Rocherpan Nature Reserve

Published December 4, 2013
 Explore,  Nature Reserves and Parks

[dc]I[/dc]t was with great excitement that last week we finally visited the much talked about Rocherpan Nature Reserve. In August 2012 the reserve opened four revamped eco-cabins and we were keen to go and experience what the buzz was all about.

Rocherpan is a seasonal vlei located on the West Coast about 180 kilometres from Cape Town and is part of the 914 hectares Rocherpan Nature Reserve established in 1966. The adjacent section of the Atlantic Ocean was declared a marine reserve in 1988. With the intention of improving the summer grazing for his livestock, farmer Pierre Rocher closed off the Papkuils River mouth in 1839, unwittingly creating a perfect habitat for water birds. When full in the winter months, the pan is 6 kilometres long and barely 2 metres deep, covering 110 hectares (Source: CapeNature). A total of 183 bird species have been recorded at Rocherpan of which we spotted about 35 species.

Kingfisher cabin

Kingfisher cabin

 

The four newly refurbished cabins, Kingfisher, Oystercatcher, Sandpiper and Flamingo are each named after bird species found on the reserve. The cabins are fully equipped and beautifully furnished and sleeps 2 adults and 2 children. It is a cabin, which means everything is open plan.

 

The main sleep area (double bed) is separated from the rest of the cabin by a well-designed divider and the children can sleep on the comfortable futon in the front area. Sliding screen doors are fitted on the inside of the sliding doors and I recommend keeping the screen doors closed at all times as it helps keeping the flies and other insects outside where they belong. The cabins are designed to be eco-friendly with solar geysers and a waterless composting toilet which has a minimal impact on the environment and was never a hindrance at all (we kept the fan switched on).

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Bird hide view

Two bird hides are perched on the opposite side and offers a great view of the pan with close to 70 different species of water birds. From the hides we spotted, among others, Rednobbed Coots, Glossy Ibis, Greater Flamingoes, Sacred Ibis, Kelp Gulls, Blackwinged Stilts, Blacknecked Grebes, Whitebreasted Cormorants, Cape Teals, South African Shelducks and Cape Shovellers.

The unspoilt beach stretches as far as the eye can see and here we witnessed one of the most marvellous sights I have ever seen. A flock of Cape Cormorants consisting of literally thousands of birds were foraging about 500 metres offshore in a leap-frog fashion with birds continuously flying from the back of the group to the feeding area. And then they departed in a long, stretched-out line. I have never experienced something like this before. Truly amazing.

From the deck of our cabin we also spotted a great number of birds in the surrounding sandveld shrubbery, including Cape Wagtail, Cape Bulbul, Red Bishop, Southern Boubou and Cape Weaver. The recently completed hiking trail around the pan provided a further birding opportunity. Additional species spotted include the African Hoopoe and Blackheaded Heron.

Other marine- and wildlife spotted include Seals, Springbok, Angulate Tortoises, Striped Mouse and a very interesting spider you can help identify.

For me another highlight of the trip was sitting on the cabin’s deck at night, gazing at the multitude of stars which shone so bright I wanted to reach out and touch them.

Is there anything you ought to be aware of before going to Rocherpan? I think it is a matter of being realistic about where Rocherpan is situated – on the Cape West Coast in the Sandveld. This means Rocherpan is usually dry between March and June. It can be hot and windy in the summer months. And the Saldanha-Sishen iron ore rail line is in close proximity with a train passing about twice a day. But I didn’t find it a major distraction.

Will I visit Rocherpan Nature Reserve again? Yes, preferably closer to the flowering season in September or early October when the usually arid sandveld is covered with spring flowers. The cabins are stylish and comfortable, it is a great birding spot, has a beautiful unspoilt beach and offers ample opportunity to connect with nature.

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