De Hoop Nature Reserve, just a three-hour drive from Cape Town, in the southernmost tip of Africa, is somewhere that should be on every nature lover’s radar. It’s a sheltered haven of sand dunes, long white beaches, beautiful mountains, and 70 kilometers of stunning pristine coastline, where whales blast and play. Inland, away from the coast, this stunning 340 square kilometer reserve is a UNESCO Ramsar World Heritage Site, is rich in biodiversity, is home to a range of special and rare wildlife, and is a favorite of hikers, cyclists, bird watchers and bird watchers. Both whales.
This is also the perfect stop for people exploring South Africa’s famous Garden and Whale routes, and the local area, outside the reserve, features quaint towns, a thriving wine industry and some delightful places to sample delicious local cooking. Within the reserve there are two really special places to stay, with some amazing design, stunning views, great food, great experiences and great service; Everything you need for a truly unforgettable stay.
Things to do
The sheltered waters off De Hoop are a sanctuary for the endangered southern right whale. About 40% of the world’s population of these gentle giants return to these waters annually to mate, give birth and raise their calves. De Hoop Nature Reserve is an important destination for these creatures and during the season about 120 whales will contact De Hoop.
In the height of the season (June and December) up to fifty of these mammals can be spotted in a single day, making the reserve one of the best locations for watching wild whales in the world. Whales are so close to shore that visitors can simply relax on the dunes and watch them swoop in, blow and tumble, or still better relax with a Gin & Tonic or a local craft beer on the balcony of the lovely Morukuru Beach House (more on that later).
Extending three nautical miles to the sea, the De Hoop Marine Protected Area is one of the largest marine protected areas in Africa, providing a haven for a wide and fascinating array of marine life. Aside from whales, other marine mammals, such as dolphins and seals, are also found in the waters off the coast here, as well as at least 250 species of fish.
Join a guided cruise during your stay and explore coastal rock pools, petrified sand dunes, sandy beaches and rocky beaches. Your guide will show you a range of marine life from the bright orange starfish, to purple sea urchins, grouse, spiders, octopus, and some of the seabirds that call these beaches home. And when you occupy yourself looking at the creatures in the rock pools, you can take a dip and join in. One of the best ways to experience this magical marine world is a dip in the large rock pools.
De Hoop’s diverse habitats support a variety of wildlife. De Hoop Nature Reserve is home to 86 mammal species, including the rare bontebok and Cape Mountain zebra, as well as elegant deer, gray rhebuck, baboon, mongoose, caracal and, if you’re lucky, even the occasional leopard.
There are many ways you can get out and enjoy the wildlife. Take an open car tour, join a guided mountain bike ride or hike, either with a guide or on your own. With no major predators, De Hoop shows give you the opportunity to get up close and personal with wildlife.
I was lucky enough to find myself surrounded by a family of ostriches when walking to breakfast at De Hoop Collection one morning (more on De Hoop Collection later). Male and female with 12 chick up to knee height. They were quiet enough not to run away from me, but a little shy, and I could see the parents watching me. I kept a distance. If an ostrich gets trapped, it can shoot a kick capable of killing a lion, I didn’t want to take any chances!
De Hoop Nature Reserve is part of the world’s smallest and most threatened plant kingdom, the Cape Floral Kingdom. Fynbos (which comes from the Afrikaans word for “beautiful plants”) is the dominant type of vegetation here. This is a special and unique type of plant that grows in nutrient-poor soils and adapts well to fires and droughts.
There are approximately 1,500 different species of plant species here, a large proportion of which are rare, threatened and endemic. If you take a guided walk on one of the indoor trails, you’ll be at knee level at fynbos; Yellow, coral, pink, purple and hundreds of shades of green with the most exquisite fragrances. You may even see some beautiful protea (South Africa’s national flower) that bloom here in many sizes and colors. On the subject of fynbos, let me mention here the delicious fynbos drink, Inverroche, and let me tell you that there is something somewhat special about drinking it here at De Hoop, surrounded by the plants from which its wonderful aromas and flavors derive.
The De Hoop wetland is an Area of Global Importance for Birds and Biodiversity (IBA). More than 260 species of resident and migratory birds are found here. Enthusiastic birdwatchers should look out for the endemic southern bobo and the rare malachite sunbird, and even the least interested birdwatchers among you will enjoy watching a fluffy flamingo or ostrich fresh from its egg.
Enthusiastic birders can embark on a two-hour walking experience with a qualified guide around the wetland and near the Western Cape’s last remaining breeding colony of rare Cape vultures. A short but steep hike, on the Klipspringer Trail, leads you to the lookout point above the colony, it’s well worth the climb.
Once you’re done hiking, biking, or walking, you can relax on a boat cruise while exploring De Hoop’s waterways and wetlands. Flamingos, pelicans, maybe a fish eagle soaring over your head, or if you’re lucky, a neat, clawless-headed otter fluttering at the water’s edge. Head out in the morning and enjoy a cup of tea or coffee with refreshments, or head out in the afternoon with a glass of wine and some delicious snacks.
Hike the whale trail
For keen hikers, De Hoop has one of the best hiking trails in South Africa, the Whale Trail. The 5-day, 55km route through one of the most diverse and unique nature reserves in the Western Cape is popular, and early reservations are required.
where to stay
Now what you’ve all been waiting for. Where does one stay to experience De Hoop in all its glory?
Morokoro Beach Lodge
The luxurious 5-bedroom Morukuru Beach Lodge is located in a picturesque location right on the coast, with panoramic views of the azure Indian Ocean. A view from above of the continent’s greatest whale nursery, beaches, pristine white sand dunes, limestone cliffs, and crystal rock pools, surrounded by coastal fynbos.
Beach Lodge is a 5-suite eco-lodge with stunning decor and great food; The last word on luxury. Each spacious suite has a fireplace, en suite bathroom and floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors that open onto a balcony or veranda. It’s a truly special place and it’s no wonder Morukuru Beach House was voted “Best Resort in South Africa” by the Condé Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards in 2020 and 2021.
Nearby is Ocean House, sister to Beach Lodge, a private 4-bedroom oceanfront home, which comes with a private pool, butler, private kitchen with chef, as well as an open-plan lounge and dining areas, romantic fireplaces, and of course Stunning views. The Ocean House operates completely off the grid, proving that luxury doesn’t have to come at the expense of the environment.
The De Hoop Collection features accommodations and dining options to suit every budget. Pamper your partner on a romantic getaway in one of the remote suites overlooking the wetlands, families can enjoy a luxurious stay in one of the historic homes, and the cozy cottages at De Hoop Village offer fully equipped kitchens for those who prefer self-catering, and there are even campgrounds for those inclined to this method.
I stayed in the lovely Opstal Manor House, the original 19th century farmhouse, which has been restored to its former glory. With beautiful yellow wood floors and ceilings and antique wooden furniture, it feels authentically historic. Opstal Manor House sleeps a maximum of six rooms with three en-suite bedrooms, all accessed from a beautiful paneled corridor. There is also a comfortable lounge filled with antiques and the large original kitchen (now not working) which all add to the charm. For more activity, there is a tennis court, swimming pool and petanque court
De Hoop Nature Reserve offers a complete outdoor experience – sea, sand dunes, wetlands, rare plants, diverse fauna, and fascinating birdlife. Go for a walk, hike or bike ride, take a scenic game ride, plunge into the turquoise tidal rock pools, or simply relax on the pristine beaches. There is something for everyone here. The best time to visit is from August to November, during whale watching time, but honestly any season is good! adventure, peace and tranquility, luxury and wilderness; D-Hop has it all.