Located along the southern coast of the Western Cape, De Hoop Nature Reserve is one of the Cape’s most fascinating reserves. For birders it hosts the last remaining breeding colony of Cape Vultures, while for aquatic mammal lovers, there are unrivalled views of whales during the summer months. The endless rolling dunes, coastal outcrops and vast farmlands within the reserve also attract fans of landscape photography.
Having only visited the reserve once before myself, I decided to take the better half on a road trip and make an early morning drive through. The night before we performed our usual early morning venture check-list; camera batteries – check, formatted memory cards – check, tripod plates attached – check! The bird guides were packed in the bags along with the bins and everything was set. We would be departing from Somerset West at 07:00 in order to arrive at the reserve by about 09:30. De Hoop is about 2.5 hours from Somerset West and around 3 hours from Cape Town.
In The Bag
For this trip I wanted to ensure that I had equipment that would cater to all my needs and as such included a fair range of lenses; my primary landscape lens is the Sigma 10-20mm F4-5.6, while it tends to get a little soft near the 18mm mark onwards, the optics at the 10-15mm range is great. Canon’s 50mm F1.8 (aka ‘nifty fifty’) despite being primarily a portrait lens, the nifty fifty can act as a good all-round lens, it is also pin sharp. My Canon 400mm F5.6, which I use for birds and other wildlife; I’ve used the Canon 400mm prime for a while now and its speedy AF and sharpness is unrivalled at the price range. I never leave home without my Hoya ND400 neutral density filter, which really helps in creating mood in waterscape imagery. The body being used was a Canon 50D, which despite being several years old at this point, I find is still able to produce quality images in most scenarios, boasting impressive FPS, Micro auto-focus adjustment, as well as being one of the strongest builds Canon have used for a mid-range body (it can definitely take a knock). Finally, my tripod is one of the lower to mid range Manfrottos and while some prefer a more steady stronger build, I find that the lack of weight and small size is an advantage in the way I shoot.
Up and At ‘Em
The morning of our trip we were up by 06:00 and ready to depart as planned. The route we’d be taking was over Sir Lowry’s Pass, past Grabouw, through Caledon on the R316 and finally through Bredasdorp and onto the R319.
The sun was still coming up as we were passing over the mountain pass towards the Overberg area, with golden light, occasionally obscured by cumulus clouds in the distance. The forecast for the day was partly cloudy conditions with no rain.
On route through the farms of the Overberg, I stopped to capture some landscape images as the light was still strong. We parked alongside the road and grabbed our camera gear. Me being who I am, rushed to find a composition as soon as I could, while I waited for Megan to get her 5D out of the bag, however 20 seconds later, I hear a defeated whisper coming from the direction of the car; “You’re not going to believe it…”
Despite our best efforts to ensure we were all set the night before, Megan had forgotten her camera battery in the charger at home. A single word not quite suitable for the ears of children summed up my emotions, as it slipped from my mouth. “I guess we’ve got to go back and get it”, I said. Having already been 40 minutes into our journey the return meant that we were at least going to run over an hour later than our intended arrival time. However, there were really no alternatives.