Nature has taken eco-tourism to the next level with its state-of-the-art eco-cabins at Rocherpan on the West Coast. Hidden here between a vlei and the sea, you can stay in one of eight eco-cabins for the ultimate get-together with nature. Go on scenic hikes, saddle a mountain bike, fall asleep on the beach beside the breakers, smell the wildflowers, and enjoy the company of only tortoises, birds and southern right wales…
Rocherpan is a coastal nature reserve teeming with birds and colourful wildflowers, located around a seasonal vlei some 25km north of Velddrif, less than two hours’ drive from Cape Town along the R27 West Coast Road. The nature reserve was established in 1966 and the adjacent Atlantic Ocean marine reserve in 1988. The current eco-friendly development was launched in 2012 with four solar-powered cabins and eco-friendly waterless toilets, with another four cabins having been added in 2015.
The nature reserve is a rare example of how human intervention inadvertently actually assisted nature. In 1839 farmer Pierre Rocher, after whom the reserve is named, arrived in this area in search of improved summer grazing for his livestock. He and his workers closed off the mouth of the Papkuils River, forcing it to flow behind the dunes that separate the sandveld from the sea. Ironically, this created a perfect habitat for water birds, and the local species have thrived here ever since. Another river, the Sout, also runs through the reserve.
Today the 930 hectare reserve is a birder’s paradise. The combination of sea, land and vlei has created ideal breeding and feeding conditions for the 183 recorded bird species found here, of which about 70 are water birds. It provides a sanctuary for South Africa’s second rarest coastal bird, the endangered African black oystercatcher. Here you will also find white pelicans, greater and lesser flamingos, all three being endangered species, as well as kelp gull and the Cape shoveller. Wild ostriches roam the flats surrounding the vlei. The area is one of the Cape shoveller’s most important breeding and moulting sites.
This abundant bird life can be comfortably watched from three bird hides, two being on the south-western side of the vlei, and one on the north-western side. A bird list and map is available from the CapeNature website or from the reserve’s main office. Note that the vlei is currently dry because of the drought, and under normal conditions it is also usually dry between March and June.
Between June and November visitors can watch southern right whales frolicking behind the breakers, enjoying the warm water – by their standard – after their long migration from the icy Antarctica. In addition dolphins and seals are also often spotted from the beach. The reserve’s lush growth of pristine coastal fynbos is complimented by a large array of wildflowers that produce a spectacular kaleidoscope of colour in spring, with butterflies darting from flower to flower. The Rocherpan reserve is also one of only two known locations where the critically endangered aquatic plant, the Cape horned pondweed, survives.
All of this complimented by the luxurious and superbly appointed eco-cabins, broad wooden boardwalks that provide universal access, a swimming pool, picnic and braai areas, cycling and hiking paths, a jeep track for cyclists, and a 4.7km stretch of sandy Atlantic coastline with snow-white beaches. There are two short hiking trails, the 9km Rocherpan Trail around the vlei and the 7km Beach Trail. Activities in the reserve include whale watching, picnicking, swimming, hiking, mountain-biking and cycling, bid watching and recreational fishing.
Although we doubt you’d want to leave the reserve, for those visitors who want more activities and things to see, the picturesque fishing harbour villages of Velddrif and Laaiplek at the mouth of the Berg River are just a short distance away, as are St Helena Bay, Stompneus Bay, Shelly Point, Paternoster and the town of Vredenburg. Here you will find plenty of restaurants, pubs and interesting things to do and see.
Rates for the self-catering eco-cabins start at R850, while hiking permits for Rocherpan cost R40 for adults and R20 for children.
- Rocherpan Nature Reserve office: (hours 08:00–16:30) Tel +27 (0)79 203 1092;
- Accommodation and permit bookings: Tel +27 (0)21 483 0190; website http://www.capenature.co.za/reserves/rocherpan-nature-reserve/.