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At first sight, De Hoop Nature Reserve is not as wild as Kgalagadi or Kruger, but it is unique. It’s oozing scenic Cape beauty and boasts several unrivaled physical features, including the De Hoop Vlei, which was South Africa’s first RAMSAR birding site, and perhaps one of the most important birding areas on the continent.

Then there’s the Marine Protected Area. If you could scuba dive here (you need a permit though), it would certainly strike you as one of the wildest places on earth! Most pertinent are the several hundred southern-right whales which come into these waters to breed and calve during springtime. (Unfortunately, there are no boat trips at De Hoop – I would think that some sort of controlled access to the marine environment would be enormously valuable – for educational and tourism purposes).

So there’s no doubt that De Hoop is very diverse, with a wide range of terrestrial and marine habitats. It’s a gem that deserves its place at the top of any list of protected areas in the country.

The accommodation of De Hoop Collection is brilliant. From the luxury manor house, to thatched rondavels and campsites alongside the De Hoop vlei, there is something for everyone. The excellent Fig Tree restaurant is superb too. It’s important to note that CapeNature are responsible for the conservation management of the reserve, but the accommodation and restaurant facilities are privately-managed. The professional service and friendliness of the staff is world-class. And the quality of the guides – especially Dalfrenzo Laing – are among the best I’ve experienced.

Saying good morning to one of the Cape mountain zebras that graze on the grass near the chalets.

For photographers, De Hoop presents endless opportunities. There is something for everyone: from macro photos of fynbos and insects to landscape shots of dunes and ocean, from underwater photos of the rock pools, to telephoto shots of Cape mountain zebra, eland, bontebok, birds and whales.

Kelp gull flying over the dunes at De Hoop
Mother and youngster in early morning light. The Cape mountain zebra at De Hoop are of mixed genetic descent and an important population for the survival of this vulnerable species.

I walked the western beaches of De Hoop with fellow photographers Peter Chadwick and Jean Tresfon. Peter used to be a reserve manager at De Hoop, so he knows the reserve as well as anyone. He wanted to show us this part of De Hoop, because most people don’t bother to walk the long beach. We spotted plenty of black oystercatchers, kelp gulls, Cape cormorants… and then flying overhead, a few caspian terns.

Looking west from Koppie Alleen, along the beach which Jean, Peter and I walked…
Cape cormorants on the beach…
Kelp gulls getting raucous at a nesting site at De Hoop. These are the largest gulls in the region and can follow trawlers up to 100kms offshore.

Also noteworthy was the washed up body of what Peter believed to be a pygmy sperm whale. See the photo below!

The washed up body of what we think is a pygmy sperm whale.
Eggs on a kelp gull nest.
A Cape cormorant taking off. This near-endemic and near-threatened species forages up to 50kms offshore on pelagic fish, sometimes diving 30 metres deep. Their numbers have decreased dramatically in the past 20 years, and today there are about 100 000 pairs remaining.
Just outside De Hoop is some of the most productive wheat farming in the country. It’s a favourite habitat for blue cranes…

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Photojournalist Scott Ramsay focuses on exploring the national parks, nature reserves and community conservancies in Southern Africa, taking photographs and interviewing the experts who work in these protected areas. Through his work, he hopes to inspire others to travel to the continent's wild places, which Scott believes are Africa's greatest long term assets. For more, go to or Partners include Ford Ranger, Goodyear, Cape Union Mart, K-Way, EeziAwn, Frontrunner, Hetzner and Globecomm.

Africa Geographic Travel