* This article first appeared here on Goodthingsguy.com
Every year from June to November, hundreds of southern right whales traverse the Southern Hemisphere’s oceans, coming particularly close to the rugged coastline of the Western Cape. The waters provide a welcomed break from their usual Artic habitat, specifically for mating and calving. I’ve curated a selection of my favourite whale-viewing staycations to observe the magnificent creatures in their natural habitat.
To get me around the Western Cape to my viewing sights I teamed up with Ford, and one of the brand new Ecosports was rearing to go. The crossover vehicle is perfectly at home in the urban jungle, but it’s out on an adventure where she truly shines, no matter if it’s on tar or dirt… and with a Fuel Economy of 4.6 L/100km, she is as economical as they get.
Cliff Top Houses, Ballot’s Bay
Ballot’s bay is without a doubt a South African hidden gem – the residential development occupies a prime oceanside position on a peninsula between Vic Bay and Wilderness. The drive in is itself an adventure, as the road twists and turns through indigenous forest. The buttress of rock is iced in pristine fynbos and the views from the top of the cliff are unparalleled.
20 years ago Sally Kennedy sought solace in Ballots Bay – initially a place of healing for her and soon after home. Needing some changes to the home be done a little later, she employed architect Henry Paine. Not only did she fall in love with his work, but also with the man himself and years later they’re still in love with each other as they are this special piece of land.
They now offer lucky guests the chance to stay in the two clifftop homes, both masterfully designed by Henry: the four-sleeper Bee’s Knees and six-sleeper Cat’s Whiskers. A multi-level treehouse is soon to be added to the list of designer homes, thankfully giving me another reason to return next year.
The intention was generous living spaces that would serve as a conversation between home, forest, and ocean. They’ve been designed with minimal impact on the environment and seemingly float on top of the bush, with the views out being the true hero.
The effortless use of glass and double volume spaces continuously allows the vistas to be framed, regardless of where you are in the houses. The elevated position gives off the feel of being in a boat – seemingly sailing off the cliff. Both bedrooms are en suite with double showers, and the master bedroom has a bath with unmatched views.
Several walking trails crisscross the property, providing good leg stretches through the fynbos. I recommend taking the walk (or drive) down to Ballet’s Bay itself. Once you’ve arrived at the little secluded bay, take the walkway around the rocks for a scenic viewpoint. luxurycaperetreat.com
De Hoop Collection, De Hoop Nature Reserve
In the Overberg’s never-ending land of dreamy vistas lies an almost ethereal coastline reserve, where plains meet mountains, sand dunes the ocean, with one of the largest vleis (inland lakes) in the country – and the Ford Ecosport was as excited as I was to be back.
The reserve had its genesis as agricultural grounds dating back to the early 1700s, but two centuries later, after lamb sickness wiped out stock, the land was bought by the government and set out as a nature reserve. Today Cape Nature is the custodian of over 340 square kilometres of land and in the heart of this De Hoop Collection is a sprawling and laid-back lodge – and proud member of Cape Country Routes.
Many visit De Hoop for the immersive nature experiences on offer that are both adventurous and informative. The guided eco boat cruise is a 2-hour exploration of the large vlei which sits alongside the accommodation. The vlei is a Ramsar Convention-designated wetland of international importance – with over 260 bird species listed – sometimes leading an astounding 30 000 individual birds on the Vlei, including flocks of florescent flamingos. Along the banks, ancient milkwoods stand guard, and you’ll even spot wild beehives clinging to the cliffs.
Twitchers will relish the vulture excursion to visit the Western Cape’s only breeding colony – also offering an opportunity to explore the far side of the reserve. De Hoop Collection is endowed with free-roaming wildlife which are never far off from the accommodation options so they can be easily viewed while walking, hiking or cycling – another reason why De Hoop is so popular for families. Expect to have close (but safe) encounters with bontebok, Cape mountain zebra, eland, baboons, and ostrich.
Of course, one of De Hoop’s crowning glory is that it’s often touted as the best land viewing site for Southern Right Whales in the Southern Hemisphere. Ask the staff for a flask of tea or coffee and a blanket, and head down to the formidable dunes at Koppie Alleen, where you can languish away the time with unparalleled watch watching. dehoopcollection.com
Villa the Cherry, De Kelders
Don’t stress if you’ve not heard of De Kelders – many die-hard Capetonians haven’t either, despite the town is just over a two hour’s drive away. Think of it as Gansbaai’s little stepsister – only minutes away and much smaller. De Kelders is essentially a residential strip that hugs the cliffs for several kilometres, and right at the end, just as the town transitions into Walker Bay Nature Reserve, Villa The Cherry stands guard over the bay.
Owners Annick and Björn are of Belgian descent, but after visiting South Africa quickly fell in love with the land. They eventually purchased a holiday rental home, which they frequented as often as possible, and in-between their visits offer to guests for a remarkable stay.
Annick tells me about their love affair for the lesser-known De Kelders: “It has that kind of energy which draws you to its place. When we first arrived here I couldn’t believe my eyes how incredible it is; such a beautiful and pristine natural environment, endless sea views, the whales and wildlife, rocks and fynbos and then, of course, the caves where the Khoi Khoi lived thousands of years before.”
The architect-designed luxury home is a marvel in itself. The central area features an open plan kitchen, lounge, and dining room – opening out onto a central courtyard with a heated pool and braai. Two upstairs guest suites open up onto the courtyard, along with an office and master bedroom which overlooks the bay. At the touch of a button both the double-volume interior wall that faces the courtyard and then one of the exterior walls slide open, creating a seamless flow between the inside and outside.
Annick tells me humbly that “Walking here is an instant meditation. Perhaps it’s the pure sea air, the beauty of nature, the energy of the rocks or the spirit of the ancient Khoi Khoi that make this place so magical.” My favourite part about the Villa The Cherry? The master bedroom’s glass-encased bathtub from which you can watch the whales glide through the waves below. villathecherry.co.za