An unequalled experience awaits hikers who embark on the Whale Trail in the De Hoop Nature Reserve. The trail traverses one of South Africa's most unique and diverse nature reserves while providing nature lovers with comfortable overnight accommodation situated at spectacular locations. There is also great animal diversity - from marine creatures like whales and dolphins to wildlife like zebras, bontebok and leopards.
De Hoop is one of the largest reserves managed by CapeNature. This beautiful reserve is a favourite for hikers, cyclists, and bird and whale watchers. The reserve, which is about 34 000 hectares in size, is just a three hour drive from Cape Town. The neighbouring marine reserve, which extends five kms out to sea, is one of the largest marine protected areas in Africa. It conserves a vast and fascinating variety of marine life.
Coastal trails have always been popular and since its opening the Whale Trail has proved this point. With its combination of mountain and coastal walking, its diversity of fynbos together with beautiful rockpools and sand dunes there is always something beautiful to look at on the trail. The trail itself stretches 54kms from Potsberg to Koppie Alleen and has five overnight stops. Vehicles are left at Potberg and a shuttle service is provided to collect hikers at the end of the trail and return them to their cars. Renovations were being done to two of the huts when we hiked it so our hike was shortened by one day.
The huts are designed to accommodate 12 people. Except for thee hut at Noetsie they all have a built in braai suitable for all weather conditions. Warm water, mattresses, firewood, solar powered lighting and the chance to charge your cell phone help to make the evenings on the trail memorable. Looking back on the trail now I think that what made it so special was that the scenery changed dramatically every day. The combination of mountain and coastal walking makes for an interesting trail.
The first day is the toughest so an early start is recommended. The trail takes you to the summit of Potberg (611m). The climb is well worth it as the views from the summit are stunning. Views of Swellendam to the north, Cape Infanta to the east, Cape Agulhas to the west and the Breede River below you are quite something to behold. The trail then continues through the mountain fynbos for sometime before eventually descending to your first nights accommodation. Here you will find a lovely dam for the tired and weary hiker to swim in.
The second day continues where the first ended along the crest of the Potberg with lovely views of the Indian Ocean and the Breede River. After leaving the Potberg Mountain the trail descends through limestone hills filled with strikingly different varieties of fynbos.
After a long walk the first view of the bay at Noetsie is a welcome sight. The huts are in an idealic setting just above the ocean. The views are spectacular to say the least.
Day three took us from the cottages at Noetsie to Lekkerwater. Most of the day was spent following the cliffs along the coast and enjoying the spectacular views. There was enough time for some exploration at Stilgat before completing the last four kms along the beach. This days walking featured more spectacular caves than I can remember. Your are advised not to enter the caves as they sometimes become home to bees and leopards. the trail along the cliffs was littered with an assortment of different animal tracks and it was tempting to think that an entire zoo had frequented the trail just moments before me.
Our final day on the trail was my favourite. There were two alternative routes. One for high tide and one for low tide. The intertidal pools on the wave-cut rock platforms, the coral reefs and rock formations are truly remarkable sights. Water spouts from the rocks at high tide due to waves washing into, and exiting, through holes from the caves below you.
Other highlights on the trail included a somewhat curious baboon who managed to get into my sleeping bag and almost stepping on a rather large puff adder. I loved every minute of this trail and highly recommend it.