Off-Grid at Rocherpan Nature Reserve, Velddrift

Daréll Lourens rang me in her flamboyant way, all excited and passionate, asking did I want to join her on a mission to Rocherpan Nature Reserve, just north of Velddrift on the attractive and under-developed West Coast? The mission was for CapeNature. The task to create a stunning video to show the reserve and its facilities to their full potential (view video and practical information HERE). Till then, Rocherpan had not been on my radar, but after spending just a few days in this small, but unique reserve, I have fallen head over heels.

Please click on any of the pictures below to view in full size.

This coastal reserve is a unique blend of a seasonal freshwater vlei and a marine part. The largest section (930 ha), Rocherpan itself, was established as nature reserve in 1966 and the smaller (150 ha) adjacent Atlantic Ocean section followed in 1988.

The vlei is not a natural pan, but was created by farmer Pierre Rocher around 1839, when he was trying to improve the summer grazing for his livestock. He closed off the mouth of Papkuils River, so the river water stagnated behind the dunes, which unintentionally created a perfect habitat for water birds.

It therefore comes as no surprise that the reserve is well-known among birdwatchers and you can quite easily spot 50 bird species in just one day, including both waders related to the pan and terrestrial birds. Some of the exciting sightings you can expect are the endangered White pelican and Lesser flamingo (both resident July-December), the endangered Greater flamingo, the rare and endangered Black oystercatcher, and the Cape shoveller with both breeding and moulting sites on the reserve.

Some of the more common bird species include Rednobbed coot, Glossy and Sacred ibis, Kelp gull, Blackwinged stilt, Blacknecked grebe, Whitebreasted cormorant, Cape teal, Ostrich, Cape wagtail, Cape bulbul, Red bishop, Southern boubou, Cape weaver, and Blackheaded Hheron. Click HERE for a full bird list.

Apart from the birdwatching on the vlei, the big attraction of Rocherpan is the miles and miles of beautiful, empty, white sandy beaches and large dune systems, which can be enjoyed without another person in sight. The perfect setting to relax, go for long beach strolls, a morning run, sophisticated picnics, and of course a spot of birdwatching. The only downside is the freezing Atlantic Ocean water, but hey that can’t be helped….

Eco-Cabins

However, what impressed me most about Rocherpan are the eco-cabins CapeNature created that enable the visitor to completely relax and take in the scenery from the comfort of their own deck. A lot of thought has gone into the design and execution of the accommodation, not the least the location on the reserve. You may wonder why the cottages are set a little close to the road, even though it is not a busy one, but they wanted to utilise an existing disturbed footprint rather than encroaching onto more pristine veld.

The architect, Justin Cooke from Architecture Co-Op, took great care in the actual design of these wood cabins to blend them as much as possible into the low-lying landscape. He also used environmentally sustainable solutions – using recycled materials, where possible, wood from mostly alien species, positioning the cabins to maximise the views of the pan and the landscape beyond, and incorporating big sliding doors to bring the outdoors inside. The cabins are carefully placed and the windows cleverly positioned to make optimal use of natural light, while at the same time providing sufficient shaded outdoor space.

They created not only aesthetically beautiful and comfortable accommodation, but also cabins that function virtually off-grid with solar water heaters, gas stoves, and solar panels that provide enough electricity for the lights, fans and water pumps with a back-up of mains electricity.

CapeNature recognises the importance of water conservation in our already water stressed country and have implemented an unassuming, but extremely effective water conservation system. ALL buildings have a water harvesting system in place that supplies all the water for the bathrooms and the kitchens. Each of the eight cabins have two 5,000 litre water tanks with a total capacity of 80,000 litres of water, and the office, staff housing, car port area and other buildings collect a further 125,000 litres of water. Under normal winter rain conditions, this total capacity of 205,000 litres of water should last for at least 8 months of the year. Only in March and April, water normally needs to be ferried in by trucks to bridge the gap till the next rains.

Guests staying in the cabins are encouraged to limit their water use with various signs around the accommodation and by having a water meter conspicuously right above the tap in the kitchen. This meter starts running as soon as you open the tap, a simple, but conscious reminder of your actual water use.

All the buildings on the reserve, including guest and staff toilets and public ablutions, have dry composting toilet systems in place to save even more water. Considering the average person flushes the loo about 1,825 times per year, using on average 9 litres of water per flush, a conservative estimate is that Rocherpan saves a massive 350,000 litres of water annually by having dry composting toilets!

All the grey water from the bathrooms and kitchens soaks into the soil, providing irrigation for the already water-wise, indigenous gardens surrounding the cottages.

CapeNature has some interesting future plans to encourage further water conservation by guests. Ideas include a set water allocation per visitor with a digital system to monitor usage. When people use too much water, they will literally pay a premium, but on the other hand guests will receive incentives for water savings. Fog harvesting is also a feasible option in the area.

Having spent some time in these eco-cabins, makes me even more determined to one day (hopefully sooner rather than later) realise my dream of converting my home and be totally off-grid with rain water harvesting and grey water recycling systems. One can only dream……

Sunset over Rocherpan

If this video inspired you, find more practical information on the reserve HERE.

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