DE HOOP – NATURE UNCHANGED BY TWO CENTURIES
Wildside Magazine|March 2020
“Ever wondered what it’s like to kick back in a pristine natural coastal environment so ancient and unchanged that it’s become the benchmark for measuring environmental change in South Africa?”
CHRIS BATEMAN

In the De Hoop Collection in the De Hoop Nature Reserve, a private/public leisure resort in the Overberg region is jealously guarded by a team of private and Cape Nature Conservation wardens. As a life-long angler who’s seen much of our coastline, (no fishing or collection of any sort allowed here), I’ve often imagined what numerous coastal ecosystems I’ve found myself in would be like without varying multitudes of cottages, people, litter, pollution and general degradation. Like bees to honey, De Hoop attracts people precisely because of the absence of these factors – folk from all over the world. Little wonder that the Vlei has been declared a global Ramsar Wetlands site and the coastline a Marine Protected Area. De Hoop Nature Reserve is a treasurehouse of 1 500 plant species, the most diverse in the Cape Floral kingdom, many found only here, with 260 bird species including globally-threatened blue cranes, vulnerable Cape griffon vultures, Denham’s bustard, the rare Damara and Caspian terns and African black oystercatchers. We met birders, botanists, Southern Right whale watchers and archaeologists, not to mention those keen to catch a fresh-water-lake glimpse of the rare Cape Clawless otter or simply view Bontebok or Cape Mountain, Zebra or Eland grazing outside their pastoral cottage windows.

The Vlei

With my wife and two preteenage daughters, we cruised with a clutch of German visitors along a pre-determined ecologically-assessed De Hoop Lagoon route on a covered, motorised viewing platform, marvelling at the pelicans, Greater and Lesser Flamingos and numerous other sea birds, an assortment of courtesy snacks and drinks to hand. To our surprise, our German birders really knew their stuff, excitedly and spontaneously identifying and photographing several of the 97 water bird species, many of them ‘lifers’ on their check lists. The highlight for all was deftly cruising a respectable distance from two Cape Clawless otters which emerged from the bush to swim against the shoreline, ducking behind rocks and into nooks and crannies, be-whiskered, cautious and curious. The 19km long and on-average 500 metrewide, landlocked lake is fed by several springs and the Sout and Pottebergs Rivers, spreading and shrinking seasonally. It’s a highly productive ecosystem, populated by millions of endemic Cape Kurper, other fish species, crustaceans and varied microscopic life, with robust aquatic vegetation. Breath-taking guided marine walk The next day we were driven a few kilometres through coastal dunes along a quaint stone-paved road to dismount for a two-hour ‘interpretive marine walk.’ A guide demonstrated the fascinating symbiosis between shellfish in the profusion of semi-submerged mussels, barnacles, abalone, reef worms, starfish, nudi-branches, periwinkles, limpets and klipvis in and alongside bubbling, crystal clear tidal pools. Slightly deeper clung bright anemones and sea urchins, with the occasional octopus and small crayfish scampering for cover. I’ve never seen anything like it - and wasn’t surprised to hear that these rocky shores host the world’s largest bio-diversity of inter-tidal creatures.

World-beating whale watching

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