March 31, 2018
South Africa features a promontory just east of Cape Town that points down toward Antarctica. This area, reached by climbing Sir Lowry’s Pass over the Hotentots-Holland mountains, combines the high Overberg plateau with l’Agulhas peninsula. Natasha and I set our sights on visiting “De Hoop” Nature Reserve to the east of this peninsula, using the historic town of Bredasdorp as our base camp.
De Hoop is centered on a massive brackish body of water fed by the Sout River that has been cut off from the Indian Ocean by 2.5 kilometers of sand dunes. It draws its name from a farm established in 1739 by Frederick de Jager, a free burgher, on lands granted by the Dutch East India Company. De Jager had “the hope” that this sandy, rocky soil could be coaxed to produce good crops.
Driving to De Hoop, however, is a bit of a challenge. On the map, it seemed straightforward. We would follow R319 east from Bredasdorp and then diverge to the east on the road to Malgas (pronounce the ‘g’ with a good throat-clearing). Finding R319 was fine (it’s the same thing as “All Saints”), and we followed it for a couple of miles before finding our sign for Malgas. We were less than thrilled to discover that our path from that point forward was entirely gravel and rock, leading from one dusty sheep farm to another. Forty cautious minutes on the Malgas spur brought us to the sign for De Hoop, and we followed a rougher road still to the entrance gate.
I must say, at this point, that I was skeptical of the claims that De Hoop was a beautiful pearl. Natasha’s report that the reserve had been closed for a period in the early 2000s due to a fire, combined with our area’s historic drought, did not fill me with confidence. Just the same, we paid our 80 Rand to a charismatic gate guard, and over the hill we went. As soon as we began our descent from the 200m bluff to the coast, the variegated greens of this coastal plain became apparent.
Natasha and I both caught the thrill of the place as we drove down a side road to the reception area. It lies between two plains, and each featured quite a few groups of animals. The most common type we saw was the bontebok, an antelope that was generally outnumbered by springboks when we visited the Northern Cape. We were particularly excited to see a Cape mountain zebra, but we didn’t have the camera handy until we reached the parking lot. Natasha spied an eland at a distance, too!
The reception office had a handy and well-executed booklet available for 20 Rand that supplied a historical, geographic, and biological appraisal of the area. We grabbed a copy since it documented the points of interest on the 3km hike that we elected to follow along the vlei (like “flay,” frequently meaning marsh, but here meaning the body of water). In no time we had started our walk. For much of the path, we were striding along a limestone and sandstone conglomerate shelf, approximately eight meters above the water’s surface, though we did occasionally dip down to meet it.
Where fuzzy creatures were concerned, our hike was something of a bust. The dassies were MIA, though their droppings were not, and our much-anticipated visit with the Cape clawless otter was fruitless, though we did see evidence of their dinners of crab. We did enjoy the little blooms along our path, though. The area is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site spanning to Cape Point due to its wildly diverse fynbos plants. We also enjoyed the touch with the area’s history as “Die Melkkamer” (the “Milk Room”) mansion complex came into sight on the opposite side of the water. The earliest building dates from 1872.
Eventually, the path dumped us onto a pebbly beach that was covered in some sort of salt-tolerant grass. We didn’t dip a hand in to feel the water. Instead, we turned back to the north to return to the reception center. We passed a long-dusty watering hole, along with a tree that we eyed warily, since it looked like it might serve as a home for baboons. As we approached the reception center, more bonteboks came into view. A scout from the herd kept a watchful eye on us. We loved the massive fig trees (brought here from KwaZulu-Natal) that have graced that drive since the 1950s.
One must be careful when using the phrase “tidal pool” near Natasha. She was intent on seeing the Koppie Alleen (“Lonely Hill”) Rocky Shores. We drove toward the beach and took the side road heading east to the site. We had once again found a long gravel road stretching into the distance. For an added bonus, this one was limited to half its width for traffic in both directions since the park is paving a new road with strong bricks. We puttered along for half an hour at 20 kph until we found the Koppie Alleen parking lot in good repair.
Just as De Hoop is separated from the rest of the region by a 200m wall of hills, the hills and plain of De Hoop are separated from the beach by a range of sand dunes. At Koppie Alleen, one can follow the right fork of the path to the to nearest dune top, or one can follow the left fork down to the beach.
We started on the beach. We arrived with the tide already high and rising. Many of the pools in which Natasha might play with stars, anemones, coral-worms, and limpets were already submerged by the waves. The rocks were fun to climb on though, and the sandy beaches were as near unspoiled as one can imagine. I shot a few moments of video to remind me of their crash.
I saw some odd bubbles enclosed in a blue membrane in the sands though. Natasha warned me off the “blue bottles” right away. Portuguese man-of-war jellyfish are quite prone to stinging the unwary finger.
At this point, I fell into a bit of a swoon. Natasha coaxed back up the walkway to the food trailer and poured a Diet Coke into me. I had touched too much sun and not enough water today! From there, we climbed to the dune top to get one last look at the beautiful coast.
As Natasha drove us along the endless gravel road back to Bredasdorp, she spotted a female ostrich, outlined beautifully by the declining sun. We paused for one last snapshot.