The De Hoop Nature Reserve in the Overberg Region is teeming with diverse animals and flowers, and because it’s one of Africa’s largest marine-protected areas and nurseries, is famous for it’s seasonal whale watching from June to November. Only three hours from Cape Town, De Hoop is a perfect little weekend getaway even off of whale season, with plenty of activities to do around the camp. It feels a bit funny to say that we were taking “a weekend away” from Cape Town, because living in Cape Town sometimes feels like an endless weekend away.
We stayed at one of De Hoop’s campsite rondawels–a round, thatched cottage–that sat right on the vlei.
The rondavel was an ideal little house for the weekend. It was rustic enough to feel a little like camping, with an outdoor fire pit and table, but inside, it also had a bed, a sink, and a little fridge.
My favorite part about the rondavel was the outdoor shower. You certainly feel exposed at first, showering outside, but then you quickly get over it, because of the view.
Luckily, the cheeky little baboons that romp around the reserve weren’t so cheeky this weekend. Apparently, they’ve been known to break into different accommodations and steal sugar and cream (but they don’t like the coffee). They’ve figured out how to open doors and even how to send their babies through window cracks too small for adults–the oldest robbery trick in the book!
We kicked off the weekend with a drive down to Koppie Alleen, the beach at De Hoop. The beach has steep cliffs and giant sand dunes that edge the water. And the water is blue blue blue.
Here’s the thing about road trips, especially three-hour road trips in another country where an hour of the drive is spent on a dirt road, and you’re sure your old Lumpy car’s hubcap will finally fall off, and once you finally reach the reserve, a nice man on a golf cart stops you to say, “Ma’am, what’s happened to your light ma’am?” because after worrying about your hubcap for so long, you didn’t realize one of your headlights is literally hanging on to the car by its wires: at the end of said road trip, you sometimes want to strangle the other person in the car.
So, once we got to Koppie Alleen, Chas and I decided to split up for an hour or so to explore. We knew we’d basically be each other’s only company for the next three days. Loving time together and time alone? Match made in heaven.
De Hoop prohibits driving anywhere except the main camp after 7:00 pm, and because it is a protected area, there are very few lights. After dark, you go everywhere by flashlight or moonlight. We scared (and were scared by) quite a few animals every night–elands grazing in the grass by our rondavel, an ostrich laying beside our car…You don’t expect anything else to be out there with you in the dark until you hear some strange sound and lift your flashlight to see two little green eyes peering back at you.
Saturday morning we set off to mountain bike the reserve. It was very cloudy, and we did get rained on a little, but it was worth it, getting to bike through herds of bonteboks and ostriches.
After a nap, we took the 3k walking trail via De Hoop’s limestone cliffs, learning about the reserve’s history, spotting Dassies–little gerbil-like animals with teeth in their cheeks!–, and stopping to observe the fynbos.
Sunday morning we were up for an interpretive marine walk at Koppie Alleen with our guide, Pinky. This woman is incredible. She could spot a giant anemone or a camouflaged octopus while the rest of us only noticed pretty seashells. If you ever have the chance to visit De Hoop in South Africa, take this marine walk. Sea life is incredible and weird and gross and incredible!
Pinky would turn over a rock, and point out dozens of different sea life that were living on it. Then she’d pick them up and put them in our hands. At first, you ask a lot of questions–Wait, what is this? Is it going to feel weird? Will it bite me? And then you get so captivated by the different life that is happening on a single rock, that you can’t wait to hold the next thing.
My favorite moment was when I asked about a hole on one creature that kept spitting out a reddish brown goo.
“That,” Pinky explained matter-of-factly, “is the shit hole. That’s the hole that shit comes out of.”
Later that evening we followed Pinky out to a field for stargazing. Can you believe that it was so clear that night and De Hoop is so remote, that we could not only see the entire arc of the Milky Way Galaxy, but two other galaxies as well? By the naked eye.
We learned the science of finding true South by the Southern Cross, and heard stories of constellations like the Seven Sisters, Orion and his dog, and the other dog that nobody really cared about.
Monday morning, after a final breakfast on the vlei, we reluctantly headed back to Cape Town. It was such a fun weekend. I think De Hoop really does something special by providing a place where you can explore and relax, but also learn about the environment around you.
We’re neither good videographers nor good editors, but I’ll leave you with a video that I think nicely sums up our weekend. A lot of it is blurry and most of it is animals because you get a little photo giddy when you come across herds of wild animals or octopi or baboons and their babies. And the music…look, I don’t know what I’m doing. But, enjoy!