At 360km² in extent, De Hoop Nature Reserve is one of the largest conservation areas in our Western Cape Province. The reserve came into existence in 1957 following the purchase of the first two farms for the breeding of rare wildlife species. With the value of the reserve in protecting the ever more threatened biodiversity of the region realised, more land was continually added to its territory until 1991. In addition, a marine reserve extending 5km into the Indian Ocean along De Hoop’s 57km long protected coastline was declared in 1986. De Hoop is included in the Cape Floral Region World Heritage Site, inscribed in 2004.
The reserve protects extensive tracts of Fynbos heathland vegetation growing on plains and low lying limestone ridges, much transformed by agricultural activities outside the reserve, an immense 14km long wetland known as De Hoop Vlei, substantial dune fields and long white beaches interspersed by rocky shores. Of the roughly 1,500 plant species that occur in the area at least 40 species, and probably more, occur only in De Hoop. Including marine species, De Hoop and the adjacent marine reserve is home to 86 mammal species (including the largest single population of Bontebok anywhere in the world), 49 kinds of reptiles, 14 kinds of frogs and toads, at least 250 kinds of saltwater fish and more than 260 bird species – including the southernmost breeding colony of vultures (Cape Vultures) on the continent.
The De Hoop Vlei is an immense wetland fed by the Sout (Salt) River, cut off from the sea by a 2km wide field of white sand dunes. The vlei hosts an enormous number and variety of water birds.
Koppie Alleen is the most easily accessible beach in De Hoop Nature Reserve, and one of the most reliable spots in the country to watch Southern Right Whales which come here to calf and mate between June and November every year. Intertidal life thrives in the rock pools with their clear water – perfect for snorkeling – and the walk down to the beach from the parking area allows visitors to revel in the sight and smell of the fynbos vegetation.
The De Hoop Nature Reserve is managed by CapeNature and DeWetsWild can assist you with bookings in the accommodation and camping at Die Opstal (main camp) and Die Melkkamer across the vlei. It is wonderful to see wild animals and birds so tamely moving among the human visitors as here at De Hoop. There’s a restaurant and gift shop at the main accommodation complex, and fuel and supplies can be obtained in one of the nearby towns. Visitors to the western portion of the reserve have access to a limited gravel road network linking the entrance gate to the main visitor complex, the picnic area at Tierhoek, a couple of viewpoints over the wetland at De Mond, and Koppie Alleen. For the more energetic there’s numerous hiking and mountain bike trails leading from the main complex. Guided drives, walks and boat trips are also on offer.
The Potberg section of the reserve, about 20km away from the main complex, was incorporated into the reserve in 1978 and is a popular day hiking destination. Potberg is also the starting point for the very popular Whale Trail, taking hikers through beautiful mountain, fynbos and seaside scenery for 55km over five nights (spent in well equipped and recently upgraded accommodation) before ending at Koppie Alleen. An environmental education centre at Potberg caters to the needs of visiting school groups and youth clubs. The breeding colony of Cape Vultures on the Potberg Mountain is the last of its kind in the Western Cape and the enormous birds can usually be seen flying overhead.
Seeing that it was simply too hot to go hiking while we were at Postberg but it was still too early to head back to our farm cottage at Aloe Canyons, we decided to go and check out one of the other nearby attractions in the Overberg – one of the very few pontoon ferries still operating in South Africa, the one across the Breede River at Malgas.