The Whale Trail; South Africa, Western Cape

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Beautiful seashells abound all along the beaches

The Whale trail is a 5 day slack pack hiking trail along the Southern Cape coastline in the De Hoop Nature Reserve near Cape Agulhas, the Southern tip of the African continent.

The first two hiking days take you from the base station at the foot of Potberg mountain across the top of the mountain with most beautiful views across the farming communities in the Overberg along the lower Breede River Valley.

From the top of the mountain you are sure to spot the large colony of Cape vultures that breed on the cliffs of Potberg mountain when they take to the air on the early morning thermals.

The trail accommodates groups of 12 persons over 5 day periods.  A main advantage is that you can organise a crate per person to transport all your extras to the next overnight spot with yourself carrying only a daypack.  What a pleasure!

Bookings for the trail should be made well in advance through Cape Nature Reservations <capenature.alert.co.za> (telephone  +27 21 483 0190) if you wish to reserve space during the popular whale watching season.

De Hoop nature reserve also boasts excellent accommodation in the single camp at De Hoop which will be reported on in a next blog update.  Accommodation is managed by Cape Collection.

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Agriculture artworks in the Overberg area between Cape Town and De Hoop.

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Canola fields in full bloom

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Dassiesfontein farm stall between Bot River and Caledon. Very interesting stall to visit with a must have traditional “vetkoek and jam” with typical South Africal “moer” coffee.

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Inside Dassiesfontein farm stall waiting for breakfast.

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Typical architecture of the De Hoop facilities which are managed by Cape Collection.  This is actually a renovated farm yard with typical Cape Dutch style (white lime washed walls with reed roofs) buildings.

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A natural carpet of spring flowers on the fields surrounding the main De Hoop complex with the spectacular milkwood tree (protected specie) with its wide spreading branches.

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De Hoop yard wall.  The white washed walls provides a sense of purity to the setting.

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Our hiking group getting together in the main De Hoop courtyard.

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Lunch at De Hoop prior to departing to the first night’s overnight cottage at Potberg.

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Accommodation for the first night of the Whale Trail slack pack trail at Potberg cottage. Definitely much better facilities as on most other hiking trails. The cottage is fully equipped, even with decent cutlery and wine glasses.

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Everyone seems very relaxed in anticipation of the next five days of hiking.

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The typical bedroom layout of the three bedrooms in the cottage.

DAY 1 – POTBERG TO CUPIDO’S KRAAL, 14.7KM – MODERATE TO STRENUOUS – 8 HOURS

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The chilly early morning air did not deter the ladies from getting all geared up and ready to depart on the trail.

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It does not seem far for the first day but this hike stretches across the top of Potberg Mountain and ascends approximately 600m during the day.  The path is however well marked and actually a quite easy and entertaining hike, especially without a heavy backpack on your back.

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The first climb up the western face of Potberg in the early morning mountain shades. You are constantly surrounded but astounding landscapes and mountain fynbos..

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The Cape floral kingdom in all its glory.  It is an absolute blessing to hike through these settings.

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Simply beautiful!

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The first view of the ocean from near the top of Potberg Mountain.

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Spectacular early morning views to the east over the lower Breede River valley and the Overberg farming areas up to the distant Hottentot’s Holland Mountain range.

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Looking down onto the back of a Cape vulture searching for an early morning thermal over the canola and corn fields down below.

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First coffee break on top of Potberg Mountain.

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Nature’s own gigantic chameleon on the lookout for an early morning snack!

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Some of the indigenous Erica family.

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Hotnotsvygies

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The trail running all along the comb of Potberg Mountain.

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One of the Protea family shrubs – pin cushions.

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Unknown to me, yet most striking against the harsh background!

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A surprise awaits the eye around every corner along the way.  With all the beauties surrounding you the going is very slow and thus nobody tires quickly.

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The constant bending down to inspect the multitude of flowers consumes more energy than the actual hiking.

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Some more striking vygies planted and maintained by nature.

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An interesting variation to the softness and striking colours of most of the wild flowers was this almost spiky leaved variety with a very sticky substance on the top of the leaves, most likely to attract and trap unwary insects.

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The neat Cupido’s Kraal Cottage at the end of day one.  This cottage is located in a hidden valley within the Potberg Mountain.  The mountain surrounds the cottage on all sides.  On hot days a relaxing swim can be taken in a fairly large farm dam which is located within a hundred metres from the cottage.

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Everybody seems to be in high spirits following all the great sightings of the first day’s hiking.  The indoor fire place/braai adds great heat to the cottage and provides for a very cozy setting even on cold evenings.

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The luxury of a slack pack hiking trail – Port against the cold and a decent glass to drink from!  Note the type of utensils in the cottages.

DAY 2 – CUPIDO’S KRAAL TO NOETSIE, 14KM – MODERATE – 8 HOURS

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The second day’s trail continues the route over Potberg Mountain but today drops from the high mountain ridge down to the coast at Noetsie.  Again a fairly easy hike with a very steep section where the trail descends from the mountain down to the coastal dunes.  The vegetation along the trail changes from predominantly mountain fynbos to coastal fynbos and typical renosterveld (rhino veld) fynbos and shrubs.

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Setting out on the day two trail.  Note the solar panel alongside the cottage for electrical power (and that on a hiking trail – amazing!)

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The views towards the high coastal dunes between Potberg and the ocean.

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Some of the interesting rock formations carved out by winds and rain over millions of years.

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Snack time before the descend down the very steep zig-zag footpath from the top of Potberg.

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Unexpected marvels of nature hidden in tiny crevices between the rocks.

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And yet some more wonders.

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Can this be what remains of the Biblical Lot’s wife?

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A Protea in full bloom.

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Overlooking the Noetsie bay in the background but still a fair way to go.

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Yellow everlastings or ‘sewejaartjies’ in Afrikaans (seven years!)

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Daisy types.

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Time for a refresher after the steep descend.

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Perfect little rockery in a small hollow in the rock massive, planted and maintained by God and not by man!

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Noetsie camp!  A really welcome sight after a long day’s hiking.  The vehicle transporting the cleaning staff for the camps has just arrived with our crates and the cleaners.

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Day two almost completed.

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Our first whale awaiting us at Noetsie.  The whales were playing in the shallows near the beach until last daylight.

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Another little vygie wonder within the rocks.

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Relaxing at Noetsie – tired but very happy!

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A lovely sunset across the small bay at Noetsie with a nice supply of firewood.

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Just imagine a life with every day ending in such peace and tranquility!

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Well protected against the chilly sea breeze!

DAY 3 – NOETSIE TO HAMERKOP, 8.5KM ALONG THE COAST – EASY – 6 HOURS

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The sunset on Day 2 was exceptional but the sunrise at Noetsie on Day 3 was probably even better!

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The entire day is spent hiking along either the mostly pebble and shell beaches or on top of the adjoining coastal shelf with spectacular views over the coastal cliffs with numerous whales preforming in the waves below.

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Noetsie in the background with a rope ladder down to the breakers for the brave at hart!  However be warned – what goes down must also come up again!

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The rugged coastline is enjoyed for most of Day 3 from the elevated viewpoints along the trail.

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Is this a fossilized small fish or a massive big one?

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The trail fortunately runs along the top of the cliff and not down below.

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One of the pebble beaches along the way.   Quite tough going over the rounded and loose pebbles.

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Quickly down to the beach and then immediately back up to the top of the cliff.

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Beautiful vistas from the high cliffs along the trail. Whales come very close to the shore and for most of the day in the whale watching season at least one and at times a couple of whales can easily be spotted from these high vantage points.

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A whale performing a so-called spy-walk.

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One of the short detours that can be taken down to the beach.  In summer time you can go for a quick swim here.

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The way down to Stilgat beach.

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Enjoying early morning snacks and some warm coffee at Stilgat beach.

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Very rugged coast line.

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The trail is fortunately laid out well to avoid the most difficult terrain.

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A Cape fur seal performing in the waves.

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Unidentified tracks in the sand.  Could this be a seal’s tracks?

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No human artist can ever improve on these imposing rock sculptures created by the waves!

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Hamerkop Cottage situated behind the sand dunes at the end of Day 3.

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A small Genet came along begging for a treat whilst we were preparing supper on the outdoor braai.

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Everybody tired, slightly cold and chilly but very happy!

DAY 4 – HAMERKOP TO VAALKRANS, 10.5KM – MODERATE – 6 HOURS

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Today’s hike takes you along endless sandy stretches – quite tiring but yet again the beautiful  rock formations and endless numbers of performing whales never stop to amaze you.

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Beautiful spoor of an unidentified specie on the beach in the early morning.

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Beach flower.

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Time for a coffee break on the beach.

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Watching the endless numbers of massive waves constantly crashing into the rocks will never stop to amaze me.

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And then the rain came!

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Another whale breaching and splashing back into the ocean with a huge thumping sound.

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A whale sailing with the wind.  This stance can continue for quite a while where the whale uses its tail in the wind to “sail” along.

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The ocean has created these interesting and imposing blow holes which spout with a tremendous force at the right tide.

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The blow holes in full action.

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To get to the blow holes you have to climb over and around the back of these rocks to get to the front end where there is a sort of cave and then view back towards the land to see the holes in action with each wave coming in.

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Interesting fungus growth on a log washed from the sea.

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To experience the force of the ocean is simply amazing. The splash height viewed here is probably in the order of 20m high.

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Shall we call this Tidal Falls – one for low tide and one or maybe two for high tide?

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Although the trail hugs the ocean the whole day, swimming opportunities are scant in areas like these.

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The receding water paints a beautiful canvas in the shallows among the mussel beds on top of the tidal  shelves.

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These constant rag fine waterfalls has a mesmerizing and hypnotizing affect on you.

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The immense power of the waves is clearly visible here where this huge piece of rock was broken off from the main rock mass.

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The end of day 4 at Vaalkrans.

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The cottage at Vaalkrans is situated immediately to the top of this cliff face.  The waves actually enter a hidden cave below where the people are sitting and forces the spray up through an ancient blow hole which is located very near the back entrance to the cottage.  The ladies reckoned that they could probably blow dry their hair at the top of the opening in the intensity of the wind forced up through the hole.

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Vaalkrans cottage.  Note yet another whale performing just to the right of the cottage gable.

DAY 5 – VAALKRANS TO KOPPIE ALLEEN, 7KM – EASY – 6 HOURS

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Thousands of Bank Cormorants roost on the cliffs surrounding Vaalkrans Cottage.

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The start of the last day’s trail at Vaalkrans.  You leave this beautiful view with a multitude of mixed emotions.  You are obviously very glad that you were so privileged to have been able to partake in this exceptional experience but also very sad at the same time well knowing that you will not enjoy this type of life and tranquility for some time to come and are afraid that you will never again have the opportunity to experience this!

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A last good bye from another Bank Cormorant over the Vaalkrans cliffs.

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Our last day’s hike took place in atrocious weather with buckets full of rain pouring down over us soon after our departure from Vaalkrans.  Obviously most of the important protective gear were packed in our large backpacks and not in our small carry-a-longs!

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The endless beautiful rock formations and forever changing colours of the ocean is something to behold!

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Our final arrival (soaking wet) at Koppie Alleen – the sad end of the Whale Trail but with extremely high spirits and rejuvenated souls.

Cape Nature operates a shuttle service for the hikers from Koppie Alleen back to the starting point at Potberg where the cars are parked and a hot shower (and dry clothes) awaits the tired hikers.

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Our praises go to our Creator for His magnificent creations and endless natural beauties!  We wave a final good-bye until next time.

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We trust that you have enjoyed this experience as we did.  De Hoop Nature Reserve and its facilities will be covered in a separate post on this blog somewhere in the future.

You can simply join us on our “slightly off the beaten track” endeavors by following this blog.

See you back soon!

Francois and Renette.