Cycling in De Hoop Nature Reserve
Halfway along Route 1, a 12km mountain-bike trail in De Hoop Nature Reserve, we reached a beautiful spot on the edge of a vlei (area of marshy ground). There were waterbirds on one side of us, and ostriches, eland and bontebok on the other.
It seemed like a good place to stop for a bit – the abandoned house we’d just passed (now a bee study site) confirmed that we weren’t the first people to want to linger here, where the water reflects the sky’s deep cobalt and the reserve’s distinctive white dunes pulse in the heat. We could smell the sea on the breeze, mixed with the aromatic scent of the fynbos we’d been riding through.
The track had been gentle, following what looked like old management or jeep tracks. For someone who is not a cyclist, I’d found it easy enough, and as I got off my bike for a long, lingering gulp of water, I savoured the slight sweat cooling on my brow cool and the way that my muscles felt, having carried me to this spot. Was it more beautiful because of that? Was I more in tune with the world around me now because my pulse was faster and my breathing was deeper? Or was it that special combination of being on holiday in paradise with good friends and, this afternoon at least, having the place all to ourselves?
I enjoyed the slight sweat cooling on my brow cool and the way that my muscles felt, having carried me to this spot. Was it more beautiful because of that?
Whatever the reasons, I enjoyed my mountain-bike excursion immensely. After lingering at the edge of the 16km-long vlei trying to spot pelicans, flamingos and migrant waders, we set off again. There were fish eagles calling, and as a bright bokmakierie ( Telophorus zeylonus) darted in front of me, I figured there were ample compensations for the initial discomfort of getting back on the bike.
The route got a bit tougher on the way home, with lots of broken limestone and some ups and downs that I managed fairly comfortably as a novice (and which more experienced riders would laugh at, I’m sure). I didn’t have a fynbos guide with me to interpret the textures and the smells around me, but I enjoyed them anyway, going as fast as I dared where the way was flat and open, and carefully climbing up and down the rougher patches, always aware of the sweeping colours of the landscape I was cycling through.
By the end of the 12km route I was hot and thirsty. My bottom hurt and my hands were taking some strain from a bumpy downhill, but as I saw the distinctive white buildings of De Hoop's main camp, the Opstal, I wished the trail was a bit longer, that I’d gone a bit slower and that I’d soon be able to do it again.
Route 1 is the shortest and the easiest of De Hoop’s many trails and, in fact, cyclists are welcome to explore the whole park by bike, so long as they don’t damage any of the rare plant life that the 34000ha reserve , which is managed by CapeNature (the provincial environment authority), protects.
There are also two- to three-hour guided trails on offer, on which you’ll have someone helping you interpret what you see along the way.
The whole park was a special experience, from the extremely comfortable accommodation (with outdoor showers!) and delicious fare from the Fig Tree restaurant, to the miles of beach stretching each side of Koppie Alleen and the Potberg section, where a colony of Cape vultures soars and the views go on forever.
I can’t wait to come back to this part of the world. Perhaps I’ll try the De Hoop Mountain-Bike Trail, which takes place over two to three days – although I’ll need to get in some training before then.