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September 3, 2020

De Hoop Collection – The Unspoiled protected gem

The most breath-taking world-renowned marine protected area and world heritage site. De Hoop Collection is a private/public partnership in the South African hospitality industry which opened in the De Hoop Nature Reserve, Western Cape in 2007.  Depending on whether you stop to enjoy the scenery, De Hoop Reserve in the Overberg region is a three-four hour drive from Cape Town along the world-renowned Whale routes. It was the top destination on my list after lockdown restrictions were lifted and I was not disappointed. It is the perfect holiday destination for families, couples, groups, wedding parties, family reunions and birthday weekends and an ideal stop-over en route from the Cape Winelands to Plettenberg Bay.

With any luxury establishment and reserve the first thing I look out for is the view, which was nothing short of mesmerising. The drive into the reserve was an experience in itself as we were met by fynbos, wildlife and scenic routes that made the drive worth it. We flew in from the concrete jungle, Gauteng, and into the tranquil Western Cape Province. We hired a vehicle that took us on the scenic route around Swellendam through to Bredasdorp. The trip took longer than expected given the various Instagram worthy photo opportunities but the drive was truly a breath of fresh air and seemed like something that came out of National Geographic.

De Hoop Collection offers a wide range of accommodation designed to suit all budgets and is a member of Cape Country Routes. Cape Country Routes (CCR) South Africa is a leading group of owner-operated and managed accommodation and activity establishments – more than 20 privately owned hotels, lodges and guest houses – located on the scenic and historic routes in the Western and Eastern Cape. All carefully selected for their character, charm and romance, they offer the best accommodation and activity options to suit every taste and budget.

Offering world-class whale-watching, De Hoop is one of the world’s best land-based whale-watching areas and encompasses 36,000 hectares of private game and nature reserve. This World Heritage Site is rich with biodiversity and over 70 kilometres of pristine coastline.  De Hoop is paradise for bird enthusiasts with more than 260 species of birds, including the endangered Cape Vultures. As a colony of almost 200 vultures, roost and nest in the Potberg Mountains, exciting Vulture hikes and viewing opportunities are offered; other activities include interpretive marine walks, hiking and mountain biking trails, eco boat cruises on the Vlei, nature drives, tennis or boules.  It is a nature lover’s paradise with unparalleled peace and tranquillity in what may be one of the Cape’s last unspoiled gems.

We arrived on Friday afternoon to one of the best sunsets I have ever experienced. Less than an hour after arriving, I did not waste time and immediately changed into my swimsuit. The swimming pool water was a bit chilly but absolutely amazing. At that moment as the orange sunset fell upon the pristine coastlines and infinity pool, with a view over the Ramsar vlei, I was truly thankful and blessed to be at De Hoop Reserve.

With the amber sunset glowing on my skin, I managed to forget about the heart-breaking reality we had been faced with for the past 5 months. For the first time in a long time I had time to reflect on life and appreciate nature and all that it has to offer. If I had to make a movie on Eat, Pray and Love; De Hoop Nature Reserve would be the most ideal location. I appreciate the fact that the wildlife runs freely and we are merely just an addition to their world.

There is an African proverb that says: “Motho ke motho ka batho” (direct translation is “no man is an island”) and hence I believe that it is the staff of any venue that make a trip memorable. Needless to say, the De Hoop Collection outdid themselves in this regard. We had an opportunity to go for a site visit with the manager Hendrik Arendse. He spoke with so much love and hope for De Hoop as he told us about his journey of working at De Hoop for the past 17 years and how this place embodies the essence of home. Over the years, he worked his way up the ranks and explained how he was fortunate to spend lockdown taking care of the reserve with its wildlife. I can only imagine how peaceful and tranquil it must have been. Being around the fynbos and wildlife that runs freely within their habitat is an ideal scenario I would choose over city living. The fynbos was well nourished after the rains that had fallen that past week, after many months of drought. The river, however, was still faced with critically low water levels.

After deciding to go on the Nature drive we were met by our experienced guide, William. Immediately I could sense his love and passion for nature and how fulfilling his job was to be able to tell us about marine life as well as wildlife. With the wind in my hair and surrounded by nature we went on our way and experienced a variety of endangered wildlife species. There was various game, vultures, ostriches and we even had an opportunity to stop for dung-beetles that were casually on their way. I can still remember the scene of Erica Proteas as we were driving through the nature reserve to the lookout spot where we had a hot cup of coffee with pastries overlooking the marine wetlands and birdlife, including flamingos.

We then drove to the beach where we had an opportunity to watch the whales as they were swimming in the water at one of the best land-based whale-watching areas and hiking spots on the white sandy beaches. Every year, some 40% of the world’s Southern Right Whales come to these shores to breed and De Hoop Nature Reserve is an important destination for these creatures. Females and their calves swim in the clear waters, while males put on spectacular displays. These endangered mammals ensure that the De Hoop Nature Reserve in South Africa is one of the world’s best land-based whale-watching areas. As a marine reserve and World Heritage Site, De Hoop guarantees a safe nursery for these pods of visiting cetaceans. They come so close to the shore that visitors can relax on the unspoilt sand dunes, watching in awe as these beautiful creatures calve, blow, breach and belly-flop. The season runs from the end of May through to November. Sightings of 50-75 during the height of the season can be experienced on these shores which is really impressive.

The staple of De Hoop’s dining scene, The Fig Tree Restaurant, has been reinvented and has relocated to a new space – The Shed which has a new Wine Cellar. After an exciting day of activities, we were treated to not just dinner but an amazing 5-star culinary experience by the wood-burning fireplace at The Fig Tree Restaurant. We had an enticing two-course dinner (pork fillet and crème Brule) with sundowners that embodied the amazing African sunset we were experiencing. De Hoop has the most extensive range of local award-winning wines and stories that could transport you to a time you could only dream of.

At the heart of De Hoop is the most intriguing fig tree that is often used as the backdrop for wedding receptions. We would often pass this tree on our way to the restaurant and back to our suite. The fact that the building structures have not been altered since it was first built is truly amazing as it complements the reserve and wildlife so perfectly.

After retreating to our suite on our last night, we sat outside reflecting on this remarkable venue. It dawned on me how few people know of this gem. We are often moving at such a fast pace that life passes us by. De Hoop Nature Reserve is not just an escape outside of the city but an oasis back to nature.  An unspoiled protected gem.

To find out more about this and other gems visit:
W: Cape Country Routes
W: De Hoop Collection
E: Reservations

Written by Paballo Makupu for Luxuria Lifestyle South Africa

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