Memory is a tricky one – constantly ephemeral, always fleeting and fickle, like a moment of cotton candy on the tongue. Oftentimes, it isn’t the ‘who’ or ‘what’ or even the ‘when’ that we remember, but the ‘how’. How we felt, how we were made to feel, the emotions tied to a particular moment in time. These are the things we are bound to carry with us. And above all else tethered to my time there, it is the feelings that take me back to Lekkerwater Beach Lodge.
A four-hour drive from Cape Town, the last stretch of which is done on a dirt road with a few tricky spots, will ultimately deliver you deep within the De Hoop Nature Reserve. Stepping onto the ground of the parking area, I find that summer is very much in full swing. I take off every layer of clothing I can without exposing myself, but it’s too late: my shirt is drenched.
Fortunately, I’m found by my guide and host, Billy Robertson, who welcomes me into an air-conditioned SUV for the final, more precarious drive over to the lodge. “It’s only 20 minutes to Lekkerwater from here,” he says, shifting the car into gear. Looking out the window, though, I realise I’ve come to De Hoop with a suitcase full of false assumptions. Having travelled to a number of coastal areas before, I expected to see similar terrain – lush, green, palm-laden perhaps. Instead, my eyes squint to locate something – anything – closely resembling coastal beauty amidst the blur of translucent, incalescent nothingness that surrounds me: all I see is rolling hills of sand and shrubs.
“You’ve arrived at the place where the land meets the sea,” Billy says in passing.
I don’t believe him. I cannot fathom a body of water existing anywhere nearby. But as we descend the final rolling hill, I realise my senses have betrayed me. I open the window. A breeze sends a chill down my chest – a reminder of my still-dampened shirt. The air smells of sea and salt. The quiet thicket is gone; in its place is the comfortingly familiar crashing of waves. The car stops, and I see it: the vast, infinite and sparklingly imperial Indian Ocean.
Lekkerwater feels beamed in from some implacable, dreamy elsewhere; the wide beaches are unmarred by footprints, hills are overrun in a festoon of fragrant fynbos, and shimmering rockpools percolate with octopus, abalone and prickly whelks.
The dune-coloured lodge lies neatly against the shore like a scrunched-up piece of paper ripped from the pages of Architectural Digest; a frozen, sharp-angled ripple in time.
After exiting the car, big smiles lead the way to the main living space. Palms are pressed over hearts. I’m greeted with a “welcome home – at least for the next few days.” And finally, a steaming towel is offered to me as I drop my bag.
I look around, taking in the large communal lounge, with its fireplace and indoor dining area. The place carries a decidedly weathered-yet-chic charm, with a whimsical disposition that incorporates clean, modern lines and traditional building materials (woven bamboo chandeliers; a massive dining table hewn from a slab of oak) – creating the sense of a tranquil, coastal playhouse in a calm, sophisticated register.
Large, floor-to-ceiling windows fill it with sharp, natural light, panoramic views of the ocean greet you at every turn and you can enjoy them from a comfortable chair on the viewing deck or even from the lodge’s plunge pool.
The views resemble Monterrey, California at one moment, Tulum in Mexico the next, but it’s overtly clear that De Hoop is uncompromisingly South African in its marrow. And happens to be one of the most spectacularly beautiful areas found in the country.
Its designation as a Marine Protected Area also means there’s an abundance of marine life – and a supreme absence of human life. The only other people you’ll see accessing this strip of beach are those backpacking the multi-day Whale Trail. And from June through November, guests will most likely be found peering out of the windows at all times: De Hoop is the best perch from which to see whales in Africa, and in season, massive groups of southern right whales converge just offshore for your own private showcase of breaching theatrics.
A language of aesthetics.
On our way to the rooms, I’m reminded that this little portion of land used to be former South African president F.W. de Klerk’s countryside residence, his very own ‘Camp David’, used as the place to plan out the delicate details of the nation’s transition from apartheid to democracy in the early 90s.
Prior to de Klerk’s residency, the area had a number of private homes that were cleared to make way for a missile testing ground in 1983. However, after a couple of years, the plan was scrapped and in 1985, the government handed De Hoop over to CapeNature for conservation.
Today, six units and one family chalet with two bedrooms are strung out along the beach. Though positioned close together, the ocean-facing balconies have privacy screens, with the roar of the waves drowning out any sound that might pass between walls. Beds (double or twin) look out onto the ocean. Winter turndown includes a lit fire and hot water bottles tucked between the sheets.
Bathrooms and showers are open-plan (worth bearing in mind if travelling with friends or family). There’s a stash of moreish biscuits, coffee and tea facilities, a wonderful lack of single-use plastics and bespoke pieces of commissioned art by Cape Town-based artist Jemima Sargent.
A new, modernist-inspired dialect of flowing lines and quiet colour whispers throughout the seven units. The surfaces reflect a warm blend of light, and the rooms bask in an easy glow. This use of a very soft palette repeats in many different ways. And when combined with the correct lighting, the effect is instantaneously relaxing.
As a result, the lodge begins to feel like home in no time. And you know a vacation is one for the books when you start contemplating permanent residence there. Places that make exceptional use of their natural surroundings – by way of emotional realignment via otherworldly views – are particularly well equipped to inspire that “When can I move in?” feeling. And upon checkout, I felt implored to start bartering a rental cost.
So much of the Lekkerwater experience consists of a heart, a soul, and a story. And this equation takes centre stage with the interactive kitchen, which forms part of the indoor dining exhibition. Meals are served communally at the large dining table. Allowing you to rub shoulders with fellow adventure seekers over delectable, locally-inspired cuisine.
Home-cooked and hearty, everything is sourced within a 60-kilometre radius. Bobotie (a well-known South African dish) is served one night, with a braai (South African barbeque) on the beach the next. Wines are also sourced locally, many from nearby Agulhas, Elim and the multi-award winning Hemel en Aarde valley, as well as other plains that make up the Overberg Region.
Affable and easy-going, the Lekkerwater Beach Lodge vibe is very much about doing as you please. There are guided activities, but no pressure to take part.
With a swath of might-as-well-be-private beach to explore, days tend to revolve around the rise and fall of the tides. When the tide is out you’ll explore the vibrant rockpools, and when it’s up you’ll head for the hills to discover the rich fynbos of the reserve, which forms part of the Cape Floral Kingdom – a World Heritage Site that consists of nearly 9,000 plant species, with De Hoop alone boasting around 1,500 species of plants and flowers.
Keep an eye out for antelope or the incredibly evasive Cape leopard, or head to Potberg and the breeding colony of endangered Cape vultures.
Billy was a warm and engaging host, with quite a few stories worth listening to. And his take on the tours of the fynbos and rockpools was something different from the traditional safari experience. My feeling as someone in the business of African travel was that De Hoop deserves your attention, and that, based on its location, Lekkerwater makes for an excellent must-stay along the Garden Route.
It’s only natural that planning a beach getaway will inevitably make its way to the top of any to-do list. And Lekkerwater Beach Lodge presents the oft-elusive nature of the ocean as a conduit for refuge, the ineffable spark at its core and the realm of revitalisation by which it is defined and realised.
It’s the sense of seclusion that sets Lekkerwater Beach Lodge apart, in every way. But it’s not simply remote; rather, there’s a benevolence to its isolation: this is a place to come to when you need time and space to yourself.
This is what I love most about it – its remoteness, ease, particular mix of history and warm-hearted hospitality. And I’m relieved to find that South Africa’s spectacular variety of charm hasn’t been lost within its walls.
Like many, I relish beachfront views, impeccable facilities, and serenity as far as the eye can see. But they aren’t the things I carry back home with me. I bring back conversations, relationships, feelings.
It’s the feelings that will ultimately bring me back to Lekkerwater Beach Lodge; it’s the feelings that I remember most.
In search of your next sand-and-sea escape? Look no further.