• Richard Brown

Hope springs

Updated: Aug 19, 2020


Many a fellow traveller has advised that I do myself the kindness of driving the short distance from Cape Town towards Africa’s most southern tip and staying at De Hoop Nature Reserve. For some obscure reason I never heeded their advice until very recently.

After traversing the Overberg wheat belt, passing through Bredasdorp and navigating the fifty-odd kilometres of dirt road to the reserve, we finally crested the last rise, and the view that greeted us – and proceeded to leave me without speech – convinced me that I had been a fool for ignoring this patch of paradise for so long.

The elevated view one is treated to before descending into the reserve is something to behold. A sea of lush foliage – mostly fynbos – stretches out before you until it reaches a series of pristine, pearly dunes standing guard against the cold waters of two oceans. To the east, the picturesque Potberg Mountains loom. To the west, a broad estuary snakes towards the ocean, but stops just short of flowing into it. Our mountain-bike guide would later inform us that, decades ago, they had tried to dig a trench for the lagoon to flow into the ocean, but after months of intense manual labour and finally getting it to trickle through, it took but one stormy night for Mother Nature to reverse all the hard work and restore it to its previous state.

We slowly descended into the valley of fynbos and, on our way to reception, marvelled at the dense verdure on either side – tall shrubs heavy with pretty proteas and ericas, interspersed with wiry restios and other undergrowth. We drove past expanses of grass on which mountain zebra and bontebok grazed unperturbed, and I stared open-mouthed when the ordinarily shy and wary rhebok strolled nonchalantly in a field not 20m from our vehicle.

The reception area is surrounded by perfectly manicured lawns (I suspect it’s the enormous herd of eland that grazes there, and not lawnmowers, that takes care of this) and some of the biggest fig trees I’ve ever seen.

Warmly welcomed and checked in, we were shown to our exquisite abode for the weekend – the aptly-named Figtree Suite, designed in the old Cape-Dutch architectural style and furnished with a sumptuous four-poster, a reading nook, a coffee station and en-suite bathroom. The door opens up on to a lawn dominated by two gigantic fig trees and the suite’s central location means we were a stone’s throw from the Fig Tree Restaurant, tennis court and swimming pool, as well as the renowned SPA @ De Hoop.

After settling in, we decided on a leisurely walk along the vlei. This was to be the first getaway on which I would take my current better half, and I struggle to think of a more romantic destination so close to Cape Town, yet so far removed from hectic city life. We didn’t take long to fall into the slow rhythm of the reserve. We sat down to a world-class supper each night and a scrumptious breakfast each morning, and filled the day with unhurried walks, guided bike rides and as much relaxation as possible. We were even treated to a lovely deep tissue massage at the spa (one of many exceptional treatments offered).

The guided bike ride was another highlight. Our knowledgeable guide led us and one other couple past herds of grazing bontebok, eland, zebra and baboons, showed and explained various flora, and pointed out an array of extraordinary waterbirds as we pedalled along the river estuary. Bird enthusiasts will be able to mark a few rare species off their bucket lists at De Hoop. More than 260 species occur on the reserve, including the only remaining Western Cape breeding colony of the rare Cape vulture that calls the Potberg slopes home. It’s only about an hour’s bike ride, but the fact that one gets in even closer proximity to the animals (they mind bicycles even less than cars) and has a fountain of knowledge about this reserve and all of its inhabitants on hand, makes it worth it.

There are various other activities to partake in, one being a guided marine walk where you might see everything from sea urchins, limpets, abalone and starfish to octopuses, clownfish, the very scarce African oystercatcher and, between July and October, whales.

For hardened hikers, the five-day Whale Trail is a popular attraction and regarded as one of the best hikes in the country. It includes comfortable lodgings each night and mountain- and coastal walks each day, on which one is offered many opportunities for game-, bird- and whale spotting. There are also various day walks and even game drives, should you wish to venture a little further afield. Beach bums are free to laze around on stretches of unblemished coast or snorkel in one of the azure rock pools.

One of the things that makes the De Hoop Collection so attractive to all and sundry is the variety of accommodation options. Those on a modest budget can opt to camp or caravan, while those who like a solid roof over their heads can choose from a wide range of very affordable self-catering options to fully-serviced luxury suites.

Unfortunately, our time at De Hoop was quite limited and we didn’t get to experience half of what this magical place has to offer, but it means we have several reasons to go back … as if we needed any.

Know this

The main objective of the CapeNature-managed De Hoop is the conservation of natural ecosystems typical of the Western Cape coastal region. This means there is no fishing or boating allowed in the fragile estuary ecosystem, and that guests should leave only their footprints when visiting De Hoop.

There is a small conservation fee payable at the gate before entering the reserve.

Camping starts at R325 per site, while self-catering options and suites range from R910 to R3 000 per night.

De Hoop is open for day visitors between 7 am and 6 pm (7 pm on Fridays), but to make the most of this slice of heaven I’d recommend you spend a few days.

All facilities, except those on the Whale Trail, are managed by the De Hoop Collection.

Get in touch

For enquiries and bookings at the De Hoop Collection call 028 542 1253 or visit dehoopcollection.com/accommodation.

For the Whale Trail and permit bookings call 021 483 0190.

#Overberg #DeHoop #Naturereserve #wildlife #birds #beach #spa #luxury #fynbos #adventure #views

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