The day dawned a rust-coloured red above the inky black horizon. Fighting to hold on to the night, only the brightest stars remained overhead, while gnarled wild fig trees with their elaborate network of branches cast fascinating silhouettes. I stood outside my rustic suite, braving the biting cold of the winter’s dawn to listen to my favourite song: the African veldt coming to life. It’s the fiery-necked nightjars warbling their final choruses, while the weavers, sparrows, doves, and starlings begin theirs.
A spotted eagle owl stood sentry on the thatched roof of my suite, staring at me fiercely like an angry cat before flying silently away. The east, becoming increasingly illuminated by the rising sun, bleached from red to pink, compelling me to remain a spectator until well after my fingers had become thoroughly numbed by the cold. This is sunrise at De Hoop Nature Reserve and what a spectacular show it is!
About De Hoop Collection
De Hoop Nature Reserve lies an approximate three hours’ drive from Cape Town in the beautiful Overberg region of the Western Cape. Here, a restful and luxurious haven has been created for visitors. The historic farmlands, homestead, and surrounding buildings – some of which date back to the 1800s – have been converted to a clutch of stylish, comfortable self-catering suites, cottages, and homes. Just like its birds and wildlife, the reserve boasts a great diversity of accommodation types, all of which are tastefully decorated, handsomely equipped, and fully serviced.
From simple, yet cosy campsite rondawels and ridiculously romantic suites to multi-roomed cottages perfect for families or large groups of friends: there’s an accommodation type to suit every visitor and pocket. There’s also a camping area for those who prefer little more than a layer of canvas between themselves and Mother Nature.
During our three-night stay at De Hoop Collection, we were housed in one of the rustic yet luxurious Cloete suites, which had its own bathroom, fireplace, and fully-stocked bar fridge. The bed, wreathed in flowing mosquito netting, was exceptionally comfortable and climbing out of its heated blankets and poofy embrace became the morning challenge; although nothing gets you out of bed with a skip in your step quite like the promise of a hot cappuccino, freshly baked croissants, and platters loaded with mouth-watering cheese and charcuterie from neighbouring farms!
Dining and Wining
Mealtime attracts the reserve’s guests to De Hoop Collection’s restaurant, which has just moved to a brand-new space that overlooks the vlei and its innumerable feathered inhabitants. Having just undergone an extensive reimagining, The Fig Tree Restaurant in The Shed now serves up its carefully curated and expertly prepared menu in a cosy and vibrantly decorated space. Here, there is ample table seating, as well as two lounge spaces where guests can sink about three feet deep into couches the size of boats to read, enjoy a glass of wine, and socialise before or after a meal.
Dinners are a set three-course affair for a bargain price of R295 per person (to be increased to R328 starting 1st October 2018) and are crafted from seasonal, locally sourced ingredients with a focus on healthy eating. During our stay, we mowed our way through such treats as carrot and ginger soup flavoured with honey and coconut milk; pan-fried chicken roulade with saffron risotto and thyme velouté; grilled lamb rack with herb spaghetti and minted red wine sauce; and a chocolate volcano dessert so decadent and brain-numbingly delicious, I fear all other desserts have been ruined.
The Shed is open all day from 08h00 to 21h00 and serves breakfast, lunch, dinner (a la carte menus for breakfast and lunch), snacks, teas, coffees and cakes and is licensed. Phone 021-422-4522 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Then there was De Hoop Collection’s new wine cellar; a veritable treasure trove of South African wines with a focus on the southwestern Cape coast’s cool climate regions of Cape Agulhas, Elim, and Walker Bay, etc. Built inside an old grain silo that’s directly accessible from the restaurant, this in-the-round space houses more than 3,000 fine wines, which are arranged beautifully on the walls.
Restaurant guests are invited to enter the wine cellar, choose a bottle (wine list and pricing is provided in a menu on a central table) and take it back to their tables to enjoy with their meal. Needless to say, I took full advantage of this exceptional offering and went on a sweeping tasting tour of the region, which began with the Sijnn (red blend) 2012 and the truly exceptional Creation Reserve Pinot Noir 2015 on night one and two respectively, and ended with Black Oystercatcher 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot on night three.
If it weren’t for all the walking we did that weekend, I would likely have returned home with a few extra kilograms of luggage slapped on my thighs.
The Reserve’s Feathered and Furry Inhabitants
The seamless confluence of a variety of vegetation biomes and landscapes in De Hoop Nature Reserve has attracted an enormous diversity of birdlife, from iridescent sunbirds and large raptors to swooping aerial birds and gaily coloured flamingos. In a single day, in fact, you could quite easily rack up a bird list of over 100 species, so abundant and varied it is (over 260 species of birds have been recorded here).
Small, mid-sized, and large antelope, including grysbok, klipspringer, kudu, eland, and the endangered bontebok, are found commonly throughout the reserve and often come to graze within a stone’s throw of the accommodations. Cape mountain zebra and comical clutches of female ostriches hang around De Hoop’s “Opstal” area, providing endless entertainment for those with the time to watch them. The staff even told me that De Hoop has a few resident leopards, although they tend to stay well away from the hustle of the main living area.
The reserve is also home to a bevvy of smaller beasts, including caracal, dassie (rock hyrax), baboon, bat-eared fox, Cape clawless otters, the critically endangered Riverine rabbit, porcupine, several species of mongoose, and honey badgers, to name a few. But while it’s always a pleasure and a treat to spot these wild animals, what really attracts visitors in their hordes to this part of the world are the Southern Right whales.
De Hoop’s coastal section offers the perfect vantage point over one of the world’s most prolific and important nurseries for Southern Right whales, which spend several months of the year in these waters birthing and weaning their mini-bus-sized babies. In fact, on the day our group ventured to the coast, we spotted 16 of these mammoth marine mammals at one time, and most were mothers with calves. The previous week, a record 1,116 had been counted in the bay via aeroplane! The whale-watching season spans from July to November, with July, August, and September considered prime viewing time. Dolphins and Cape fur seals are also common residents of this stretch of coast.
De Hoop Activities and Adventures
In addition to whale watching, De Hoop Nature Reserve offers an action-packed itinerary of guided, family-friendly adventures that include (but are not limited to):
- An early morning, two-hour guided bird walk with a qualified field guide. As an avid life-long birder, I can say with utmost authority that De Hoop Nature Reserve is nirvana for bird-watchers.
- An exceptional guided eco boat cruise around the vlei that includes wine, beverages, and canapés (evening).
- A two to three-hour guided mountain biking experience that leads riders through the reserve’s pristine fynbos vegetation and fields dotted with Bontebok, Eland, and ostriches.
- A two-hour interpretive marine walk at Koppie Alleen (low tide) that will open your eyes to the various be-tentacled, spiny, shelled, and squishy creatures that inhabit the rock pools along the coast.
Of special mention is a visit to the Western Cape’s last surviving colony of Cape griffon vulture at Potberg, to where guests are taken by bus. Once there, a short hike leads up to a viewing deck that looks out over the most magnificent scenery of rugged cliff face, fynbos-clad mountain slopes, and, in the distance, green and yellow patches of farmlands. The main attraction, however, are the hundreds of Cape griffon vultures, which roost in the cliff’s crevasses and gullies, ride the thermals, and glide overhead. A packed picnic lunch is included in the visit so guests can conclude the experience with a well-earned lunch in the shade.
For those keen on some self-guided adventure, the reserve boasts hectares of gently undulating fynbos-carpeted hills, a large estuary bordered by cliffs, coastal scrublands, and sand dunes that are a wonderland to explore by foot, bicycle, or even boat. In the absence of large, potentially aggressive animals such as lions, elephants, rhino and buffalo, the reserve is open for no-holds-barred adventure sans fences!
A Spectacular All-year Round Destination
Although we returned only two days ago, my heart already cries out for the solace and deep sense of serenity I found at De Hoop Nature Reserve. Embraced by nature, diverse birdlife, and the sounds of the African veldt, De Hoop Nature Reserve is a stunning, all-year-round destination for locals and tourists. Whatever you’re chasing – be it nature, adventure, gastronomy, great wine, peace, or perspective – you’ll find it there.
+27 (0)21 422 4522
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