The Garden Route is the obvious choice for a family road trip these holidays. But there’s another route from Cape Town through the Overberg that leads to an equally spectacular and much less crowded corner of the country - the De Hoop Nature Reserve. By Sonya Naude
Situated near Cape Agulhas on the southern Cape coast, this World Heritage Site is a three-hour drive from Cape Town and makes for an ideal stop over if you’re travelling through the Cape winelands to Plettenberg Bay with your family.
The final 35km to the entrance of De Hoop Nature Reserve is on a rather nerve-jangling gravel road. But the rewards of the bumpy ride are worth it: 36 000 hectares of spectacular sand dunes, fynbos plains and limestone hills overlooking a protected marine area along 70km of pristine coastline.
A 19km Ramsar-listed wetland also stretches across the reserve, making this a paradise for avid bird watchers and nature lovers!
Where to stay
De Hoop Collection manages all the accommodation facilities and activities on the reserve as part of a Public Private Partnership agreement with Cape Nature. Over the past few years, all the old farm buildings and chalets have been restored and redecorated with furnishings typical of the Overberg farm area. Whether you prefer more affordable, self-catering accommodation or you want to treat yourself to a fully-catered upmarket stay, there’s a wide variety of options to choose from.
If you’re travelling with your family, you might find one of the 3-bedroomed Opstal houses the most convenient home-away-from-home option. It is in walking distance to the kids’ swimming pool and tennis courts, as well as the restaurant, reception, curio shop and spa. You will enjoy the self-catering and privacy it offers, but still be close enough to all the main amenities.
I stayed in one of the charming Cloete suites, which sleeps two. A new addition to the Opstal (homestead) it has a cosy fireplace, a Victorian-style bathroom, tea and coffee-making facilities, and views of the grassy plains. It was especially beautiful to watch the bontebok, zebra and other wildlife from my room at sunrise when they liked to graze under the enormous fig tree nearby.
The Fig Tree restaurant
The Fig Tree Restaurant, located in the Opstal area, is the centre of De Hoop’s dining scene. Previously a shed used by the farmer, it has been renovated into a beautiful, modern space where you can enjoy a meal or a drink with spectacular views over the vlei.
Open from 8am-9pm each day, the restaurant offers a la carte menus for breakfast and lunch and delicious set dinner menus. However, snacks and drinks are available throughout the day and can be enjoyed either in the lounge area next to the fireplace or on the veranda. Either way, you’ll feel right at home!
A silo that used to store grain behind “the shed” has been transformed into a novel round-shaped wine cellar and now houses over 3 000 wines on its shelves. In the evening’s it’s not unusual to see guests browsing the shelves with the help of the resident sommelier for a bottle of wine to accompany their meal at dinner.
Walking or biking on the reserve
The best thing about visiting De Hoop is that, unlike many nature and game reserves in South Africa, you can explore it on foot, or if you prefer, on a bicycle, which you can hire from reception. This allows you to really appreciate the beauty and diversity the reserve has to offer.
Children of all ages will love the freedom to explore the reserve. The endless beach, towering sand dunes, intertidal rock pools and diverse fauna and flora provide a natural playground for kids to learn.
Did you know the marine reserve off de Hoop is one of the world’s most important nursery grounds for Southern Right whales? Migrating north from their winter feeding grounds in Antarctica, the whales arrive around May each year to mate, calve and raise their young in the protected bay.
Large numbers can be seen from the shore from May/June to December each year. The best place to spot these enormous creatures (as well as white sharks, dolphins, turtles and schools of game fish) is from the sand dunes at Koppie Alleen. You can self-drive from the Opstal, but if you’re feeling energetic, you can walk or rent a bike like we did. It’s a relatively flat 15km route and you’ll find you can really take in the landscape, flora and fauna as you go.
For a once-in-a-lifetime experience, you could also organise a helicopter flip over the reserve to catch a glimpse of the whales from the air. On my recent visit, I was lucky to spot over 100 Southern Right cows with their calves in the bay from the helicopter – a memory I’ll never forget!
For unique insights into the marine life in the area, the Interpretative Marine Walk is a must! Depending on the time of low tide each day, a guide will meet you at the car park at Koppie Alleen and lead you on a fascinating two-hour exploration of the coastal rock pools and beaches. (Tip: wear shorts and beach shoes, not flip-flops!)
If you have kids over the age of 12, and you’re all reasonably fit, you’ll love the unique opportunity to get a glimpse of the only remaining breeding colony of Cape vultures in the Western Cape. Departing in the morning, a guide will take you on a scenic drive to the Potberg mountains, which is located in the north-eastern part of the reserve. From here, you’ll need to tackle a relatively steep one hour climb up to a wooden viewing deck – but it’s worth the effort! From here you can spot some 300 of these vultures, which now roost and nest on the cliffs of a deep gorge along with other birds. After your descent, you’ll be treated to a packed picnic lunch under the trees before heading back to camp.
Eco boat cruise
The boat cruise, which departs from the small jetty near the restaurant twice a day, is the perfect way to explore the vlei. Your children will love the novel experience of drifting on the water to spot birds and animals that live and feed in this wetland. This includes playful otters, fish eagles, pelicans and flamingos. You’ll also pass the historic Melkamer Manor House, situated on the opposite side of the vlei, which is also popular with larger groups who want total privacy. The cruise includes drinks and snacks.
Editor of Living and Loving. She is responsible for developing the brand’s overall content and business strategy.
She has worked on various newspapers and magazines as a journalist and editor over the years. Passionate about health and wellbeing, she has won several respected industry awards for writing and editing. She’s featured on radio and television as a health and parenting expert numerous times and has judged the Pfizer Mental Health Journalism Awards on three occasions.
Outside of work, she enjoys trying out recipes, reading crime mysteries and thrillers, practicing yoga, and exploring new destinations.
Learn more about Sonya Naudé.