The De Hoop Nature Reserve is just a three-hour drive from Cape Town. It’s stuffed with Cape fynbos, the vlei is a Ramsar site (wetland of international importance) and southern right whales come to breed in its marine reserve. If that’s not reason enough to visit, here are 12 things to do at De Hoop Nature Reserve.
There’s also a 28km trail and a fairly technical 30km one for the die-hards. It has stretches of sand and some rocky sections that can be a technical challenge, but you’ll be rewarded with a stop at the picnic area near the Koppie Alleen guesthouse, where you'll have expansive views of white dunes and sea. You’ll almost certainly spot some whales between June and November. Come prepared, though; when we returned from our walk along the beach to explore the rocky pools, a Dutch family had got as far as the picnic site stop and were begging to be picked up by vehicle!
2. Go game viewing
So if you don’t see some interesting creatures in your time at De Hoop, you’re just not trying. Best of all, you can enjoy some of this diversity on walking trails and mountain bike trails across the reserve – none of that ‘stay in your car’ business that’s compulsory in Big Five reserves.
3. Go to the beach
4. Do a hiking trail
There’s a number of walking trails at De Hoop, the shortest being the 3.5km self-guided trail that follows the cliffs along the vlei from Die Opstal. Pick up a booklet from reception and follow the markers to learn about the natural and historical features along the trail. There are longer walking trails to De Mond and in the Potberg section, or you can book ahead to do the five-day 55km Whale Trail from Potberg to Koppie Alleen.
To book for the Whale Trail, contact Cape Nature reservations, tel 0861 227362 or 021-4830190. It's a five-day trail with the Noetsie Cabin (upgraded after damage caused by heavy flooding in November 2013 and January 2014) as a highlight.
5. Play tennis and boules or chill at the pool
If you get tired of the nature activities at De Hoop (as if!), there’s an all-weather tennis court behind the restaurant and Opstal Manor House (hire racquets and balls from reception if you haven’t brought your own) as well as a boules court (again, talk to reception). Then flop into the swimming pool to cool off on a hot day.
6. Eat dinner at the Fig Tree restaurant
7. Gaze at the stars
‘On a clear night, the skies offer an ever-changing display of fascinating objects, from stars and constellations to bright planets, often the moon, and sometimes special events like meteor showers,’ says De Hoop guide Pinkey Ngewu.
A nature reserve like De Hoop is one of the best places for stargazing because it’s away from the bright lights of towns and there’s very little light pollution. If you join a guided stargazing session, you’ll see the Southern Cross all year round, or you might see Orion with his big dog, Canis major. ‘In early February we saw the shadow of two of Jupiter’s moons, Europa and Callisto, crossing Jupiter’s face simultaneously,’ says Pinkey. ‘On 15 February Venus was shining at its best, and Mars was close by and visible on 19th.’
Check with reception what time to meet outside the Fig Tree Restaurant (times change according to the season and weather conditions). You’ll walk 50 or 60 metres away from the restaurant lights and trees so there are no obstructions. Bring your binoculars if you like.
8. Go eco quad biking
De Hoop showcases the world’s smallest and most threatened plant kingdom, the Cape Floristic Region. The Bredasdorp/Agulhas and Infanta area that De Hoop is part of has some 1500 plant species. Around 108 are rare or threatened, 34 occur only in De Hoop and 14 were recently discovered and have yet to be documented.
9. Join an interpretive marine walk
You don’t need to be particularly fit to do this walk. You’ll climb to the top of the highest dune to look out over the ocean before moving down to the beach and rock pools. Apart from the climb back up from the beach, it’s all pretty slow and sedate – there’s far too much of interest to hurry. Relax in the knowledge that your guide is keeping an eye on the rising tide. Highly recommended.
Check with reception for the time of departure (it depends on when low tide is) and remember to apply lots of sunscreen beforehand. (See my post about our marine walk here.)
10. Go birding
11. Go whale watching
Around 40% of the world’s southern right whales come to De Hoop to breed. In peak season (June to November), you might be lucky enough to see 300 to 500 of them in the bay. This makes De Hoop one of the best land-based whale watching areas in South Africa.
A great way to see them is from the tall dunes near Koppie Alleen or along the five-day 55km Whale Trail from Potberg to Koppie Alleen. To book for the Whale Trail, contact Cape Nature reservations, tel 0861 227362 or 021-4830190.
Whale behaviours to watch for: Breaching – the whale powers out of the water and falls back on its side. Blowing – the sound when a whale expels air through its blowhole, followed by a spout of water. Spy-hopping – the whale lifts its head vertically above the surface of the water. Lobtailing – the whale slaps its tail loudly on the water’s surface.
12. Stay over
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