The De Hoop Nature Reserve is just under a three-hour drive from Cape Town. It’s stuffed with Cape fynbos, its vlei is a wetland of international importance, and southern right whales come to breed in its Marine Protected Reserve. If those aren’t reason enough to visit, here are 15 things to do at De Hoop Nature Reserve in the Overberg.
You’ll find the De Hoop Nature Reserve about 50km east of Bredasdorp in South Africa’s Western Cape. Some 34 000ha in size, it’s a diverse medley of sea and vlei, sand dunes and fynbos. Although conservation here is managed by CapeNature, most of the accommodation and activities are privately run by the De Hoop Collection.
Whether you simply love nature in all its forms and just want to rest and relax or you fancy packing in the action, the De Hoop Collection has you covered. Here’s my pick of some of the activities you can enjoy here in this strikingly beautiful nature reserve.
1. Go game viewing
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 – there’s none of that ‘stay in your car’ business that’s necessary in Big Five reserves.
You’re welcome to self-drive around the reserve, but if you want to learn something about the quirks of the local animals and plants, take a late afternoon nature drive with a guide in an open safari vehicle. You get to explore some roads not open to the public. Our guide took us along the vlei where you can spot flamingo, pelican, black stilt and other water birds unless it’s overcast, cold and windy, when they take cover out of sight on an island. Round off your experience with snacks and drinks at one of the reserve’s view points so you can imprint the vlei, fynbos or dunescape on your memory.
2. 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. I highly recommend it for all ages.
Check with the activity centre next to reception for what time this activity starts; it depends on when low tide is and may be super early. Wear a hat and lots of sunscreen.
Find out more about our De Hoop marine walk experience
3. Meet the Cape vulture
Our guide said there are now about 160 breeding pairs of Cape vultures. You can see them swoop and wheel in the sky above you, watch them dive or catch the thermals. Even with a long lens you’ll struggle to capture great photos of the birds in flight, but it’s a thrill just to be there watching them.
Learn more about them from your guide. For instance, they only lay a single egg each year (very rarely they may lay two). Both parents incubate the egg and both will keep the nestling fed. Here the steep cliffs provide an ideal habitat for the vultures, which roost and nest in a deep gorge. They forage almost exclusively on carcasses of cows and sheep on surrounding farms. Fortunately, landowners have been educated to see them in a positive light as the ‘clean-up crew’ of the veld. They’re not a threat since they never kill for themselves, only eating carrion. You’ll also hear about the challenges they face from powerline collisions, electrocution and exposure to pesticides.
The vultures are ringed so researchers can keep tabs on them; they’ve been known to fly as far afield as to Namibia. If you’re lucky, you may spot other raptors like Verreaux’s and martial eagles. Day visitors are welcome to join this experience; no children under 12.
4. Go to the beach
5. Go eco-boating on the vlei
Hop onto a boat to explore the De Hoop Vlei and see wildlife from a different perspective. The vlei is a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance so you’ll see a number of water birds and waders, perhaps even an otter or two. Hear the call of the African fish-eagle, see sandpipers, ruffs and terns wading through the mud flats in summer. Even if you’re not a serious birder, it’s a chance to sit back and soak up the views, enjoy the tranquility of nature. You might spot some antelope or Cape mountain zebra from the boat too. Note that the availability of this activity depends on the water level being high enough for the boat.
6. Go whalewatching
Some 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.
7. Take a hike
There’s a number of walking trails at De Hoop, the shortest being the 5km self-guided ‘red’ trail that starts near the restaurant and follows the cliffs along the vlei. Pick up a pamphlet from the activity centre next to reception and follow the markers to learn about some of the natural and historical features along the trail. There are longer walking trails, including 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 De Hoop Whale Trail, contact CapeNature reservations, tel 087 087 8250. The trail has recently been upgraded and reopened after closing in January 2019. Smell the fragrance of fynbos, feel the tang of salt in the air, sleep in fully equipped cabins. If you come between June and November, you should see lots of whales too (see point 6).
Find out more about the Whale Trail
8. Ride a mountain bike trail
There are also longer and more technical trails of 30km and 55km for the die-hards. Sandy and rocky stretches can be a technical challenge, but you’ll be rewarded with expansive views of white dunes and sea, some eland, bontebok, mountain zebra and lots of birds along the way. You’ll almost certainly spot some whales between June and November.
Strike out on your own or join a two- to three-hour mtb trail with a guide who will give you insight into your surroundings. You can either bring your own bike or hire one on site.
9. Play tennis and boules or chill at the pool
10. Eat at the Fig Tree Restaurant
There are two choices for each course of the three-course menu. We particularly enjoyed the beetroot, onion marmalade and goat’s cheese starter, mains of tender fillet or crispy prawns, and pavlova with fresh fruit for dessert.
11. Go birding
12. Gaze at the stars
On a clear night, the skies offer an ever-changing display of stars, constellations, bright planets, often the moon, sometimes special events like meteor showers. 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. You’ll see the Southern Cross all year round, or you might spot Orion with his big dog, Canis major, planets like Mars, Venus and Jupiter. Try to walk at least 50m away from lights and trees so there are no obstructions.
13. Discover the plants
14. Get married
De Hoop makes a beautiful wedding venue, with gorgeous backdrops for photos and lots of accommodation options to suit your guests. Whether it’s a small, intimate wedding or one for up to 120 people, the De Hoop Collection can help with the arrangements, from the cake and flowers to hair, makeup and photography.
15. Stay over at the De Hoop Collection
We’ve stayed in a self-catering cottage in the past and loved it. On our most recent stay we lucked out in one of the gorgeous Cloete Suites at the De Hoop Collection, which is part of Cape Country Routes Whale Route. The thatched, gabled building dates back to the 1800s and the oldest buildings at Die Opstal date as far back as the 1700s. The whole area, including the Manor House, is peppered with huge wild fig trees with spreading canopies that provide welcome shade.
From one side we could see out towards the vlei in the distance, from the other to the high white dunes on the horizon. The best spot to relax were the Adirondack chairs on the stoep where we stared into space and listened to the birds. We even had a visit from some ostriches, bontebok and eland.
Get more info on De Hoop Nature Reserve accommodation options
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