We are sad to leave De Hoop. Like all of the wild places I’ve been, I’m always reluctant to leave. It seems like the more you find out about the wildlife, the plants, the people, the history…the more you want to learn. And I think you always leave a little bit of yourself at every special place.
I spent the second last day with Adriaan Witbooi – known to everyone at De Hoop as “Ad”. He’s been working here since 1982, but he’s been living in the area his whole life. Born in the nearby town of Swellendam, his dad used to work on one of the farms that have since been incorporated into the reserve. At 13 years of age Adriaan started working on the farm. He joined what was then Western Cape Nature Conservation (now CapeNature) at the age of 20, so when it comes to De Hoop, the 50-year-old field ranger is probably the most knowledgeable person around!
Adriaan and I spent the day driving to the eastern sector of De Hoop, where the popular 5-night Whale Trail winds its way over the Potberg mountain, and down onto the coast. He wanted to check on the various huts on the coast, where the Whale Trailers sleep overnight.
Adriaan came on his scrambler motorbike to pick me up at Lekkerwater, where Thandi and I were staying. This beach house is on its own on the De Hoop coastline, and was once the summer holiday house where FW de Klerk came to spend his holidays. But it belongs to CapeNature, and the public can rent it. (It’s one of the most photogenic places I’ve been to – the location, the views, the house itself…WOW!).
Adriaan used to come help clean the house while the statesman was staying there. “FW is a good man,” Adriaan told me. “But then he was caught fishing in the marine protected area, and even though he had a permit to fish, the public made a big thing about it, so he stopped coming here!”
“I once saw a leopard and her cub on the beach here at Lekkerwater,” he told me as we drove off in my Ford. “So there are definitely leopards around here…there are maybe four or five in the reserve now. We’ve put up some camera traps recently, so we’re hoping to get some more evidence of them.”
Adriaan and I drove to Noetsie, his favourite place in De Hoop. This is where the Whale Trailers spend their third night. It’s a spectacular spot. Huge waves crash onto the rocky shore, and a river flows down a gorge onto the beach, forming a sparkling estuary. Nearby are some huge caves which have been excavated by archaeologists, who have unearthed human bones several thousand years old. This beautiful coastline has a long history of human habitation…those early people knew a good thing when they saw it!
Adriaan took me to some of the other spots in the reserve further east, towards Cape Infanta, which are rarely visited by tourists. The coastline becomes increasingly rocky and wild. But there are one or two old holiday shacks, built and used by farmers long ago.
At a place called Mosselbank, a lonely, dilapidated wooden house looks out over a rocky beach with a huge tidal pool, protected from the huge waves by the curve of the coast. Hundreds of swift terns were landing and taking off into the wind. We walked down to the shore, where two huge tree trunks were lying. Adriaan told me how a ship had lost its cargo of logs a few years ago…the wood was still in good condition. “They probably weigh about two tons each,” Adriaan said…but the sea had tossed them onto the beach like toothpicks.
We then ended our drive at Cape Infanta Lighthouse…which shines 24 hours a day to keep ships away from the rocky, windy shoreline. Thank you “Ad” for a memorable day…and for showing me some of the most beautiful coastline in South Africa!
On our last day, I met up with another long-timer at De Hoop – Dawid Daniel Davids, who has been working as a field ranger at De Hoop for almost as long as Adriaan. I wanted to get some more photos of the 200-odd Cape Griffon vultures which nest on a steep cliff face in the Potberg mountains. So Dawid and I set off, leaving Thandi to relax and read, and after about an hour and a half of walking up the opposite side of the kloof, we came to a lookout point which had great views across to the vultures.
Dawid and I spent about an hour watching the imperious birds fly into the kloof, circle a few times, then plummet down to their nesting site. Just watching them is enough to give you the heeby-jeebies! If you don’t like heights, then you don’t want to be reincarnated as a vulture! Their mastery of the air is something to behold…they are truly magnificent creatures, and I could have spent the whole day watching them, but Thandi and I had to move on…our time at De Hoop was over, and we needed to be at Bontebok National Park near Swellendam.
Thank you to all the CapeNature staff at De Hoop – Callum, Thulani, Mo, Lamla and of course Adriaan and Dawid. You guys are doing a wonderful job looking after the conservation of some of South Africa’s most beautiful land and ocean! Now we just need to help you guys get more budget for cutting out all the alien vegetation! (If there’s one striking negative about De Hoop, it’s the huge tracts of Rooikrans, wattle and blue gum which have invaded a lot of the beautiful fynbos, leaving some of the rivers and streams bone dry).
And thank you too to the De Hoop Collection team who have done so much to help us – Pierre, Dalfrenzo, Andrew, Henry, Liza, Justin and Jolene (and Shirley!). De Hoop is a must-visit place…I want to come back!
Thanks again to my sponsors for making it all possible. CapeNature, South African National Parks, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, Eastern Cape Parks, iSimangaliso Wetland Park, Ford, Total, Evosat, Conqueror Trailers, Vodacom, Digicape, Lacie, Frontrunner, K-Way, EeziAwn, National Luna, Nokia , Goodyear, Global Fleet Sales, Hetzner and Clearstream Consulting.