It’s nearly sunset and it has been a busy day. Before we meet for dinner, I steal a moment, find a bench and watch the sun dip behind the clouds. There’s nothing to hear but birdsong and occasional footsteps as fellow visitors pass by on their evening walk. They nod, I smile and then they move on, understanding that even though De Hoop Nature Reserve’s accommodation is running at capacity, there’s still plenty of space for everyone to enjoy their own slice of solitude.
I’m staying at De Hoop on that rare and beautiful thing, a ladies’ weekend away, but I can’t help noticing that this would be a great place to visit with the family. There’s no big game here, so roaming, whether on foot or by bike, is encouraged. We however, opt to drive to the coast for a gentle morning stroll. The beach is a marvel – white sand, turquoise ocean, rock pools filled with urchins and starfish, scurrying dassies up on the rocks and once we’ve finished our guided coastal wander, a short slog up a sand dune for an al fresco breakfast with a view of the Indian Ocean below.
This stretch of coast forms part of the Whale Trail and indeed we see southern right tails splashing in the distance – a sight I rather pointlessly attempt to capture on my phone. De Hoop might not have any of the Big Five, or even a giraffe or a hippo, but it does offer some matchless wildlife-viewing options. As well as whales from June to December, there’s the year-round spectacle of Cape vultures at Potberg.
The vulture colony is a short, bumpy drive out of the park and along a gravel road, passing glowing yellow canola fields contrasted against the vivid blue sky. Once we re-enter the reserve, it’s a pleasant walk through fynbos then a short but steep hike to the viewing platform. Here some 180 vultures roost in the last remaining colony in the Western Cape. After 20 minutes of trying to capture the perfect bird-in-flight photo, I opt instead to lie on the wooden deck and watch them glide silently overhead.
We haven’t really hiked enough to earn one, but once we’re back at the homestead we treat ourselves to massages at the spa, a fairly new and very welcome addition to the homestead. This is the centre of your stay at De Hoop – a village of whitewashed buildings containing the restaurant, gift shop, spa and almost all of the reserve’s accommodation. The accommodation is operated by the De Hoop Collection and covers everything from simple huts to stately rooms in the manor house, with meals at the excellent Fig Tree restaurant available to all (but book ahead to secure a table). For couples on a budget, the rondavels are perfect. They might share bathroom facilities, but they boast the best location of all the reserve’s accommodation, with front row seats to the picturesque vlei. Families are also well catered-for with a selection of homely chalets, each with their own lounge and braai area.
As much as I am loving the ladies’ weekend away, I can’t help notice the features that would make this an fine family break: plenty of space to run around, a kids’ playground, excellent rock-pooling on the coast, scheduled activities during school holidays, kids’ bikes to rent, tennis courts and a swimming pool to splash in. In fact, I’m starting to think that my next visit will definitely involve the husband and son. Then I find a quiet spot above the vlei with some the reserve’s 260 bird species for company and I think, then again, perhaps not…
De Hoop Nature Reserve is operated by Cape Nature. It’s a three-hour drive east of Cape Town. Entrance is R4o for adults and R20 for children. Accommodation is operated by the De Hoop Collection and starts at R1200 per night for a rondavel.
Disclosure: I stayed at De Hoop as a guest of the De Hoop Collection.