With its windswept fynbos plains and sugar-sand dunes unfolding onto the Indian Ocean shoreline, De Hoop Nature Reserve is a top-class destination for outdoor lovers. By Jacques Marais
Silence slip-slides in from across the sea and adjacent dunes. It permeates the landscape at the southernmost tip of Africa. Iindiscernible, aural, misty. Not many places around the world are blessed with this sumptuous hush. De Hoop is one of them.
At an impressive 36,000ha, the reserve rates as one of the most extensive conservation areas under the stewardship of CapeNature. In addition, the marine reserve extends for a further five kilometres into the Indian Ocean, primarily to safeguard what is one of the subcontinent’s most prominent whale calving sites, but also to protect the vast and fascinating marine diversity.
The reserve is embraced by minimalist fynbos plains, prominent coastal dunelands and a shimmering wetland. High above, skittish clouds scud against an opal sky, mimicking the sparse beauty of this quiet wilderness reserve. Tranquillity is all around, so no wonder the mood around our camp was pegged just this side of sleepwalking.
We had pitched our tent the day before at a site overlooking the subdued shimmer of the vlei. The proximity to water and searing summer heat contributed to a collective state of lethargy. So, when I heard my son, Robs, whispering “Snakey, snakey,” I did not bolt upright immediately to check out the situation.
He was outside the gazebo, in one of those gangly giraffe squats you unthinkingly execute during your early teens, gazing down the road at what I expected to be a tiny reptilian intruder. The ‘snakey’ in question, however, turned out to be the Cape cobra variety, and pretty near the two-metre mark.
“Ah yes, I know him. An excellent specimen,” enthused Tony Phelps of the Cape Reptile Institute when I bumped into him later that afternoon on my bike ride. A senior researcher at De Hoop, and globally renowned for his long-term viper studies, Tony knew this snake by name, describing its hunting behaviour and exactly where it lived. , of course, was thrilled by this information, and I had to keep a beady parental eye on him during the rest of the long weekend.
Fortunately, De Hoop Nature Reserve offers way more than snake charming when it comes to entertaining. Everyone from Grace, four, and Beth, 13, as well as mum and dad, found the outdoor charms exhilarating.
The treasures of the ocean, sweeping away towards the Antarctic, are legion. Dunes are prime spots for watching whales and frolicking dolphins. The marine and terrestrial bird list is exceptional. So too the cliff-top hiking trails along the Ramsar wetlands. De Hoop is an outdoor arena of note to explore, with a great mix of bike trails, hikes and trail runs, as well as a range of guided activities.
Land-lubbers such as me get to go wild on terra firma with bontebok, eland and Cape mountain zebra as their primary companions. had to pedal hard to keep up with my lovely wife as we cavorted along dirt tracks amidst the coastal plains. Swooping plovers, pompous spoonbills, capering kelp gulls and grass birds exploding from the renosterveld scrub kept us enthralled. We were even spoilt with a glimpse of a wandering albatross patrolling the distant ocean chop. De Hoop is a place where birding off the bike is truly brilliant.
Quad biking allows less active visitors to access the fynbos plains, while the eco-boat trip is a superb way to traverse the tranquillity of the serene vlei. Or you could go otter-spotting, trek into the dunes, lose yourself in the diverse botanical wonder world. The De Hoop to-do list feels endless.
We opted to camp rather than book into one of the self-catering cottages, and what a great way this was to kick off the school holidays. Free-ranging kids, sunset braais, beach hikes and the glitter of starry skies. There is no better way to immerse yourself in the magic of De Hoop.
Getting there: Take the N2 to Caledon, then turn off to Napier and Bredasdorp. From here, take the R319 in the direction of Swellendam, but turn right after 6km at the sign to De Hoop/Malgas/Infanta. Follow the dirt road for 35km to the reserve entrance.
Accommodation: Pitch a tent, park your caravan or camper, book one of the many self-catering chalets, or stay in a fully catered lodge. The lodging in the nature reserve is coordinated by the De Hoop Collection and you will be spoilt for choice.
Camping in De Hoop is fantastic as you’ll find yourself in the very centre of the fynbos wilds, but safe and conveniently close to all the amenities. The sites are approximately 20m apart and share a communal bathroom and kitchenette with basic cooking equipment and other facilities. Campsites are R325 a night for one to four people.
Other than the nature activities, you have access to a tennis court (bring your racquets!) and a boules (boules sets are available) as well as a lovely pool. Extensive gardens, with ancient, spreading fig trees, are sure to delight the kids. The Fig Tree Restaurant is open from 08h00 to 21h00 and offers an à la carte menu for breakfast, lunch and supper, plus snacks and tea.
Bookings: +27 (0)21 422 4522 www.dehoopcollection.com
Contact: +27 (0)28 542 1114 www.capenature.co.za