South Africa February 2017
This World Heritage site is located on the southern shore of the Africa, just east of Cape Agulhas, the southern-most point of the continent. Believe it or not, Cape Horn is farther west, and is not the most southerly location.
De Hoop Nature Reserve includes vast stretches of native fynbos habitat and lots of wildlife. The most significant feature of the park is the long stretches of dunes along the coast. Some are as high as 50 meters. From a distance the top of the dunes look like snow-capped peaks.
The lee side is covered with vegetation. An especially aggressive
invasive plant from Australia, acacia cyclops has taken over. It was imported by early colonists to stabilize the dunes, but the aggressive plant is out-competing the native flora.
On the Oceanside, the blazing hot sugar-white sand contracts with the vivid turquoise water. The rugged coastline juts out into the ocean, creating many inviting half-moon beaches. Tiny blue Portuguese men-of-war dot the sand.
Our time at De Hoop coincided with the full moon and it’s corresponding high and low tides. We took a fantastic tour of the tidal pools with our guide, Dixon, who was incredibly knowledgeable about the plants and environment. He also doubles as a waiter at the restaurant. It was a half hour drive from the lodge to the beach, and Dixon hitched a ride with us. It was a great opportunity to learn about the park and the effort to protect the area and rescue a near extinct species. The Bontebok, a large native antelope was nearly extinct in the wild before the park was established. Their number plummeted to only 17 before the reserve protected them. They seem to be thriving today.
Once we reached the dunes, a British family joined us. As we walked toward the beach, Dixon pointed out a lot of the fynbos plants and explained their uses in traditional medicine. He picked up some of the hard, dry pellet-like droppings from the Bontebok. He explained that its body is specially adapted to absorb water from plants. Its feces is stone hard. Like a camel, it literally squeezes out every drop of moisture from its food. Even its urine is thick, with a cream-like consistency.
Since our trip coincided with the full moon, it was a great time to explore the tidal pools along the shore. We were able to walk out from the shore quite a distance to explore the exposed tidal pools filled with an abundance of life. Keyhole limpets, mussels, abalone, urchins were everwhere. Dixon even coaxed a shy octopus to stretch out its tentacles and grab his probing stick. There’s nothing like traipsing around that unique area where land, sea and air all meet. It’s an extraordinary place. It’s almost like traveling in an alien world with unfamiliar lifeforms.
After our tour, we had a picnic lunch on a shaded porch at the comfort station with fantastic view of the sparkling sea. It was our first encounter with the Indian Ocean. We chatted with the British family from Bath. They inspired us to think about a trekking trip to the UK’s Lake District. Believe it or not, their 3rd grader, Grace, did a research paper on tourism in U. S. National Parks. She knew all about the Grand Canyon and its visitation.
Our accommodations at De Hoop were fantastic. We actually stayed in a room that was a converted horse stable. Based on the level of luxury we experienced, those equines must have led a pampered life. The room, actually a suite, was very luxuriously appointed with poster bed, sitting area, and a huge bathroom with a tempting soaking tub. We even took the opportunity to hand wash some laundry.
Wildlife was everywhere. Zebra, Ostrich, Baboons, and Bontebok freely roamed around the lodge. Even a casual glance out the window was rewarded with some critter passing by. In the evening as we returned to our room after dinner, we encountered a zebra grazing by our door. As you might imagine, it’s difficult to see those buggers in the dark.