The Whale Trail

by Jonny Mayers.

The Author of this post, Jonny Mayors.
Having heard so much about this wonderful trail from friends who've done it and from articles that I read, I jumped at the opportunity of joining my father in law and his fellow hiking buddies. This hike is so popular that one needs to book a year in advance to secure your spot. It's belongs to Cape Nature and is just outside Bredasdorp in the De Hoop Nature and Marine Reserve on the Southern Cape coast. They allow for 12 people per trail over this 5 day hike and therefore there are 60 people hiking between the various camps sites daily.

On a Sunday we left Cape Town at 1pm to arrive at Potberg Base camp by 4pm. We carried our hiking gear into the hut where there were bunk beds, a kitchen, toilet and shower facilities with a braaing area outside. We met up with three elderly German couples and aquainted ourselves over a braai with the wine and beer already flowing.

We all took the 'easy' option of 'slek packing' where you pay R300 and have your things (sleeping bag, food, wine, clothing, etc) placed into your own large plastic container that gets transported from camp to camp by Cape Nature.

Bed time was at 8pm in preparation to get up early the next day to start this amazing hike.

Monday morning - Day 1
Potberg to Cupidoskraal - 15km's

After breakfast and getting yourself ready with your 'day pack' on your back pack consisting of water, lunch, camera and binoculars, we set off at 7am.

This leg of the hike is the most strenuous as it was mostly uphill. Along the way we saw baboons who were luckily quite far away, gliding Cape vultures and spectacular views. As we reached the top, which is the highest point of the entire trail, we were overwhelmed by the splendour of it all with such an array of flora specifically that of the fynbos. Apparently there are both Erica and Protea species that only grow here and no where else in the world. The winding Breede river below you and the Swellendam and Langeberg mountains on the horizon is all part of this visual feast. This day however was not without its change of weather ranging from coolish to hot, a light drizzle, windy, then humid, heavy downpour then finally arriving about 8 hours later at our camp for the night in overcast conditions.

After a shower, hot cup of coffee and some warm clothing on , we all got to chat in the kitchen about our day while preparing supper.

Day 2
Cupidoskraal to Noetsie - 14.7km's

We set off onto what seemed like a lot of twisting and turning paths. Every 2km's, there's a rock with an indication as to how far you've gone. Along the entire trail there a a few cairns of rocks stacked up against each other. This is apparently the best cellphone reception. Some decided to phone home and check up on SMS's, however the main reason for this is in the event of an emergency en route you'll remember where the last cairn was so as to call Cape Nature to assist. Luckily we never had to test this out.

With about a km to go you hear the sound of the sea and smell it (which is distinctively different to the past two days of the fynbos smell). As we walked over the ridge with our hut beside the sea, we were greeted by a whale and her calf quite near to us. It seemed like our official welcome to The Whale Trail.

Supper was a braai in an open-air gazebo between our A-frame huts and the sea, as dusk turned into night time. A delicious supper with good wine, the sea just a few feet away, the amazing stars that we don't get to see back home and the total relaxation of it all together with another good days hike got us all rather sleepy and off to bed.

Day 3
Noetsie to Hamerkop - 7.8km's

Well that's what we were supposed to do, however Cape Nature and Denel (part of Armscor) had other plans. Everyone at each of the respective camps was evacuated and picked up in bakkies to be taken back to base camp. The German Airforce was doing missile testing and the Whale Trail was in it's flight path. For obvious security and protection reasons we all had to be in a safe place. This apparently happens once in a while and November seems to be the best time of the year. After a rather bumpy ride which took over an hour we got into base camp wet as there was a light downpour. Our smiles soon returned at the sight of hot coffee and brekkies awaiting us. We were briefed in a presentation by both companies and the apology of inconveniencing us all. The weather conditions got worse with heavy winds and intermittent heavy downpours. Had we been on our hike we would've been soaked and quite miserable. So I guess all in all a blessing in disguise. After lunch we were back in the bakkies to our next camp.

The first two days were great, day 3 was disappointing as the rhythm of the hike was broken - bring on day 4.

Day 4
Hamerkop to Vaalkrans - 10.5km's

About 90 % of this was walking either on the beach sand or on the rocky path alongside it. Although it was tough there was no rush to get to our next hut. We took it easy, taking in all the views and life we encounted - more whales, a seal, a few dung beatles (hard at work), oyster catchers with their red bills and legs and the variety of so many rock pools with their respective life forms therein.

After what seemed like a hard day of hiking, tired legs and some blisters, none of this seemed to matter as we spotted our last hut to sleep in. It was as if Cape Nature left the best till last. WOW!The hut had a spectacular view of a cove where the waves continually rolled in and bashed against the walls with the spray of water getting higher and higher. Here you could see just how powerful the sea actually is. Definitely a force to be respected.

Our last supper of the trail was all twelve of us reminiscing over the past few days by the fireplace on what turned out to be a rather chilly evening. With the last of the food eaten, the wine and other beverages consumed, we slept on what was a wonderful day.

Day 5
Vaalkrans to Koppie Alleen - 7km's

An easy hike with some beach walking but mostly through the thicket. It's one last chance to take in the scenic landscapes and simply put - the beauty of it all. Upon our arrival at the end point on a boardwalk and hut you can explore more rock pools and walk up and down the sand dunes. You call into Cape Nature and within an hour you are picked up and taken back to base camp where your cars are. Farewells all round and back into the cars to head back home.

While being a passenger I looked at all the photos I took and smiled as I recollected all the various experiences.

God sure knew what He was doing and must've smiled broadly in making THE WHALE TRAIL.

For more information on the Whale Trail, visit