverse antelope and the Potberg Mountains. This is afterall Cape Nature’s Flagship Nature Reserve and on our full day there we took a 20km walk through it.
A highlight of the visit was undoubtedly the guided marine walk near Koppie Alleen. Here Esmeralda put her hands into the rock pools and pulled out precious sea creatures for us to learn more about. Enticing giant periwinkles out of their shell to say hi, allowing us to feel the movement of the starfish, the prickly spikes of sea urchins, the white sand and cool water on our feet. All the while the waves broke on the rocks and the oyster catchers watched on.
Other activities on offer include walking trails, mountain biking, tennis court, a swimming pool and boule court at the Opstal and guided Eco-Quad Biking. There are organized fynbos walks, Art Workshops, Stargazing and Identification evenings. The area also has numerous dive sites where some have been lucky enough to see whale sharks. All this can be booked at reception.
We managed to balance an active three days with quiet time over books and local bubbly in front of the fire each night. It’s quiet, not the wind blows, just the silence of nature and her birdcalls to wake you. Oh, and you’ll get round to tales of ghosts, journals of previous owners and questions about who would ever want to leave this paradise.
On the beach walk, above pics by Ilse Zietsman.
A walk on the beach to learn about periwinkles, starfish and sea urchins, before an open air picnic lunch at Koppie Alleen.
Practical Advise – This is a year round destination. Summer will delight with warm weather and balmy evenings spent gazing at the stars, beach days and swims; whilst winter will bring you fireplaces, walks and relaxing. All you need is good walking shoes and your camera, a hat and sunblock or warm jacket and gloves, a book too. It gets cold out on that water’s edge. Cellphone coverage is sporadic, but there’s free wifi at the The Figtree Restaurant.
A Conservation fee is payable at the gate on arrival. Gates open at 07:00 and close at 19:00, check in time is at 14:00 and check out at 10:00. Day visitors are welcome and the restaurant is open daily.
NOTE: They will be offering yoga retreats during May and October, do be in touch for more details. There is no better setting for it.
To learn more about the Marine Protected Areas 30 years celebration.
For more information have a look at the De Hoop Collection website or contact them on +27 (0)21 422 4522 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Also connect on Twitter and Facebook to stay in touch. Its important to book in advance to avoid disappointment.
Theresa and I resting up after a 20+km walk.
Footnote: I was invited to De Hoop and hosted by Theresa Gibbon of Theresa Gibbon PR. For more info on the property contact her on 082 820 8437 or by mail. The woman is a wonder, an incredible travel partner and even better walker!
Sunset over the vlei from Melkkamer Manor, the colours soften to hues of green and blues.