In an effort to get her kids back to nature, Bronwyn Mulrooney became an ecotourist and sought out three family-friendly destinations that provide the perfect antidote to tablets and TV.
De Hoop Nature Reserve, Overberg
Venture off the N2 past Witsand, bumble your way down the dirt road through sprawling farmland towards the ocean, and just where the pastures give way to scrubby coastal bush, you’ll find a little piece of paradise called De Hoop Nature Reserve.
We arrived as the sun was about to dip behind the dunes, which left just enough time for the kids to pick up a couple of bikes from reception and explore the Opstal area.
Opstal lies at the heart of De Hoop. It comprises a vast plain criss-crossed by wide dirt roads, all safe for budding cyclists, and frequented by buck and ostrich that don’t even give kids a second glance.
De Hoop is home to 85 species of game, including the rare bontebok, more than 260 bird species, and an incredible mix of habitats, from wetlands and fynbos to the coast and a 70km stretch of protected Indian Ocean just off its shore.
With all this natural diversity to its credit, you would expect a multitude of ways to experience it. Well, this is where the De Hoop Collection really shines – with several excellent guided (and mostly kid-friendly) activities on offer.
We wasted no time getting stuck in, and set off for a guided ecoboat cruise along the vlei the next morning. The kids took great delight in watching the birds, especially the great white pelicans with their oversized beaks and the greater flamingos that had recently arrived on their annual migration from up north.
After lunch, we hit the water again. This time at the beach for an interpretive marine walk with guide Adolf von Moltke. I think it’s safe to say, nothing will prepare you for this experience. After a short walk along the dunes, Adolf stopped, turned and said, “Welcome to De Hoop”. Behind him, the dunes dropped away to reveal an expansive beachscape of brilliant white sand. Beyond that were at least 13 southern right whales relaxing in the warm Indian Ocean.
Our party of 12 fell silent. I knew De
Hoop was home to the best land-based whale watching in South Africa, and I knew it had a reputation for exceptional whale experiences, but that moment, on that beach, took our breath away. Even the children were aware of the immense privilege of sharing the same space as these amazing animals.
Adolf led us down the dunes
(well, the kids rolled down!) and onto the rock pools where urchins and sea anemones share the warm waters with starfish and octopuses.
The children couldn’t get enough of exploring the treasure-filled waters. As the sky melted into a fiery sunset, we left the whales, but not before one bade us farewell with a magnificent breach clean out the water.
The De Hoop Collection’s kids’ evening holiday programme includes hot chocolate and s’mores around the fire followed by a nocturnal scorpion hunt, which in our case produced excited sightings of Cape baboon spiders, a porcupine and two scorpions – although the five-year-old thought the Daddy Long Legs was most interesting.
Enjoying the sunset over the lagoon after some serious bike riding at De Hoop. De Hoop has a spectacular setting. The children get to explore the rock pools at De Hoop in an immersive learning experience.
Our first glimpse of the whales; even the children were spellbound.