Words and Images by Jacques Marais
“THE HUSH”: SOME PLACES HAVE IT, AND OTHERS DO NOT … DE HOOP NATURE RESERVE IS OF THE FORMER KIND, AND SURELY RATES AS ONE OF THOSE WILDERNESS SPACES WHERE THE TRANQUILLITY WILL COME AND FIND YOU.
De Hoop is – at an impressive 34 000ha – one of the most extensive conservation areas under the stewardship of CapeNature. The beauty of this stretch of coastal fynbos is that it extends offshore as a marine reserve, protecting a further 5km of the Indian Ocean. This safeguards one of SA’s most prominent whale-calving sites, and furthermore protects the fascinating marine biodiversity here.
De Hoop rates as one of the Western Cape’s premier hiking destinations, with the Whale Trail offering an unparalleled coastal hiking experience. More recently, the reserve has been favoured by mountain bikers, who come here to lose themselves along the endless back roads, and birders, who delight in a diverse species list encompassing everything from pelagic and wetland lifers to arid fynbos LBJs.
De Hoop Nature Reserve boast no less than five newly created and unique MTB routes, most of them recently established by “Overberg MTB Events” and “Cape Trails”. This enables the pedal-power brigade to choose from the following options …
De Hoop Vlei MTB – Route 1 (12km – 19km options)
Crank off from De Hoop Opstal and follow the route up a limestone and rocky, but very scenic, jeep track with views of the Vlei to your right. As you get closer to the cliff and the historic De Mond House, you will find yourself surrounded by herds of bontebok and eland as you navigate the fynbos.
There are two options – follow along the circular route back (12km) or extend the ride to Melkkamer, which will see you top out at 19km in total. This route is typically used for the De Hoop Vlei Sunset Scramble and has the most amazing sundowner scenery, game and bird life viewing.
Tierhoek MTB – Route 2 (10km)
This quickie route starts from Opstal and follows the road to Tierhoek on the northern side of the Vlei. The ride is mostly along open and flattish jeep tracks, ideal for the recreational rider to warm up the legs or for non-technical riders and beginners. Koppie Alleen MTB – Route 3 (18km) Once again, you saddle up from “Die Opstal”, following the same direction as Route #2, but instead crossing to the eastern side of the Nature Reserve. You may once again find herds of eland grazing on the serene landscape as you negotiate the jeep track. The trail eventually links onto a paved road to Koppie Alleen. There is an option to return from here, or otherwise simply retrace your route along the same trail. It is best to follow the signs all the way to Koppie Alleen, especially at sunrise or sunset. Riders will cross the Dronkvlei Dash Stava section, which is a beautiful stretch just before you link up with the paved road to Koppie Alleen, with breath-taking views over the dunes and some of the most sought-after sections of De Hoop.
Fat Bike Riding – Route 4 (45km)
This route flows in the same direction as Route #3, but forks left on a sandy jeep track which takes you to a circular loop to the sea and back to the jeep track. You can either turn left again up a tricky and challenging climb to return to Koppie Alleen (well worthwhile) or continue along the same road to the starting point. Please note, this is not a ride for beginners and an intermediate to strong level of fitness is required.
De Hoop Vlei Experience MTB Route – Route 5 (55km)
Put your hands up if you want a technically challenging and exciting route for stronger riders … Built and completed for the 2019 De Hoop Vlei MTB Experience, the route introduces a brand-spanking new
track to the north of the Vlei, going all the way up to Buchu Camp, and removing any need to ride on the main tar road.
Once you reach the top of “Flat Rock” singletrack, you will no doubt feel the burn in your legs, but it will quickly fade away as you bliss out on the best views of De Hoop: to the south, a full view of the entire Vlei unfolds, back-dropped by towering sand dunes rolling toward the deep blue sea. Gaze to the east for breath-taking sunrises over the Potberg outcrop, or revel in the westerly aspect, where the historic Melkkamer languishes upon the flood plains stretching towards Arniston and Struisbaai.
This makes for an extraordinary and diverse route – and when the Vlei reaches full capacity – it is sure to provide riders with an experience reminiscent of a leisurely outing on the picturesque Croatian coast. The infamous “Dennis the Menace” singletrack climb back up to Buchu Bush Camp is no ordinary challenge, with proper technical surfaces. Expect rocky and steep switchbacks, but once you have mastered the route, you’ll be back for more and more and more …