I first heard about De Hoop Nature Reserve around ten years ago, when I was just starting out as a journalist and my first job was working as a travel trade writer that rather than travelling, wrote about where tour operators could send their clients to travel. As such, I wrote about a lot of things that I’m still yet to see, but luckily this weekend gave me the chance to finally cross De Hoop off the list!
De Hoop is an incredible reserve in that it offers more than just endless landscapes: it has its own protected stretch of coastline, a Ramsar-protected wetland, huge swathes of endangered fynbos plants, and accommodation housed in heritage buildings that were originally constructed before the turn of the century. It is one of the largest areas managed by Cape Nature, while the accommodation and activities are run privately through the De Hoop Collection (find out more about that here).
Sunrise blushes over the buildings of the De Hoop Collection.
First impressions at De Hoop
Driving into De Hoop is an experience on its own. As you come over the initial crest after the gate, you look down over coastline and giant dunes on your left, across fynbos fields and onto the vlei and wetland area on your right. At this time of year (August), the fynbos is bright green and yellow with pops of purple and pink flowers all over the place. A welcoming party of about 20 ostriches was waiting for us, and stepping out of the vehicle, the whitewashed walls of the buildings signalled I was in for an incredible weekend out in the Western Cape’s Overberg region.
Dunes, fynbos and golden sunshine set the tone for the weekend…
The accommodation that De Hoop Collection offers ranges and can suit any budget from camping through to a romantic luxury stay. I was treated to a stay in one of the four Cloete Suites, which was absolutely spectacular. I did get the chance to look through most of the other accommodation types and can confidently say that they’re all lovely, and much better fitted than what you’d expect for the cost. There are tons of self-catering options, and if you’re not up to cooking, there’s the options of dining out at the Fig Tree restaurant – wonderfully hearty meals and a top-notch wine selection.
This bed was every bit as comfortable as it looks! The original stone wall of the building can be seen through the clear panel on the right.
Sunset at De Hoop, and sunrise too actually, are absolutely incredible.
What to do at De Hoop
What I loved most about De Hoop was how close you feel to the outdoors. I haven’t actually stayed in a reserve for a good while so it was great to have the feeling of being isolated, removed from my email and generally just enjoying nature. The reserve doesn’t have any dangerous game, so it’s safe to really walk around without any restrictions and take it all in. It’s a favourite for hikers too because of the numerous trails that criss-cross the reserve.
About an hour’s drive away from the accommodation is the start of the Vulture experience trail.
We did quite a few different activities while at De Hoop. My favourite though was the Vulture Experience. The steep hike to the edge of a rocky precipice sets you up with the perfect view over a colony of around 180 Cape Vultures at Potberg. The trail is guided and depending on the time of year, you leave to arrive just in time to see these enormous birds take flight and build up into the air in spirals before going in hunt of dinner.
It started with just one or two vultures at a time, but as the day got warmer, there were just more than we could count. They climb quickly and gracefully, before flying off in the direction of the horizon to begin their scavenger hunt.
With a wing span of around two metres, Cape Vultures slice through the air before making their way out of their protected colony.
While the hike to the vultures is relatively tough, it’s also a pretty short journey of an hour, making it worth the climb. I regret not carrying a much bigger lens, but at the time I did say I was glad I hadn’t tried to lug an enormous amount of gear up Potberg. If you’re an avid photographer: TAKE THE GEAR!
One of the best parts about driving around the Overberg at this time of year, are the massive fields of canola flowers in bloom. They seem to just go on and on, but my favourite was the field right outside the gate of De Hoop.
Just ahead of Spring, the Overberg turn bright yellow with sprawling fields of Canola…
Another highlight of my stay at De Hoop was our Interpretive Marine Walk, an amble over the rock pools and dunes at De Hoop at low tide. This is a great activity for kids too, and your guide will point out a huge variety of things to look at, relaying interesting information about each. The walk takes about 90 minutes and is followed by a dune climb, where we had a picnic breakfast waiting.
What was ultra special about this experience at this time of year? Well once we reached the crest of the dune, we were looking out over a protected bay where there were about 50 Southern Right Whales frolicking with their calves. I simply didn’t have enough of a zoom lens to get a great picture, so instead, we just sat staring out to sea, catching fins and tails popping out of the calm waters.
Without doing any harm, our guide carefully extracted 2 sea anenomes for us to photograph, ever so slowly, the pair started to move their spines against her hand looking for home.
Looking out into the bay at low tide, you can spot all sorts of interesting marine wildlife pointed out by the guide.
As I mentioned earlier, this isn’t a big game reserve, but instead offers other varieties of wild animals worth spending time looking out for. We headed off for sundowners and it almost seemed like a couple of bokkies nearby were posing for us in the sunlight.
One of a trio of bontebok showing off during the evening golden hour.
Our crew for sundowners…
One of the final activities for our stay was an Eco Boat Trip across the vlei (or wetlands). This gave us a chance to spot some lesser flamingo, as well as pelicans. Firstly, penguins are more awkward than what I’ve been lead to believe, lots of limbs and scrambling to get into the air. Secondly, pelicans are absolutely enormous!
So many flamingo legs!
Our final sunrise, the legitimate colours of the Overberg…
Accommodation at De Hoop books up way in advance, so I would highly recommend you plan your trip as early as you can. I would like to go back and experience the self-catering options in time, they’re ideal for the way I travel and are comfortable, spacious and offer privacy for couples.
My stay with the De Hoop Collection was by invite, with all my posts though, editorial control remains with me.