At the beginning of July Don and I had the wonderful privilege of spending a weekend, as guests of De Hoop Collection, at the spectacularly scenic De Hoop Nature Reserve, located along the southern coastline and part of the magnificent Overberg region of the Western Cape. De Hoop Collection at De Hoop Nature Reserve is the first private/public partnership in the hospitality industry in South Africa, established between the De Hoop Collection and Cape Nature. Situated an easy 260km away from Cape Town and a beautiful 3 hour car journey that takes you through mountainous areas, beautiful orchards which at this time of year were pruned and bare waiting in anticipation for the warmer Spring season to arrive, quaint Overberg towns and along teeth shattering gravel roads, this wonderful partnership offers 36,000 hectares of conservation area which forms part of a World Heritage site. The Marine protected area extends 5km/3 nautical miles out to sea and is one of the largest marine protected areas in Africa. During the winter months from June to November the bay is transformed into one of the world’s most important nursery areas for Southern Right whales and offers some of the best whale viewing in the world with 40% of the world’s Southern Right Whale population migrating here to mate, calve and nurture their young through the most vulnerable stage of their lives before returning to the northern hemisphere. During these months between 500 and 800 of these magnificent gentle giants of the ocean visit the area and on a good day it is easy to spot 50 to 100 of them from the dunes. Standing alone above the ocean in the area known as Koppie Alleen, with the skies dull and heavy with promised rain, the wind gently tugging at my scarf and the plaintive cries of gulls the only sound other than the crashing of waves onto the white shoreline, was one of my most favourite things to do while there. We braved the elements of rain and cold and my now strong knee (after having had a total knee replacement in February) allowed me to walk across the bridge and climb the sand dunes to stand and drink in the peace and solitude, survey the magnificent beauty of the bay and the pristine beaches and to watch with delight the whales frolicking in the ocean almost directly below us. It wasn’t the best weather being the middle of winter but the rain let up and we were able to see as much as we could of the reserve while there. Next time I will be able to get right down onto the beach to investigate closer all that the area has to offer.
De Hoop Nature Reserve also forms part of the world’s smallest and most threatened plant kingdom – the Cape Floral Kingdom – with Fynbos as the dominant form of vegetation. Of special importance is the rare type of lowland Fynbos found in this area. The Bredasdorp/Agulhas and Infanta area, which De Hoop is a part of, has an estimated 1500 plant species of the approximately 9000 species found in the Cape Floristic Region. Of these 1500 species, 108 species are rare or threatened, 34 species occur only in De Hoop Nature Reserve and there are 14 recently discovered species that are still un-described.
The reserve has 86 mammal species including the rare bontebok and Cape Mountain Zebra, as well as lots of eland, grey rhebuck, baboons, yellow mongoose (saw one of those regularly!), caracal and on rare occasions leopard as well. De Hoop is also famous for its diverse variety of birds, both resident and migratory, both bush and water birds. For the bird lovers to ooh and aah over, there are more than 260 species recorded to date on the reserve. Some of these include the Black Oystercatcher, Damara and Caspian terns, the Cape Griffon Vulture and Stanley’s Bustard. Also found there are the globally threatened Blue Crane. The De Hoop Vlei, a large body of water that covers an area of 17 – 19km when full, is a Ramsar site of international importance for aquatic birds like the flamingo and pelican.
The reserve is one of South Africa’s last remaining natural areas and is really a true nature lover’s paradise. I so badly want to go back again when the weather is good so that I can really enjoy everything that this amazing space has to offer. October and November would be great for me as it is the best time of year for bird lovers! I doubt whether there are not many reserves that can compare to what De Hoop offers the true nature lover – stunning sea views and pristine beaches, beautiful unspoiled sand dunes, rock pools thriving with marine life, the stunning enormous Vlei with its rich wading birdlife, rare fynbos, an abundance of animals, the Potberg mountains offering home to the rare endangered Cape Vulture and bat caves, yes I heard about those too! Hikers and cyclists in the reserve get up close and personal with animals like the Cape Mountain Zebra, bontebok, eland, baboons, mongooses, ostriches and other animals. It is advisable when leaving your accommodation to close up windows and lock doors so that you don’t have an unpleasant surprise visit from one of aforementioned baboons!
Accommodation at De Hoop is really excellent and will suit all budgets, from the lovely comfy lounge furniture, the copper oil lamps, the welcoming fireplace, the fully set dining table and well equipped kitchen, right down to the electric blankets on the beds, a very welcome surprise during the cold winter months. While Cape Nature is responsible for the conservation management of the reserve, accommodation and restaurant facilities are privately owned and managed by the very friendly, knowledgeable De Hoop Collection staff. There are different types of accommodation inside the Reserve, ranging from the luxury Manor House, self catering fisherman styled cottages each with a small garden and secluded outdoor braai pit, well appointed suites which are fully catered and ideal for romantic interludes, honeymoons and also for families looking for a great time in the midst of nature, delightful thatched round rondavels overlooking the Vlei (my best….next time I am staying in one of those!) as well as camping and caravan sites….so everyone is well catered for! It is the perfect spot for spending time alone celebrating life and love.
Close to all accommodation and centrally situated is The Opstal area of the reserve which houses reception, where we met the professional and lovely Florence who was on duty while we were there, with a well stocked shop, a wonderful outdoor area with the most magnificent wild fig trees, so big you could get lost in them. I imagined my inner child climbing up a retractable ladder into a secluded treehouse, hidden from prying eyes and reading a great book to read and a set of headphones and good music. What bliss that would be.
On the other side of the open space is the delightful Fig Tree Restaurant, very aptly named!
Open daily for all meals the restaurant was originally situated on the other side of the walled area, but burned down during a fire in October 2014 so was moved into the old stables area and it is just so lovely, the area very suited to a restaurant. Decorated in lively reds, with fynbos and proteas decorating each table, some quirky and antique décor mixed with taxidermied antelope heads on the walls, the area is very well suited to a reserve restaurant. We were treated to the most fabulous dinner our first evening there. Because we had celebrated our 37th wedding anniversary the day before our arrival an ice bucket holding a bottle of delicious Domaine Des Dieux Claudia MCC was waiting for us on arrival. The menu changes daily, or should I say nightly, and on the night we were there we thoroughly enjoyed the beautiful starters of a creamy butternut soup and stuffed big brown mushrooms ………then the main course of lamb shank which we both chose and a dessert of white chocolate panna cotta with a berry soup which we shared……….there is also a superb wine menu with a wide range of all the delicious local wines from the area on offer. It is recommended to book for meals. A breakfast buffet is served each morning and looked well attended when we popped in.
At the one end of the restaurant is a small pub stocking all the local wines and some spirits from the area. I did enjoy a delightful Inveroche gin and tonic with a twist of orange while sitting and taking in the ambience of a very relaxed easy going space.
The burned out shell of the original restaurant is intriguing and very photogenic. Rebuilding and renovating has been held up while sorting out issues with the Monuments and Heritage department as it fell under that category of building but I believe that it will all start soon. A lot of other building and renovations were taking place while we were there and I have since found out that the one space, situated alongside the Shed is now the magnificent Spa @ De Hoop, an exercise in understated luxury, overlooking the beautiful vlei. Natasha Jordaan has been appointed to the position of Spa Therapist and brings with her a wealth of experience having worked on large cruise ships and owning her own salon previously. SPA @ De Hoop has partnered with the brand Africology, a proudly South African brand that follows the healing powers of nature, is inspired by ingredients from Africa and South Africa and offers a variety of revitalising Beauty and Body treatments. Guests may choose from a range of traditional massage techniques that are tailored to their wellness needs. The spa is open daily from 9am to 6pm and gift cards are available for treatments and packages. Enquire at the Spa @ De Hoop reception. To make enquiries or to book a treatment ask at reception, call them on 028 542 1253 or email email@example.com
To celebrate the opening of Spa @ De Hoop they will run a special throughout October with a 20% discount on all treatments (excluding waxing and tinting). Once again my imagination runs wild and I can just imagine relaxing while enjoying being pampered and having the painful knots in my shoulders eased while watching the peaceful scenic view of that vlei and all the water birds.
Photo courtesy of De Hoop Collection
Owner of De Hoop Collection, William Stephens, a friendly affable gentleman, has some fantastic plans and ideas for the Opstal area, besides the Spa, and it will be very interesting to return at a future date to see all those plans come to full fruition and to enjoy the benefits of them. Alongside the old restaurant is a boules pit (where this lass showed her old man how to play a good game of boules and won convincingly) a jungle gym, tennis court and a swimming pool. We didn’t make use of most of these on offer due to the weather. In amongst all this the fairly tame wildlife roams around nibbling on fresh green grass and plants or lying enjoying the sunlight. We were fascinated by the obviously very old, beautifully hand-built dry stone walls surrounding certain areas of the reserve and accommodation areas.
De Hoop offers quite a few activities that guests can sign up for – including scenic game drives, guided day walks, either through the fynbos for some great bird watching or interpretative Marine walks along the magnificent, almost deserted white beach with its many richly inhabited rockpools to eco-quad biking. Dickson, who welcomed us to our table the evening before, also does the guiding and is well versed and incredibly knowledgeable about the reserve and it’s natural inhabitants. Originally from Zimbabwe, he and his wife Jennifer who served our table, both work on the reserve and are an absolute asset to De Hoop Collection.
There is a boat that ferries visitors across the wide expanse of the Vlei and mountain bikes are available to hire. During the summer months I can imagine beautiful hours of lazing on the beach under an umbrella, listening to the ebb and flow of the tide and the crashing of the waves while reading and lazing the hours away, the gentle sea breeze cooling down my overheated skin. Actually I can’t imagine anything nicer right now on this cold night! If I were the snorkeling type those richly inhabited rock pools might lure me away from my shady spot but I am not, so the book and daydreaming wins the day! Hubby and I booked a picnic which we enjoyed at a table overlooking the stunning enormous Vlei, that seems to go on forever, while watching the pelicans flying back and forth and settling very gracefully on the water in large groups. Dusty, the resident lone ostrich, thrown out of the larger group by younger more handsome males, wanders around the Opstal area and after our picnic entertained us rather well, as the sun was setting over the Vlei, with the most beautiful and exotic love dance. Such grace from such a large bird.
De Hoop Reserve presents endless photographic opportunities to photography enthusiasts. There really is everything for everyone from the beautiful giants of the ocean to the dancing dolphins in the waves, the tiny marine life in the rockpools, rare black oystercatchers and other sea birds, minute plants and fynbos, the stunning white dunes, unspoiled except for the trails left by animals roaming across them and then there are the animals and birds and the wild beautiful landscape.
This weekend you can enjoy the now famous and memorable 3 days known as Whales, Wine and Music at De Hoop. Whale spotting, wine tasting and magnificent music is the order of the day (or 3 days to be precise)! Celebrated musicians Malané Hofmeyr-Burger on flute, Peta Ann Holdcroft on cello, Marjan Vonk on viola and Irina Tsonif and Ivo Ivanov on violin will entertain you while you relax and taste the areas delicious wines and view the spectacular displays orchestrated by the Southern Right Whale population currently in the bay at De Hoop. Whale expert on the Whale Coast Cetacean Project, Katja Vinding Petersen will share her fascinating study of whales at Koppie Alleen on Sunday. What better way to spend a relaxing weekend? BUT…..that’s not all! What is a weekend without chocolate after all? There is also a Richard von Geusau Chocolate-making Workshop and to work off all that sweetness you can participate in the guided walks and a picnic on the sand dunes watching the Southern Right Whales at Koppie Alleen.
For more information and to book contact De Hoop at 021-422 4522 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Despite the tranquillity and peace and the slow life time waits for no man and passes by very quickly at De Hoop. Our Sunday departure time arrived far too soon. The serenity and peace of this place beckons me. I shall have to return again one day soon…..
One final pic, they say you can’t take the boy out of the man and this photo proves it to be true …..those massive rain puddles in the road caused much excitement and were irresistible to a certain visitor to De Hoop Nature Reserve 🙂
De Hoop Collection also offers wedding facilities and day visitors are welcome.
Disclaimer: We enjoyed two nights accommodation plus a free dinner at The FigTree Restaurant as guests of De Hoop Collection. This review, photographs (except where indicated) and opinions expressed are entirely my own.