Four coastal reserves, three days… simply join the dots for a wild escape within an easy drive of Cape Town. By Ron Swilling

It’s amazing how many times you can look at a map and not see all the green spots that are right there, sandwiched between the brown. Then one day you notice, with surprise, that there’s a whole forest of them, and only a few hours away from home.

That one day came. We zoomed in on the green areas, searching for pockets of wilderness to escape the business of life, and chose four reserves that we could comfortably squeeze into three days’ leave from work. All were picked for their special character and beauty: De Hoop, De Mond, Agulhas and Walker Bay’s De Kelders. A delicious mix of wild places conserved by CapeNature and SANParks, and all Wild Card destinations.

Joining the dots, we followed the main route out from Cape Town and then happily veered onto gravel backroads that took us to Arniston for lunch in the old fishing village, through Elim and past wetlands and farmlands that were liberally sprinkled with blue cranes.

De Hoop's untouched beaches invite you to explore. Picture by Ron Swilling.

De Hoop’s untouched beaches invite you to explore. Picture by Ron Swilling.

Reached along a puddle-filled dirt road, De Hoop merges stately old farm character with spectacular beaches. The reserve dazzled us with its beauty and wildlife, including Cape mountain zebra, eland and bontebok. Old strandloper middens, covering the tops of cliffs like shell table-cloths, left me with a satisfying feeling that many a good meal was savoured looking out onto this ocean speckled with whale spray. Secret coves and limestone cliffs, ‘sand turned stone turned lace’, lured us to explore, dipping and climbing, and watching whales flapping in between. At night, owls hooted me to sleep under a blanket of milkwoods.

De Mond has its own character and is an estuarine treat. The Heuningnes River meets the sea at this special spot, but not before it fans out, providing greater flamingo with generous feeding grounds. Walkways lead towards the pristine beach, and then leave you to squelch through the marsh and dune vegetation to watch ocean and river meet and cormorants fly up in bursts of black wings.

We followed the call to Cape Agulhas, to spend time on the southernmost tip of Africa and to test our fear of heights on the lighthouse stairs. That accomplished, with heads spinning and hair blown into halos, we drove the gravel route past the national park and turned westwards towards our last stop.

A walkway leads down to the Heuningnes River at De Mond. Picture by Ron Swilling.

A walkway leads down to the Heuningnes River at De Mond. Picture by Ron Swilling.

De Kelders, at the eastern extent of Walker Bay Nature Reserve, presented something totally different, another change of pace. A large cave buzzed with bees and energy that remained from its Middle and Late Stone Age occupants. Klipgat’s rocky walls framed superlative vistas of the 17km-long Die Plaat beach.

Deeply appreciative of these vivid green pockets and vibrant wild wonders, we headed home, racing the sun to the west.

Trip Planner

All the reserves, except Walker Bay, offer hiking trails and accommodation.

DeHoop +27(0)21 422 4522, www.dehoopcollection.co.za or Cape Nature +27(0)21 483 0190, www.capenature.co.za, reservati[email protected]

De Mond and Walker Bay Cape Nature +27(0)21 483 0190, www.capenature.co.za, [email protected]

Agulhas National Park SANParks +27(0)12 428 9111, www.sanparks.org

*Header picture by Peter Chadwick.