Over the Hills
Words Lisa van Aswegen, Pics Alfred Lor, Roger de la Harpe/Africa Imagery/Africa Media
‘We can see the dunes, we simply have to be near the sea!’ my friend kept saying as we drove a gravel road marked ‘to Koppie Alleen’, hoping that this would be the route to get us down to the beach. Our first turn-off took us to De Mond, and what met us was an imposing gated fence with stern signs. A U-turn it was. Now, driving over hill after hill, we were hoping to see the sea. With brilliantly white dunes covered in vegetation on our right, we had to be close.
And there it was, at last, a bright-blue slice of the Indian Ocean beckoning in the near distance. Parking our car, we headed off down the gently sloping path, roped off and lined with dune flowers, fynbos and the occasional toktokkie, focused on its mission. After about 15 minutes of gentle ambling, we encountered some serious hikers (the ones with the correct boots, wide-brim hats, walking sticks and backpacks, unlike us with our slip-slops, floppy hats and oversized shoppers filled with snacks and beach towels) who were out walking the trails and dunes. ‘There’s a whale!’ we excitedly pointed out. ‘Yup, we’ve seen about 20 today already,’ they countered.
We sped on (well, as much as slip-slops and dawdling two-year-olds allow) to the lookout area. With benches, umbrellas and whale information posters, it was the perfect spot to take a breather and simply stare out at the giants in the water – there were seven lazily performing for us that morning. De Hoop is famous for its whale-watching, as 40% of the world’s southern right whale population comes to the bay to breed every year.
Then it was off to the beach, along a boardwalk. The limestone rock pools here gather an incredible array of sea life that can be seen during low tide. The bay is dotted with small coves, perfect for exploring, while De Hoop Collection offers marine walks with guides every day. So what’s the difference between De Hoop Reserve and De Hoop Collection? Well essentially, you pay Cape Nature (R40 for adults, R20 for students) to enter the Reserve, but the Collection offers a restaurant, various accommodation options and planned activities and self-guided trails in the reserve. And they have largely involved the local community here.
The rest of the morning we played in the sand, the kids climbed the dunes and we perched on the rocks: relaxing is hard work, after all.
Is it a bird?
The other major feature De Hoop is known for is the Vlei, a Ramsar Site of significant importance. It’s the mouth of the Sout River that has turned into a lake due to the formation of estuarine sandbars – essentially dunes have closed it up and it’s about 16km long and 500m wide. The limestone cliffs surrounding it are striking, and twitchers are in for a treat: pelicans and flamingos breed here, and you can see kingfisher and heron too. In fact, De Hoop boasts 260 resident and migratory bird species. A perfect way to see the Vlei is on one of the self-guided walks along the cliffs (take care though and wear good shoes – no slip-slops – and small kids need to be carried in hiking backpacks as it gets precipitous). You can spot the Cape clawless otter here too. We saw baboons across the Vlei, having made their home in the limestone caves, and their short, sharp barks carried authoritatively across the water.
Bokkies, bokkies everywhere
The best part of the whole De Hoop excursion for our little ones was seeing buck and other animals from our car just about wherever we drove. The overexcited shouts of ‘bokkie!’, ‘more bokkie!’, ‘zebra!’ and ‘ostrich!’ didn’t stop. In the distance we saw eland, magnificent in their size, while the ostriches hung out in the car park like hooded delinquent teens. Another favourite way for visitors to experience the wildlife is on mountain bikes. There are four marked routes on the reserve, bringing you up close (and very personal) to the animals, or you can take a guided tour (there are guided bird and fynbos walks on offer as well).
Our last night saw us at The Fig Tree Restaurant for a delicious set-menu dinner. Our carrot soup was warming and aromatic, the lamb utterly tender and the tiramisu indulgent. As we left and saw the magnificent display of stars above, we wished we’d fitted in the guided stargazing session too.
Next time, next time.
Lay your head
De Hoop Collection has a variety of accommodation options to suit different tastes and pockets. If you want the comforts of home (or more), stay in the Opstal Manor House; the Opstal Houses, meanwhile, offer comfortable and serviced self-catering accommodation. Further along the Vlei are campsites and rondavels set underneath milkwood trees, offering more budget-conscious options. These are all in the main hub where you’ll find reception, the shop and The Fig Tree Restaurant. To really get away from it all, make a beeline for the Melkkamer area situated across the Vlei and reached by boat (or a long drive). Choose from the Melkkamer Manor House, Foreman’s Cottage and Vlei Cottage. Prices range from R385 to R1 500 pp per night
Get your bearings
De Hoop lies about 230km outside Cape Town and is reached via Bredasdorp. Once inside the reserve, it’s an additional 15km of good gravel road to reach the reception area. The journey takes around three-and-a-half hours, and the gravel road between Bredasdorp and De Hoop is currently being worked on. The Reserve gate opens at 7 am and closes at 6 pm (7 pm on Fridays).
The Fig Tree Restaurant is open seven days a week from 8 am to 9 pm for guests and day visitors. Booking for dinner is recommended. They also provide packed picnic baskets. Contact and reservations: 0861 33 4667 / 021 422 4522.
Reserve: 028 542 1253, www.dehoopcollection.co.za
Keen on exploring the south coast further? Here are some must-dos in the area:
The seaside town of Arniston is also known as Waenhuiskrans, named for the Waenhuiskrans cave, so-called because the Voortrekkers deemed it large enough to turn an ox-wagon around in. You can visit the cave at low tide. For some pampering, the Arniston Spa Hotel’s (Beach Road, 028 445 9000, www.arnistonhotel.com) spa is a must while the neighbouring fishing village of Kassiesbaai is worth a visit to see the century-old houses and experience the sense of community.
One thing you simply have to tick off your bucket list is a visit to the southernmost tip of Africa. While the town itself isn’t that exciting, you can climb the lighthouse, walk down to the southern tip (say ‘cheese’ at the cairn marking the spot) and see where the Indian and Atlantic oceans really meet.
Visit the Elim Wine Route and stock up on some excellent wines from estates such as The Berrio and Black Oystercatcher. Halfway between Bredasdorp and Gansbaai, this historical town’s proximity to two oceans gives it a unique terroir, and the local and international wine community is taking notice.
The charming town of Napier makes a perfect pit stop on your journey to De Hoop. Refuel your tummy and fill your boot with home-made goodies such as pies, bread and sweet things at Napier Farm Stall (106 Sarel Cilliers Street, 028 423 3440). Their lawn at the back is great for kids, providing swings and a slide. For something a bit fancier, Renéesance (110 Sarel Cilliers Street, 028 423 3724) is a great spot to indulge in sky-high cakes and bistro fare on the wraparound veranda. Sample Jean Daneel’s fine wines in the adjoining tasting room while you’re there. A stroll down the main street delivers quaint pubs, galleries and a bookshop.
Source: Cape Etc