With a son still too young for school, I try not to travel in the peak holiday periods. So as most people got their teeth stuck into 2013 last week, I packed up the car and headed off for the first of a few long weekends I have planned for the next month or so.
Our destination was De Hoop Nature Reserve in the Overberg, about three hours’ drive from Cape Town. Unlike in winter, when the hills here are a rolling tapestry of green wheat and yellow canola, the fields of wheat stubble don’t make for the most attractive vistas on the way in, but as soon as you drive into the reserve the landscape changes.
Coastal fynbos is a striking green against the clear blue of the Indian Ocean, barely any roads mark the landscape, and off to the right the dark waters of De Hoop Vlei provided a helpful barrier between the outside world and our home for the next few nights.
The De Hoop Collection took over the running of all the accommodation in the reserve (which is run by CapeNature) a few years back, and transformed the fairly run-down cottages into an array of accommodation options.
Yes, prices went up, but so did the quality and there is still something for pretty much every pocket. Campsites for the budget-conscious, comfortable rondawels for those who prefer a simple roof over their head, and then the Vlei Cottages that are well worth splashing out on.
On this visit, my third, I had been invited to visit the Melkkamer side of De Hoop, where gorgeous old sandstone farmhouses have been turned into the reserve’s most impressive accommodation.
Melkkamer offers three different places to stay, from the (fully-catered, if you want it) Manor House through to our wonderfully rustic Vlei Cottage. They call it a cottage, but it sleeps up to eight in four bedrooms and comes complete with four-poster beds and fluffy white linen. Towels and toiletries are provided, and a housekeeper calls each morning so there’s no need to wash the dishes. There’s no shortage of low-key luxury.
What there is – happily – a shortage of is electricity, and the Melkkamer is all the more wonderful for it. Paraffin lamps lit our dinner table each night, meals came sizzling off the braai, and the perfect peace and quiet (no TVs to blare away) saw eland, steenbok and baboon come wandering right past our front door.
Of course, a few steps away the De Hoop Vlei was a constant companion, and as a Ramsar site (meaning it’s a wetland of global importance) the birding is outstanding. Night heron, pelican, storks, coots, terns… you name it, we saw it.
There’s more great birding down at the coastline, which is a 30-minute drive away. The shoreline here is rough and rugged, so swimming is limited to low tide when the rock pools are crystal clear and calm enough for a few laps. Of course, in whale season (July to November) the waters here are some of the best in the country for spotting the Southern Rights that come here to breed and calve each Autumn.
But if it’s peace and quiet you’re after then autumn is your best bet. The summer crowds are gone, the whale-watchers are yet to arrive, and the first drops of rain will have turned the landscape a deep emerald green. If you’re brave, the water will still be warm enough for a dip, and either way the various cottages of the Collection offer cosy fires to warm up at.
This was my third visit to De Hoop and it certainly won’t be my last. It’s a bit of a drive from Cape Town, and there’s some gravel to negotiate, but as with all my favourite destinations the journey is always worthwhile. Take out your diary and start booking a break there now...
For more information, visit http://iafrica.safarinow.com/go/DeHoopCollection.