Posts tagged with “De Hoop”

De Hoop Whale Trail – Part 1

Sunday, 8 May, 2022

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. …

The Whale Trail Hike – Part 2

Sunday, 8 May, 2022

Day 2 & 3

Day 2: Cupidoskraal to Noetsie

According to the map provided, this hike would be “15.2 km – moderate approx. 8 hours”.

Cape Nature’s map:

Map with day one’s elevation

We did an earlier start at 08h00.  We left behind the containers to be collected and taken to our next destination.  I must say, I’m not sure how you do a five day hike carrying all those stuff plus foodstuffs along.

Slack pack 70 liter boxes

This route also started with a very steep incline, but not going as high as the first day.

Ducks in a row

Once on top of Hamerkop (453m) a chilly wind is blowing from the north.


Here too, species are found that grows only on this spot.  The variety is vast.


From Hamerkop, we could set our sights on our destination:  Noetsie.


Viewed from below, Hamerkop has many shades of green.

Shades of Green

Eventually, by 15h00, we spotted our hut down below.  And it is something to behold.

Destination Noetsie

The hut overlooks the sea.  The kitchen has a stoep with a view to the west (the direction we would be heading the next morning) and the braai room faces south.  It is an absolute marvellous sight.


Day 3: Noetsie to Hamerkop

The 8,5km for today is described as “difficult”.   The reason being a constant series of ups and downs, the highest thereof being a spike of 96m. 

Map and day 3 elevation

At Noetsie we have seen some dolphins, and again along the way and beyond Vaalkrans.  The route is a track on the cliffs from where one looks down on the sea.  The information pack provided, warned against going too close to the edges or attempt to climb down the cliffs. 

Over the next two days we also saw a number of African Oystercatchers (also known as Swart Tobies, although my Latin friends call them haematopus moquini for short).  They were not good at posing for the camera, and I could not get a picture of any of them.  As a consolation prize I did get their footprints, though.  (If you are not impressed, I will understand.)

Swart Tobie footprints

In the cliffs beneath there are numerous caves.

Cave inspection

A definite highlight of the day was Stilgat, about halfway to Hamerkop.


A lot of trouble went into building flights of stairs down to the pool.  Actually, a series of pools.  Some members of the team did a swim.


We had our lunch at Stilgat, whereafter we headed out for Hamerkop hut where we arrived just after two.  Once again, a special setting, and special accommodation.

Hamerkop hut

Part 3 follows – see link below…

The Whale Trail Hike – Part 3

Sunday, 8 May, 2022

Day 4 & 5 and General Comments

Day 4: Hamerkop to Vaalkrans

This was a 10,5km walk, described as “moderate”.

Map provided by Cape Nature

The first about 4,5km we walked on the beach.  Low tide (tables provided in the hut) was at noon.  We started just before nine, counting on catching the outgoing tide and to have increasingly harder sand to walk on as we went along.

That did not really work out the way I figured it in my head.  We walked in each other’s tracks to ease the strain on our calves.  This was suggested by the information poster in the Hamerkop hut, and it works very well.  Not so much for the one walking in front, though.

Step by step

Past the Lekkerwater Lodge the track swung away from the sea, and we once again walked on the cliffs overlooking the sea. 

The rock formations and pools on this stretch are just amazing.  

Enter the Dragon
Big brother dragon
Tidal Pools
Blow holes

We arrived at Vaalkrans just past 2.

Vaalkrans hut

Two members of of our team had to arrange an urgent exit to head home, since existing flight arrangements for 19h00 the following evening turned out to be not from Cape Town but from Johannesburg.  A bit of nifty footwork (asking very nicely) and an hour and a half trip on the back of a bakkie resolved the crisis.

At dusk I walked up the koppie behind the hut to find a signal for my mobile phone.   On my way back I spotted a dead puff adder on the road.  I realised it could not have been dead for too long, since there had been no dead snake when I walked up the hill.   So just to be safe I told the dead snake to hiss off.  Which he then duly did, and by a happy coincidence, away from me.  I am much more partial towards dead snakes than any other species of snakes.  I did manage to get a shaky video clip of the snake. 


Day 5: Vaalkrans to Koppie Alleen

We were looking forward to an easy 7km walk on the last day.  One needs to be at Koppie Alleen by noon to catch the shuttle.  However, due to some members having pressing work commitments later the same day, we managed to arrange for the shuttle to be there by 11h00 already.  So we started our last day’s walk at about 07h00 the morning.

We spent quite some time at the Hippo Pools, although we did not spot any hippos.  Maybe now is a good time to mention that we also did not see any whales.  I thought maybe Hermanus bay has hogged all the good whales and sent the second team over to De Hoop to do their thing, but not so.  The whale season is between June and November, and we’ve been here in the first week of May.

We did, though, on numerous occasions saw pods of dolphins of up to 8 – 10 together. 

Hippo Pools

The problem with these pools are, every 10 yards you move, you find a better angle for an even better photo than the previous one.

Hippo Pools 2

When we arrived at the spot where the shuttle should await us at 10h50, it was there already.

The shuttle

The shuttle took us on a 45 minutes’ drive back to Potberg where we had a short debriefing, giving feedback to Cape Nature officials on what was good and what was better.

And so ended a remarkable 5 day hike!


As a novice hiker, I did not have much of an idea how to prepare.

  • It so happened that my son’s schoolbag was actually a 25 litre backpack, so we had one to take along.
  • Halfway through day two I began suspecting a blister might be forming under my foot.  One of our teammates provided me with blister plasters – something I never heard of before.  Blister plasters contains hydrocolloid particles that seems to work wonders on both suspected, already formed, and broken blisters.  In my case it prevented the blister to come to full fruition.
  • The slack packing option offers quite some leeway in what one can take along.  Although our 70 litre boxes were filled to the top (it included our sleeping bags and cushions), the cooler box had still ample space.  I could have gone more exotic than having to stick to tap water for the duration of the hike.
  • Speaking of which, at some huts the tap water is not drinkable, but then water is provided in water cans.  I forgot about this and swallowed down some pills from a tap next to a notice that says the water is not fit for human consumption.  Luckily I suffered no ill effects.  I guess it was the pills.
  • My shoes were well worn trail runners, which turned out to be a good choice.  It survived the terrain well.  I did have to glue one part back afterwards though.
  • I paid no attention to socks and, in fact, walked with spanking brand new ones.  This was not a good idea and one could even consider investing in blister (preventing) socks.
  • Lightweight and water repellent clothing is a splendid idea for a hike like this.

The map that Cape Nature provides has very interesting and useful information.  Apart from showing the route maps, it indicates the inclines of the routes, as well as the energy required to walk the route.

The map of the whole route
Elevations and energy

Additional reading

Cape Nature provides very extensive information on the whale trail:

From that link you can also access the Whale Trail Map:

And to the Whale Trail Information Sheet:

PG Jonker