De Hoop - An Important Whale Nursery & the Most Beautiful Reserve on Earth
De Hoop - An Important Whale Nursery & the Most Beautiful Reserve on Earth

De Hoop - An Important Whale Nursery & the Most Beautiful Reserve on Earth

South Africa
South Africa

When Is the Best Time

De Hoop Nature Reserve is rightly a World Heritage Site with all its beauty and spectacular pristine dunes on the southwestern coast of the Cape. The nature reserve was already proclaimed in 1957 and continuously extended by the further acquisition of land. Although only 1 1/2 hours south of the Garden Route located De Hoop is still a hidden gem.

The white beaches and emerald green sea
The first beach in the reserve - a five minutes walk from the car park.

De Hoop was experimental wildlife conservation for rare and endangered species in the beginning. Today, it is a success. See my pictures below of what you are able to spot.

Southern Right Whales female and newborn.
A mom and her young calf were spotted from the cliffs of the whale trail.

Do you like to explore the real beauty of Mother Nature, wildlife in abundance with spectacular ocean views without crowds? De Hoop Nature Reserve definitely deserves a spot on your bucket list if you visit Cape Town and the Garden Route in South Africa.

A smaller beach along the whale trail
You can snorkel in the shallow water in summer.

The best is that this reserve is fascinating, always offering exceptional experiences throughout the year. I will give you an overview of what to expect, which beaches and tide pools you shouldn't miss, and what wildlife and birds you may spot. One of the few destinations which are worth visiting throughout the year.

The white sand dunes and the endless beach
The breathtaking landscape at Koppie Alleen

It is about 34,000 hectares in size and with different landscapes, such as large wetlands, grasslands and pristine dunes. These habitats are home to various animal species, so you can observe whales in the offshore bay and antelopes like elands and bonteboks, mountain zebras, baboons in the grassland and plenty of birds in the wetlands.

A big eland and cattle egrets at the dunes
The game is more active during colder temps.

There are awesome hiking trails, which I describe in detail below. In the De Hoop reserve, you have the opportunity to discover up to 90 different mammal species, 250 bird species, 14 amphibian species and about 50 reptile species!

Seasonal Highlights

A close bontebok in De Hoop

Whale Watching

Southern Right Whale and calf in the waves
A mom and her young calf - De Hoop is also a marine-protected area.

From July to October, Southern Right Whales and Humpbacks visit the shore, and it is one of the most important nurseries for Southern Right Whales. When walking along the "whale trail" coastal trail, you may even spot a mom and her calf close to the shore as we did.

A spy hopping Southern Right Whale
Spy Hopping, breaching, you can see it all from the shore.

These majestic whales got their name "right whale" because they are slow moving and these whales were the right ones for hunting; because of their high-fat content, they floated on top of the water when harpooned. They can grow up to 17 meters and weigh 30-60 tons. 

Swimming in Summer

a woman having a bath in a huge tide pool
The Indian Ocean is fantastic for cooling down in the summer.

From November until March, it is excellent to take a bath or snorkel in the tide pools at low tide - Tide Times Cape Agulhas. Swimming is possible in these pools only, not in the open ocean because of strong currents.

Wildlife Viewing

The game resting on the ground during the summer heat
An eland and a bontebok in the back resting at scorching temperatures.

The game is more active in the winter and rain and is easier to spot. In the summer, they hide or rest in the shade.


Blue cranes in the wetland in De Hoop
Blue cranes are ground-dwelling birds migrating to lower elevations in the winter.

Over 260 bird species occur in the Dee Hoop Nature Reserve, mainly in the vlei, a significant wetland.

A pair of oystercatchers feeding on clams in a tide pool
African Black Oystercatcher - roughly 5000 exist in South Africa.
  • Between September to March, you may spot breeding pairs of oystercatchers close to the sea. Summer is perfect for birding at the De Hoop Vlei. 
  • End of spring, roughly from October, migratory birds come to De Hoop until March or April.
  • The Cape Vulture occurs in De Hoop in the Potberg section, the only place in South Africa. There were around 30 remaining cape vultures in the protected reserve. It took lots of effort, and it became a conservation success coming back from extinction to a number of about 150 vultures today.
  • In spring (from September-October), flamingos may stop here during their migration.

Flower Season

A dune covered with fynbos and other plants

September and October are the best months after the precipitation, the vegetation turns into a sea of flowers. About 50 endemic plants are found only here in De Hoop.

Climate Western Cape

The breathtaking white dunes and the turquoise sea with a blue sky
Usually, the Western Cape is sun-kissed.

Summer, roughly from November to March, is the time with little rainfall. The chance of increasing precipitation starts in May and lasts until September, with its peak in August. The Western Cape has a Mediterranean climate with hot summer and mild winter. Most precipitation occurs during wintertime, but it is not pouring for days.

Best Time for De Hoop

A man walking above a boardwalk above sand and vegetation
Some sections of the path lead on a boardwalk to protect the fragile vegetation.

This is one of the few places in the world you can visit throughout the year, and you never get disappointed. I visited the reserve in all seasons; for me, the best time is September and October. It is the spring, not too cold any longer but also not scorching; it is the flower season, and best of all, you are able to spot plenty of whales from Cape Town to Hermanus. If you wish to escape the crowds in the high season around Cape Town this is the perfect spot.

De Hoop Opening Hours

The entrance gate and ranger office at De Hoop
First, pay your entrance fee at the desk.

If you do not stay inside the reserve, you must leave the nature reserve with your vehicle before gate closure. After hours the gate is closed!

  • Summer: 7 a.m. until 7 p.m.
  • Winter: 7 a.m. until 6 p.m. - Fridays until 7 p.m.

Entrance Fee De Hoop

Information Board at the entrance about open hours and entrance fee
No entrance without the small fee

Although you can pay by credit card, I wouldn't count on it. The internet connection is poor therefore, always have cash available too. It happened to us on our recent visit, and a lovely couple helped us out with 50 Rand.

The information board about the reserve and marine area in De Hoop
This information board can be found at the gate and at Koppie Alleen (photo high resolution)
  • Day ticket adults R50 - below 3€
  • Day use children R 30

How to Get to De Hoop Nature Reserve

The outdoor seating at the De Hoop Collection
The restaurant of the De Hoop Collection with views to the vlei.

I highly recommend getting to De Hoop from Swelendamm if you do not plan to spend a night in the nature reserve. Google Maps Route - Why Swellendam? More guest houses and hotels are available in Swellendam (by; therefore, prices are affordable and excellent restaurants are also in this lovely town. 

Road directions signs in the De Hoop
Nowadays, signs indicate directions, which is helpful for getting to the De Hoop Collection.

The journey leads along farmland, where you may spot the blue cranes in a high number. It is a gravel road until the parking just one short part is paved. You can't drive fast, so the return drive takes almost three hours, 60 km, roughly 1 1/2 hours one way.

Making a BBQ in the provided fire pit in front of the cottage
A braai (BBQ) is part of the African culture - in front of our De Hoop Collection Cottage. 

However, we have already spent several nights in one of the self-catering Cottages of the De Hoop Collection and hotel. This is the best way to experience De Hoop without the long and strenuous drive twice a day. I highly recommend at least two days in this exceptional park.

The luxury Morokuru Lodge in De Hoop
I assume the Morokuru Lodge is one of the best - the location for sure is outstanding.

Top-notch is the luxury Morokuru Lodge, which is almost always fully booked but far above my imagination with the lowest rate of roughly R 17k, nearly 850 Euros for two for one night in the summer.

Parking De Hoop

The parking on red gravel close to the ocean in De Hoop
The parking at Koppie Alleen.

The parking was still the same size as in 2005 when we visited this beautiful Nature Reserve for the first time. The gravel road leads almost to the sea. It is just a short walk through the pristine dunes, and you reach the Indian Ocean.

Beach Huts in Muizenberg

Don't miss out on my first-timer's guide and learn all about the 12 Essential Insights for Your Vacation in South Africa.

More information about the De Hoop Nature Reserve, whales, wildlife and packing list below.

Packing List De Hoop Nature Reserve

Lunch break along the coastal whale trail in De Hoop
Markus heated up a meal from a farm stall for us in this breathtaking landscape.
  • Plenty of water and a snack. There is frequently a food stall at the picnic area, but it is not guaranteed due to the remote location. 
  • The sun is intense and bright; sunglasses and sunscreen for protection are a MUST! I use my special SPF 50+ sunscreen for exposed areas like my arms and face. I never got sunburnt since I used this cream.
  • The wind on top of the dunes is often strong, you should take a buff and a windbreaker jacket.
  • If you visit in the summer, bring your swimming gear.
The picnic area with shelter at Koppie Alleen
Information boards and the food truck at the picnic area.

De Hoop Nature Reserve Map Download

Best Months to Visit


Location and Tips

South Africa
South Africa

The De Hoop Nature Reserve is located 250 km southeast of Cape Town. It is situated between Mossel Bay and Cape Agulhas and is known among South African travellers to be the "Jewel of the Western Cape". De Hoop has two entrances the main one is the De Hoop, and the second is the Potberg entrance.

On top of the Koppie Alleen Dunes
The massive sand dunes offer spectacular views.

We have visited this breathtaking nature reserve multiple times since 2005 and are always astonished by this unique beauty. Thanks to the remote location and the poor road conditions to the reserve, it is still a hidden gem in South Africa.

The gravel path down to the info boards, picnic area and the ocean
This path leads to the picnic area and the multi-day whale track.

My biggest fear was and is that the gravel road would be paved one day. Consider a remote location means a poor cell phone connection, so digital detox is guaranteed. 😉

De Hoop Marine Reserve

An information board about Southern Right Whales
There are information boards at the picnic area. Photo high resolution

The 23000 ha large marine protected area was proclaimed in 1986 and extends about 5 km into the sea. It plays a vital role in the future of Southern Right Whales.

Southern Right Whales in the bay.
Another mom and her calf.

This is one of the most essential whale mating sites and breeding grounds for these specific whales migrating from the Arctic to South Africa.

De Hoop Dunes

A huge pristine white dune without any footprints and a blue sky
The stunning dunes in De Hoop

When reaching Koppie Alleen, you first get to the massive dune chain. Some of these shifting dunes are up to 90 m high and cover an area of about 1000 ha. The white dunes stretch for many kilometres along the coast of the Indian Ocean.

Three visitors walking through the dunes
Not many people visit De Hoop.

Climbing the dunes can be a bit strenuous; don't forget a bottle of water. After the ascent, you get rewarded with spectacular views to either side to the endless white beach and the turquoise-blue Indian Ocean. It is frequently windy on top, so protect your eyes from the fine sand.

De Hoop Vlei

A hamerkop bird in the Ramsar
A hamerkop in the vlei

The vast wetland, the 14 km long "De Hoop Vlei", is on the reserve's west side. It is one of the largest brackish water lagoons in southern Africa. It provides a habitat for thousands of water birds, such as flamingos, pelicans, herons, Egyptian geese, Cape spoonbills, and yellow-billed ducks.

A hoopoe on the ground at the vlei in De Hoop
A Hoopoe is rare to spot in Europe but more common in South Africa.

Due to climate change and droughts, the " lake " water level keeps dropping, so local conservationists fear that this habitat might disappear one day. If the level continues to decline, fewer birds will come here in the future. Besides the various water birds, you can also spot plenty of oystercatchers along the coastal path. 

Wildlife - Game

A zoom picture of the head of an eland.
Elands look like they are out of a fairy tale.

We haven't seen so many elands anywhere else in South Africa in any of the National Parks and Game Reserves than here. It took me half an hour slowly walking to get close to the Elands. Also, Cape mountain zebras and bonteboks are common in De Hoop.

Hiking in De Hoop

Two hikers on the coastal track with view to a bay
The breathtaking landscape along the whale track.
  • From Koppie Alleen to the left:
    Walking for hours along the whale trail in the opposite direction is incredible, and you'll discover different small beaches or even southern right whales, depending on the season. The famous multiple-day hike, the whale trail, is 55 km long and lasts five days. It is also a popular trail for South Africans - booking a permit far in advance is required. 
  • From Koppie Alleen to the right:
    You are able to walk from the Koppie Alleen Dunes on this breathtaking white sand and with your feet through the ocean for 8 km one way.
  • There are trails at the De Hoop Vlei to observe many bird species.
  • Potberg, the second entrance, is another highlight in the reserve, with trails through this unique landscape.

Please contact me if you wish to use any of my photos, but I will take action against picture theft.

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Created by
Micha Herber-Bleich
Micha Herber-Bleich
I am always open, curious about new…