The Whale Trail in the De Hoop Nature Reserve takes you past a marine protected area that is flooded with southern right whales in season. But even when the gentle giants are not around, the 5-day hike offers a wonder world of natural tidal pools, lonely beaches, fragrant fynbos and dark caves that will have hikers and nature lovers laughing all the way.
Five days and 55 kilometres of slackpacking doesn’t sound like much of a challenge, but that isn’t the point. The Whale Trail is so jam-packed with natural beauty that you couldn’t hike fast if you wanted to. The little fish in the tidal pools, the flowers, the birds, the views and of course the whales are too alluring for ambitious hiking. So relax, mellow down and get ready for five days of absolute bliss.
Day 1 (Potberg to Cupidoskraal): You will arrive at the De Hoop Nature Reserve the evening before the first hiking day. The 14.7 kilometres from Potberg to Cupidoskraal are considered the most challenging part of the trail and hence an early start is recommended. The path takes you straight up to the top of Potberg at 611 metres, which is also a scenic breakfast spot. As the day heats up you will come across a little river, where you can cool your feet. The day ends at Cupidoskraal, where a dip in the damn is the reward for completing the most strenuous part of the hike.
Day 2 (Cupidoskraal to Noetsie): The second day takes you up onto a mountain ridge and down to the ocean. Walking through thick fynbos, you will start getting used to the beautiful ocean background and if you are lucky you might see your first whales. The path eventually descends into a tranquil bay covered in pebbles. The overnight hut sits right on the water and allows you to explore the beach and the dramatic cliffs before falling asleep to the never-ending lullaby of the ocean.
Day 3 (Noetsie to Hamerkop): At this stage the actual hiking becomes little more than a side issue as you gaze in awe at the marine life and spend hours exploring tidal pools along the way. Don’t miss the detour to Stilgat, a secluded beach where you can snorkel, swim and explore large caves (don’t forget your head torch). The trail ends on a seemingly endless sandy beach. Accommodation is in a beautiful house behind a dune with sea views from the balcony. A swim in the ocean is the ideal way to start the next morning.
Day 4 (Hamerkop to Vaalkrans): A long beach walk starts the fourth day of the Whale Trail. Calcrete formations along the way exude an otherworldly feel with oystercatchers combing the shoreline. The last accommodation boasts the most scenic location on the top of a cave. From the front of the house you can watch the white-water crashing against the cliffs below and a short scramble takes you to a blissful sundowner spot.
Day 5 (Vaalkrans to Koppie Alleen): The last day only has two hours of actual walking, but lots of pools and beaches to keep you busy. Make sure to take some time at hippo pools, which is great for swimming and sunbathing. You will then be picked up and transported back to your cars.
What to Pack
You can book the Whale Trail in groups of six or twelve hikers. If you have only six hikers you will share with another group of six, which is a nice way to meet new people and fellow hikers. The trail is of the slackpacking variety. This means that you stuff the bare essentials into your daypack and leave the heavy stuff in a 60 litre container that will be transported to the next hut for you.
Well-worn hiking boots are essential as is a swimming costume and a warm set of clothes for chilly nights. You will also get the chance to snorkel and explore some caves, so you should take a head torch too. There are comfy beds, but you need a sleeping bag and a cushion. A bird book and of course your camera will also serve you well on this beautiful trail.
The bulk of your luggage going in will be food. It is easiest to share the big meals among the group and take turns cooking. Take snacks for lunch and on the last two days you will want afternoon snacks, while you wait for your luggage to be transported to the hut.
When to Go
Most people who book this trail will also want to see whales. The whale season runs from June to November and sightings peak in September. However, there is much to be said for booking this trail for the summer months, as you will have long, warm days and minimal chances of rain.
Book the Whale Trail well in advance with Cape Nature.