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Family travel in South Africa and beyond

Category: Parental Retreats

De Hoop Nature Reserve: for families…or just parents

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….

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.

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The Gorge Cottage at Augrabies Falls National Park

When I was a teenager, long before txt spk wz a thng, we used to shorten words in a way that only teenagers seem to be lazy enough to do….

When I was a teenager, long before txt spk wz a thng, we used to shorten words in a way that only teenagers seem to be lazy enough to do. One of my faves (see what I did there?) was ‘gorge’, most often used to describe whichever pin-up we were in love with that week (at a risk of ageing myself, it was usually Corey Haim). When the SAN Parks powers that be named the Gorge Cottage, they could almost have been using my teen years lingo. They weren’t of course – it is named for the geological marvel it overlooks – but it could have been, for if there is one thing you could say about the Gorge Cottage, it’s that it is gorgeous in every way.

My pic of the cottage was blurry through excitement – thanks to SANParks for this version

They didn’t get the name 100% correct though, for I’m not sure I would call it a cottage – more a dream apartment or a super swanky bachelor pad. It’s simply furnished with a double bed, comfy couch, a kitchenette and a few shelves and side tables. Photos taken in the park hang on one wall, though I couldn’t describe them with any conviction. No-one comes here to comment on furniture or admire paintings. One whole wall is made up of windows and the couch and bed face these windows the way they would face the flat screen in your average hotel room. Here of course, there is no TV, and nor is there any need for one. Instead you have the kind of panoramic view of the Oranjekom Gorge that no TV show or photograph could ever faithfully replicate.

For the longest time, this place was simply a lookout point. It still is, with a viewing platform sitting above the cottage, but in late 2016 some smart soul saw fit to add the park’s most impressive place to stay. As dusk approaches and the park’s gates close, the day visitors disappear, throwing back envious glances at whoever is lucky enough to be staying over at the cottage. And my advice to you is to put it on your bucket list, like now. I can’t begin to properly convey the magnificent silence and the deep honour of having this view all to yourself. And it only gets better if like I did, you manage to time your stay with a full moon.

I tend to peddle more in straight-talking than poetry, but sitting outside on a huge boulder sipping cold beer as the moon softly illuminated the 240m-deep gorge gauged out by the Gariep/Orange River – well, it was nothing short of magical. There are no sounds except birdsong and the distant flow of the river and just as I thought the scene could get no more perfect, a dassie scurried by, leaping over a gap in the rocks in that agile manner that their tubby appearance belies.

The laziest photo I’ve ever taken – the view from your bed at the Gorge Cottage

Those beers – or G&Ts or whatever way you choose to celebrate sundown – could come back to haunt you later since the bathroom was built some 30 metres away. Luckily, a plan has been made for those middle-of-the-night calls of nature. It’s undoubtedly the least romantic aspect of the accommodation and not something you’d be keen to use in the early stages of a relationship, but the chemical loo is a bit of a godsend if you wake up after one sundowner too many (or if you’re a mom and midnight peeing is just a part of your routine). It’s been done as well as it could have been, hidden away in a wooden box and emitting no aroma. And it really is the ultimate loo with a view.

This place is firmly filed under “parental retreats”. I really don’t think kids would appreciate the setting and anyway, the cottage sleeps a maximum of two people. I visited alone on a work trip. I thought I’d get plenty of work done but the view is such that I couldn’t take my eyes off it and I didn’t write a word other than to gush about the beauty of it all.

But while it’s undoubtedly a fine place for some ‘you time’, this really is a perfect spot for couples; for reconnecting or recharging batteries. We actually spent one night of our honeymoon at Augrabies many moons ago and I’ll tell you this, if the cottage had been there then, we wouldn’t have spent the night trying in vain to sleep in a tent in the oppressive January heat (side note: the cottage has no air con and will get obscenely hot in summer). But I will be back here soon with Shawn, for the Gorge Cottage has made it firmly onto my “second honeymoon” bucket list (which is now a thing). Now to find a babysitter for Kai…

The Gorge Cottage costs R1600 per night for two people. It’s situated 10km from the main camp and there’s no access to the camp’s shop and restaurant once the gate closes around 7pm. There’s a small kitchen and a braai area but a distinct lack of plug sockets – bring an adaptor for phone-charging. There is cell reception.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary night’s stay at the Gorge Cottage.

An attempt to capture the vista from the Gorge Cottage

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