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The Whale Trail - October 2009
De Hoop Nature Reserve

"...it's the Sun City of hiking routes..."
- Hiker's comment after completing the Whale Trail
It's more than just a retreat, its total surrender.

An unequalled experience awaits hikers who embark on the new five-day Whale Hiking Trail that has been developed by Cape Nature Conservation at the De Hoop Nature Reserve near Bredasdorp. The trail traverses one of the Western Cape's most unique and diverse nature reserves, while providing nature lovers and those who love the outdoors with unique comfortable overnight accommodation situated at spectacular locations.

The route stretches over 55 km from Potberg to Koppie Alleen, and includes five overnight stops. The trail offers the opportunity to explore the unsurpassed natural diversity of the De Hoop Nature Reserve, where the fragrance of fynbos on the Potberg mountains and the unique limestone fynbos plains intermingle with the salty sea air of the marine protected area. Along the way, hikers can marvel at the abundance of indigenous plants while looking for members of the last remaining vulture colony in the Western Cape, numerous other bird species and small antelope.

And, yes, of course the whales! De Hoop is world-renowned as one of the best whale-watching spots. Between June and December, this coastline is transformed into one of the world's most important nursery areas for southern right whales.

Whale watchers regularly stand in awe at the sight of more than 50 of these sea giants lying a mere kilometre from the coast.

The cottages - ranging from Arniston-style houses to A-framed thatched "kaapstyl" cottages - are located at the foot of the Potberg mountains, nestled along the coastline and perched high on a sea cliff. "Roughing it" wasn't part of the package when the overnight accommodation was planned. The five cottages all have a kitchen and living area, modern bathrooms and toilets, warm water, mattresses, firewood and solar powered lights. Most of the overnight facilities have built-in braais.

The trail is designed to attract nature lovers with a moderate degree of fitness. The hiking over five days, vary in intensity. Day one is the most strenuous and covers 15 km up the 611m high fynbos-clad Potberg mountain. In comparison, the third day is only 7,8km long and allows leisure time to explore the marine life in the numerous rock pools along the coast.

Reservations are limited to group bookings of either 6 or 12 people. The tariff for the five day hike includes the shuttle service from Koppie Alleen.

Porterage: One bag per person will be allowed. We took off, twelve of us, all well prepared and with a big smile.The whole year we were looking forward to this new adventure. First stop was at Bredasdorp where we had a superb lunch. Late afternoon we arrived at Potberg. 14 boxes (65l) were waiting for us and we had to squeeze the luggage and food (and the booze!) into it. The first evening started with lots of laughter, Abba music. 

Day 1:

Potberg to Cupidoskraal
8 hours

This is the toughest stretch and an early start is recommended. You ascend the Potberg under the watchful eyes of gliding Cape vultures and climb up to the highest point of the trail where you are rewarded with spectacular views. The trail descends along the watershed above Grootkloof where you will find erica and protea species that grow only here and nowhere else in the world!It was a very strenuous walk but we all thoroughly enjoyed it. The nature, the tiny flowers – a real beauty. It seemed like we were the only people on the planet. Absolutely remote and beautiful. Arrriving at Cupidoskraal we all thought we are never going to make it the next day. But nature has got some reserves – we got up the next morning and all the aches and pains were gone.

Day 2:

Cupidoskraal to Noetsie
8 hours

The trail follows the crest of the Potberg through mountain fynbos with unequalled views of the Indian Ocean and the Breede River. The route finally exits Potberg and leads onto limestone hills with strikingly different fynbos, then descends to the enchanting bay of Noetsie at the coast.
Another long and difficult walk. At one stage I lost contact with my buddies and was wandering all alone on the vast plateau leading to the ocean.I actually feared that I had lost my way – but after one hour of anxiety part of the group came into sight. What a relief. We approached the coast and actually had to go down a very steep track to reach the beach and our next hut. The first party had already put the kettle on and a nice hot tea was waiting for the latecomers.Noetsie is famous for having quite a number of mice. Carol brought mouse traps – but the only ones that got caught were our fingers, the mice had a laugh. Day 3:

Noetsie to Hamerkop
3 hours of actual walking with 6 hours suggested for several break periods

There is ample time for exploring the coastline on this stretch. Stilgat is a most enjoyable stop. Several vantage points lie ahead until you reach a beach stretching a short distance to Hamerkop Cottage.
I would say this was the most amazing day. We had sunshine, the water was azur-blue and whenever you had a glimpse at the ocean you could see whales. It was such an experience, the whales were mating, mum and baby had fun jumping up and down. At one stage a dolphin joined them. Never ever in my life did I enjoy the ocean so much.The walk was tough again, along the coastline. Sometimes we walked very much on the edge of deep and dangerous looking cliffs. I must say I enjoyed my walking sticks, they were really helpful (thanks to Claudia and Robin).

Day 4:

Hamerkop to Vaalkrans
6 hours

The long beach walk can be quite strenuous. Allow time to rest.  Look out for the shy oystercatchers and white breasted cormorants basking in the sun. The intertidal pools on the wave cut rock platforms and coral reeds are remarkable sights. The last stretch to Vaalkrans ambles through diverse coastal vegetation.
I was a bit afraid of walking on the beach for 5 km but it turned out to be not that difficult. I followed the footsteps of Jan (she was wearing sandals) that made it much easier. Day 4 was the day for me the most to remember. Leisurely I slendered along a nice sandy path taking loads of photos and enjoying myself. I was about to put my camera away and get hold of my walkingsticks when I turned around a corner and landed 20 cm in front of a huge puff adder. I was petrified! The snake stared at me. Slowly I retreated my foot – because of the corner I got out of sight immediately and this probably saved me. Stepping further back I could watch the snake finally slither away slowly. After making sure the snake was gone I started running. I am pretty sure – in case of a bite I would not have made it in time to the hospital. A puff adder is very venomous and it takes about 6 hours to die. Obviously I was not on the list that morning (Frank has to wait a little longer). 

Day 5:

Vaalkrans to Koppie Alleen
3 hours of actual walking, with 6 hours suggested for several break periods.

This is a short hike through coastal thickets with ample time to soak up the last of the scenic landscapes. There are two alternative routes for high and low tide. Hippo Pools offer great swimming before the path leads up to Koppie Alleen where the trail ends.
Having been very lucky weatherwise – that morning it was raining. We all got our raingear on and actually did the walk in a very short time. All soaking wet we arrived at Koppie Alleen and fortunately enough the driver came earlier and took us back to Potberg.It was a great walk and we all have lots to remember.

Thanks to all my dear friends, especially Flo, for organizing the whole trip and for getting the fire on in the evening. All of us made it happen: Carol, Liesje, Marion, Kathy, Marie, Jenny, Jan, Adrienne, Lilo, Nel and Dorise.
Friendship with these “Golden Girls” is very special and unique. I am looking forward to the next walk in the Krüger Park “Olifants Trail” Sept. 2010. 


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