Where there’s a will there’s a whale: go to De Hoop and see

Lifestyle

Where there’s a will there’s a whale: go to De Hoop and see

The region has fabulous marine life, and so much more

Mantombi Makhubele


It’s difficult to watch whales and keep a straight face. I felt all sorts of giddiness when I finally laid my eyes on the endangered Southern Right whales jumping off the coast of the De Hoop nature reserve.
Our trip was in September which is smack bang in the middle of the June to November whale watching season in the Western Cape. It’s safe to say we had a swell time at De Hoop Collection inside the nature reserve.
As we drove through the gates of the reserve, which I hear is also a heritage site, we were welcomed by a group of ostriches catching a sunset breeze while a herd of Cape mountain zebras grazed near a group of baboons. It then sunk in that it was time to unplug and relax.
I could also see the Cape Dutch-inspired farmhouses and self-contained cottages sparsely spread over the reserve. The open spaces force you to start breathing slowly as you take in a slower pace of the countryside.
How to get there
Take the scenic three-hour drive from Cape Town to De Hoop nature reserve towards the Overberg region near Cape Agulhas. During the drive the stress of living in a big city started peeling off my shoulders and my mind started transitioning into a much slower pace.
I looked out of the car window admiring the bright yellow canola fields that matched beautifully with the greenery of the farms along the main road.
We broke our trip for a slow lunch at Houwhoek Kitchen along the picturesque Houwhoek pass. We browsed lazily through a cute old-fashioned farm stall with a perfect view of the mountains. Try the salmon fish cakes with a salad and chips (and some wine).
Where to stay
The original De Hoop Collection homestead was owned by the first settlers who landed on the coastline around 1700. The luxurious three-bedroom Opstal manor house was my home. It has been been restored and boasts lovely old yellowwood doors and frames and is decorated in a Victorian style. I was happy to be sleeping in a cushy luxurious king-size bed with an en-suite bathroom. Two old and magnificently huge fig trees in front of our accommodation were apparently brought from KZN in 1956 and have since become a great feature at the resort. The trees are prime property for birds, whose melody was such beautiful sound to wake up to every day.
The Victorian bath tub was perfect for a bubble bath. Luckily the De Hoop region is not struggling with water shortages  because it has its own reserves and supply. The homestead was declared a national monument in 1979.
Where to eat
In the manor house you dine in the old-fashioned kitchen with the original slab flooring.  Experiencing what life was like in the 19th century made this place unforgettable. The revamped Fig Tree Restaurant is now in The Shed with the new Silo Cellar, which has a world-class selection of wines. This is where all the buzz happens. Everybody converges there early in the morning and at the end of the day for hearty meals while they share stories of the day’s activities.
The stylish dining area overlooks the Ramsar wetland vlei and an open verandah. Bird lovers can enjoy watching pelicans and flamingoes, and the sunset, while sipping on sundowners.
On the night of our arrival we were treated to a lamb potjie with rice and steamed vegetables around a boma fire just outside The Shed. I highly recommend this experience, which is available as an optional extra. 
We sat around the fire on hay bales covered with light blankets because the night was slightly chilly. The soup worked perfectly as a starter, served in rustic enamel mugs. 
For dessert we had the best-kept-secret De Hoop Collection cheese platter. Owners William and Nini Stephens source their cheeses from farms nearby. The cheese is so good that we all agreed that we needed to have a platter after every meal while we were there.
Dinnertime is by far the most exciting meal because it is never the same two nights in a row. The chef prepares a new three-course set menu every day which caters for vegetarians, meat lovers and seafood lovers.
Also, do take an opportunity to venture into the circular wine cellar, a beautiful space where fine wines of the area are showcased. The cellar holds over 3,000 bottles.
What to do
Have a relaxing massage or soothing facial at the Spa overlooking the pool and the vlei that curves around the De Hoop Collection property.
We then hiked for 40 minutes up a semi-steep hill to see the famous Cape vultures up at the mountain top. Our guide made sure we stopped to “smell the roses” along the way, teaching us about the different flora along the path. On the viewing platform we admired colony of vultures flying over our heads. Our guide gave us a brief lesson about the traits of the species. A yummy cheese and cold meats picnic was set up for us at the foot of the mountain.
Later we opted for a sunset cruise. Bubbles and a variety of canapes were prepared for us as we sailed off into the sunset enjoying the birdlife.
Another activity I highly recommend is the “interpretative marine walk” along the coast. We explored coastal rock pools on the sandy beach with a special guide while admiring the whales at a distance.
On your way to or from De Hoop, stop over in the beautiful town of Stanford and enjoy a cruise on The Lady Stanford which winds along the Klein River from Stanford village towards the Hermanus estuary. It is big enough to take about 26 passengers. On the open upper and lower deck, you can soak up a variety of natural colours and the countryside set against a scenic mountain backdrop.
• Go to www.dehoopcollection.co.za

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