Our dedicated and adventure-spirited travel consultant Nicole was off again on another cross-country trip, this time taking her through the Cape Overberg, Klein Karoo and Garden Route. Her first stop was the majestic De Hoop Nature Reserve where she enjoyed a tranquil and relaxing yet activity-packed stay at the De Hoop Collection - read on to hear all about it.
The beautiful De Hoop conservation area comprises 36 000 hectares and has been declared a National Heritage Site rich in fauna and flora which borders 70km of our coastline. A 19km stretch of wetland stretches across the reserve and you can find this on the Ramsar list of Wetlands, an international treaty for the conservation of wetlands. It’ssituated only three hours from Cape Town on the famous Garden and Whale Routes, making it a perfect stopover between the Cape Winelands and Knysna or Plettenberg Bay.
There is a 33km gravel road before the turn off to the reserve and then a further 7km to the main gate but luckily the road is in relatively good condition and a 4x4 is not required. As you head towards the entrance to De Hoop Collection, you have the option to continue on straight towards the beach which is roughly a 15 minute drive but an absolute must. Snow white sand dunes stretch as far as the eye can see and during the winter months of June to November, Southern Right Whales come so close to the shoreline that visitors can sit on the dunes and watch these magnificent creatures blow, breach and belly flop. De Hoop Reserve is one of the world’s best land based whale-watching areas and is a marine protected area (so no water sports are permitted).
As I drove up the road to reception, I had a welcoming party of bontebok running adjacent to my car and families of ostriches ranging from little chicks to fully grown adults on either side. The grass plains are brimming with zebras, buck, and many different species of birds and it is wonderful that this is the first sight that greets you when you arrive.
I arrived an hour too early for check in so headed straight to The Fig Tree restaurant for a tasty lunch overlooking the De Hoop vlei. The lunch menu in comparison to the dinner menu is selective but caters to most tastes and I chose a traditional South African classic: bobotie. It was delicious and served with a papadum, fresh tomato salsa, sliced bananas and chutney.
After lunch, I checked into my luxury suite which has a stunning view over the vlei and an outside seating area where you can easily pass time watching all the birds flying back and forth. De Hoop offers a wide range of accommodation ranging from affordable self-catering chalets, to more luxurious self-catering cottages and upmarket fully catered lodges with dinner, bed and breakfast rates.
Next to the restaurant is the De Hoop spa and one of the two swimming pools on site, which has a gorgeous view over the vlei. This pool is for adults only to keep the noise to a minimum for the guests relaxing on the massage tables. The weather was quite overcast but I could not resist a quick dip and luckily had the whole pool to myself. After my refreshing swim, I headed to the reception lounge to meet the guide, Roelof, who would be taking myself and two other guests on a nature drive experience.
De Hoop is an absolute haven of activities and there is truly something for everyone. Guided activities include an interpretive marine walk, eco boat trip and even a unique vulture experience where guests can view the Western Cape’s last surviving colony of the endangered Cape Vulture. Explore De Hoop by mountain bike or on foot with one of the guides or at your leisure, and remember to pack your camera for some incredible bird watching with over 260 bird species recorded in the reserve – it really is a birding paradise.
The nature drive was exhilarating in an open safari vehicle and for two hours we explored the scenic areas of the reserve and wetland, with sightings of the Cape Mountain zebra, eland, tortoises and so many different species of birds. Roelof was a vessel of knowledge and pointed out the many different birds we didn’t know as well as the interesting medicinal uses of some of the local Fynbos. At sunset, we picked a viewing point over the vlei and stopped for sundowners and snacks while we watched the pelicans and flamingos settle in for the night.
We arrived back just in time for dinner and the dining room at The Fig Tree had been transformed into an intimate and candlelit setting with a three-course menu card to choose from. I chose a melon and parma ham salad to start, grilled trout for my main course and a decadent brandy pudding with vanilla custard to finish. The food was sublime and I can honestly say that the trout was the best fish dish I’ve ever eaten - resident chef Marcia Tyobeka gets the balance just right with extra crispy skin complementing the perfectly cooked fish. There is an extensive wine menu on offer too with the cellar being home to more than 3000 wines! Most of the suites are very close to the restaurant and I walked back with my torch, illuminating a small hare on my way.
I slept soundly and awoke to a gentle drizzle the next morning opening the doors to enjoy the view while I drank my morning coffee. I had arranged a back massage before breakfast and Phillipa greeted me warmly as I entered the beautiful spacious spa reception. The selection of treatments on offer reflect the surrounding nature and you can choose from facials, massages and body wraps, as well as waxing and nail treatments. The massage was heavenly and I couldn’t believe how quiet it was - it felt like we were the only two people around.
Breakfast was a delicious continental spread with hot breakfasts made to order and I eagerly tucked into freshly baked mini croissants and salmon and cream cheese with a side of fruit salad. Unfortunately it was now raining quite a bit and that meant I didn’t get to experience the eco boat trip that I’d arranged the day previously. Morning cruises include tea, coffee and delicious pastries while afternoon cruises offer wines, beer and savoury snacks. Guests are able to explore the De Hoop vlei and enjoy bird, game and otter sightings with this special experience.
Next time I go, I will be sure to book at least two nights as there is so much to do and see in this serene and beautiful part of the Overberg. Whether you’re looking to escape the everyday, fast-paced rat-race, immerse yourself in nature or spend quality time with others while bonding over delicious meals, De Hoop is a wonderful choice and a must-visit all year round.
Words and images by Nicole Whitehorn