Are we there yet ?
This 240 km journey from Cape Town is not a jump onto the highway and cruise at 120 for two hours kind of trip.
It is more like a slow process of shedding the stresses and frantic pace of the city. Dual carriageway quickly becomes a single lane that dictates a slower speed.
Urban landscapes give way to open space, and the distances between signs of human habitation increase as the route transforms from single tar roads to long gravel stripes, and ends with a twelve kilometer crawl on a remote dirt track.
A glimpse of the vlei is the only sight that breaks the endless greens and browns of wild veld, Fynbos and the occasional clump of trees.
To the uninitiated, it can look like a vast and desolate expanse of nothing.
De Hoop reveals her treasures in increments. Increments measured in time.
Time spent allowing nature to adapt your busy, city eyes until you relax and look with all your senses and are able to discern the abundance surrounding you.
I recently spent four days in this other world that is De Hoop. Dirty, sweaty excursions contrast with elegant rooms and fine dining, outdoor adventures with calming spa treatments, isolation with new friends from foreign lands. De Hoop is vast enough to allow you to choose all of the above or something in between that suits your personal rhythm.
Walking in De Hoop.
From the comfort of the Melkkamer, a spacious stone cottage on its own little island, we set out for a 19 km walk around the vlei.
Following the waterline, this walking requires concentration, stepping over sun-bleached branches, stones and peculiar little peaks created from dried out weeds. The landscape has a distinctly lunar look, white and other worldly.
An intended brisk walk is interrupted regularly to stop and investigate tracks in the ground, or to gaze out at the baboons, bontebok or birds intent on distracting us.
At one point we have to back track after clambering over dead branches, stumbling on rocky cairns and ultimately ending up knee deep in the water before agreeing that the path has petered out. As I turned back I got the fright of my life spotting this, then I realised what is was and reached for my camera.
The shrugged off skin of a snake is caught in the dead sticks and foam from the waves of the vlei. Day made!
We bush whack away from the vlei and pick up the pace on the dirt road. It’s getting hot, lunch time is approaching and we all settle in to our own silent rhythm.
Walking becomes a moving meditation.
A multitude of scents float on the air ,coming from the Fynbos that grows and tangles on either side of the road.
Taste the dust, smell the green, see the heat leech the colours from the sky. With each step you hear more, as the sweat coats your body you see more and when the hint of a breeze whispers past you offering a moment of cool relief, you are finally attuned to the pulse of the bush, the heart of the earth, the soul of Africa. It will never leave you, the addiction is forever.
There are numerous short walks all over the reserve, many easily accessed from the accommodation. I can highly recommend the guided bird walk at sunrise or a gentle stroll on the cliff paths above the vlei.
If exploring on foot is not your thing and your legs cramp at the mere thought of a long walk then quad bikes are for you.
The sound of the quad bikes revving is almost offensive after two days of listening to nature. Cautiously we navigate bumps and turns and head into the unknown. The steering on the bikes is quite heavy and the accelerator is very responsive, resulting in some near misses with bushes and a very jerky initial kilometre of riding. We soon get the hang of it and start enjoying the freedom. A warm wind ruffles your clothes and your body vibrates with the thrum of the engine. This is not about speed, but more about covering the huge distances without getting sweaty.
Our first stop was to watch a young zebra and her mum hanging out with a large herd of eland at the water’s edge.
Then we continued into the bush finally ending at a circular clearing high above the vlei. Bikes parked and helmets abandoned, we walk along a narrow path until we can go no further. The views, sounds and feeling of freedom make this the perfect place to just sit for a while to absorb the sights. We are high above the vlei with 360 degree vistas of the natural world. Life is good!
Returning to the bikes we take a narrow, tangled path down to the water’s edge. Spider webs stick, leaves brush, birds call and fish jump. This little inlet is like a dark, silent cave of trees and undergrowth, complete with a dusty bench covered in bird droppings, multi coloured leaves and scuttling insects. Grunts and rustling sounds emit from either side, unseen creatures, big and small, adding to the thrill of the moment.
This is what unspoilt looks like.
The return journey on the quads is uneventful, bar a stop to watch the comical display of a young male bontebok preening to get the attention of a group of coquettish females. They of course were ignoring him, but he must be admired for his persistence.
The beach at Koppie Alleen.
Beaches, so varied but I love them all. They are my ultimate happy place. This beach has to be in my top three favourite beaches in the history of my life, and I have seen a lot of beaches in my fifty five years on earth.
The drive from our luxury island to the beach is a long one. Fourteen kilometres of bumping and bouncing up and down a red dirt road, constantly looking left and right as baboons, pelicans, eland, ostriches and gemsbok provide enchanting en route entertainment.
The first glimpse of this beach will blow your mind.
It has everything. Rock pools and pink caves, wild waves and soaring splashes, a cauldron of fury boils and foams and white sand leads to the rhythmic waves of an ocean swim. The endless horizon disappears as the sky goes from blue to grey before we have time to get cameras ready.
Our marine guide from De Hoop takes us through the rock pools and after a fascinating explanation of the urchins, snails, kelp and birdlife we disperse to explore on our own.
There are rocks to climb, strange formations to photograph and shallow pools to fall head first into while trying to film with a GoPro. (yip, that was me) Thanks Anje for capturing the moment.
A series of spiky, slippery boulders leads to a natural rocky wall where the waves crash furiously before spraying skywards. On the other end of the beach more prickly rocks lead to shallowish pools and a large cavern where the rocks inside are pink.
Finally, totally high on beach love and sopping wet from my photographic attempts, I head for the sandy bits and wade out into the waves, loving the ocean caresses, not so much the brushes of kelp that my overactive mind was sure were hungry sharks.
This series of three beaches will keep you entertained for days. Black Oystercatchers nest here and are known for laying their eggs in foolish places like the ledges of rock or on the low water mark in the sand. They are very protective and will shout and chase away anyone coming too close.
They are easy to spot, black bodies with very red legs and beaks, always in pairs and often looking just like a couple having an animated argument.
If you do just one thing in your life, please go to this beach at De Hoop.
These were my top three activities in the vast nothingness that is De Hoop.
The champagne and canapé cruise on the vlei, the picnic spread above the beach, and the three course meal set up on a dried out pan in the middle of nowhere were pretty spectacular too, but those are stories for another time.
De Hoop offers a very broad variety of accommodation options to suit all pockets, from self catering to extreme luxury with your own personal chef.
You can go wild in the wild, or relax at the pool, have spa treatments and lazy meals at the restaurant.
De Hoop allows you to be your very best relaxed self, whatever that may mean.
For more information on De Hoop visit their website here.
To read about a digital detox at De Hoop by Anje Rautenbach of Going Somewhere Slowly, click here.
To get totally hooked on this place, watch the video by Lloyd Koppel as published by Xplorio. De Hoop video.
My stay at De Hoop was a media visit. Thanks to the De Hoop Collection for hosting me at the Melkkamer Manor House.
All opinions are my own.