Year in the Wild Blog

Vultures! And the never-ending wonders of fynbos at De Hoop

Yesterday we again visited the eastern sector of De Hoop Nature Reserve. We had our video expert Timmy Henny with us, and we were hoping to get some footage of the Cape Vultures.

We hiked a short distance up the Potberg mountain, which has good views over down the mountain to the coast. The fynbos in the eastern part of De Hoop is simply WOW! It’s definitely worth visiting the so-called Potberg section of De Hoop, if only to hike the Klipspringer Trail, which takes about 4 hours. Take your camera, and a macro lens!

But as impressive as the fynbos is, the banks of the Potberg River are heavily infested with alien vegetation like wattle, blue gum and port Jackson – so much so, that even though we’ve just had a day of rain, the river wasn’t flowing – the thirsty trees have left the area dry as a bone.

But then we hiked up and away from the river and into the mountains. I’ve never seen so many beautiful proteas – almost a forest of proteas! Extending as far as the eye can see, towards the coastline where the dunes and the ocean meet. What a wonderful view.

We got to the viewpoint on the trail where we hoped to see the vultures, and we weren’t disappointed. There were at least thirty circling in the sky above the kloof where they nest (the vulture kloof itself is offlimits to the public, so the best spot to watch them is on the Klipspringer Trail) . The vultures weren’t flying as low as last time, but we managed to get a few photos. They are huge birds, very impressive.

Thandi is trying to get fit for the Otter Trail in Tsitsikamma National Park (which she and I are doing in November), so she was carrying a big packpack with Timmy’s video tripod inside, which weighs exactly 9kgs. Timmy and I took shameless advantage of Thandi’s willingness to strengthen her legs, so we packed in our lunch and some other gear into her backpack, just to keep her happy.

At the viewpoint, Thandi took a well-deserved rest, snoozing in the shade of a big boulder, while Timmy and I took aim at the vultures with our cameras. But they fly so quickly that taking photographs of them is tricky – auto tracking focus has to be working really well, and the changing light of the clouds and blue sky messes with the exposure. But we got a couple of decent ones.

This colony of about 200 vultures has grown in the last decade from about 100 birds in 2000– even though some experts believed they wouldn’t survive. They were almost wiped out, because of destruction of their natural habitat and the increase in farming, as well as poisoning. But CapeNature has done a superb job in raising awareness and educating locals, and the vultures are now seen as a real asset in the area. Most importantly, they are strong indicators of a healthy ecosystem.

De Hoop has some interesting neighbours. The government’s weaponry development company Denel owns a lot of the land to the west of the reserve. They expropriated it from private farmers a few decades ago, who were then given land elsewhere. But every now and then, quite rarely, the military use the land for missile testing. (Well, they don’t shoot missiles into the reserve – they shoot them out to sea, but just in case something goes awry with the missile, they don’t want anyone nearby on land!) But what is not very well known is that the eastern sector of the reserve (the Potberg section, where the vultures are), is also owned by the government – who then lease the land to CapeNature for conservation.

So while in the eastern sector, we also visited Lekkerwater, a wonderful house on an isolated beach, which can be rented. It was owned by a private family, who then had to give it up to the military. Thandi and I saw a poem on the wall inside the house (see the photo near the bottom of this blog)…we don’t know who wrote it, but it strikes a sonorous chord. This is more than just a beautiful coastline…it’s been both a physical and emotional home to many people who love it deeply and will not give it up easily. After having spent a few days here, I think I would count myself amongst them.

(If you want to stay at Lekkerwater, then contact De Hoop Collection, who are now managing it…taking it over from CapeNature, who are focusing on the conservation of the reserve.)

Puff adders are EVERYWHERE in De Hoop at this time of year...we have seen ten in five days.


Male baboon on edge of De Hoop vlei


Eland...which don't occur naturally here in De Hoop, but were introduced several years ago


Cape Mountain zebra and's possible to get quite close to the animals in De Hoop, as there are no obvious predators (except for a few leopard), and they are used to people walking.


Hey, this is my turf...zebra stallions aren't easily intimidated.


There are plenty of youngsters to be seen in De Hoop during spring time...


Bontebok calf...


Butterfly on protea...not sure of either species! If there's a botanist or entomologist out there...please let me know!


Again, if there is a reptile expert out there, please let me know what kind of lizard this is! We spotted it on the Klipspringer Hiking Trail in Potberg, in the eastern sector of De Hoop


On the Klipspringer Hiking Trail in De Hoop...


Thandi on top of another mountain...near Potberg


Vulture! This one flew below our vantage point in Potberg...what a sight. Their wingspans are about two and a half metres...try measuring that out, and see how long that is!


Incoming bomber...take cover! We could hear the wind whistling in the wings of these magnificent Cape vultures.


These two vultures were having a go at each other in mid-air...


Young leaves on protea bush...soft to touch...furry and lovely!


Are flies beautiful? This one certainly is.

The poem on the wall at Lekkerwater in De Hoop...

The view at Lekkerwater - "Lovely water"...what an appropriate name.

The house at Lekkewater...the only one, between the fynbos and the ocean

Thanks again to my sponsors for making it all possible. CapeNature, South African National Parks, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, Eastern Cape Parks, iSimangaliso Wetland ParkFord, Total, Evosat, Conqueror TrailersVodacom, Digicape, Lacie, Frontrunner, K-Way, EeziAwnNational Luna, Nokia , Goodyear, Global Fleet Sales, Hetzner and Clearstream Consulting.


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