De Hoop Whale Trail – Part 1

Arrival and day 1


“We’re going to do the Wales thing,” said my wife one day.

“Oh, good.  We’ll need visas.”

“No. Whales, not Wales,” said she.

“Oh, good. I like whales.”

“We’re going on a 5-day hike.” 

“Oooh…..,” said I.

And so it came to pass that we arrived at the De Hoop Nature Reserve close to Swellendam on a Saturday afternoon to join a team which totalled 9 people.  We did not take up the full capacity of 12 people that can take up a block booking.

The De Hoop Nature Reserve lies between the Denel Overberg testing site, and the mouth of the Breede river.  Just over three hours’ travel from Cape Town, regardless of whether you go via the N2 through Caledon, or the N1 via Swellendam.  Just to get your bearings on where it is, Cape Nature provides this map:

De Hoop is one of Africa’s biggest conservation areas, and access is fairly exclusive.  You need to be on the Whale Trail hike, it seems, to get access to this bit of nature. 

The trail offers accommodation in huts with running water, sun-powered electricity, a fully kitted kitchen, and sleeping bunks for 12 people, typically spread over three rooms.  It also has inside and outside braais at each location.   We opted for the slack pack option (slapgatstap?) where we made use of a 70 litre box each, and with 2 cooler boxes available per group, which is transported by officials from hut to hut.  So we only needed to carry a day pack each day.  We arrived at the Potberg Hut from where we would depart the following morning.  After meeting the rest of our group, we moved over the main building to receive a fairly extensive briefing.

Getting briefed

I missed a lot of what was said (it’s not the presenter’s problem that I cannot hear properly), but I did pick up the bit about the 45 stompies wood at each hut for our use.  Something we dutifully obliged each night to follow.

Back at the Potberg Hut we sorted out the sleeping arrangements. 

Potberg hut

There were two rooms downstairs, and one room up in the loft.  From my bed upstairs I had a view of the Potberg, which we would summit the following morning. 

Room with a view

This was the only hut with outside ablution.  So going for a nocturnal see-a-man-about-a-dog, meant walking over the creaking wooden floor, traverse very steep stairs (no, a ladder) going down, which brings you in the next room, then through the kitchen, and then to the outside ablution.  It’s amazing what motivation can do to bladder control.

Each made their own food, but we did braai (no, really) together.  We also got to know the team.  I was delighted to learn that two members of the team were seasoned mountaineers, with one of them actively participating in Mountain Rescue.  This being my maiden hike, I found great comfort in this news.  Whoopeee!  We’re gonna be saved.   

It is amazing how much brighter stars are where there is no superficial light.  We spent some time admiring the stars and finding the Southern Cross and Orion.  Those are the only two constellations I can ever find, and I’m very proud of myself.    

During the night I noticed two massive spotlights through the window of our room.  I assumed it is the Musk dude being up to some mischief, but I was later advised that this was actually the Jupiter and Venus conjunction.  

Day 1: Potberg Hut to Cupidoskraal

According to the map provided, this hike would be “15.5 km – difficult approx. 8 hours”.  We left just before 9 the morning.

The route set off with a steep climb up to the top of the Potberg where a radio repeater marks the 611m highest point.  By the time we got there we have covered some 4.5 km in 1h40 minutes.  A leisurely pace.  

Day one route and elevation

From this point one has a 360-degree view.  To the north one can see the Breede River and Malgas, with Witsand to the east, and the Indian ocean to the south of us.  

Highest point on Potberg

We had a snack break here, enjoying the scenery and watching the Cape Vultures circling above. It did concern me that they were circling us already.  I mean, really.

After snacks we started our descent down into Grootkloof, where Erica and Protea species are found that grow nowhere else in the world.  I’m not sure if this is one of those, but it is still a marvellous plant.


We had a nice long downhill walk to the Melkhout River.  When I had a look at the map before departure, I pictured us wading hip deep through a raging river, so I came prepared carrying my water friendly sandals along for the occasion.  Only to find that someone built a proper wooden bridge across the river.  Paaah!

We had lunch at the Melkhout River.  By now some natural selection started to develop with people sticking together with those whose pace suited them better than others’.   The get-up-and-go for the final stretch was, for instance,  the cue for one member to instead start up his mini gas plate to brew some coffee.  I decided to feint concern for him and hung back.  (Chinese saying:  Never let a good coffee opportunity go to waste.  OK, I’m lying, I made that one up, but I’m sure the Chinese wise people would agree.)

We did take care, though for the party not to become too stretched out.  At that point there was some 4km’s left of the route, and we soon afterwards joined the next two team members forming the rear-guard.  Oh, and the coffee was good, yes, thank you for asking.

And then, after 15,5 km’s, we arrived at Cupidoskraal at 16h00.

Cupidoskraal hut

For part two, click on link below.


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