By Di Brown, Roaming Giraffe
De Hoop in summer is a dry landscape of earthy tones but winter compensates for the cold temperatures with vivid colours, new growth and dramatic clouds. The fields of canola approaching the reserve scream in bold yellow. They demand that you stop and admire their show.
As you leave the yellow canola behind and crest the hill for the first view of the vast expanse of the De Hoop Reserve, stop for a moment and consider the huge variety of wildlife that calls this place home. The stone and whitewashed buildings you see clustered around the vlei is just a fraction of this reserve. A complete bird, mammal and marine guide/check list is available at De Hoop.
Forget about the Big 5, you will not see them at De Hoop
This means you can safely walk, cycle, hike and explore without the fear of being eaten, mauled or chased and allows you to have a fully immersive experience in nature. When the Big Five are around it is the norm to stop looking for anything else, but the bush has got so much more to offer when you allow your senses to fully focus on your surroundings.
Around the accommodation area you will encounter Cape Mountain Zebra, Bontebok, Kudu, Eland and Chacma Baboons, all delightful to observe and photograph. You can probably view them from your room. With a bit of effort and a walk or a drive you might get lucky and see a Caracal, African Wildcat, Large Spotted Genet or even a Leopard.
Don’t forget to look down for the little guys like the Small Grey Mongoose, Cape Hare, Porcupine and various gerbils, shrews and mice.
For birders, a guided bird walk in the early morning can be arranged or you can go out alone and keep an eye out for the Black Oyster Catcher, easy to spot down at Koppie Alleen beach, Damara and Caspian Terns, Blue Crane, Stanley’s Bustard or any of the 260 bird species on the reserve. We heard one of the six species of owl, but were unable to spot it.
The vulture experience
The Cape Vulture is an endangered species but thanks to De Hoop Collection, Cape Nature Conservation and the local farmers working together, the last remaining colony in the Western Cape is growing and now numbers some 200 birds. Forget the cartoon picture in your mind of vultures. They are usually depicted as scruffy gangster-like birds with scrawny necks hanging out on cliffs looking for trouble. They are the victims of really bad press, and De Hoop Collection’s guides and Cape Nature now offers an extraordinary experience to see these birds in full flight.
We started out with a drive through the reserve to the Potberg. From here we got down into nature as we walked along a narrow path through the fynbos, which was just starting to show off its spring colours. Arriving at a little clearing, shaded by trees, we eyed the slightly daunting incline we were about to tackle. Sun bleached rocks provide footholds and stepping stones as we make our way up the Potberg Mountain. Regular stops are made by some of us to admire the views and catch our breath. Mostly to catch our breath, but admiring the view or taking a photo is a good excuse for us to give to those powering up ahead like mountain goats on speed.
The wooden viewing deck looks across to the cliffs where the vultures nest and the gorge where they catch the thermals and soar out over the valley below.
With a wingspan of over two metres, these birds look exquisite in flight. They are graceful, powerful and fast. They are also extremely difficult to photograph, I failed horribly. We stayed on the deck for well over an hour, watching, pointing and delighting at these beautiful birds. We counted over 42 of them in the sky, and by staring or using the binoculars we were able to spot others in the cracks and crags on the cliff opposite us.
The walk down is pleasant and obviously much quicker. Back at the clearing we were treated to a lovely picnic lunch of extreme deliciousness.
Marine interpretative walk
This activity is dictated by the tides and we were up and ready to go at 7am to make the most of low tide at Koppie Alleen beach. It’s about a 20km drive on a bouncy dirt road from the De Hoop Collection village.
The beaches here take my breath away every single time I visit. There is so much going on it would take days of exploring to take it all in.
I stayed with our marine guide as he told us about the ancient two to five million year old fossilized dunes, rock formations and pools and told us stories about the urchins, anemones and sea plants that are found in abundance here. At one point we were standing on a huge bed of mussels that he estimates to be about 20 years old.
After a while I slipped away to the other beach as I just had to sit and admire what I call the boiling cauldron. A short clamber over some rocks leads to a natural bowl where the waves roll in, swirl, and crash up in a boiling fury. The power of the sea is so evident here and I find it totally compelling. We completed our beach adventure with brunch on the dunes and were entertained by the whales in the waves right below us.
If you are looking for a break from the city, De Hoop is a comfortable three-hour drive from Cape Town and is accessed either via Swellendam if travelling along the N2, or via Bredasdorp if you take the R316 at Caledon.
Thank you to the De Hoop Collection for hosting me. (All opinions are my own.)
South African specials are available on their website www.dehoopcollection.com