Get reacquainted with nature at Rocherpan Reserve
– originally part of a large farm – is settled in the coastal scrub between the small seaside towns of Dwarskersbos and Elands bay on the Cape West Coast, and is one of the few private reserves that are almost entirely off-grid. The pan (a shallow area of marshland) was created when the mouth of the Papkuils River was dammed and it has been a hotspot for both wetland and sea birds ever since.
The section of the farm that contained the pan was donated to Cape Nature Conservation in 1966 by the Rocher family, who had owned it since the nineteenth century, and the immediate coastal area became a marine reserve in 1988. It's home to myriad bird species, the most recognisable being the greater flamingo, white pelican and African black oystercatcher.
Not your average holiday resort, Rocherpan Reserve offers eco-friendly accommodation, predominantly attracting twitchers (bird-watchers) and travellers who value peace and quiet. Cape Nature has also stipulated that loud voices, music and any abrasive behaviour will not be tolerated, making the reserve the ideal getaway for those looking to rest and recharge.
For the birds
Eight chalets, each able to sleep three to five people, are positioned along the beginning of the pan and pointed in such a manner so as to catch the morning sun and the evening breeze. In an often-arid area such as the West Coast, Cape Nature has gone to extra lengths to utilise all resources available to them. At Rocherpan Reserve, large rainwater tanks, an atmospheric water generator and underground water pumped up by a small wind turbine is used to service the chalets, the swimming pool and the indigenous landscaping while solar power provides heat and waterless compostable toilets ensure that almost no water goes to waste. Guests are advised to bring their own drinking water and two dustbins – one for kitchen scraps and one for plastic, paper and glass, which encourages recycling.
The four larger chalets are pleasingly rustic with considered finishes, and each offers two bedrooms, while the smaller cabins have a more open-plan living space. Every chalet has a private deck with a barbecue, a kitchen with granite counters, gas hob, refrigerator and microwave oven, as well as a bathroom with a large shower. A large floor fan keeps things cool in summer and a closed combustion fireplace heats up the chalet during the colder months. Industrial screed floors, treated pine and corrugated steel provide an aesthetic that blends harmoniously into the surrounding landscape. Rocherpan Reserve is wheelchair-friendly, too, with interconnecting wooden pathways that lead to the cabins and the pool, and provides supports for the disabled in the bathrooms.
Four bird hides at Rocherpan Reserve are accessible via a dirt track that runs along the opposite side of the pan and there are two pathways that lead to the beach, an uninterrupted stretch of powdery white sand. The silence is broken only by the repetitive crash of the Atlantic, the call of a kelp gull or the bark of sunbathing seals. As this is a protected area and free of boats, Southern Right whales can often be seen in the spring – an occasion that fortuitously occurs at the same time as flower season.
The pan itself is a seasonal wetland and with the extensive drought that the Western Cape has been experiencing for the past 18 months, it is currently dry. However, birdlife is still abundant, although the larger waterfowl have migrated the short distance south to the Berg River mouth in nearby Velddrif. Small birds such as the Cape sugarbird, crested bulbul, Cape robin and bush dove can be spotted from the comfort of the chalet’s wooden veranda and if you keep still, a mongoose may scurry into view. In the high summer, dusk is heralded by a dusty pink sky that gradually turns to an inky black, speckled with an unimaginable amount of stars. Later, as the fire burns low, you can witness the harvest moon, large as a Swiss cheese and similar in colour, as it steadily ascends into the heavens.
Rocherpan Reserve offers a different kind of West Coast holiday – one that is just as beneficial for the environment as it is for peace of mind.