A piece of African paradise that has been luring people for 100,000 years

Lekkerwater Beach Cottage

Just visited my ancestors on a stretch of wild coast four hours drive from Cape Town. My great-great-great grandparents lived in the De Hoop Nature Reserve. Just like yours.

About 100,000 years ago, some 300 families of Homo sapiens escaped severe weather changes that rendered most of Africa uninhabitable and moved to this coastal microclimate, thriving thanks to its abundance of seas and lands.

The water was clean, there were no diseases like malaria, local tubers gave them digestible carbohydrates, animals roamed in abundance, and the ocean provided all the seafood they ever needed. In caves along this coast, archaeologists have found middle sea shells that they claim are the first evidence of pantries.

So our ancestors no longer had to survive solely as hunter-gatherers and were able to stockpile food. This meant they had time to make stone tools, create artwork on the walls of their caves, and socialize and communicate.

They even discovered the chemistry, concluding that if they heated the rock to a high temperature, the silcrete changed its composition and they were able to shape it into a sharp-edged cutting tool. These tools are littered along the coast today.

Lekkerwater Beach - the ultimate trip

Lekkerwater Beach – the ultimate trip

Many travelers to Africa will tell you that they have a strange sense of belonging or having been here before. Colin Bell, creator of Lekkerwater Beach Lodge in the heart of the reserve, says it’s perfectly understandable that deep down in our collective psyche we recognize the fact that we all come from Africa.

“The whole narrative that Africans developed to become modern human beings after moving out of Africa is wrong,” says Bell. “Africa lies at the heart of modern man. And that’s the crux of the matter.”

Bell is something of a legend in these parts. It is one of the driving forces behind the luxury safari boom in South Africa, having created Wilderness Safaris in the late 1970s and Great Plains Safaris in the 1990s, two brand leaders in high-end game viewing.

Lekkerwater Beach Cottage

Lekkerwater Beach Cottage

He now runs Natural Selection, a low-profile operation that includes Lekkerwater in its portfolio. The fiery redhead is often at the center of raging disputes over wildlife conservation and fervently believes that tourism contributes to preserving the African wilderness.

Lekkerwater is something else for Bell. He bought the property in 2015, believing he was investing in a piece of South African political history. It was the Camp David of former South African President FW de Klerk, the place where, in the run-up to Nelson Mandela de Klerk’s release and inauguration, he effectively dismantled apartheid through a series of discreet meetings in the early 1990s. , and then we discovered it was Homo sapiens,” says Bell.

Within 24 hours of arriving in Lekkerwater, I was engrossed in the stories of those old men whose genes I carry within me. With two of Colin Bell’s assistants, Jannie van Wyk and Tim Wells, marine biologists, we took a morning walk along the coast in front of Lekkerwater Camp.

Rockpool explorations on Lekkerwater Beach

Rockpool explorations on Lekkerwater Beach

Soon we were immersed in what they call the “slow Serengeti”, where violent predator-prey situations occur, only on a microscopic scale compared to the African plains. Here, in a pool by the beach, we watched a whelk (the size of a 50p coin) feeding on a periwinkle.

While it may not have had the epic qualities of a lion hunting an antelope, it was fascinating nonetheless. Acne has radial teeth – like a conveyor belt – that run along the victim’s shell, picks a spot and makes a hole in it.

With its sharp proboscis extended into the opening, the whelk then immobilizes the periwinkle and injects a digestive enzyme into it. The whelk then slurps it, as if through a straw. As van Wyk and Wells pointed out the two creatures in the rock pool – the hunter and the prey – the periwinkle smelled the predator’s scent and ran away. The hunt is over, just like on a safari, the intended prey slips out of reach.

Lekkerwater Beach Cottage

Lekkerwater Beach Cottage

It was this rich, diverse ecosystem that provided our ancestors with the food that filled their pantries. Seafood, large and small, fed them and freed them from the cycle of hunting and gathering. The anthropological truths unearthed here lead us to Professor Chris Hinshelwood, an international archaeologist who grew up in the area and, as a 10-year-old, explored the now famous Blombos and Klipdrift Caves, very close to Lekkerwater.

Through Norway’s University of Bergen, where Hinshelwood is a practicing scientist, he has raised more than €650m (£570m) to study the area. On this visit to Lekkerwater, meeting the ancestors was an added bonus.

At sunset we sat on the deck and watched the whales congregate, break through and play. Many whales. This is where the two great oceans meet – the Indian and the Atlantic – and it has created the perfect breeding ground for humpback whales and right whales before they head south to Antarctica for the winter. It is unusual to think that our ancestors once sat in this place and looked at the same thing.

Lekkerwater Beach - Michael Poliza

Lekkerwater Beach – Michael Poliza

I arrived at Lekkerwater expecting a long, relaxing weekend of whale watching and beach walks, but after three days I left with a strangely realized sense of myself.

There is something incredibly familiar about this place, and it’s easy to imagine our distant ancestors sitting right here, contemplating the ocean and living off sea creatures. After all, 100,000 years is not that long ago.


Graham Boynton was a guest with Ultimate Travel Company (020 3733 0002; theultimatetravelcompany.co.uk), which offers a three-night stay from £1,060 per person, including car hire from Cape Town and food, activities and drinks. Flights are charged extra. Lekkerwater is a small 14 bed camp so advance booking is required.

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