De Hoop Whale Trail - Cape South Coast

 Walking the Cape coast on the De Hoop Whale Trail.

Walking the Cape coast on the De Hoop Whale Trail.

The Whale Trail is an unforgettable experience, taking you through one of the Western Cape’s most unique and diverse nature reserves.
The route stretches over 55km, from Potberg to Koppie Alleen, with five overnight stops (hikers spend the first night at Potberg before starting the trail). The unspoilt natural beauty on this trail is unsurpassable, leading through lush fynbos and offering stunning views of the coast.

De Hoop is known as one of the best land-based whale-watching spots in the world. Between June and November, the coastline is transformed as southern right whales migrate here to breed and look after their young.

The five Whale Trail overnight cottages lie at the foot of the Potberg Mountains, perched high on a sea cliff. The charming cottages range from Arniston-style units to A-framed thatched “kapstyl” cottages. Each fully equipped cottage sleeps up to 12 people, generally with three bedrooms (four beds in each). 

This is slack-packing at its finest. Your extra luggage is transported every day to the next cottage, so all you need to carry on the trail is a day pack. The 60-litre transport containers are waiting for you at Potberg cottage.

Up to 14 units per group of 12 are allowed, or seven units per group of six. Hikers pay for each container transported to the next cottage, including units used as cooler boxes on the trail.

Day 1 - Potberg to Cupidoskraal

Trail distance: 15km
Estimated time: 8 hours
Get up early to tackle the first, and toughest, stretch of the trail. Hikers will walk to the top of Potberg (611m), which has breathtaking panoramic views of Swellendam, the Indian Ocean and the Breede River, Cape Infanta and Cape Agulhas. Keep your eyes open for the rare Cape vulture. The trail descends along the watershed above Grootkloof towards Cupidoskraal, where you will find erica and protea species that grow only here and nowhere else in the world! You can end your day by cooling off in the refreshing dam.

Day 2 - Cupidoskraal to Noetsie

Trail distance: 14.7km
Estimated time: 8 hours
On the second day, hikers walk to the Noetsie cottages. The Noetsie cottages have just been completely rebuilt on the footprint of the old cabins, with minimum ecological impact in mind. Day Two’s 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.

Day 3 - Noetsie to Hammerkop

Trail distance: 7.8km
Estimated time: 6 hours (3 hours of actual walking with the rest suggested for several break periods)
There is ample time for exploring the coastline on this stretch, as day three takes you along the coast, with the Marine Protected Area on your left. Stilgat is a most enjoyable stop. Several vantage points lie ahead until you reach a beach stretching a short distance to Hamerkop Cottage.

Day 4 - Hammerkop to Vaalkrans

Trail distance: 10.5km
Estimated time: 6 hours
The long beachwalk on day four can be quite strenuous. Allow time to rest. On the way you pass Lekkerwater lodge. Look out for the shy oystercatchers and whitebreasted cormorants basking in the sun. The intertidal pools on the wave-cut rock platforms and coral reefs are remarkable sights. The last stretch to Vaalkrans ambles through diverse coastal vegetation. 

Day 5 - Vaalkrans to Koppie Alleen

Trail distance: 7km
Estimated time: 6 hours (3 hours of actual walking with the rest 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 offers great swimming before the path leads up to Koppie Alleen where the trail ends.

Whale Trail photo credits to Maricha Knight van Heerden http://maricha.co.za/blogs/post/new-hats-and-old-bats-hiking-the-whale-trail