The Melkkamer Manor on the De Hoop Nature Reserve smells like the childhood farmhouse in which I grew up. The wooden floors are buffed to a healthy shine with Cobra floor polish, giving the now guest home a distinct, wonderfully clean, old-world whiff.
The restored rooms of this slightly more expensive accommodation option on the De Hoop premises, are tastefully decorated with large four-poster beds, Victorian baths and florally upholstered sofas in the sitting room.
A shiny red stoep welcomes us off the jetty where the boat anchors. Apart from two other guests looking for a quiet weekend away, we’re the only ones this side of the water - at the Melkkamer side of De Hoop.
The sandstone pillars on the slippery red stoep of Melkkamer Manor where we reside creates a perfect arch in which I would soon sit and read, overlooking the De Hoop vlei.
The De Hoop vlei separates the big De Hoop resort, with its many rooms and acclaimed restaurant from the Melkkamer Manor and Vlei cottage. The old Manor, which was built in the early 1800s, is easily accessible via a 10-minute boat ride across this vlei.
Staying on this side of De Hoop is a must for all bird and fynbos lovers. The calm waters and the outlying location of the Manor make for the most natural of encounters with birds endemic to the area, as well as those species that migrate to the De Hoop vlei seasonally. The De Hoop vlei is a Ramsar site of international importance where water birds and other creatures can live without disturbance.
Trace its diversity along the water's edge
A 17km vlei walk, which is fit for most levels of fitness, is the way to go to experience the area's diversity in its completeness. The route follows the water’s edge.
From the Melkkamer Manor the rest of the De Hoop accommodation resort isn't visible. Nor is anything or anyone else.
Unplugged and uninterrupted
Cellphone reception and all other forms of modern connectivity are scarce, and electricity is only generated upon guests’ request by means of a diesel engine located a few meters behind the manor.
The soft thumping of the engine at night, along with the break from social media, emails and constant connectivity, comes as a much-needed break, especially in the evenings.
It feels quite unnatural, and surprisingly rewarding to sit, and speak, and get to know the people I've come to spend the weekend at the Manor with.
It also comes as a shock to the system to be able to sit and read uninterrupted for hours on end, or to leisurely stroll 20km along the vlei's bank before sitting down for lunch served amid the unspoiled sandy dunes of the De Hoop vlei.
Laid-back rather than exhaustive
One does not come to Melkkamer Manor for an adventurous, overwhelming holiday. And even though there are numerous adventurous hikes, mountain bike and four-wheel motorbike trails on the reserve, the idea with these is not to exhaust, but rather to replenish the mind and body here.
The reserve offers a range of expertly guided walks, rides and tours, all of which are laid-back and educational. And because the guides have some of the best material in the world to work with, namely the completely protected beachfront stretching along kilometers of the Atlantic sea for example, it’s easy for them to keep visitors intrigued while explaining the abundant oceanic life which flourishes in the rock pools on the Koppie Alleen beach of the reserve.
On a interpretive marine walk along the protected rock pools on the shore, our guide, Esmeralda Langeveldt’s eyes light up with ours as she carefully lifts abalone, and giant red starfish, and mussels, periwinkles, colourful sea urchins and armoured-looking chitons from the shallow pools on the beach.
She tenderly describes the urchins as her ‘babies’ while educating us on these incredible beings’ lives, before carefully replacing them into their protected pools.
There is no rush on De Hoop
This thorough, unpretentious approach to ‘holiday-making’ is what a weekend away at De Hoop would turn out to be.
Although there are enough activities to leave you ravished at the day's end, there is no rush on De Hoop. You drink your coffee on the red stoep in the morning as the dedicated personal chef, Phillip Lottering in our case, lays out a spread of freshly baked delights. And at night, you lounge in front of the fireplace discussing the day's highlights over a glass of local red wine.
Whatever you choose to do, you do at your own pace.
Time goes by slowly enough for you to take hour-long baths and nap on the couch in front of the fire in the sitting room, and fast enough for you to dread hearing the ‘ping!’ of your cell phone once you reach full reception again.
When the boat takes us back to the main opstal for the final time, the red stoep of the Manor diminish as we draw nearer to the Opstal and its acclaimed Fig Tree Restaurant. Luckily, the feeling of calm remains, and will hopefully last until my next recharging visit to the old-world Melkkamer Manor.
Interesting & relevant Facts
Melkkamer Manor is situated about 70km from Arniston, or Waenhuiskrans, about 250km from Cape Town, and 220km from Mossel Bay.
The Fig Tree Restaurant burned to the ground in August last year, but was open for business on the very same day as cyclists in a tournament had booked for lunch there and the owner, William Stephens, refused to have them go without food! Big tables were set up under the big fig trees, and lunch was served - with the still smoldering restaurant in the background.
The De Hoop Nature Reserve Collection is currently expanding their wedding venue and will open a new, improved restaurant along with the new venue. The new venue is set to open by the end of March 2015.
There are more than 30 guest accommodation units available on the De Hoop reserve. Some of these units can sleep as much as 8 guests each. The reserve is a popular wedding destination for this reason.
The Koppie Alleen beach front (seen in the image below), where the protected marine rock pools are, is open to sleep-over guests, as well as day visitors in the area.
Day visitors and sleep-over guests can book activities with the guides on the reserve.
Louzel Lombard was hosted for a media visit to De Hoop Nature Reserve and the Melkkamer Manor by De Hoop's owner, William Stephens.
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