The freshwater vleis (shallow lakes – pronounced “flays”) that ebb and flow with the rains on the Cape Flats near Muizenberg beach are home to Cape Town’s only hippopotamus population, a sturdy herd of six, who mostly keep to themselves in the Rondevlei Nature Reserve.
Rondevlei, and its freshwater neighbors Zeekoevlei and Princess Vlei, are so close to the waves of False Bay that they often appear to be the product of ocean overflow. But the water is pure enough to support a good crop of endangered strandveld (beach vegetation) and sandplain fynbos, (indigenous heather), and sweet enough for the tastes of a staggering 232 species of bird. Best of all, the vleis are just 20 min by car from the Cape Town city center (see below for directions and map).
Experiencing Rondevlei’s many delights – including overnight stays on an island in the middle of the vlei – is easy. Just book a guided walk, boat tour, or self-catering cabin with Imvubu Tours, a Fair Trade-certified operation.
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Directions: take the M5 south to Muizenberg (it becomes Prince George Drive along the way); turn right into 5th Ave., Grassy Park; proceed to Perth Rd. and turn left into Perth; follow Perth all the way to Fisherman’s Walk.
The best chance of seeing the hippos – the dominant male is called Brutus, and the eldest femaie Cleo, but you can’t tell them apart without risking your life! – is by staying in Rondevlei overnight, or by taking a boat trip through the vlei.
You have just a single option for an overnight stay, albeit a splendid one: the Rondevlei island’s sole self-catering cabin, which sleeps up to twelve. Bookings are essential, and are accepted far in advance.
Boat trips, meanwhile, are only possible when the water levels are high enough, in and around Cape Town’s early summer months. From August to late-January, daily hour-long boat trips run from 8h30-15h30, presenting an ideal chance to see the vlei’s breeding populations of herons, spoonbills and ibises on their nests. From late-October to late-January, the Hippo Sunset Cruise embarks at around 17h30, visiting all corners of Rondevlei at a leisurely pace, seeking out hippo snouts!
Barring a boat trip, you might just get lucky with the hippos on one of Imvubu’s guided walks through the reserve, which are conducted year-round, and don’t require much advance warning to join. Needless to say, apart from offering up glorious, fresh coastal air, these walks are also highly educational – you get to see fynbos up close – and are pure bliss for twitchers.
Don’t forget that, by choosing to experience Rondevlei, you are supporting socially responsible tourism. As a Fair Trade-certified destination, Rondevlei and its charismatic hippos get the coveted SA Blog Best of Cape Town award.