De Hoop Nature Reserve (managed by Cape Nature) is a favourite destination for hikers, cyclists, birdwatchers and whale watchers who have discovered this hidden gem along the famous Garden Route of South Africa. Just over 3 hours from Cape Town in the Overberg Region to the east of Cape Agulhas, the reserve consists of 34000 hectares of Fynbos, beaches, sand dunes, vlei wetlands and the Potberg Mountains. Despite the ideal location halfway between Cape Town and Knysna, very few people have ever heard of De Hoop, which means the 70 kilometers of beaches are still pristine and yours to discover.
De Hoop Nature Reserve is flanked by the De Hoop Marine Protected Area, one of the best land based whale watching areas in Africa, or anywhere in the world really. During the winter months (June – October) Southern Right Whales migrate to the shores of De Hoop from Antarctica to mate and calve. The less common Bryde’s whale and the rare humpback have also been seen here, although they are much harder to spot. Pods of dolphins are also seen frequently. From the beaches and sand dunes the Southern Right Whales can easily be seen and it is not necessary to go out by boat, which is actually not allowed in the Marine Protected Area.
Besides the whales, De Hoop Nature Reserve is also home to 86 other mammal species. These include the rare bontebok and Cape mountain zebra, eland, grey rhebok, chacma baboon, yellow mongoose and caracal. The illusive Cape Leopard, although rare, is also found in the reserve. Birdwatchers will find the reserve particularly rewarding as well, as it is home to 260 bird species including the endangered Black Oystercatcher and the only remaining colony of Cape Vultures. Guests can explore the reserve on foot, on a bike or by car. The game is quite used to people and it is a rare treat to be able to walk among eland, bontebok and Cape mountain zebra.
Besides the whales, the animals and the birds, De Hoop Nature Reserve is also part of the Cape Floral Kingdom, one of six Floral Kingdoms of the World. The Cape Floral Kingdom occupies only 0.04% of the world’s landmass and was classified as a World Heritage Site in December 2004. Situated at the southern tip of Africa, this majestic floral kingdom is the only one to be fully contained within a single country. Incredibly it has the highest known concentration of plant species in the world, its nearest rival, the South American rain forest, has only one third the number of species. Even more remarkable is that 70 percent of the Cape’s impressive 9,600 plant species grow nowhere else on Earth. Fynbos, consisting mainly of the Protea, Erica, and Restio families forms a small, but rich part of the Cape Floral Kingdom. One of the 1,600 Protea species, the King Protea, is the National Flower of South Africa.
The whale season during the winter months is obviously a big drawcard for De Hoop Nature Reserve. The whales usually start to arrive in May and they will remain in the area until the end of October. The best months for land based whale watching are August and September. Winter is also a great time to enjoy activities such as hiking, sand boarding and mountain biking. During the summer months (November – March) the weather is usually sunny and warm, which means the water in the protected rock pools heats up nicely and it is time to go for a swim and enjoy the beach. De Hoop Nature Reserve is a year round destination really, depending on your interest.