So you’ve conquered the Otter Trail and the Fish River Canyon, or perhaps you’ve had a look at them and said ‘No way!’ because, let’s face it, they seem quite daunting, and now you’re looking for a multi-day hike that is the perfect combination of challenging and enjoyable.
It’s time to check out the Whale Trail, where, if you choose, your bedding, clothes and food can be ferried for you from one cottage to the next.
Many have disregarded this five night, 55 km trail through fynbos veld and along the turquoise coast of De Hoop Nature Reserve as a slackpacker trail,
and for the majority of hikers that’s exactly what it is. One thing it isn’t, though, is a walk in the park.
Even without a backpack, traipsing up and down the undulating, fynbos-covered hills and through the dunes, and along the alternating rocky and sandy coastline beside the Indian Ocean requires a level of fitness (or at least a spirit of endurance) that allows you to appreciate the wonders of the natural setting that is De Hoop Nature Reserve. The fact that the option to slackpack it is there, though, makes this remarkable trail that much more accessible to the average person and not just the dedicated, die-hard hiker.
For the first couple of days, hikers have about 15 km per day of rocky fynbos and cooling streams to look forward to, and from the end of day two, 7 to 11 km per day along both the cliffs beside the crashing waves and in the soft sand on the shore of the Indian Ocean. Klipspringers and other small antellope, dassies, blue-headed southern rock agamas, and, though you’d be extremely lucky to see anything more than their tracks, even leopards inhabit the picturesque landscape. Every year from June to December the Atlantic comes alive with southern right whales (amongst others) and their young and all year round scores of dolphins can be seen leaping about in the waves near the shore. Yes, it’s as magical as it sounds.
Slackpackers and die-hard hikers alike agree that, besides the extraordinary surroundings and local wildlife, one of the best things about the Whale Trail is the accommodation. From old Arniston-style farmhouses tucked away in the dunes or perched on a dune overlooking the ocean, to thatched ‘Kapstyl’ chalets on a rocky beach, every night offers up a new view with a hot shower, a comfortable bed, and well-appointed kitchen and braai areas. Add to that the bonus of being able to send your cooler box of cool drinks, beers, and braaivleis ahead, and you’ve got a winning recipe – slackpacking or not.
So, whether you fancy walking it casually and sending your luggage on ahead, or loading yourself up for five days of serious hiking, or some combination of the two, book yourself and a bunch of friends and family a week in De Hoop for the Whale Trail for an unforgettable hiking experience through one of the most glorious places in South Africa.
Hikers meet and sleep at Potberg on the first evening, where an eco-tourism officer will explain the hike rules, answer any questions and make final arrangements for the transport of crates and cool boxes.
Day 1: Potberg to Cupidoskraal (14.7 km / ± 8 hours)
Arguably the toughest day, since you start with a 600 m climb to the top of Potberg. Start early and pace yourself. End the long day by cooling down in the dam next to Cupidoskraal.
Day 2: Cupidoskraal to Noetsie (15 km / ± 8 hours)
Today you make your way down to the coast. The hike is long, but not as tough as day one. The view over Noetsie when you finally reach the coast is one of the most memorable of the whole trail.
Day 3: Noetsie to Hamerkop (8.5 km / ± 4 hours)
Apart from the last morning, this is the tamest hike of the trail. Take the time to visit Stilgat – a beach with large, shallow rock pools ideal for weary bodies to relax in. Make sure to pack a pair of water shoes for this stopover, because the rocks are very spiky. Hamerkop hut has a stunning white sandy beach and a balcony overlooking it, so give yourself enough time to enjoy it around sunset.
Day 4: Hamerkop to Vaalkrans (10.5 km / ± 7 hours)
The majority of day four is spent hiking on extremely thick beach sand, so make sure you start early (while it’s still cool) and pack enough drinking water. Top tip: walk in each other’s footsteps to make the going a bit easier.
Day 5: Vaalkrans to Koppie Alleen (7 km / ± 3 hours)
This is an easy walk to the pick-up point at Koppie Alleen, where a bus will pick you up at midday and take you back to where you parked your vehicles at Potberg. Take some cash with to buy cold drinks on the bus.
Since you don’t have to carry all your hiking gear with you, many people take their SLR’s with in a daypack. Those who don’t mind carrying a bit of extra weight around will be greatly rewarded for carrying a few different lenses with, since the Whale Trail offers so much more than scenic landscapes. With a telephoto lens you should get great shots of African Black Oystercatchers and dolphins, while a macrolens is a must for those wishing to capture the fynbos in all its glory.
However, I suggest you bring a compact digital camera with a great optical zoom. It’s so much easier carrying something that can fit in your pocket on a multiday hike like this. All these photos were taken with a Canon SX240 (12 mega pixels / 20 optical zoom).
If I want to go:
Where? De Hoop Nature Reserve, Western Cape.
Starting point: Potberg – GPS: S34.37912° E20.53481°
When? August to October is best for whale watching
Cost? January – July: R1200/person
August – December: R1550/person
Minimum 6 pax, Maximum 12
Crates for transporting gear: R380/crate
Facilities: Each overnight hut/cottage looks different, but has comfortable beds, hot showers, flush toilets and spacious kitchens with gas stoves and cutlery. There are no fridges, but you can bring a cool box and have ice put in daily for R10/bag.
Bookings: Visit www.capenature.co.za/reserves.htm, click on De Hoop Nature Reserve and then ‘Whale Trai’l for a full break down of the trail, or call the reservations office on (012) 483 0190. Book at least a year in advance to make sure you get space during whale season.
TOP TIP: Take insect repellent to keep the horse flies away. They can be a real nuisance on certain stretches of the trail.
Info about the authors
The following info can be used at the bottom of the
articles. See photo: mamili-12
“Tabby Mittins and Villiers Steyn both studied Nature Conservation and now work as freelance travel writers for South Africa’s top travel and outdoor magazines. The job allows them to combine their passions for travelling, writing and photography as they journey from one wild place to the next, exploring Southern Africa’s most beautiful natural destinations.”
Please visit www.villierssteyn.com and www.visionphotography.com