Did you know?
Vast flocks of up to 30 000 birds at a time have been seen at De Hoop Vlei.
There are many reasons to visit De Hoop Nature Reserve on the southern Cape Coast. This includes the fact that this is a nursery for those giants who visit our coastline very year – the southern right whales.
But inland of this rather special place lies De Hoop Vlei, a saline body of water of great importance to birds, and something of an anomaly to scientists.
This Ramsar wetland of international importance was once part of the Sout River mouth. But now it is a coastal lake around 16km long, flanked by high gorges and sand dunes. The strange thing about this vlei (which means 'wetland') is that its levels of salinity rise and plummet.
Its water levels also go up and down, and during drought, it has been known to empty completely.
There must be some unseen outlet of the lake to the sea, although there is no link visible. Anyway, the birds adore the place. Greater flamingo have twice bred successfully here over the decades – the only place in South Africa they have ever done so.
You’ll also find lesser flamingos here, along with yellow-billed duck, little bittern, Caspian tern and the chestnut-banded plover.
In fact, there are a total of 260 species of birds you could spot here. Sometimes you’ll see dozens of pelicans flecking the surface of the lagoons. Other times, there are literally thousands of Cape shovellers.
The birds feel so safe here that they will frequently use this as a refuge where they can moult in peace – a time when they are vulnerable.
When you can drag yourself away from the massive wetland, you’ll find plenty else to see in the De Hoop Nature Reserve, one of the finest coastal reserves in the country, as well as nearby Bredasdorp.
De Hoop is home to more than 1500 species of plants, has unspoilt dunes and if you look up, you may see one of the famous Cape vultures that nest nearby, on the cliffs of Potberg mountain.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
De Hoop Nature Reserve
Phone: +27 (0) 861 227 362 8873
Phone: +27 (0) 21 422 4522
How to get here
De Hoop Vlei is within De Hoop Nature Reserve, which is about 260km (or slightly more than a 2-hour drive) from Cape Town. Take the N2 eastwards and turn off at Caledon onto the R316 towards Bredasdorp and Napier. This is a scenic road, so you'll probably want to stop often for pictures. The last 50km after Bredasdorp is a dirt road.
Best time to visit
The full flush of spring (late August to early November) is usually best for flowers and to see the migrant birds arriving. Don't forget about the whales either - they use the small bays around De Hoop as nurseries at this time.
Around the area
You're close to the southern-most tip of Africa - Cape Agulhas (and the Agulhas National Park) - as well as Bredasdorp which boasts a shipwreck museum. Napier is a pretty nearby town, as is the mission town of Elim. Both are worth a visit.
Tours to do
There's an excellent guided Shipwreck Hiking Trail nearby. Within the reserve, you could do the Whale Trail, and mountain bikers rave about the routes here.
Length of stay
De Hoop is one of South Africa's natural gems. Stay here 2 or 3 days at least.
Where to stay
The De Hoop Collection within the reserve offers good-value family accommodation as well as luxury lodgings.