De Hoop: Nature's playground

2012-10-05 07:55
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Pics: De Hoop Nature Reserve

Getting back to nature with the family is easy, head out to De Hoop Nature reserve for a weekend spent birding, watching whales and hiking along the coastline.

Maranda Louw visits De Hoop Nature Reserve outside Bredasdorp in the Southern Cape.

Life is tough in Africa. Here we sit, wrapped up against the wind, facing the choppy waters of the vlei. The long-legged stilts lean against the South-Easter, while the chef is fighting to keep platters with canapés from flying into a tree.

Minutes later, calm descends. The baboons in the milkwood tree behind us hushes, the water becomes a mirror and flamingoes echo the flaming orange of the setting sun. Such is life on the shore of the vlei at the De Hoop Nature Reserve outside Bredasdorp in the Southern Cape.

Residing in a century-old limestone manor and consuming the work of an in-house chef is hard work. You are expected to enjoy crispy prawns, Parma ham and figs on puff pastry and caprese salad sosaties at the water’s edge. Our charming guide insists on refilling your glass with local wines while a flock of pelican fly overhead.

What were they thinking?

The experience of staying at the Melkkamer Manor house, Vlei Cottage or Foreman’s Cottage is indeed not for everyone. Better stay away if you prefer polycotton bed linen or crusty towels. If croissants for breakfast and fillet for supper is not your style, move along. This, more expensive accommodation option by the De Hoop Collection, offers guests a secluded stay on the edge of the vlei in restored limestone houses. Often rented by one group for weddings or long-stay options the three cottages sleep a total of 22 guests in four-star luxury.

The three-day Melkkamer trail consists of a three-night fully catered stay at the homestead or cottages and two day-walks with a guide. But the vlei and marine day-walks can be booked by any visitor to De Hoop and is not exclusive for Melkkamer guests.

The vlei walk is a must for all bird and fynbos lovers and is fit for most levels of fitness. The 13 kilometer route follows the water’s edge with an optional detour through fynbos veld for close-up examination of the area’s flora. The De Hoop vlei is a Ramsar site of international importance where water birds and other creatures can live without disturbance.

It is a vast stretch of salty water, now separated from the sea by a range of blindingly white sand dunes. The dunes, ever moving, closed the vlei from the sea about 300 years ago. It is now fed by sub-surface springs and rivers and provides home and pantry for otter, crustaceans and up to 30 000 birds. You will see pelicans with their saggy jowls, flamingos meditating on their reed-like ballet legs and the huge Caspian tern with its Anne Hathaway-red beak and enormous wings. Even non-bird lovers enjoyed the walk as we saw a huge kudu bull, ostriches, Cape mountain zebra and an assortment of dangerous-looking insects. And the ever-present troop of baboons were shouting obscenities from milkwood trees as we sat down for an Out of Africa style lunch of salads and quiche by the vlei’s edge…

The interpretive marine walk explores the De Hoop coast’s rock pools, surreal rock formations and white sand beaches. Our clever dashing guide enlightened us with details about edible seaweed, star fish and the excretion organs of (sea) urchins.

Waving a discarded toothbrush, he suddenly screeched. In a crystal clear rock pool we could see the trail of an octopus as it emitted a cloud of ink black decoy.  The rest of the day was spent in the shadow of a rocky overhang, bathing in rock pools and counting whales, dolphins and seals.

June and December is the ideal time to observe the huge Southern Right whales as they play, mate and give birth just behind the breaking waves. Come sunset, it was time again to face the food as our valiant guide guarded the canapés from a Total Onslaught by the touring troop. On a dark moon night stargazing is great family fun and very interesting. The intrepid guide, armed with a powerful laser pointer pointed out star signs and constellations not visible in our light polluted cities.

De Hoop was the ideal weekend breakaway from city life, only 260 km along the N2 from Cape Town. Accommodation at De Hoop Nature reserve is managed by the De Hoop Collection and offers beds for every budget. Camp on the edge of the limestone cliff under milkwood trees and wake up with the cry of a fish eagle. Stay in a basic but quaint rondawel, with crispy white furnishings and soft towels. The three and four-star self catering cottages are ideal for families and friends and have fully equipped kitchens and tasteful interiors.

The five-star Opstal Manor House is a historical homestead and staying there is like sleeping in a museum, without the dust.

On the other side of the vlei lie the Melkkamer Manor and sand stone cottages for those who prefer a secluded stay. The chef crosses the vlei by boat… Visitors should try the Fig Tree restaurant’s traditional South African fare with a contemporary twist. Should you choose to dine under the fig tree in the court yard, guard your scone, as  Clucky the resident tame ostrich might be around?

The De Hoop Nature Reserve has more than just food and hikes on its menu. Bird watching, mountain bike trails, guided quad bikes trails and horse riding, guided dune walks, swimming, snorkeling and tennis are offered to both resident and day visitors. Children are well catered for: there are trees to climb, safe beaches and rock pools to investigate. Baby sitters can be booked and school groups visit for educational walks.

De Hoop Nature Reserve is managed by Cape Nature and is unique for its variety of vistas: plains with bontebok and eland, lizards and agamas on rocky outcrops. Flora varies from patches of forests in kloof areas to dune fynbos and succulents. Gaze over a vast swathe of water with aquatic birds and rare otter or a glistening coast line with flat rocks and sea mammals. Smell wild lavender and braai fires. Get married there or get a suntan. De Hoop is a jewel in the Western Cape crown.

- De Hoop is an ideal stop to explore the Overberg region. Base yourself here for the Elim Wine and Food Celebration on 6 October. See for information
Read more on:    travel south africa

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