De Hoop is the wilderness highlight of the Western Cape and one of the best places in the world for land-based whale-watching from July to October, with the greatest numbers of whales to be seen in August and September. There’s no need to take a boat or use binoculars; in season you’ll see whales blowing or breaching – leaping clear of the water – or perhaps slapping a giant tail. Although the reserve could technically be done as a day-trip from Agulhas, Arniston or Swellendam, you’ll find it far more rewarding to come here for a night or more. The Whale Trail hike is one of South Africa’s best walks and among the finest wildlife experiences in the world (6 days; 54km).
The breathtaking coastline is edged by bleached sand dunes standing 90m high in places, and rocky formations that at one point open to the sea in a massive craggy arch. The flora and fauna are impressive, too, encompassing 86 species of mammal, 260 different birds and 1500 varieties of plants. Inland, rare Cape mountain zebra, bontebok and other antelope congregate on a plain near the reserve accommodation.