Count whales instead of sheep at Morukuru Beach Lodge. This scenic South Africa retreat sits at the tail end of the Western Cape in the sprawling De Hoop Nature Reserve, where giant sand dunes fuse with salty sea air and flamingos feed on marbled lakes. There are ostrich, zebra and antelope, too. But it’s the whales you’ve come to see – and see them you will, if you visit between early-July and mid-October, between the southern-right whale migratory season, when hundreds of cetaceans come in to calf. Simply sit back in the picture window of your room – glass of wine in hand, fire on – and watch as fins flick from the water…
Five suites in total, including four Ocean View Suites and one Dune View Suite.
11am. Earliest check-in, 2pm. Note that the lodge is in a remote reserve, so you’ll want to arrive well in advance of sunset if you’re driving.
Double rooms from $757.10 (ZAR11,304), excluding tax at 15 per cent.
Rates include all meals and two guided activities a day (shared with the other guests), as well as soft drinks, tea and coffee.
We’re reluctant to use the word ‘hotel’ to describe Morukuru Beach Lodge, since it comes with housekeepers, guides and a team of staff who are masters at whipping up a meal, whisking you out for picnic and beating you at board games, if so required. It really is more of a lodge, espousing the ‘whatever you want, whenever you want’ ethos.
The lodge closes annually from mid-May to late-June.
At the hotel
Fire-warmed lounges; a library; board games; free tea and coffee station, plus a fridge stocked with soft drinks; gear cupboard; free WiFi throughout. In rooms: log-burning fireplace; underfloor heating; whale-ready picture window; balcony and chairs; free bottled water; flatscreen televisions; box filled with sunscreen, torchlights and useful items; free sweets and snacks; woven beach bag and hat for use in the reserve; Morukuru bath products.
Our favourite rooms
The four Ocean View Suites gaze across the swirling sea and sloping sand dunes. Plus, did we mention the whales? Sit in your suite’s cushioned window, or on the full-length balcony, with a fully stocked glass of wine and the crackling fire to watch your marine neighbours at play during the season (early-July to mid-October).
There’s a heated pool in a sheltered courtyard that’s surrounded by sunloungers, parasols and a hot tub. Why should the whales have all the fun?
Trainers to explore the cycling trails and fynbos hikes around the reserve.
The lodge (and the surrounding uneven landscape) aren’t wheelchair accessible.
All welcome. There’s room for one under-16 a suite (ZAR1,500 per night). Best of all, they get to sleep in the picture window – aka whale-watching HQ – which doubles as a single bed. Cots can be added for no extra charge. Free babysitting can be arranged.
Extremely: the property is completely off grid. Solar power supplies the electricity, and pellet burners heat the water and underfloor heating. Food and wine are sourced locally, with a commitment to organic, seasonal produce.
The choice is yours. Aside from the main restaurant, you can also arrange a fireside seat at an evening braai, a picnic on the beach, or even a table for two in the dunes.
Wear what you like – no questions asked. We turned up in slippers one evening.
The restaurant forms the centrepiece of the lodge, with floor-to-ceiling windows that frame views of the knitted fynbos and rolling coast. Menus change daily, with a team of local chefs cooking up a fusion of African and European dishes, including anything from yellowtail with pea and cauliflower puree, ostrich fillet in red-wine sauce or hoisin king prawns.
The open-plan restaurant doubles as a lounge at one end, with a circular fire and seating space that beckons for evening board games. There’s also an indoor lounge upstairs, with yet more spectacular sea views. South Africa’s wines form the staple of the drinks menu, along with a selection of beers and spirits. In warmer months, transport your drink to the oceanside outdoor seating area and firepit, or up to the first-floor roof terrace.
Breakfast is 7.30-9am in summer, and 8-9.30am in winter; lunch 1-3pm; dinner 7-9pm.
If you get hungry, just ask. The home-style set up means most things are possible.
The lodge stands amid the wild and untouched scenery of the De Hoop Nature Reserve. Though it feels miles from anywhere, it’s actually only a few hours' drive from Cape Town, Hermanus and the start of the Garden Route.
The easiest international gateway for Morukuru Beach Lodge is Cape Town, a three-hour drive to the west. However, Johannesburg is also an option if you’re starting with the sights of the Eastern Cape first. From Joburg, you can connect via domestic flights to Port Elizabeth or George airports before docking in at De Hoop, where there’s free parking.
Most visitors drive in South Africa: car hire’s inexpensive and the main roads are excellent, especially along the N2 coastal highway. That said, if you’re entering game reserves, national parks, or sandy areas such as De Hoop, you’ll need a four-wheel drive. Hire them at all major airports or city centres.
The reserve has its own private airstrip, served by 50-minute charter flights from Cape Town airport; call Smith24 to enquire about booking a seat. If you come in this way, you’ll then be collected from the airstrip and transferred to Morukuru Beach Lodge via a 25-minute drive (included in your room rate).
Worth getting out of bed for
Welcome to De Hoop, a 90,000-acre coastal reserve, where the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet. You may not have neighbourhood restaurants next door, but you do get a seat at nature’s top table. This wild and untouched reserve offers some of South Africa’s best land-based whale-watching between early-July and mid-October, when migratory southern right whales stop along the Overberg Coast to their nurse their young. Apart from gazing out as they slap the water and perform somersaults, you can also head out on marine walks to spot dolphins, sea lions, porpoises, sea anemones, octopus and starfish in the limpid rock pools and beaches that surround the lodge – one of two guided activities that are included in your stay each day. Or, join fynbos walks to learn about the 1,500 species that carpet the reserve, including the pink-hued king protea flower and kaleidoscopic ericas, with spring (August to October) the best time to see the natural spectacular unfold. Summer (late-October to February) formally bids farewell to whales, but also ushers in a season of long days and warm weather, best spent building sandcastles and picnicing on the beaches. Coastal safaris in an open-top Land Rover let you spy the assortment of antelope, zebra, baboons, hartebeest and ostrich that prance across the prevailing plains. Ornithologists are well served by bird-watching tours that aim to tick off some of the the reserve’s 260 species, including African fish eagles, spoonbills, pelicans, flamingos and a rare colony of Cape vultures that resides in the Potberg Mountain. If you think you need a lot of kit to get active here, fear not: the lodge has free use of outdoor equipment, including snorkels, masks, water shoes, wetsuits, mountain bikes, ponchos, wellies, beach parasols and towels. Our favourite were the sandboards – great fun for sliding down the dunes.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this South African hotel in the De Hoop Nature Reserve and unpacked their binoculars and beach towels, a full account of their wild-at-heart break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Morukuru Beach Lodge in the Western Cape…
‘Whale!’ you’ll find yourself shouting, as you walk into Morukuru Beach Lodge, ignoring the interior design, staff and welcome drinks. Some things simply demand your attention – and the flick of a tail fin is one such thing. Of course, you will need to be travelling during the southern right whale season (early-July to mid-October) to be in with a chance of glimpsing the cetaceans that come through this natural corridor to calf. Yet, if you do, you’re unlikely to leave disappointed. This swathe of ocean at the tail end of Africa is one of the most vital nursery areas for the gentle giants, who linger in the sheltered coves around Morukuru Beach Lodge, nurturing their young away from predators. Even if marine life isn’t your thing, the lodge should be a stop on any South African itinerary: from late-October to mid-February it transforms into a summer playground of rolling dunes and deserted beaches, where you, too, can have the coast all to yourself.
Whenever you book a stay at a Smith hotel or villa, we’ll invite you to review it when you get back. Read what other Smith members had to say in Morukuru Beach Lodge’s Guestbook below.
The all-inclusive pampering in terms of food, drinks and two daily activities. But also the family flair - with just five rooms, it feels very personal and intimate.
Lively entertainment, unless you bring it with you.