• Richard Brown

Private perfection

A protected reserve in the Southern Cape, with a seemingly endless stretch of private beach, and a private eco lodge perched on its dunes… Lekkerwater Beach Lodge is the ultimate escape for those seeking seclusion

We’re bouncing our way up and over the last rise when the lodge’s contours become visible against an impossibly blue Indian Ocean backdrop. After parking at a designated spot, guests of Lekkerwater Beach Lodge in the exclusive eastern section of the De Hoop Nature Reserve are shuttled the last few kilometres, mainly because the road is deeply rutted and only navigable in a 4×4, but also because the parking at the oceanfront lodge is limited.

‘Southern right off to the left, ladies and gents,’ lodge manager Jaben van Graan causally observes as we crest the hill, pointing seawards. I peer out far beyond the backline in search of the whale he’s referring to, until I realise the huge rock not even 30 m from shore is in fact a colossal southern right lying laterally in the waves. A second later, her calf launches itself out of the water behind her and crashes back into the surf in a spray of foam. If our first minutes at Lekkerwater Beach Lodge are anything to go by, this is going tobe a weekend to write home about…

Formerly a bolthole of erstwhile president FW de Klerk – a Camp David of sorts – Lekkerwater was eventually given to CapeNature after 1994 and rented out to the public. It was razed during a lightning storm in 2015, after which Colin Bell – co-founder of Natural Selection – submitted a proposal to the De Hoop Nature Reserve and CapeNature. The resultant seven-room luxury eco-lodge had its first guests through the door in 2019.

With sleek lines, cleverly considered to combat the abominable southeaster, Lekkerwater’s expansive veranda not only offers exquisite beach views, but provides calm respite on windy days. Inside, a roaring fire in the beautiful hearth is another pleasant combatant of those chillier days. But the lodge comes into its own when the weather plays along. Many an hour can be whiled away catching rays and drinking in the sweeping ocean views from the beautiful deck or from your suite’s private stoep. A splash pool on the back deck is the perfect reprieve from searing summer heat, and the snug but airy rooms are cool enough for afternoon snoozes, with a fresh breeze blowing off the water.

Whales, whales, whales

Standing on Lekkerwater’s deck, each with a fynbos-infused gin in hand, we can see three massive whales, two of which appear to be waving at us with dorsal fins the size of windsurfer sails, while their calves suckle. The scene is made even more arresting as the sun dives behind the fynbos-clad horizon casting a gentle pink hue over the pearly beach, and highlighting the ceaseless and foamy onslaught of waves. We watch the whales until nightfall cloaks their antics, and then we only hear their mighty tail slaps and occasional breaches over the ocean’s enduring drone.

De Hoop offers some of the best land-based whale watching anywhere in the world – especially for those loath to brave the Hermanus crowds. After their long trek back up from the Antarctic, southern rights calve in these waters and can be seen from July to November and sometimes even December. At Lekkerwater they come unusually close to shore and the calves are extremely playful as their mothers teach them all things whale.

In the mornings, we only have to draw open the curtains to enjoy a front-row seat to the whale show. The king-sized beds in all rooms are ocean-facing, so we literally wake up spying whales through the V frames of our feet, with a fresh sea breeze wafting through the sliding doors. Perhaps I’d be more of a ‘morning person’ if I could wake up to this every morning…

Whale numbers have reportedly been rather healthy, too, and aerial censuses have recorded high numbers, with 1 116 whales counted in 2018 – nearly double the average count. So, when you book your Lekkerwater stay, make sure it’s during whale season. If not, you can still look forward to seeing teeming schools of their smaller cousins, as bottlenose- and other dolphins are also incredibly prevalent in these parts.

Walkie talkies

Oceanic mammals are not the only wildlife at De Hoop. Cape mountain zebra, bontebok, rhebok, eland and plenty of baboons are regularly spotted. It’s also a birder’s dream with more than 260 recorded species, and the reserve even boasts a colony of endangered Cape vulture in the Potberg cliffs.

Daily walks are a highlight at the lodge. Guide Billy Robertson is a walking font of wildlife-, marine- and fynbos knowledge. Entertaining and informative, he leads walks into the fynbos-swathed hills surrounding the lodge explaining the incredible diversity and intricacies of blooms, bulbs and brush native to the Cape Floral Kingdom, and into caves that proved vital in the lives of the San and other early peoples. Marine walks are equally fascinating: the fact that this stretch of coast is protected reserve means marine life flourishes, and it is abundantly evident in the many tidal pools dotting the shore, from colourful starfish and sly octopuses to darting juvenile galjoen, scuttling crabs and a veritable kaleidoscope of other species.

We also take several leisurely beach strolls in each direction, and enjoy a swim in the calmer pools where the current is not as fierce, though the water is rather nippy.

Furthermore, we are treated to feasts at the dinner table, with a stellar team of friendly cooks heading up the kitchen. Managers Jaben and Ash also see to it that we want for nothing all weekend, and make for excellent company in the evenings.

Lekkerwater is more than ‘lekker’; it’s idyllic. It is an escape from the city, far removed from any nearby civilisation, with whales and wildlife on your doorstep, luxury at every turn and a dedicated team at your every beck and call. Oh, and I did mention the views, right?

Know this

• Lekkerwater Beach Lodge is located in the eastern section of the De Hoop Nature Reserve in the Southern Cape, around three and a half hours from Cape Town

• There are seven suites, all with floor-to-ceiling glass windows to best enjoy the views (and whales!)

• Southern right whales are in the area from July to November and sometimes as late as December. Dolphins and other marine life also frequent these waters

• You’ll have to arrange with the lodge staff for a suitable pick-up time from the parking lot, as guests can’t drive themselves the last few kilometres (bad road, and no parking)

• African residents can join the Natural Selection Explorers Program (R1 000) which entitles members to 20% off the rate

• To book your stay call 021 001 1574 or visit naturalselection.travel

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