Why do I travel?
To try and understand the world, to speak to strangers, listen and learn, find stories to tell, to find myself, to feel alive, to breath and be whole, to appreciate. To escape the busy, relax and replenish, stop – and contemplate the beauty of the world.
Which is exactly why De Hoop Nature Reserve, in the Overberg, moved me to fulfilled happiness during a recent long weekend there.
Here at the tip of Africa just three hours from Cape Town is a place that offers all this and more. A piece of nature where time stands still; while you stand face to the wind, feet in the sand, listening to the sound of the ocean.
Arriving by car via Caledon and Bredasdorp to the 36000-hectare reserve, the last 60km is on good dirt road, which always heightens anticipation. This was no different as we passed remote farms with curious sheep and lazy windmills keeping watching over sun-bleached fields.
The pace had slowed by the time we saw the sign that read: ‘De Hoop Nature Reserve’ and took the last stretch to the Opstal and The Fig Tree Restaurant, a hospitable place for a welcome drink or coffee whilst checking in and obtaining an overview of the place.
The 16km vlei is a protected and internationally important Ramsar site that welcomes shoreline exploration. There are 86 species of mammal, the most common being eland, bontebok, baboon, Cape mountain zebra, grey rhebuck, duiker and steenbok. Marine life includes dolphins and seals in the protected marine reserve and there are 259 species of birds. Actually just out on a walk and there is life everywhere.
One of the highlights is undoubtedly the whale viewing. Seven whale species occur off the coast but it is predominantly the Southern Right whale that sets up home here during June to November each year. The less common Bryde’s whale and the rare humpback also make appearances, although they are much harder to spot. I’m told that you can spot upwards of 200 at a time on a calm day in season; making it one of the worlds best land based whale-watching areas.
Few other reserves offer as complete an outdoor experience as De Hoop, that is sea, sand dunes, a floral sensation of rare fynbos, diverse antelope and the Potberg Mountains. This is afterall Cape Nature’s Flagship Nature Reserve and on our full day there we took a 20km walk through it.
The reserve actually includes 70 km of rugged coastline and pristine sandy beaches overlooking the De Hoop Marine Protected Area, which extends 5km out to sea. The oceans face many eco-challenges and marine reserves such as this one offer the opportunity for fish stocks grow whilst conservations research the struggles they face.
A highlight of the visit was undoubtedly the guided marine walk near Koppie Alleen where our guide Esmeralda put her hands into the rock pools and pulled out precious sea creatures for us to learn more about. Enticing giant periwinkles out of their shell to say hi, allowing us to feel the movement of the starfish, the prickly spikes of sea urchins, the white sand and cool water on our feet. All the while the waves broke on the rocks and the oyster catchers watched on.
Other activities on offer include walking trails, mountain biking, tennis court, a swimming pool and boule court at the Opstal and guided Eco-Quad Biking. There are organized fynbos walks, Art Workshops, Stargazing and Identification evenings. The area also has numerous dive sites where some have been lucky enough to see whale sharks. All this can be booked at reception.
My accommodation for the weekend was Melkkamer Manor across the vlei. An incredible homestead that dates back to 1907 and was originally the center of the farm. Characterised by old-world architecture and gracious charm, the stone gabled Manor House has been restored to its former glory and has four en-suite bedrooms offering true luxury where we were ably cared for by our guides and chef.
We managed to balance an active three days with contemplative quiet time over books and local bubbly in front of the fire each night with just the silence of nature and her birdcalls for company. All you need is good walking shoes and your camera, a hat and sunblock or warm jacket and gloves, a book too, a journal even better.
Here is a place offering a true look at why I travel, a reminder of the things that matter. Actually the setting mimics the way the world is meant to be, one of wilderness, protected waters, relaxed game, fresh air and star-filled skies. Time here will leave you like new which is exactly how I felt as I reluctantly departed.
Add it to your list of places to feel travel.
Words: Dawn Jorgensen
Pictures: Dawn Jorgensen/ De Hoop Collection
The practical details:
– Cellphone coverage is sporadic, but there’s free wifi at the The Figtree Restaurant. This is both a good and a bad thing.
– Book in advance to avoid disappointment.
– A Conservation fee is payable at the gate on arrival, remember to check gate opening times.
– Day visitors are welcome and the restaurant is open daily.
De Hoop can accommodate around 160 guests in various lodging ranging from self-catering to luxury, from camping and caravan sites to affordable self-catering chalets and fully catered cottages. For families on a budget to couples wanting a romantic getaway, catered or on your own, the options are there to allow the breakaway that suits you best.