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De Hoop Nature Reserve - Whales, Water and Wind!

 | Scott Ramsay Book Accommodation

Seagull and coastline at De Hoop...wild and windy

Seagull and coastline at De Hoop...wild and windy

The big, beautiful, bountiful De Hoop Nature Reserve…that’s where we are now. It’s just east of Agulhas National Park, and is quite similar in landscape, but because it’s been a conservation area for longer, there’s a greater sense of wilderness.

And the locals say there’s no better place in the world to see whales. We arrived on another windy day (seems like the wind won’t go away!)…and headed straight to a place called Koppie Alleen on the coast in the reserve. From the elevated perspective on the cliffs, we could count about ten whales within a few hundred metres from shore.

Koppie Alleen in De Hoop, where most of the whales are seen

Koppie Alleen in De Hoop, where most of the whales are seen

On the whole De Hoop coastline, more than 200 whales can often be seen during spring time, when mothers nurse their young. The coastline on the 34 000 hectare De Hoop reserve is a so-called Marine Protected Area, and is about 26 000 hectares in size…or 3 nautical miles off-shore for the length of the reserve. And of course, the best way to see the coastline is to hike the increasingly famous Whale Trail, a five-night hike along the coast. I’m hoping we can do part of the trail in the next few days. It’s booked up in advance, so if you want to do it, don’t delay!


Southern Right Whales can be easily seen off the De Hoop coastline in spring time...

Like Agulhas, there are huge dunefields extending from the coast into the spectacular fynbos which is in flower at the moment. De Hoop really does boast some amazing tracts of fynbos…if you come here, be sure to bring your macro lens for your camera. Fynbos is all about the intricate details within the flowers.

Over the past few days, we’ve met up with conservation manager Callum Beattie, whose team of about twenty have the challenge of managing a reserve where eland, bontebok, mountain zebra, caracal and a few leopard roam wild, in a reserve which is largely unfenced. “Those eland can jump from standstill over a two-metre fence…they love the lucerne in the neighbouring farm fields!,” Callum explained. “Then the farmers get angry with me! We need to think about either moving the eland from De Hoop, as they never occurred here naturally – or we must put up better fences.”

Then there are the abalone poachers who make the most of the dangerous shoreline to evade CapeNature’s marine patrols. “Our boat has been rammed a few times by the poachers,” Callum told me. But the Marine Protected Area is crucial as an effective sanctuary for marine life…a recent study has shown that there are more than twice the number of fish in MPAs than in non-protected areas. The research suggests that bag limits and restrictions on catch sizes don’t really work…what is needed are dedicated no-go zones, where all marine life can be free from all exploitation. These areas then act as nurseries, which then populate the rest of the coastline’s ocean.

But the most accessible natural feature is the De Hoop vlei which is adjacent to the main accommodation and restaurant area. It was South Africa’s first RAMSAR site – which basically means that it’s one of the most important birding sites in the world. De Hoop has more than 260 bird species…and the 18km-long vlei provides vast amounts of food and nesting sites for thousands of birds, including pelicans and flamingoes. On the coast, there are plenty of the rare Black Oystercatchers…and they are quite used to people, so it’s easy to get a good view of them.

Famously too, the eastern sector of De Hoop is the sanctuary of the southern-most colony of Cape Griffon vultures. Thandi and I did the Klipspringer Trail yesterday, which gives fantastic views of the vultures flying overhead…but I had left my long lens in the car! Aargh. But I will get back there this week to get some photos! We could hear the wind whistling in the wings of the vultures…they were flying really low over our heads. Very special.

Well, there’s so much to do here…and the beauty of the fynbos, whales, flowers, birds (and snakes! – yes, the puff adders are out in force at this time of year!) is a lot to take in. One needs at least a week here to fully appreciate what De Hoop offers.

We spent our first two nights in a superb luxury stone house on the vlei, called the Melkkamer Vlei Cottage. Not very wild, but there is no electricity, only gas…so I guess you could call it luxury camping! But seriously, for me, it’s probably the best place in the western sector of the reserve for birding. And it’s away from the main restaurant and tourist area, so you’re left alone which is wonderful!

Melkkamer Vlei Cottage

Melkkamer Vlei Cottage

Ahem...not so wild, I agree, but we weren't expecting this! The Melkkamer Vlei Cottage at De Hoop Nature Reserve


Dining room in the Melkkamer Vlei Cottage at De Hoop Nature Reserve

Dining room...

Today we’re staying in De Hoop village, which is more affordable and also more central…from here, we are able to see the rest of the reserve more easily.

A word about how the tourism side works at De Hoop. The accommodation and tourism activities are run by a private company called De Hoop Collection, which entered into partnership with CapeNature a few years ago. It’s been a success apparently – CapeNature manages the conservation side of things, and De Hoop Collection does a superb job managing the tourists! The service is very good, and the staff are very friendly and efficient. Justin Boshoff and his team (especially Liza, Andrew, Pierre, Dalfrenzo and Henry) have done everything to help us. Thank you!


De Hoop sunset...

 De Hoop sunset...